Sleep

By Jennifer Waldburger MSW

I did not start my private practice 20 years ago with a specialty in sleep. Instead, I was helping people with everything from addiction and relationship issues to financial worries, illness, and their child’s behavior. What I came to realize  though, was how many of my clients weren’t sleeping well in addition to whatever else was going on. I also saw that as much as poor sleep can be a symptom of other imbalances in life, it can also make whatever is hard about life feel even harder. As a longtime practitioner of mindfulness and meditation myself – and admittedly a wonderful sleeper,  I began to weave these practices into my private sessions and classes. Lo and behold, my clients’ sleep improved greatly, and helping people to get better rest became a cornerstone of my practice.

Millions of people across the globe struggle with sleep, so if sleep is a problem for you, you’re definitely not alone. The Centers for Disease Control have gone so far as to call insufficient sleep a public health problem, linking it to everything from auto accidents to cancer. So why is poor sleep such an epidemic?

One huge sleep stealer that I see is technology. We are terrified of not being electronically connected at all times. Often we mistake being “connected” with our tech as a substitute for the kind of genuine human connection that sustains and nurtures us – but of course it isn’t. Not always knowing how to move through life’s difficulties can be another huge stumbling block to getting good sleep. We rush through our days making little time to process all that’s happening, so by the time our heads hit the pillow at night, all that’s unresolved comes bubbling up. Then we mentally churn all that’s already happened – or we worry about what might happen tomorrow or in the future. It’s no wonder it can feel hard to fall asleep with so much external and internal noise distracting us.

The good news is that taking steps to improve sleep is one of the fastest and most direct pathways to better physical and mental health, not to mention more energy and creativity – and even a better capacity for being in relationship both in our personal lives and in the workplace. This is where meditation comes in. Meditation can be thought of as a bridge between alert wakefulness and sleep – our brain waves slow down during meditation, and the brain waves measured in deep meditation are actually very similar to  those measured in REM sleep. Many people find that meditation helps them relax into sleep more easily and get a better night’s rest.

Meditation helps to create an important and necessary space between the activity and stimulation of our day – which very much includes our gadgets and technology – and the brain and body’s need to power down and rest at night. In meditation, we can let go of our day, and our thoughts and worries, and begin to relax – taking slow, gradual steps toward sleep.

Meditation is the most effective practice I’ve come across to help people improve sleep. It’s incredibly empowering to learn the steps you can take to help your brain and body relax. I look forward to sharing the meditations in our Sleep Series with you to help you get the good quality, peaceful rest you need.

 

Loneliness

By Jason Ryterband LEP

Mindfulness offers a powerful set of tools to make our emotional lives safer, more peaceful, and easier to decipher. In today’s post, we’ll be looking particularly at how mindfulness can help us relate to the experience of loneliness.  

Loneliness is the body’s way of motivating us to seek connection. The thoughts and sensations that make up the experience of loneliness are strong drivers of behavior, by design. Evolutionarily, connection means access to resources, mates, and the protection of the tribe. We will never transcend these needs, but mindfulness can be a substantial support in discerning when and how to respond to loneliness, without suffering in the process.  

Like any emotion, loneliness can leave us feeling overwhelmed. As emotion rises, the brain begins to shut down, and it becomes progressively more difficult to respond wisely. We may reflexively act out a craving or an addictive habit. We may say hurtful, critical things to ourselves. When we’re unable to simply feel, it’s impossible to discern a moment when we need to connect from a moment to settle and explore what might be behind loneliness awaiting our attention.

Enter, mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us separate the different strands that make up our experience. Pulling apart the thoughts and body sensations of loneliness tends to reduce the experience of overwhelm (much like a scary movie becomes less scary when it’s just the sound, or just the picture). As overwhelm goes down, cognitive function goes up. We can think more clearly about how to tend to our situation. “Maybe I don’t want to go back to the fridge for the second half of that ice cream pint.” Or, “It feels scary to reach out when I’m down, but I remember that it actually helps me feel better, so I’m going to call a friend.” Or even, “I just sat down to work on my poetry, and I suddenly feel lonely. In this moment, I don’t actually need to connect. The loneliness is masking a fear of pursuing my creativity. I will allow the feelings to be and continue with my writing.”

The answer will be different each time, and mindfulness doesn’t provide this answer. Rather, it offers a way of holding experience which allows us the space to determine what the answer is. It’s partially a matter of clarity: separating the strands as mentioned above. And it’s partially a matter of equanimity: learning to allow feelings to be, just as they are. Knowing that pain will inevitably arise in our lives, allowing to pass.

One more aspect of this mindful stance is kindness. We learn to witness our own experience with the tender compassion of a parent or a dear friend. The famous Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh put it beautifully: we say to ourselves, “dear one, I am here for you.” Or as I like to say, “I’ve got you.”  On a neurological level, this associates the circuits of discomfort with the circuits of kindness.  Over time, kindness can become an automatic response to our difficult moments, and the difficult moments of others.

