Whole-Person Self-Care for the Holiday Period

by: Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P.

The dawn of a new holiday period is upon us once again; as the cool air sets in, the decorations are mounted, and typically, the to-do lists begin to grow… The holidays can be ripe with joy and celebration, but they can also be a time of stress. Being pulled out of our regular routines, eating more indulgent food, spending more money, being more immersed in the mixed experiences of family time, etc. can add up to create a holiday period that is harder than we hoped it would be. 

Whether there are specific stressors awaiting you this holiday period or you simply want to make the most of it, whole-person self-care can help you get there. So, what exactly is self-care? Self-care has its roots in 1950s medical communities, where it was learned that patients’ taking their own actions to care for themselves physically, spiritually, psychologically and emotionally was essential to their healing, health, and wellbeing. Now, decades later, the concept of self-care has been picked up by mainstream society. On social media, #selfcare now seems to depict a culture of luxurious consumerism and self-indulgence, but that is only part of its story. 

So, then what is whole-person self-care? While some versions of self-care can focus on a specific task that might help you feel better in one specific way, whole-person self-care is more like an attitude of overall self-reflection, and of building self-awareness, so that you can honour many different parts of yourself at once and care for your ‘entire self’. In this way, self-care is not only about taking a quick break or reveling in indulgences—self-care is about developing yourself, and your life, in a way that makes those breaks and indulgences less necessary to begin with. 

So, how can whole-person self-care help you this holiday season? You can use it as inspiration to get you thinking about questions like: “What is happening right now, how well is this working for me, and why?” “What is really important to me, out of all of this?” “How am I really doing?:” “How are my physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional parts doing right now?” “How are my relational, occupational, and financial parts doing right now?” “What do I want right now, what do I need right now, and how might those be different?”… These questions are the type that can lead you to become more self-aware, and as you build this self-awareness, you can have more clarity about the ways in which you might act to help yourself. 

Give yourself the best holiday gift this season, by connecting with yourself in the present! Try out some of the self-care strategies below: 

  • Physical: move your body or take rest, eat some nutrient-dense foods, quench your thirst, stretch your muscles, breathe deeply; 
  • Spiritual: immerse in a moment of silence, (re)discover some nature, attune deeply to yourself and others, contemplate some higher power or higher-order, seek experiences of awe and wonderment;
  • Psychological: build gratitude by naming what you are grateful for, emphasize relationships that fuel, and de-emphasize those that drain, ground yourself by scanning and taking in the details of the room and space around you; 
  • Emotional: practice feeling feelings as they arise, practice taking small breaks from feelings when they feel too intense, notice bodily sensations associated with feelings, try to fathom perspectives different than your own.

Professionals at CFIR can help you learn about and practice whole-person self-care. Contact us to inquire more and to begin or continue on your journey toward making yourself and your mental health a priority.

Reesa Packard is an Associate at CFIR. She has a doctoral degree from the Saint Paul School of Psychotherapy & Spirituality and works in private practice as a registered psychotherapist. She works with clients hoping to develop a more integrated sense of self as a means to well-being and meaningful, lasting transformation. Reesa is currently building a new service at CFIR called ‘The Integral Self’, which offers a place for clients to receive support and guidance in their advanced self-development, including spiritual and body-based growth. Reesa is also involved in the teaching and supervision of psychotherapists-in-training and advanced knowledge through research in her specialty fields.

The Power of Mindful Compassion: What It Is, Why It Can Influence Mental Health, and How to Begin Cultivating It In Four Steps

by: Kamala Pilgrim, Ph.D.,C. Psych (Interim Autonomous Practice)

Mindful compassion is a concept that has garnered increasing attention in the scientific community especially over the last two decades. It is taken from the Eastern spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism and in recent years, research demonstrating the benefits of the practice for mental health have fuelled efforts to discover the mechanisms through which it exerts positive outcomes.

The practice can be broken down into two integral components: Mindfulness and compassion.

Mindfulness is defined as an openness to and acceptance of all that is occurring in the present moment, without judgment or over-identification with our experience including our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, urges, and actions (Gilbert & Choden, 2014; Kabatt-Zinn, 2012; Neff, 2011).

Compassion has been described as the ability to adopt a supportive attitude toward ourselves. It also involves taking courageous, wise, and healthy action to promote care for ourselves and/or of others.

Why mindfulness and compassion combined are important?

The practice of mindfulness stabilizes the mind so that we can step back and bring awareness to patterns that are not serving us well. Compassion fosters the kindness and understanding needed to sustain and commit to really seeing what is happening and to take committed action (Gilbert & Choden, 2014).

