Need Some Sleep??

Many of us have a difficult time sleeping restfully. Some of us have a hard time falling asleep, while many of us wake up throughout the night. For others, we can fall and stay asleep fine but find ourselves having disturbing dreams or nightmares. Still, many of us just find ourselves waking up exhausted and seem to have a hard time getting the rest we need. In fact, over half of Americans have a difficult time getting the quality sleep they need.

Unfortunately, this affects more than just how tired we feel the next day. Inadequate sleep or quality of sleep can affect not only our mood, but our concentration levels, frustration and stress tolerance, and the rate at which we process the information that is being thrown at us in our world. This then creates a spiral where we have an even more difficult time winding down enough to go to sleep again.

Recently, I was interviewed as part of a Reader’s Digest article on battling insomnia – or difficulty falling and staying asleep. The article explores some tips and tools for helping you get the sleep that you may be needing.

I make a reference to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I. This six session protocal has been found to be as effective as psychopharmacology for insomnia in the short term and even more effective in the long term. It is now considered the gold standard treatment for sleeping difficulties. You can access a bit more information about it here as well.

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Feeling Fatigued??

For many of us, there is often a feeling of giving and sharing so much of ourselves that there may be a chronic sense of fatigue, depression, or even anxiety. In particular, there are those of us that are giving so much of our empathy and compassion on a constant basis that we may be experiencing compassion fatigue.

While it can be so meaningful for us to share and give of ourselves in this way, it can leave us feeling too depleted, drained, and out of sorts to continue to do so – or even to continue on in our regular activities as before. This is what can make compassion fatigue so difficult.

Jennifer Blough’s The Compassion Fatigue Podcast addresses this same issue. When she reached out to me to discuss the ways that Reiki can help us through this dilemma, I was excited to share information. Reiki can be such a powerful tool in helping us to rebalance our physical, emotional, and psychological needs – which are the things that compassion fatigue depletes.

You can access more information about compassion fatigue here. If you find the show valuable, please feel free to share it with others, rate, review, and subscribe. That way, more people who need it can benefit from it. You can also read more about Reiki here and listen to my overview of it here as well.

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An Introduction to CPT for PTSD

Last week, I shared an overview of PTSD with a brief video. In the coming weeks, I will be exploring a bit more specific information about each cluster of what comprises PTSD. As we move forward in the next several weeks with this examination, I wanted to share an article I recently wrote for Natural Awakenings magazine wherein I take a closer look at one of the gold standard treatments for PTSD, Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). 

This short-term approach for PTSD issues has been documented to provide long-standing relief in a number of scientifically robust studies. I have also seen it transform the lives of many people grappling with the challenges brought on by living with haunting trauma symptoms. It has been meaningful for me to be one of the few in NY state to offer this highly effective programs.

What areas of PTSD do you or a loved one struggle with?? Send me a quick email to let me know – that way, I can support you with information that can be helpful.

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Understanding PTSD

For many  people, PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a daily struggle. In fact, this is true for one out of every nine women. For others, it might be something that a loved one struggles with. Still, a great deal of people have a bit of unclarity as to what PTSD entails. The video above gives an overview of the common features we see in PTSD.

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Exploring the Impact of Mindfulness, Part 3

Over the last two weeks, we have begun examining the benefits and scientific underpinnings of Mindfulness. We resume the findings studies noted regarding the highly beneficial impact of Mindfulness over a short term period of regular practice.

In their studies isolating the unique benefits of Mindfulness, scientists also found significant changes in the amygdala, or the brain’s center for fight, flight, and freeze responses, following Mindfulness practices. During and after stressful, overwhelming, scary, and traumatic situations, the natural tendency of the amygdala is to increase in size. This prepares us for survival in whatever way is possible. However, in their studies, scientists saw the amygdala shrinking amongst practitioners of Mindfulness. In fact, the greater the stress reduction they noted, the smaller the amygdala become. Such a finding is valuable because it points to the resilience and clarity that Mindful awareness can bring on, particularly useful during difficult experiences. It is important to note that, in these studies, the changes noticed were documented to be independent of any other factors in the environment or personal characteristics of participants.

