Your Emotional Wellness Toolbox: Part 1

Sometimes you hit a rough patch. Therapists are not immune from this, and those who know realize that many therapists have come to this profession through having experienced and overcome some hard knocks. I like to pride myself on eating my own dog food, though, because it's so much easier to really help someone out of an emotional hole when you've had to put the time, energy, and sometimes pain into navigating your own self care journey and to troubleshoot common pitfalls. Life will always give you a refresher course on rough patches, so keeping your emotional wellness toolbox full of tools in good working condition can pay dividends in the time you get back to feeling well. The following tools and apps within this series of postings are my personal, unpaid recommendations for anyone's emotional wellness toolbox. Today's tool is mindfulness.

Mindfulness and Inner peace: No monastery required. Photo: Igor Ovsyannykov

Mindfulness and Inner peace: No monastery required.

Photo: Igor Ovsyannykov

Tool #1: Mindfulness (noun):
The practice of being fully present, body and mind.

While modern day, secular mindfulness practices do originate from the Buddhist tradition, I'm not expecting you to convert, join a monastery, or quote Thich Nhat Hahn. Brownie points for reading Thich Nhat Hahn's really fine books aside, think of the tasks you do in a day and whether each of those tasks really has your full attention. Do you remember what your last meal or snack tasted like? Do you remember its texture as it crossed your lips, you chewed, and how it changed when you began to swallow it? Did you, like many mere mortals, simply suck down your sustenance in an effort to just get through to the next task? That happens too.

Slowing down your tasks might sound like a burden, and you might be wondering who in the world has time for that? If you're busy and need to excel in a high stress world, you do. Yes, you. Even fifteen to twenty minutes of daily mindfulness practice is often enough to cultivate the refreshed headspace to go back into your tasks with a more observant eye and a greater sense of wellness. There's compelling evidence that those who engage in a mindfulness practice tend to feel less distress, more vitality, and cope better with stressors. Unless of course, you don't want those things. In which case, I've got nothing for you. 

Campfires engage the senses with the heat, the scent of the burning wood, the crackling, and the brilliant flames. being this fully present, it's little wonder why they can be relaxing. Photo: Igor Ovsyannykov

Campfires engage the senses with the heat, the scent of the burning wood, the crackling, and the brilliant flames. being this fully present, it's little wonder why they can be relaxing.

Photo: Igor Ovsyannykov

Mindfulness Activity: The Object Meditation (5 minutes)
Take a small object, and be present with it, body and mind, without distractions. Notice if your mind wanders, and bring it back gently to the present without judgment. Close your eyes, and hold the object, feeling its weight in your hands and breathing slowly. Notice how the sensation of the object changes as you turn it in your hands. Feel the object's surface texture. Is the texture soft or rough? Does it have bumps or ridges? Holding the object, notice if it is round or has edges. Is it malleable or firm? Open your eyes, and inspect the object for scratches or changes in how it reflects the light around you. Turn the object to a new angle, and again inspect it from this new perspective. Breathing slowly, breathe in as you slowly slide your finger across one side of the object, taking note of any bumps or ridges, and breathe out as your finger slowly slides across the next edge. Continue breathing slowly, and as you inhale, notice if the object has a scent. Closing your eyes, and again feeling the weight of the object, thank the object and yourself for the moment. Having taken the time with the object, how do you feel?

Related App I love: Mindfulness Daily
In real life, it's hard to create and commit to a mindfulness practice. Even with the best of intentions to practice self-care, I forget half the time, so I love this life-hack of an app. Mindfulness Daily is an app that is approachable for absolute beginners in discovering and committing to a mindful practice and calmer life. It comes with a 21 day program of very short, daily lessons to help you start and track your progression in fulfilling your practice values. It also allows you to track your emotions, journal about your current body and mind sensations, and has a reminder notification, that you can set at your chosen times, to take thirty second-long mindful breathing pauses along the day. The Night Reflection was particularly nice as it emphasized the need for headspace and calm to be at our best during the daytime. Having personally gone through the 21 day program, I did find myself noticeably calmer and more content, even in the face of stressful events, and even as a person who hates schedules, I eventually found myself looking forward to my scheduled mindfulness lessons and pauses. Frankly, it works.

What mindfulness tools do you love? Do you have tools that I need to list for the Emotional Toolbox? Share in the comments below.