Through the practice of mindful compassion we strive to recognize our common humanity by accepting that we all make mistakes, stumble, fall, get up again, and sometimes triumph; we start to see that we are all average in many ways and unique in others (Neff, 2011). We stop dwelling on labelling ourselves as sometimes bad and on other occasions, good; we make efforts to embrace the full range of what it means to be a human and approach ourselves as we would a close friend, child, or other family member we love. 

This attitude is not carried out in a “fluffy” or self-indulgent way; rather when we observe our thoughts, emotions, behaviours, motivations, and intentions in a caring framework, we paradoxically become more open to doing something differently; we become willing to make necessary changes because we clearly see how we may be perpetuating our own pain and/or that of others.

Mindful compassion does not make us a pushover either; in fact, fully observing what is happening in our lives aids us in understanding how the behaviours of others may be impacting us in harmful ways and can help us in making the decisions necessary to foster growth and healing for ourselves, and perhaps for the other as well. There are times when mindful compassion can help you respond quickly and efficiently to ensure your safety as you develop a deeper ability to observe everything going on in the environment for what it is and not for what you may want it to be. 

By considering everything we observe in ourselves as different aspects of what it means to be a human being we can become less self-critical with time. We can understand that there are basic needs that underlie our initial or habitual reactions and we can strive to take action to attain what we’re really looking for at our core.

To summarize, I like to envision mindful compassion in the following way, based on Buddhist and Hindu perspectives:

The mind is like the seed of a lotus flower buried deep in the shallow, warm, and still waters of a pond.

Our basic emotions such as, rage, lust, despair, and fear, as well as our drives for freedom, dominance, protection, belonging, and connection, are akin to the mud that covers the seed of the mind. 

Compassion is the sunlight the seed absorbs; the resulting roots are the elements of mindfulness that create a firm foundation of non-judgemental awareness, settling deep into the earth so that the stem can navigate up and through the dark environment to the surface where the lotus of greater wisdom and clarity can manifest.

Here are four ways you can begin to shine the warm, rejuvenating sunlight of mindful compassion in your own life:

1. Discover patterns

Start to bring some gentle awareness to the automatic thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, urges, and behaviours you have in response to various situations such as:

  • When you look in the mirror?
  • When you experience a setback?
  • When you say something you didn’t mean?
  • When you make a mistake?
  • When you argue with someone close to you?

Simply practice noticing without judging. 

2. Practice expansion and self-soothing speech 

When you observe a painful thought or feeling, practice pausing before reacting as you normally might. Notice where you experience any disturbing emotions in your body. If you are anxious or afraid you may notice a tightness in your chest and/or butterflies in your stomach. When you are angry you may feel your jaw clenching. Breathe into and around the region(s) to give the feeling more space. As you do this, say something nurturing to yourself such as:

  • “I know this is hard for you right now.”
  • “This feeling is distressing but it will pass in time; may I give myself the understanding I need right now, may I take good care of myself in this moment.”

3. Understand your needs

Sometimes we assume that our knee jerk reactions are true reflections of what we actually require.  Mindful compassion can help you pause with these initial experiences long enough to discover what underlies them. For example:

  • Arriving home from work you may suddenly feel overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and anger when you see the kitchen sink filled up with the morning’s breakfast dishes. You may notice yourself begin to criticize yourself or others for not cleaning up immediately after eating. If you practice taking a moment to pause before reacting, to observe these feelings from a non-judgemental, loving and supportive frame of mind and heart space, you may discover that you are actually exhausted and just need to take a few minutes to relax on your own before interacting with others or starting in on your evening routine.

Though you won’t always be able to get exactly what you need in the timing or in the form you would like, you can still respond to yourself kindly, see if you can take small steps toward providing yourself with what you really need, and/or consider asking someone to help you. Sometimes just taking these few brief moments to recognize and validate your feelings is enough. 

4. Set aside time for a loving kindness meditation

Find a few minutes in your daily schedule to try the following:

  • Sit in a comfortable, but alert position
  • Close your eyes
  • Notice the rise and fall of your belly, diaphragm, and chest as you breathe in and out naturally several times without trying to control your respiration in any way
  • Visualize someone you love, respect, and care for
  • Imagine sending them your love and appreciation
  • Next, see yourself in your minds’ eye and practice surrounding yourself with the same feelings

This is by no means an exhaustive list about how to foster mindful compassion; There are many contextual factors, including our societal and cultural perspectives and early life experiences which strongly shape our sense of self, our perceptions of others, our views of and how we operate within the world, which each in turn affect our capacities for mindful compassion and our mental health and well-being overall. 