With this in mind, the studies show that Mindfulness does more than just help us to feel better in the moment. While participating with an improved state is valuable, there are greater benefits with Mindfulness. Understanding this physiology reflects the cumulative impact of Mindfulness. Furthermore, these findings show that not only are the benefits beyond a mere placebo response, but the benefits literally provide changes to our brain.

From a greater quality of life to facilitating depression and anxiety recovery, reducing stress, lowering pain, increasing concentration, cultivating creativity, reducing insomnia, and improving energy levels, the benefits of Mindfulness practice can easily enhance our lives. Furthermore, these findings show that not only are the benefits beyond a mere placebo response, but the benefits literally provide changes to our brain. This positions us to more effectively enact changes in our lives that will cultivate more fulfilling experiences.

One reason I offer the Mindfulness Matters Challenge to the community is because I think everyone can benefit from improving their quality of life through this practice. With the understanding of the scientific and neurobiological underpinnings of Mindfulness, we can see there are a number of benefits from Mindfulness – a practice that helps us to better structure the 50-70 thousand thoughts we have each day. It can be a powerful tool in helping us to restructure what we are looking to build in our lives.

In fact, each of the graduates of my 8 session Mindful Monday group has shared powerful life changes during and after the group. In particular, these practitioners found that, over time, it became easier to practice Mindfulness, that it got easier to bring their awareness back to the present experience, and that the time between their mind wandering was prolonged. In addition, they also noted that it became easier to simply accept that their minds would wander throughout the practice. In conjunction with the physiological benefits, they noticed significant changes in their lives upon the completion of the series. Some still reach out to me to share further gains and triumphs.

Over the last several weeks, we have explored the neurophysiological changes we see as a result of a consistent, brief Mindfulness practice. In conjunction with that, we have investigated some of the noted and unique benefits that this powerful practice can bring into our daily lives. I further discuss these practices with Deborah Turner in her weekly show. Feel free to listen here for additional information.

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Exploring the Impact of Mindfulness, Part 2

Last week, we began to examine some of the scientific principles behind how and why Mindfulness benefits us while we are adapting to life changing circumstances. We will be building upon that discussion today with an overview of some scientific findings.

Modern scientists began studying the brains of people who regularly engaged in meditation practices sixty years ago. They found that these practitioners could weather stressful events with more resilience, come up with more original and creative ideas, and engage in improved cognitive functioning such as memory recall. In the last ten years, however, we have come to also discover that every time we think, feel, or act, a neural connection occurs in our brain. Things that we think, feel, or do most often strengthen these connections and pathways. In the same vein, those connections that we don’t use become weakened and begin to fall away. We can notice this with our habits that have become automatic and often mindless. Our thoughts and thought patterns work in the same way.

We can notice this with our habits that have become automatic and often mindless. Our thoughts and thought patterns work in the same way. Worry thoughts, angry thoughts, guilt, shame, and even sadness can all become habitual and strengthen the neuronal connections that forge them. It then becomes much easier to go there – and more readily.

Because these connections become so strong, habitual, and repetitive, it often begins to feel like we are powerless to change them. Yet, we merely need to understand how we can change our brains and these neuronal connections to make effective and enduring changes. This is where neuroplasticity can be impactful.

Neuroplasticity refers to the idea that our brain is, in many ways, like plastic and malleable. Things we find difficult can become easier with repetition – the more we do, think, and feel, the easier these challenging tasks become. Restructuring our brain through

Restructuring our brain through Mindfulness happens through the practice of noticing our thoughts, feelings, and sensations and bringing our awareness back to the present experience of these things rather than getting caught up in them. As we do this, we begin to both create and strengthen new neuronal pathways as well as weaken previous, maladaptive ones that were not helpful for us.

Scientists looked to see how, over three months of Mindfulness practices can change the brain structure of people engaging in this practice. Findings indicated a greater amount of grey matter in the regions of the brain responsible for working memory and executive decision making. These areas, interestingly, are typically associated with decline as age increases. Yet, the converse of this effect was found amongst those practicing Mindfulness over three months. In other words, Mindfulness slows down and prevents the natural age-related decline in cortical structure.

A follow-up study looked to target whether these effects in the brain were, in fact, due to the meditation instead of other potential factors. As a result, these other variables were isolated to see what changed amongst practitioners of Mindfulness meditation. The findings that were illuminated highlight valuable benefits for a regular Mindfulness practice.

