Know Your Superpower!

One of the benefits of the Mindfulness Matters group is to help us get a better sense of our moment to moment experiences. The thing is, I am sometimes asked why this matters.

For many of us, we find ourselves going through our day on autopilot. The downside of that is that, when we are not connecting with our experiences, things seem to pop up out of nowhere… and then we are left in a panic, reactive, or even frozen.

Becoming more Mindful in our routine, day-to-day interactions and mundane activities can help us develop a cumulative buffer against feeling like we are always caught off guard. In fact, it can leave us better equipped to more easily surf and navigate the things that do seem to come out of nowhere for us.

In the short video below, Sharon Salzberg does a very nice job of illustrating this concept in describing the two wolves (metaphorically!) that we all deal with. In fact, having this skill gives us a bit of a superpower in the sense that it can leave us feeling empowered and acting from a place of empowerment rather than reactivity when we are met with difficult situations.

I would love to hear how what you thought of this story! Be sure to share with us in our social media communities listed below so we can celebrate your superpower with you!

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Mindfulness with 5 Senses

One of the aims of my Mindfulness Matters group is to provide people with accessible, fool proof tools to help them ground in the present moment so that they can eradicate the inner critic, paralyzing self judgments, and gain the sense of empowerment they need to make the best choices about how to react to what pops up in their lives. Today, I wanted to share one of these tools with you. This is a quick and relatively easy exercise to bring us into a mindful state quickly. If you only have a minute or two or, for whatever reason, you don’t have the time or tools to try a body scan, this five senses exercise can help you bring awareness to the current moment in a short amount of time.

Use this exercise to quickly ground yourself in the present when you only have a moment. The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses. Begin by making sure you are seated or lying comfortably enough that you can relax, yet still upright enough that you can focus on the following questions. As you go through this set of questions, allow yourself to become immersed in each experience before moving on to the next question.

What are 5 things you can see?

What are 4 things you can feel?

What are 3 things you can hear?

What are 2 things you can smell?

What is 1 thing you can taste?

The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each – remember to make modifications with Mindful awareness. You can also listen to a guided audio version of this exercise with my “Beyond the Couch” podcast episode easily. 

I would love to hear how this went for you! Be sure to share with us in our social media communities listed below so we can celebrate with you!

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Celebrate Your ‘Social Brain’ with Group Therapy!

Recently, I spent some time talking about GROUPS with Katie K. May of Creative Healing Philly. Katie K. May is a DBT Certified, Licensed Therapist for Teens in Pennsylvania.  She specializes in running groups for teens who experience anxiety, depression and self-harm behaviors, with a passion in helping clients learn to express and cope with overwhelming emotions in healthy ways so that they can move forward in life EMPOWERED and able to create their own path to happiness.

In our discussion, Katie and I explored the ways that our group connections help us to build a life we want to celebrate. In fact, groups have helped people excel in work place dynamics, school related tasks, as well as family functions. Katie shares some top tips for connecting in group therapy, below, and debunks some myths about getting started with groups.

Katie’s Top Tips:

+Our interpersonal relationships are one of the most powerful predictors of both our mental and physical health.  People are happier and healthier, with lower rates of depression and greater overall happiness when they are connected socially.

+Take advantage of the “social brain!”  We are by nature social creatures and are strongly influenced by what happens around us in our world.  Be mindful of whom you surround yourself with and the choices these people are making as you are likely being swayed by their thoughts and behaviors too.

+Practicing gratitude for the people in your lives, how they have impacted you and why they are important to you can help you feel more connected and accepted socially.  Each day reflect on something you appreciate about your loved ones and what you appreciate about this person.  At the end of the week, find some way to connect face-to-face to express this gratitude and notice how your own mood improves as a result.

