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A Toddler’s Guide to Mindfulness

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Have you ever watched what toddlers do or listened to what they talk about?  There’s something special about the way children interact with the world.  As adults, we can become consumed by timelines and schedules and priorities.  But those things don’t matter to kids – they see things through different eyes.

Before I became a therapist, I worked for a few years as a childcare provider for young children.  One 2-year-old I watched was notorious for getting easily distracted – a simple walk along the sidewalk could take what felt like ages, as he would stop every few feet to point out an insect, pick up a rock, or comment on the leaves scattered around the neighbor’s yard.

One day, I followed him up the stairs so he could get dressed, chatting about what we were going to do that morning.  In my mind, I was planning each step for our entire day, almost by the minute.  To be honest, I was rushing him a bit too.  (We were going upstairs, which is always a several minute production for a toddler learning to climb...and always having to do everything without my help.)

I started listing off our plans for the day.  "Okay, after we get dressed we're going to get ready to drive in the car, and then we're going to go to Target to get something and look at the Christmas trees, and then we'll have our playdate, and then..."  The little one suddenly stopped on the stairs and said, "NO."  I assumed he meant he didn't want to leave the house, so I started reminding him of all the fun things we were going to do and how he would have to leave in order to do those things.  He stopped me again, and said:

"No.  Getting dressed upstairs."

And it hit me.

While I was fluttering around thinking about all the things we were going to do that day, this little one was focused on the one thing right in front of him.

Which was, evidently, going upstairs to get dressed.  Honestly, I was probably overwhelming him by hitting him with all these plans and ideas when he could only handle thinking about one thing at a time.

How often do we do this in our lives?  We mentally jump so far ahead into the future and end up trying to juggle thinking about 27 things at once.  For me, it can start simply, where I'm thinking about whatever's coming next in my day.  Or it can happen on a long-term level, where I analyze my career or my relationships.  Or deeper still than that: I can feel such concern over my dreams and ambitions, or my fears of failure, or not measuring up to a professional or spiritual standard.  These worries can cripple me in a place of discouragement and hopelessness at my lack of progress.

And just like this 2-year-old, if I let all those worries flood into my mind, I get overstimulated, overwhelmed, and I shut down.

This moment spoke a truth to me that I needed to embrace at that point in my life: just stop.  Stop trying to figure out every detail.  Stop trying to think about the next big thing, the next stage I want to enter in life, or all those questions that I feel the need to have answered.  Let go of the obsessive anxiety and attempts at gaining control over my circumstances, which I think will keep me safe and protect me from harm.  The pride I had in believing I could control my life was being shaken by the wisdom of a toddler.

The truth reinforced in me that day was this: when we become caught up in negative thoughts about the past, or worries about the future, we lose sight of the beauty of the present moment.  We miss all that is happening right in front of us when we’re caught up in those stresses.  While planning and creating a vision for the future has a time and place, on a day-to-day basis, it is important to take things just one step at a time.  When we choose to be mindful of the present moment, we experience fewer negative emotions, less stress, increased focus and memory, less emotional reactivity, happier relationships, and plenty of other health benefits.

When I walk in the present moment of life, I feel so much more gratitude for the things around me.  I experience the grace that comes with knowing I don't have to have it all together, and I don't have to be perfect or achieve all the things I desire to achieve in my life.   And I can rest in the simplicity of life where I'm not always rushing ahead to the next thing and trying my hardest to control every outcome.

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today's trouble is enough for today." Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

Who knew a 2-year-old would have a wiser outlook on life than I would.

One step at a time.

This article was originally posted on February 9, 2017.

If you’re in a place where the world around you seems to be moving too quickly, your mind is racing with thoughts and worries about what’s in the future, and you have a hard time slowing down enough to focus on the present moment, I’m here to help you. Restored Hope Counseling is an Ann Arbor and Novi therapy office where I focus on helping you navigate through anxiety and depression, giving you the support and tools you need to slow down your anxious thoughts and move toward a happier, more wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can be a support to you.