Now, we can talk about these benefits all day, but the best way to deepen your comfort and clarity with loneliness is to practice. Join me on Evenflow for a two-part guided-meditation series on loneliness, and try these techniques for yourself! I’m looking forward to practicing with you.

Is Food Your Frenemy?

By: Cori Rosenthal LMFT

Many of us have a challenging relationship to food because the mixed messages we are inundated with are incredibly complex and often contradictory.  Whether we’re motivated by the desire to be thin, healthy, and environmentally conscious, or compelled by a love of cooking, a love of sweets  or the ease and convenience of fast, prepared foods, deciding what to eat can be overwhelming.

On average we make about 200 food decisions every day.  How we make them, why we make them and how we feel after we make them can range from satisfied to neutral to ashamed.  

Food can feel like both friend and foe, begging the question; Is food your frenemy?  A frenemy is typically a person that seems friendly on the surface, because the relationship is beneficial, but who actually harbor feelings of resentment and rivalry towards you and you towards them.

You may feel ambivalent about food when you experience mixed messages and emotions around food choices.  When we label foods as either good or bad, we tend to unconsciously label ourselves as good and bad when we eat them. Another cause for  ambivalence occurs when we think we “should” eat certain foods and end up feeling resentful when we deprive ourselves.  Alternately, we judge ourselves when we desire and  indulge in foods we label as bad,  and then feel guilty and ashamed. Food choices become a continuous cycle of negative self talk, which can impact our confidence and our sense of self worth.

This constant internal conflict around food ambivalence can lead to anxiety, low self esteem, emotional over-eating and eventually disordered eating.

And yet food can be nourishing and soothing.  It’s essential for survival. In fact, eating is our earliest self-soothing behavior.  To a baby, hunger is painful but the moment they receive food the baby visibly relaxes.  As we get older food may become part of a reward system.  Our parents tell us we will get dessert if we finish our vegetables, or if we behave we can have a piece of candy.  Food is also a celebration in the form of holiday dinners and birthday cakes.  Food connects us to our culture, to our friends and families, and even to our time in history.  

Mindful eating is a tool for recognizing the nourishing and enjoyable aspects of food without judgement, while reminding us how to tune into our bodies internal cues as to what, when and how much to eat.  With mindful eating we can tune out the external cues stemming from the culture, well meaning friends and family and listen  to the innate knowledge we were born with.

One mindfulness practice you can begin right now is letting go of the labels.  This letting go is simple but not easy.  The next time you are in a restaurant, a grocery store, or your kitchen, pay attention to your internal and external dialogue about food and your food choices.  Noticing the labels is the first step in the process of letting them go.  

For those of us who see food as a frenemy, I invite you to consider setting aside resentments and build a friendship instead, with both food and your  body.  Mindful eating can help you build that friendship.  The mindful eating and mindful body meditations on the Evenflow app are designed to support you in that journey.

Looking For Love? No Perfection Required

By Shira Myrow
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

On the road to finding an ideal romantic partner, many of us think we need to strive for perfection first or strive to be self actualized in order to attract a loving, long term relationship.  Most of us know, on some level, that perfection is an unattainable ideal. Yet the perfection trap often comes in the subtle guise of self improvement or an obsessive relationship to exercise, health and diet. The perfection trap can also express itself as the compulsion to present ourselves and our lives on social media as effortlessly attractive and exciting.

While we can get caught up in these kinds of behaviors in pursuit of attracting love and validation, it may blind us to our own inherent worthiness and capacity for love exactly as we are, imperfections and all. It may also blind us to the love that may be already in our present experience, because we’ve privileged and limited love as only being truly valuable if it’s romantic.

Mindfulness and meditation can help us create some space around our desire for love, validation, and the intense feelings and emotions that come with it. The irony is, If perfection were required for love, humanity would have died out a long time ago.

Our society’s cultural messaging around self empowerment, self improvement and individual agency can lead us to think both perfection and love are things we can create by sheer force of will and determination. But in truth, authentic love is not something we can orchestrate or manufacture. We can’t choose who we fall in love with or force romantic connection and intimacy.

Mindfulness can help us surrender and release the idea that we can control this aspect of our lives. We can accept the present moment, without judgment–and allow our experience to be what it is.

Many of us think that finding a romantic partner is the most important kind of love relationship we can experience as adults.  And we are wired to connect–deeply with other human beings. Loving connection is essential to a fulfilling life.

But what we can take heart in as we search for companionship, is that attracting love and expressing love in its myriad forms– actually has nothing to do with perfection, ours or anyone else’s.

The fundamental truth is that we all exist in a web of relationships, whether that includes  a committed romantic one, or not. We all have the possibility to strengthen and expand our connection to our sense of love in our lives, right in the present moment. We can attune to love everyday.

