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…”

Self-Compassion: The Often Missing Ingredient in Healthy Eating

During another tough day at work, Mary realizes she forgot to eat lunch. She’s starving. The salad she brought that day doesn’t appeal, especially when her office mate offers to share the pizza he ordered. Mary loves pizza so she takes a piece, eating it quickly because she is hungry but also feeling guilty over her choice. She takes another slice. And another. She finishes the meal feeling too full and starts berating herself for her lack of willpower. “I shouldn’t have eaten that. What’s wrong with me? Why do I always choose foods that I know I shouldn’t eat?”

Research shows the more understanding and forgiving we are of ourselves, the more motivated we are to do what we need to take care of ourselves, including eating well.

Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s one that’s repeated frequently by many who repeatedly try without success to eat more healthfully. What they don’t realize is that they’re missing a key ingredient in healthy eating. It’s self-compassion. And it has the power to make or break your success at eating well.

What is Self-Compassion?

According to researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, self-compassion consists of three main components:

Self-kindness: Being kind and understanding toward yourself in instances of pain or failure as opposed to harshly criticizing yourself.Common humanity: Recognizing your experiences are part of the larger human experience. You are not alone.Mindfulness:Holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than overidentifying with them or trying to ignore them.

Research shows the more understanding and forgiving we are of ourselves, the more motivated we are to do what we need to take care of ourselves, including eating well. It also helps guard against emotional overeating, which often occurs when we feel as if we have failed in our efforts to eat well.

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What is Ecoanxiety, and How Can Mindfulness Help?

About a year ago, a friend of mine mentioned to me that she was interested in attending a “climate change bereavement group” in our neighbourhood. I’d never heard of such a thing, but on reflection it really made sense. People are really upset about climate change and don’t know what to do about it. I’m seeing more and more clients show up with these concerns in my office. I’m seeing more and more news and social media stories about it. And I’ve even begun speaking about it in the media myself. The technical term for this upset feeling is “ecoanxiety” and it’s definitely a thing. 

How Climate Change is Affecting Mental Health

There’s a diverse set of mental health problems arising as the devastation caused by climate change increases. Superstorms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires and other extreme climate events have disastrous consequences on people’s lives. Individuals are being killed, injured, or forced to leave their homes, devastating families and communities. Mass migrations are disrupting lives at a larger scale. 

Post-Traumatic Stress following extreme climate events is becoming more common, as are spikes in fear, anxiety, depression, and irritability. It is worth noting that climate change events are more likely to affect the lives of the vulnerable, such as the poor, and therefore these populations are more susceptible to the acute impact on mental health.

The Definition of Ecoanxiety

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines ecoanxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” (report). As the definition suggests, ecoanxiety not a response to an acute event, but a state of mind that arises gradually as we watch the slow and frightening consequences of climate change unfold. Ecoanxiety can manifest in intense worry and rumination, generalized anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, feelings of sadness, loss, guilt, hopelessness, and irritability – in other words, symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

The term has not made it into the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (2013), but it will surely be considered in future editions as the magnitude of the problem becomes clear. A 2018 Yale survey estimated that 70% of Americans are “worried” and 29% are “very worried” about climate change, while 51% feel “helpless.” While little data is available, ecoanxiety appears to affect younger generations (e.g. Millennials, Gen Z) more than older (e.g. Gen X, Baby boomers). The mental health community is increasingly engaged with the impacts of climate change: The APA assembled a task force in 2008 and published this 70 page report in 2017 to build awareness and educate professionals.

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An Introduction to Mindful Gratitude

Living your life with gratitude helps you notice the little wins — like the bus showing up right on time, a stranger holding the door for you, or the sun shining through your window when you wake up in the morning. Each of these small moments strings together to create a web of well-being that, over time, strengthens your ability to notice the good.

The Power of Gratitude

Most of us know it’s important to express thanks to the people who help us, or silently acknowledge the things we are grateful for in life. Research has linked gratitude with a wide range of benefits, including strengthening your immune system and improving sleep patterns, feeling optimistic and experiencing more joy and pleasure, being more helpful and generous, and feeling less lonely and isolated. 

Here are three ways that gratitude can be a game-changer: 

Its boosts your mental health.  A study from 2017 found that those who write letters of gratitude reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.It helps you accept change. When we are comfortable with the way things already are, it can be difficult to accept when things change—let alone feel grateful for that difference. But when we make it a habit to notice the good change brings, we can become more flexible and accepting. Here are four ways to practice gratitude when change arises. It can relieve stress. The regions associated with gratitude are part of the neural networks that light up when we socialize and experience pleasure. These regions are also heavily connected to the parts of the brain that control basic emotion regulation, such as heart rate, and are associated with stress relief and thus pain reduction. Feeling grateful and recognizing help from others creates a more relaxed body state and allows the subsequent benefits of lowered stress to wash over us.

10 Ways to Practice Daily Gratitude 

As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” Saying thank you, holding the door for someone, these little moments can change the tone of your whole day.

One of the most powerful ways to rewire your brain for more joy and less stress is to focus on gratitude. Here are 10 simple ways to become more grateful:

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How to Test Your Emotional Maturity

Some people are better able to control and understand their emotions than others. And even the most emotionally intelligent among us get caught up in moments of emotional immaturity. 

That’s because one size does not fit all when it comes to our response to conflict, betrayal, and other relationship challenges. Our upbringing, life experiences, and our natural disposition all shape the way we respond to difficult situations. 

In this video from The School of Life, author and philosopher Alain de Botton explores the three common signs of emotional immaturity, and how we can learn to see our more immature reactions for what they are—unexplored areas of necessary emotional development.

How to Test Your Emotional Maturity

In order to access your level of emotional development, or emotional age, ask yourself this question, says De Botton: “When someone on whom we depend emotionally let’s us down, disappoints us, or leaves us hanging in uncertainty, what is our characteristic way of responding?”

There are three methods of responding that indicate emotional immaturity (you can rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of these options):

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Mindfulness at School Improves Critical Learning Skills

More and more young, developing children are showing signs of stress when they enter school, making it more important than ever to teach young students the tools of emotional resilience. New research out of Australia finds that mindfulness education during the school day may be of benefit to elementary school students, building skills that help them thrive in the classroom and beyond.  

There are three critical skills that develop in early childhood: paying attention and remembering information, shifting back and forth between tasks, and behaving appropriately with others. These abilities are known as executive functions and they are essential for more advanced tasks like planning, reasoning, problem solving, and positive social relationships.

Most of what we know about the effects of mindfulness practice on the mind, emotions, and behavior comes from studies with adults. Although we know that mindfulness-based interventions in schools can be helpful for children, we know little about how these interventions affect executive function. Researchers at Australia’s Griffith University decided to find out.

The Effects of Mindfulness on the Mind, Emotions, and Behavior of Children

In the study, 91 kindergarten- to 2nd– grade students participated in a classroom mindfulness program. Roughly two thirds of the children were offered lessons during the first part of the study, and the other third, who were part of the control group, were placed on a waitlist and received instruction later. At the end of the semester, researchers compared the children who initially received mindfulness training to the control group students.

The mindfulness program was designed to boost the development of executive function skills by building on what teachers are already doing in the classroom. Each day, teachers performed a “core practice” (listening to the sound of a chime) at the start of the day, after morning recess, and after lunch for the duration of the school term. They were also free to supplement lessons in typical academic subjects like reading or math with a variety of mindfulness-based activities to help kids keep calm, like taking mindful moments, reading books like “Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda”, drawing pictures, and making puppets. Students also practiced breathing and body scan exercises, and had their own mindfulness diaries. 

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