Man Showering, Water Washing Over Him

Why I Practice Mindfulness in the Shower

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Stop, it’s not what you’re thinking. Now that I’ve got your attention, let me go on. One well-known strategy for self-care is mindfulness.

“Mindfulness,” as defined by Merriam-Webster is: “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

One of the reasons people practice mindfulness is to stay in the present moment. There is research that provides evidence that when our minds wander, we’re more likely to be unhappy. Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University believe that, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” They go on to say that, “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Through their research, they estimate that minds wander, on average, 46.9 percent of waking hours and that, typically, this mind-wandering makes people unhappy. They also discovered people’s feelings of happiness had much more to do with where their mind was than what they were doing.

One way to prevent the negative mind-wandering is to stay focused on the present moment. In order to do so, one must work toward minimizing the many random thoughts that float into our minds. How many times have you read a page from a book, realizing you have no idea what you just read because your mind was wandering? I know I’ve been guilty of playing a card game with my children, only to focus on work I needed to have completed for a meeting the next day.

It actually takes focus and practice to stay in the present moment. One easy way to practice staying focused on the present moment is in the shower. I find that the shower is an excellent place to practice mindfulness for a couple of reasons:

  1. My mind wanders frequently in the shower. Sometimes, I think about work deadlines or things I need to get done around the house.
  2. There are many sounds and sensations that are easy to help “pull” you back into the present moment and to focus on the shower.

When I practice mindfulness in the shower, I think about the warm water hitting the top of my head and the feeling it gives me. I focus on the water moving down my body and the sensations of the water on my skin. Again, calm yourself. Focus. We’re just talking mindfulness!

I listen to the sound of the water hitting my body. When I shift my weight slightly, I notice the pitch of this sound changes and the path the water travels over my body changes. If my mind begins to wander and I catch myself having another thought, then I “pull” myself back into the present moment, once again focusing on the sensations and sounds of the shower. Once I practiced this enough, I noticed myself naturally refocusing on the shower when a negative thought would enter my mind.

Gradually take this practice to other activities in your life. Be present. Be mindful. When washing the dishes, focus on the water flowing over the dishes, the sounds you hear and sensations you feel. Focus entirely on washing the dishes and nothing else. This will help you remain focused in other areas of your life, such as spending time (and being fully present) with loved ones such as a spouse or your children.

Be easy on yourself, as our minds wander often. Do not get frustrated. Simply pull yourself back into the present moment.

As always, comments to this post (and any of my other posts) are welcomed and encouraged.

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The Connection the Loved Ones of People With Mental Illness Share

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I recently attended a support group for families with loved ones who have a mental illness. One gentleman described how his loved one was “betterish.” He went on to explain that things were better than they had been, but they still were not the same as before the illness. We discussed how if you say things are better, you can somehow jinx yourself, and it could all fall apart in a blink of an eye.

How many of us are knocking on wood, as if this ritual will give us an illusion of control in a world that often feels out of control, when watching our loved one deal with mental illnesses? All of us at the support group decided we liked that word as we could all relate to, “betterish.”

Collectively the group has loved ones between the age range of 10 to adulthood, with diagnoses including anxiety and depression, schizophrenia and bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) to oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and schizoaffective disorder. We have seen how debilitating these illness can be and shared the heartbreak of hearing suicide threats or attempts. We have come to the realization that mental illness has changed the people they once were.

None of us ever imagined when our child was born or when we married our spouse that one day they would have a mental illness and we would be hoping for “betterish.” So here we all are, gathered on this cold December night, sitting on folding chairs in a church classroom and looking for support and mental health resources. We are mostly, however, here to not feel alone.

We shared stories of trips to the ER, the times Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services (EMPS) were called, inpatient hospitalizations, countless meetings and phone calls with schools, therapists and psychiatrists and the never ending changing of medications and dosages.

Many of us felt exhausted and drained, all the while hoping the other shoe doesn’t drop. As we shared our stories, there was a common theme. We all have at some point struggled with the mental health system and its lack of available care, long ER waits, lack of hospital beds and the not knowing what services are out there.

We talked about the ever-changing diagnosis and the stigma attached to each of these mental illnesses. We all had experienced the frustration with insurance providers and the denial of services, the start of the new year and meeting deductibles all over again. We are constantly educating ourselves about a system that is filled with acronyms, which we must learn in order to speak the language. It is like a secret club, and if you don’t know the password, then you will never be able to attain the services you need.

With a new year upon us, we should hope for a better mental health system. We should join together to fight the stigma attached to a diagnosis. We should talk openly and honestly about mental illness. We should not feel alone. We can offer a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold or just a sympathetic ear to hear the frustration, the heartbreak, the sadness and the hope. For we must never give up hope.

As I enter 2017, I do so cautiously optimistic that my loved ones will continue to be “betterish.” I hope all families find their own “betterish” even if it only lasts a day, a week or a year.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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The Big Shoes Carrie Fisher Left Us to Fill

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Christmas 1977 followed a summer of multiple viewings of “Star Wars,” the greatest film ever made (according to me in 1977). That is when I “got” Christmas and all the hubbub. I finally understood the fuss. That was the year Santa left me the best gifts ever. The first was a “Star Wars” alarm clock.