I would love to hear what thoughts you have about the ways groups can help you celebrate your life! In fact, I frequently hear from “graduates” of my groups that they have gone on to silence their inner critics and surrounded themselves with people who uplift them so that they can overcome anxious, debilitating thoughts and overwhelming depression and isolation. As a result, they’ve begun to reshape the celebratory lives they have been looking to build! Be sure to share with us your hopes and goals for groups in our social media communities listed below so we can celebrate with you!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/drsallynazari

Twitter: www.twitter.com/chrysalisdoc

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Assert Yourself – And Enhance Your Relationships

I recently connected with Dr. Julie Hanks for the “Beyond the Couch” podcast to talk about assertiveness tips. Dr. Hanks is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist specializing in women’s emotional health and relationships. She is the founder and director of Wasatch Family Therapy, author of The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide for Women, a blogger, a local and national media contributor, an online mental health influencer, a life coach and a private practice consultant, and an award-winning performing songwriter. To learn more visit DrJulieHanks.com or connect with @drjuliehanks on social media.

Dr. Hanks and I discussed the ways that our relationships can actually be strengthened with assertiveness so that we can go on to connect in more loving, fulfilled ways with our loved ones. She shared three top tips for asserting ourselves in relationships:

1) Before you can be assertive ask yourself these four questions about the situation:

  • What do I think?
  • What do I feel?
  • What do I want?
  • What do I need?

2) OSCAR Assertiveness Tool

  • O – Observe the Situation
  • S – Sort Thoughts and Feelings
  • C – Compassionately communicate
  • A – Ask Clarifying Questions
  • R – Request Directly

3) When Communicating Choose the “Lantern Stance”

There are three communication stances: doormat (passive), sword (aggressive or passive aggressive), and the lantern.Imagine yourself standing with your feet shoulder width apart, centered and balanced, holding up a lantern as high as you can reach illuminating the situation. Envision yourself standing up straight, feeling strong and not easily swayed. Imagine inviting the person you are interacting with to step into the lantern’s light with you and ask this person to describe his or her experience and perspective.

Dr. Hanks explains that many people fear that asserting their needs will jeopardize their relationships. She goes on to describe how the five steps in asserting ourselves actually serve to improve our relationships with our loved ones.

You can access a free chapter of Dr. Hanks’ Assertiveness Guide for Women at assertivenessguide.com.

You can also listen to our discussion here. Be sure to let me know what you discovered as you tried these tips.

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Boost Your Brain with ‘Vitamin Sea’ This Summer

You might be the one in your circle who can never get enough beach time in the summer. Or maybe you spend your breaks listening to ocean sounds or bookmarking your favorite beach getaways. While you may not have put much thought into the how and why of your beach daydreams and memories, you know that they always brightened you up.

Recently, I teamed up with NBC News to get a better sense of how the beach affects our body and mind. It turns out that, not only do we anticipate relaxation when we head to the beach, but that we also respond to the different sensory experiences while we are at the beach. Our physiology shifts in response to the sights, sounds, and sensations we encounter at the beach. In fact, these responses heighten the relaxation experience we expect.

These effects extend as far as shifting the frequency of our brain waves to the point of mild meditative states, which have their own valuable benefits as well. Our body also enters into a parasympathetic response which helps to bolster our resilience to the daily stresses and fight-flight-freeze responses we are constantly bombarded by in our routine.

A beach excursion offers a great opportunity for building on the Mindfulness practices you may be cultivating. With so many ways to focus on our sensory experiences such as sight, touch, scent, and hearing while already in a more relaxed and positive state, we can give ourselves an opportunity to more readily connect more deeply with ourselves through enhancing the body-mind connection.

Not only that, but we have a ton of “people watching” opportunities at the beach during a time where most people are also in a greater state of relaxation and bliss than in our regular routines. This may be linked with why brain areas connected to empathy, memory, and reasoning get a boost. If you’re not feeling up for taking notice of the people around you, you can still enjoy the animals at the beach for this same benefit too!

As quickly as the summer has been flying by, you still have time to go out and get yourself some much needed ‘Vitamin Sea!’ Don’t forget to let me know where you gave yourself the permission to give your brain and your body a boost! Read more HERE for full details on how to reap the most benefits of ‘Vitamin Sea!’

