Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Seven Ways to Slow Down

When young children break down in a fit of tears, we are quick to recognize that this is a case of being overstimulated: too much noise, too many people, too much to manage. We put them down for a nap, and know things will be more calm in an hour.

Yet we often fail to recognize the same signs of stress and overwhelm in ourselves. We take on work projects, make plans with friends, push ourselves to go to the gym, keep up with the news, and tackle new recipes, then question why it is we feel so frazzled and burnt out. 

As philosopher Alain de Botton explains, sometimes we just need to keep things simple.

“What registers as anxiety is typically no freakish phenomenon; it is the mind’s logical enraged plea not to be continuously and exhaustingly overstimulated,” he says.

Here are seven ways to slow down and simplify your life: 

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Practicing Self-Compassion Can Boost Your Mental Health

Most American adults will experience stress, anxiety or depression at some point in their lives. Therapies that teach mindfulness and self-compassion may provide some relief. A new study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, looks at whether focusing on self-compassion may be as effective as a mindfulness-based therapy for improving mental health.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) are two of the most widely used clinical approaches for treating depression, anxiety, and stress. The first, MBCT, is based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and includes meditation, breath work, yoga, body scans, and practices to explore thoughts and increase mindfulness. On the other hand, CFT focuses on building compassion by incorporating practices for compassion and self-compassion, along with mindfulness exercises. 

Since both therapies are widely used, researchers wanted to learn whether CFT’s explicit instruction in compassion and self-compassion might yield different results for people experiencing depression, anxiety and stress compared to a mindfulness-based approach alone—although the researchers noted that nonjudgmental acceptance, which is part of the most widely-adopted definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, “can be taken as indicating that compassion toward self and others and mindfulness are intrinsically linked.”

Can You Feel Better with Compassion?

The study took place at a residential rehabilitation and health clinic in Iceland. In addition to MBCT and CFT, the clinic also offers psychoeducation, fitness and exercises classes, acupuncture, and massage.

Of the 58 participating adult residents, 20 attended an MBCT group, another 18 joined a CFT group, and another 20 received no mindfulness-based treatment. MBCT and CFT group members were offered eight two-hour-long sessions over four consecutive weeks, and had to attend at least four sessions to receive an adequate “dose” of treatment.

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How Labels Help: Tame Reactive Emotions by Naming Them

It was a particularly difficult day. My then nine-month-old daughter had a terrible night and left my wife and I with only a handful hours’ sleep. Needless to say, we were slow getting up and out the door that morning.  Before we left, my wife and I “discussed” who should’ve gotten up with Celia during the night (we’d been down this road before—these back-and-forths never help solve this issue, and somehow, we yet again veered this way). We barely spoke in the car the rest of the way to work after we dropped our daughter off at daycare.

And then I was hit by one issue after another once I walked into my office. An upset parent who’d left a voicemail who urgently needed to talk to me.  A clinician who needed help dealing with a student in crisis.  An important meeting I needed to chair that I’d forgotten to put in my calendar. And worst of all, I must have used a ladle to scoop my sugar into my coffee travel mug that morning.

Simply labeling a difficult emotional experience allows you to take the reins back, if only briefly.

I sat with my face in my hands at my desk for a moment.  I was seething with what life had deposited on top of me. My temples were pulsing, and my clock said it was only 9:30. Somehow, I remembered what I’d recommended to clients many times, but usually forgot to do myself.  It was a nice therapeutic “nugget” that made sense, but seemed like it should be innate to me, an experienced therapist: “Name it”—or as I’ve heard psychiatrist and mindfulness expert Dan Siegel say—“Name it to tame it.” In other words, say to yourself, out loud, what negative emotion you’re experiencing, as you’re experiencing it, in order to get some distance from it. As the clinical wisdom goes, simply labeling a difficult emotional experience allows you to take the reins back, if only briefly.

How Labelling Emotions Help Us Move On

I’d recommended this emotional labeling to clients for years, but I’m fairly certain I’d never tried it myself.  Again, I was a therapist—this simple labeling practice was for my child clients to use. It was “Self-Management 101.” I thought I was far beyond such “basic” strategies—I was wrong, because I sat at my desk with distress rippling through me, my mind was electric with ranting, and I was on track for a less than effective, connected, and creative day. I needed to return to the basics.

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What to Do if Your Partner Won’t Meditate

Critics of the modern mindfulness movement often note that those of us who promote the benefits of mindfulness have a way of getting evangelical in our attempts to raise awareness about the practice.  “If it’s great for me,” we think, “it must be good for you, and you are missing out!”  

The culture of mindfulness often reinforces this attitude in subtle ways: books, articles, and podcasts present these practices as a kind of panacean remedy for all our ills, so we struggle to understand why others wouldn’t want to give it a try.   

Being excited about mindfulness may seem harmless, but when we get too pushy about it in our most intimate relationships—especially with our partners and spouses—it can become a source of relational friction, and even conflict.

Are You a Pushy Meditator? 

We know this first hand. During the early years of our mindfulness practice, we both experienced an almost irresistible desire to proselytize to our spouse about the benefits of mindfulness. The experiences we were having on the cushion were so profound, so life-altering, we wanted everyone – especially our partners – to learn about the practice and experience these incredible benefits.

The more we deepened our practice, the more we felt the weight of years of anxiety, stress, and emotional baggage begin to lift.  And that left us wondering naively: “Why wouldn’t everyone – especially our life partner – want the same?” During this time, the two of us even started writing a book together called Start Here on building mindfulness into the midst of everyday life.  

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What Is the Best Diet for Mental Health?

Should you eat an apple—or a bag of Oreos? Go to McDonald’s—or the vegetarian restaurant on the corner?

When we make these everyday food choices, many of us think first of our physical health and appearance. But there’s another factor we may want to consider in picking foods: their impact on our mental health.

A growing body of research is discovering that food doesn’t just affect our waistline but also our moods, emotions, and even longer-term conditions like depression. Which makes sense, after all. Our brains are physical entities, running on the energy that we put into our bodies, affected by shifts in our hormones, blood sugar levels, and many other biological processes.

Whole-food diets heavy on the fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed protein can lift our moods and protect us from depression.

Although there are many unanswered questions, the research to date can give us some guidance when we’re hunting for an afternoon snack. What we know so far can be summed up, more or less, as this: Whole-food diets heavy on the fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed protein can lift our moods and protect us from depression, while too much junk food and sugar may put our mental health at risk.

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