Scientists noted an increase in the size of the hippocampus amongst practitioners of Mindfulness. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that aids in managing emotions, learning, and memory. In fact, we see a decrease in this area among people with PTSD and depression. In addition, scientists also noticed changes in the temporo-parietal area of the brain, which contributes to perspective taking, empathy, and compassion. This is not a surprising result of studies since, often, one of the documented benefits of Mindfulness has been an improvement in interpersonal relationships.

Additional findings were also reported in these robust studies including some that suggest Mindfulness is a particularly useful tool for overcoming disruptions and challenges in our lives. I explore further findings in next week’s blog post as well as in an episode of the “Beyond the Couch” podcast.

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Exploring the Impact of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become a buzzword that’s gotten a lot of attention over the last few years, but not many people really get a full understanding of what it is. The benefit of this is that a lot of awareness has been brought to this powerful exercise. And yet, unfortunately, much of the important components of it have become overlooked in the shuffle. Because of this, many people have an incomplete and partial understanding of Mindfulness. In the “Beyond the Couch” podcast, along with this multi-part blog post series, I set out to help bring to light much of the scientific backing to how and why Mindfulness works to benefit us. In particular, the way Mindfulness can impact us and help us to work through the various disruptions and stressors in our lives can really bring a deeper level of benefit, growth, and enduring change as we redefine and recreate our lives.

With things changing in our lives, even when that change is internal, we might be feeling a bit restless and stuck in a rut. You may be finding yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed and rundown. In fact, you might even feel this in your physical body where you may be having a hard time catching your breath and feel your muscles tightened and clenched. Maybe you are feeling rushed from one thing to the next without a moment to slow your racing mind down. You’re even catching yourself walking into a room and don’t even know why. Or, you find yourself looking for your cup of coffee and realize it has been in your hand while you’re frantically searching for it. You may have even had an entire conversation with someone and realize that you have no idea what you just talked about. It may even have gotten to a point that things have become so frazzling that, more and more, you’re finding yourself reactive without knowing what set you off and you are just having a hard time focusing on what you are trying to do.

You wish you could find a way to just clear your head, de-stress, refocus, and find your footing again.

With a brief and consistent Mindfulness practice, you can find simple ways to get yourself feeling more focused, alert, and calm again so that you can get into a productive and meaningful mindset. This way, you are ready to tackle all of the things you are juggling from a state that can help you make the best choices for your meaningful, fulfilled life.

Mindfulness refers to a practice that focuses on awareness of the present experience without judgment and without attachment or reactivity. This allows our mind to be calm and peaceful so that we can have greater clarity and even increase happiness, peace, and decrease discomfort.

It tends to be difficult for most people to control their mindset – we often feel as if our thoughts are maintained by external circumstances. As we build our Mindfulness practice, we can more easily maintain awareness and control of our thoughts and mindset. To understand this, we will explore a concept called neuroplasticity – or, the changing nature of our brain.

Generally, our brain is looking to proactively solve future problems and rework past issues so that, when they arise again, it is best prepared to quickly and efficiently resolve them. This, however, keeps us from being fully immersed in the present moment.

Not only this, but our mind does not see a distinction between a past, future, or present stressor. It gets us to react to past and future stressors with stress in the here and now. To our mind, it’s all the same. As a result, overthinking, worrying, depressive thoughts, and anxiety elicit the stress response of fight, flight, and freeze. Over time, this can make us vulnerable to mental health issues.

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala, which is our brain’s center for fear and negative emotions. This is important because it also helps to reduce the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Overall, shifting our state in this way helps us to respond in more productive ways to the things going on in our lives. There is a further cumulative effect of this benefit in that it first allows us to participate in our lives in ways that allow us to build confidence, self-efficacy, and more meaningful relationships. Furthermore, as we will explore in Part II of this series, Mindfulness practice on a consistent basis facilitates creating and building more positive and adaptive neuronal connections while simultaneously dissolving the older, less helpful neuronal connections.

I look forward to further elaborating on the impact of Mindfulness on our neuronal connections, neuroplasticity, and overall state next week!

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