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

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Getting Some Sleep? Part 4

Last week, we looked at the processes that regulate sleep cycles. There are factors that can prevent this that we can easily modify in our lives.

Suggestions for modifying the amounts and timing of using these substances are part of “sleep hygiene” which we will explore in more depth next week when we take a closer look at some sleep solutions!

For many, alcoholic beverages tend to be relaxing and induce drowsiness. However, later in the night, as alcohol is metabolized, it leads to restless and disturbed sleep. The result is a far less refreshing sleep. Therefore drinking alcohol close to bedtime is generally discouraged.

Caffeine is a relatively long-acting stimulant whose effects may last for several hours after it is consumed. People differ greatly in the rate at which caffeine affects them and as a result, in the length of time during which it might impact their sleep. On average, 4–5 hours after a modest amount of caffeine has been consumed, about half the amount of caffeine continues to act as a stimulant in our brains. This activity may last even longer after higher levels of intake and in individuals who are particularly sensitive to its effects, including older adults. We therefore recommend limiting consumption of caffeinated beverages to the equivalent of no more than three, eight- ounce cups daily and avoiding consumption after lunch.

Cravings for nicotine can occur during the middle of night because nicotine has a short half- life of approximately 2 hours and therefore leaves the body fairly quickly. As the body breaks down nicotine, a person experiences withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation and tension. This leads to the consumption of more nicotine in order to reduce these symptoms. In other words, each dose of nicotine relaxes the tension and agitation that were produced by withdrawal from the previous nicotine consumption. This means that rather than relaxing tension from everyday stresses, nicotine only treats the tension and agitation that resulted from withdrawal from the previous intake. Because of this, if you smoke, it is best to avoid smoking at least two hours before bedtime.

Exercise too close to bedtime may have a negative impact on sleep. This is associated with the fact that exercise is activating. Exercise raises an our core body temperature and therefore may interfere with the daily drop in temperature before bedtime that supports sleep. For these reasons exercise should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Gentle stretching exercises before bedtime are OK and may, in fact, be relaxing and, possibly even, supportive of sleep.

A heavy meal close to bedtime may lead to indigestion and sometimes reflux during the night, both of which may cause arousal in our physiology. The process of falling asleep slows down the digestive system. Because of this, going to bed before food is fully digested is a poor sleep practice and eating a heavy meal should be avoided about four hours before bedtime. Because feeling hungry may also interfere with sleep, a light snack can be OK. Eating in the middle of the night is also not a good idea because it sends alerting signals to our brain and can prolong the time you are awake.

Now, we’ve spent some time looking at how sleep works for us and why it’s important to support our best sleep on a regular basis. We’ve also started taking a look at how some things in our day to day lives can get in the way of us getting some good, quality, restful sleep. Next time, we will go through some best practices for promoting our best sleep so that we can wake up feeling refreshed, energized, calm, and ready to celebrate our life everyday!

If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

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Getting Some Sleep? Part 3

Last week, we began exploring some of the reasons we sleep and the processes that regulate sleep cycles. To examine this more thoroughly, it is important to keep in mind that our sleep drive is lowest in the morning when we wake up; it gradually increases as the day progresses. During sleep, our sleep drive gradually weakens as we “recharge our energy reserve.”

Napping also reduces our sleep drive. The longer we nap the more our sleep drive is reduced. Napping close to bedtime (even brief dozing off while watching TV) weakens our sleep drive just when we most need it.

In some ways the sleep drive is similar to hunger, and napping is like snacking. As grandma used to say, snacking close to meal time may ruin our appetite.

The circadian process: People, like most animals, have powerful internal ‘clocks’ that affect their behavior and bodily functioning, including digestion, body temperature, and sleep/wake pattern. Many of these ‘clocks’ work across roughly 24-hour periods.

For example, if we record a person’s internal body temperature for several days under the same conditions, we will see a consistent up and down pattern across each 24- hour day.