How to Brighten Cloudy Days: Dealing with Depression

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Have you ever had those days where nothing seems to go right?  I had one recently.  I woke up early one morning with full intention to do some work-related writing.  Instead of starting work right away, I spent an hour on my iPhone playing games and reading articles on Pinterest.  When I finally did get up to start my day, I sat down at my computer and got distracted by more articles on Pinterest and in blogs.  Once I finally forced myself to write, I was only able to finish an outline for an article before I felt discouraged and “needed a break.”

I felt disappointed in myself that morning, as I couldn’t check much off my to-do list.  As I moved on to the rest of my day, I thought to myself – how in the world do I cheer up after this?

Here’s a few thoughts that came to mind for ways to boost my mood.

Listen to Upbeat Music

True confession: I love boy bands.  One Direction and N’Sync are my pop idols of choice.  For me, putting on a 1D album will almost instantly change my mood.  In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicated that listening to upbeat music with the intention to boost your mood can cause you to feel happier.  Find whatever music is your favorite and put on a CD or radio station that plays it!  If you’re in search of ideas, I like flipping through Spotify’s mood playlists, like Mood Booster or Confidence Boost – even without a self-made playlist, you can still find some positive tunes.

Give Yourself Credit for the Good

When I reflected on my morning, my first instinct was to see all the things I did wrong, ways I procrastinated, or work I didn’t accomplish.  But, in reality, I did plenty of positive things.  I had time for meditation and Scripture reading in the morning.  I prioritized my to-do list and completed my top 3 tasks for the day.  I showered (that counts, right?)  David Burns, in his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy*, identifies a distorted thought pattern he names “disqualifying the positive,” in which people can tend to believe negative thoughts or assumptions about themselves, but discredit any positive beliefs.  If I look at my day through the lens of everything I did wrong, of course I’ll feel discouraged.  But giving myself credit for those things I did will give that lift to my self-confidence.

Get Outside in Nature

There’s something about looking at beauty that makes it hard to focus on the negative.  I spent some time that afternoon sitting out in the backyard with my niece, basking in the sun and watching birds and squirrels.  We even saw a baby deer!  One evening earlier in the week a friend and I watched a giant cloud pass to the south of us, heat lightning flashing in the outline of the cloud.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Research shows that spending time in nature (or even viewing it from a window!) can have positive effects on mood, focus, and health.  Use the beauty you see to connect you back with a sense of awe and gratitude for the world around you.

Talk it Out 

A conversation with a friend can be an instant pick-me-up after a rough day.  There’s something powerful about knowing you’re not alone in the world.  Everyone has bad days, and having someone to sit with you in the middle of yours can make a huge difference.  Having a close network of friends has been shown to help people recover from depression. Give your friend a call, send a text, or even send a quick email to ask for encouraging words.

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break

So you had a terrible morning trying to accomplish something that you couldn’t finish.  So the dishes are piling up in your kitchen, the crumbs have formed a layer on the kitchen floor, and you can’t remember the last time you wiped down the stove.  So your to-do list is a mile long and just keeps getting longer.  When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed to a point where everything feels like too much, it is okay for you to take a break.  Sit down, sip a cup of coffee, read a book, watch a quick YouTube video or TV show – whatever you love doing that refreshes you rather than drains you, give yourself a half-hour to do just that.  By giving yourself a short break with intention to return to your work afterwards, you’ll come back refreshed and ready to go.

On that day, did I remember to do these things?  Maybe not as much as I would’ve liked.  But when I have another discouraging day in the future, I’ll remind myself to return to some of these ideas and make them happen.

This article was originally posted on January 12, 2017.

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Have you found yourself feeling down or depressed more often?  Do you keep trying to help yourself feel better, but nothing seems to work?  Are you tired of feeling tired?  Restored Hope is a Novi and Ann Arbor based therapy office offering counseling to help you if you’re facing the clouds of lethargy, lack of motivation, and sadness that just won’t go away.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to get more information about changing your pattern of depression. 

 

 

 

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