This doesn’t mean we drop our self care practices or our social media lives.  But we can use mindfulness to cultivate a more expansive awareness of love wherever we are. While this may not answer the burning question: “will I find love?,” we can attune to authentic acts of kindness, compassion and connection everyday. Love can become part of the fabric of our consciousness. A way of being and moving in the world.

No perfection required.

To discover more, please explore the Relationship section of the Evenflow app.

   

Redefining Professional Success

By Jason Thomas
Licensed Educational Psychologist

What comes to mind when you think of professional success? Perhaps it’s an image of a high level executive flying around in a private jet or a movie star receiving an Oscar. In our culture, social norms tend to equate financial wealth and status with success. Furthermore, we often find ourselves needing to accomplish achievement after achievement, just to feel okay. Rarely do we stop to think and wonder “Where is this all leading to?” And “Is this really going to make me happy?” With this mindset we can end up feeling like we’re running on a hamster wheel of accomplishing something, followed by a temporary jolt of feeling good, only to find ourselves back on the wheel again.

When we begin to uncover what’s driving this almost obsessive sense of doing and achieving in the name of success, we discover our old friend FEAR. It might be fear of not measuring up to others, fear of not being lovable or worthwhile, or fear of falling short somehow.

And yet, on the other side of this fear is something more. A place where you can truly tap into your full potential and find the happiness you are seeking. In fact, it is already here, if you look a little deeper.

To begin, it is normal to want financial wealth and status, and to achieve greater and greater things. It is one of the central values in our Western culture. It is also part of our DNA and what has driven us to be the most dominant species on the planet. However, to find a greater sense of happiness in our work success, it is useful to widen the scope of what it means to be successful to include our basic human desires to love and be loved, be part of a community and find meaning in our lives.

In order to do this consider:

How does our success fit within the framework of purpose larger than just ourselves? And…

How can we incorporate our own personal meaning into our definition of success?

Belonging and contributing to the greater good is what binds us to our fellow human beings. It is what prompted a janitor at NASA to respond “I’m helping to put a man on the moon” when asked by President John F. Kennedy to describe his job. It’s what inspired former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to retain employee health benefits during the recession — because he had made a commitment to the well being of his employees beyond profits.

What gives us personal meaning are those things that are important to us and our lives. They are intrinsically motivating. In other words, you are motivated to engage in actions that are consistent with your personal values without the need for bribes or threats.

Taken together, these two human desires for connection and meaning provide a deeper and wider context for professional success — and ultimately give us a road map for a more enduring sense of happiness.

To explore this topic more, please listen to Redefining Professional Success mindfulness practice in the Career section of the Evenflow app.

Are You Losing Steam on your New Year’s Resolutions? Mindfulness and Meditation Can Help

By Shira Myrow
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Every time the new year rolls around, many of us feel compelled to re-assess where we are with ourselves– our health, our diet and exercise routines. We want to make meaningful changes. Lasting changes. But many of us don’t make it past the first month. We find our commitment waning and our resolve quickly losing steam.  Why is it so hard to change despite our good intentions?

What psychology teaches us about the  stages of motivational change is that it  doesn’t happen overnight. We actually go through a series of stages before ever taking a step. This process can help us understand why plunging impulsively into a crash detox diet or unsustainable exercise regimen is likely to fail.

The first phase of motivational change is pre-contemplation: a vague awareness or perhaps complete unawareness that change is needed.  The next phase is contemplation: consciously thinking and exploring the idea of change, but lacking the confidence or the commitment to move forward.  The next phase is preparation, which hinges on setting an intention, setting a goal and developing a concrete plan.   And finally, the action phase  which requires effort, consistency and action to change existing behaviors and adopt new ones.

We can use mindfulness and meditation practice as the foundation for our efforts to change.  Meditation can help anchor our intentions and affirm our resolve, but it can also shift our mindset from a fear-based one to a more adaptive one.  Especially when we confront resistance or obstacles along the way.

That resistance shows up in a thousand different ways. We could feel intimidated, anxious or overwhelmed by the idea of meeting new goals. We may get distracted, give up easily, or talk ourselves out of it. Maybe we have a history of giving up. Many of us shame and blame ourselves for failing to meet our resolutions instead of asking some deeper questions.

Mindfulness can engage us in a different kind of conversation with ourselves. If we are accepting of the present moment, without judgement — but allowing for whatever arises in our experience, we can learn to sit with the discomfort of our feelings –and explore more deeply what’s holding us back.

Are our resolutions self directed? Or are they something we think we should be doing because we’re trying to conform to cultural norms? Are we aligned with our intentions and our values?  Are our limitations truly legitimate?  This open kind of compassionate inquiry can help us reveal the true nature of the resistance we meet, and we in turn– can course correct and modify our choices.

The focus, clarity and discipline we gain from meditating can support us and re-fuel our efforts to effect meaningful and lasting changes.

To find out more how meditation can help you change your mindset, check our Foundation Series on the Evenflow App.