The alarm clock was hilarious. What 4-year-old needs an alarm clock? Where did I have to be? Truth be told, I was a horrible preschooler, a holy terror in the morning. I hated getting up, and getting me dressed and out the door was an ordeal. Being people of science, I believe my parents formulated a hypothesis that if they got me a fun alarm clock with C3PO calling me a little Rebel and telling me it was time to get up, it would defuse my morning tantrum and invigorate me to start my day off on a positive note.

Me, being a child of the arts, rolled back over and tried to get back to my lucid dreams. Shortly after, the alarm clock was placed in a box and stored in the basement. Imagine the end of “Raiders” when they locked up the Ark of the Covenant but no fork lift. That is one of the few items that has made every move with me because C3PO was right. I am a little Rebel. The other thing that has attached itself to me is my anxiety.

The second gift that year, a Princess Leia doll (not an action figure, but a doll). Santa gave me a badass, intergalactic princess to be friends with. Like her, we thought we were only children. She was so beautiful. She was an excellent listener, and she protected me from Darth Vader. He haunted my lucid dreams you see.

Princess Leia was not afraid of anything. I was afraid of everything, but I pretended like I was not. She was a diplomat and warrior. I was a socially awkward kid who wore my shoes on the wrong feet at least four days a week. We were a mismatched pair, but she gave me goals and hope that I would not always be small and grouchy and that I would master getting my shoes on the right feet.

Princess Leia is a larger-than-life character who resonates with the world just as strongly as she did 40 years ago. My heart leapt and filled with joy I had not felt since I was 4 years old when she appeared in “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One.” I know I clapped and cried because I was so happy to see my old friend.

As it turns out, the real bad ass was Carrie Fisher. Actor, author, advocate and most important, authentic person. She blazed a trail for strong women characters who could strike the balance of tough and tender in all of her roles, from “Star Wars” to “Drop Dead Fred.” She was a sharp and witty author, playwright, storyteller and a script doctor bringing humor and humanness to horrific and soul crushing situations, the majority of which were true stories she experienced.

In an interview with the CBC in September of this year, she said, “Because I grew up in a public family, I never really had a private life. And so if those issues are going to be public, I would rather them to be public the way I’ve experienced them rather than someone else assuming things about me. It’s freeing to do it. Shame is not something I aspire to.”

She was a mental health advocate who unashamedly discussed her life with mental illness and addiction, and like a Rebel, she embraced it, celebrated it, owned it and profited in so many ways from her truth and authenticity. She shares the moment to moment existence with bipolar disorder in her book and one woman show, “Wishful Drinking.”

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls… At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage. So if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”

I have changed a great deal since that Christmas morning. My shoes reside on the correct foot 99.9 percent of the time. I am now a morning person for the most part. I still get grouchy, but I am not near the holy terror I once was. I have also learned to manage the anxiety and panic attacks that made my world small for a long time. The good days outnumber the bad days, and my world is getting bigger. I can still feel the fabric of my doll’s dress, the silk of her hair and smell her rubbery arms and feet. I can feel that little Rebel awakening and stepping into the role of advocate and taking giant steps toward being the authentic being she was at age 4.

Carrie Fisher continues to give us a role model for transparency, activism and authenticity in her body of work. She still inspires, and she is gone way too soon. The world needs all its rebels, in all shapes, sizes and levels of “bad-assery.” An icon fell silent, and it will take an army of warriors to fill those magnificent shoes. We have to step up, all of us, and continue her message.

Carrie is a name that derives from Charles, meaning army and warrior. She amassed an army. I encourage all of us to embrace our struggles, advocate for causes and people in need of justice and use our voices and carry on, or maybe Carrie on.

#CARRIEON

This post originally appeared on Climbing Out of My Head.

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Image via Carrie Fisher’s Official Facebook page.

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Photo Series Answers the Question: 'What If We Could See Mental Illness?'

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Paul Falcone’s project “Consumed: Mental Illness Through Photography” asks ‘What if we could see mental illness on the outside?

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This Mom Took a Selfie With Her Prescription for a Powerful Reason

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Erin Jones, a mother from Tennessee, shares a selfie on Facebook to show it’s OK to get prescription help for mental illness.

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The Promise I'm Making for My Mental Health in 2017

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I’m not making any resolutions this year. I’m only promising myself one thing: to stay alive.

I’m making this promise, not to myself, but rather to the people closest to me. Why? Because sometimes I have no desire to live for myself. Because I don’t know what it’s like to live in the present moment. I’m stuck in the past, and as my therapist points out time and time again, I need to learn to let go and live in the present. How? I don’t know.

I’m hoping 2017 will be the year I stay out of the ER and out of the psych unit. Since October 2013, I have spent almost a month on the psych unit combined, visited the ER countless times and been in treatment for my mental illness. I’m tired of feeling the way I do. Yet, I know I can’t help it. There is a war going on between my mind and body, between my thoughts and reality.

Here’s to 2017, to making changes, to staying healthy and to staying alive.

Here’s to 2017, to finding what true love is, to meeting the one and to loving endlessly.

Here’s to 2017, to living with a fuller heart, to appreciating all that I have in life, to cuddles with my rescue pup and running two marathons.

Here’s to 2017, to living every day in the moment, to discovering new laughter and to becoming a warrior.

Here’s to 2017, please, grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Grant me patience for all that I am, tolerance for those with different struggles and the strength to get up and try and try again, one day at a time.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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