Most peoples’ internal temperature will reach its lowest point around 3 or 4 AM, will rise through the morning and early afternoon, and will hit its peak (highest) point around 9 or 10 PM. Then, their temperature will begin to fall until it hits its low point in the early morning hours, after which it starts rising once again. We tend to fall asleep as our core body temperature is falling and wake up in the morning after our core body temperature starts rising.

We sleep best when our sleep drive is strong and our bedtimes and waketimes are in sync with the internal, biological clock that regulates our sleep and wakefulness. One way to understand how our biological clock regulates sleep is to realize that this clock operates by sending alerting (waking) signals that differ in strength across the 24-hour day and that these alerting signals oppose our sleep drive. You can think of the temperature as an indication of how strong the alerting signal is.

In other words, a higher temperature indicates a higher alerting signal and a lower temperature indicates a weak alerting signal.

Under normal conditions, if there are no sleep problems, the alerting signals sent by our clocks increase from the time we wake up in the morning until a time in the evening when our alerting signals start decreasing. In other words, as our sleep drive increases and promotes sleepiness, the alerting signals from our clock ensures that we do not fall asleep during the day when we need to be alert to carry out our daily activities.

The ideal time to fall asleep is when our alerting signal starts to decrease in the evening and our sleep drive is high. In other words, at a time when the balance between our sleep promoting and alertness-promoting drives is tipped toward sleep. Then after we fall asleep, our alerting signal continues to decrease, which is a good thing because at the same time our sleep drive weakens as well. In that way, the net effect of the sleep promoting and opposing factors continues to be in favor of sleep so that we can continue to sleep.

Then, sometime in the early hours of the night, the alerting signals from our internal clock start to increase again. About 1-3 hours after that, we naturally wake up for the day.

Keeping a very irregular sleep-wake schedule can interfere with our ability to sleep well because it weakens the signals from our circadian clock. Irregular sleep schedules subject our bodies to a frequent ‘jet lag’- like experience, during which we try to sleep out of sync with our biology. To keep your biological clock healthy it is particularly important to keep regular wake and out of bed times. Regular wake and out of bed times mean the clock is getting light signals at the same time every day. This is important because the clock uses light signals to reset itself every day. Therefore, regular wake and out of bed times and hence regular exposure to natural light help keep the clock “ticking” with a strong and regular beat, which supports good sleep.

Sometimes a person’s biological clock is out of sync with society’s typical daily schedule. People who describe themselves as “night owls” may have a delayed circadian clock relative to most other people. This means that the night owl’s alerting signal starts decreasing later than it does for most people. If night people or “night persons” go to bed when most other people do, they are trying to sleep when their alerting signal is still too strong therefore they have difficulty falling asleep. But, if they wait and go to bed later, they fall asleep much faster because their clock’s alerting signals are already weakening.

“Night people” often have difficulty waking up in the morning. This happens because when they try to wake up during the “normal” societal times their biological clocks are not yet generating strong enough alerting signals.

Compared with young adults, older people tend to wake more often during the night and/or wake too early in the morning without having enough sleep to feel rested. As many as 50% of older individuals complain about sleep problems, including disturbed or ‘‘light’’ sleep, frequent awakenings, and early morning awakenings. Indeed, the percent of the deepest sleep stage, stage N3, relative to total sleep time declines with age. Older age may be associated with a weaker signal from the circadian clock that is due, in part, to insufficient light reaching the brain’s clock. Insufficient light signal to the brain may be related to a decrease in time spent outdoors or age-related changes in light receptors in the eye. Because light exposure is an important regulator of the circadian clock, age-associated reduction in light exposure results in a weaker signal from the circadian clock. In addition, some older adults go to bed and wake up earlier than when they were younger, a shift that is influenced by both biology and life style.

We just discussed some of what we know about the science of sleep and wake regulation. Next week, we will discuss several factors that can have an impact on sleep. If you’re looking for some tips on getting better sleep in the meantime, I shared some tips with Reader’s Digest recently that you can get started with.

Curious what I can offer you to help build the life you love? Get in touch!

Get access to more valuable content weekly here!