Mental health professionals at CFIR can help you learn about and practice mindful compassion. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to inquire more and to begin or continue on your journey toward making yourself and your mental health a priority. 

For more information please see the following sources:

Gilbert, P. & Choden. (2014). Mindful Compassion: How the science of compassion can help you understand your emotions, live in the present, and connect deeply with others. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the present moment – and your life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York: William Morrow.

ReSolution ReVolution: Tips for Achieving Your Goals in 2018

By: Kamala Pilgrim, Ph.D., C. Psych (Interim Autonomous Practice)

It’s the time of year again when millions of us are thinking about all the goals we want to achieve. We typically start off excited to follow through with our well-intentioned resolutions. We say to ourselves with conviction, “This year I’m making some changes!” Our lives seem fresh and rife with opportunity – but by about January 10th we run out of steam, begin avoiding, or just give up on our goals. Psychologists note that one of the reasons resolutions tend to dissolve rapidly is because it is difficult to withstand the discomforts that are part and parcel of making changes. The ability to tolerate and adapt to challenges with a sense of awareness, openness, and focus, and taking effective actions that are guided by what we truly value, is key to creating and maintaining the life you want (Harris, 2008). Following are seven strategies to help you begin to move in the direction of your dreams:

1. Get crystal clear on your values

Resolutions are often framed as goals and not based on our core values. The difference is a value is a path on which we would like to continue moving over time while a goal is an outcome that we can reach…or not (Harris, 2008). The desire to be energetic is an example of a value, whereas wanting to join a gym is a goal. It is more effective for goals to follow our values, not the other way around. When our values are foremost, our lives develop greater meaning as our decisions are rooted in what we really care about. We also are more willing to make an effort if we understand how we believe attaining our objective will enhance our life.

To get started on clarifying your values, ask yourself the following:

  • What matters most to you in life?
  • How do you wish to feel each day?
  • How do you want to interact with yourself and others?

2.  Adopt S.M.A.R.T goals

Next, consider resolutions that reflect these core values. e.g., If you want to feel more enthusiastic, what actions can you take to get there? 

Break these down into smaller steps based on behaviours you can do that are: 

  • Specific 
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable
  • Results-based and
  • Time-bound

Develop short-term (can be done in the next few days and weeks), medium-range (can be done in a month or two), and long-term (can be done in the following six months) objectives that are in line with these S.M.A.R.T criteria.

3. Visualize

Regularly reflecting on your values is critical to making them paramount to your life. It is important to remember what matters most to you and to allow those factors to seep into your psyche. Spend a few minutes every day, picturing in vivid detail how you will feel, act, and behave toward yourself and others when you are making choices in accordance with your values. Engage all five of your senses in this process whenever possible.

4. Know your pitfalls and trick your future self

Track your efforts to meet goals. Then reflect on times when you tend to fold in the face of temptation, throw in the towel, or procrastinate. Use this knowledge to set your future self up for success. (e.g., If you notice you never get out to the gym once you’ve arrived home from work, pack your workout bag the night before and go right after you leave the office.)

5. Welcome hiccups 

Develop and practice a self-compassionate attitude toward setbacks which will inevitably come. Instead of berating yourself, speak to yourself at these times the way you would to someone you love. 

6. Practice mindfulness 

Mindfulness is a state of awareness that involves paying full attention, on purpose, to everything happening in the present moment, without judgment (Kabat-Zinn, 2012). Since we spend so much of our time either worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, we miss out on the now, which is the only place where our power to make changes lies. Though a by-product of this practice is that the things we observe such as, distressing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations will decrease in intensity, it is not the purpose. The aim is to make space for these experiences without resisting or attempting to escape them and to return to your core values to guide your actions. Doing this will both sharpen areas of the brain that govern self-control and build tolerance of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and sensations. You can begin to develop this skill by practicing the following meditation every day:

“Sit in a chair or crossed-legged on a pillow. Take five, deep, smooth breaths in and out. On the end of your fifth exhalation, allow your breath to flow in naturally without any attempt to control it. As you breathe in mentally say the words, “inhale”, as you breathe out, mentally say, “exhale”. When the mind shifts to thoughts, practice noticing them as if they are clouds passing through the sky, and come back to your meditation. When an emotion arises, bring awareness to where you feel it in your body and breathe into and around the area(s) providing it with as much space as possible. Return to your meditation.”

Start with two minutes of meditation practice and work your way up to fifteen to twenty minutes. 

As you pursue your values and related goals, unhelpful thoughts and emotions (I.e., those that would take you away from your values if you give them credence) will emerge. Use a similar strategy of gently acknowledging them and coming back to focusing your attention on the choices that align you with your most cherished values in the present moment. 

7. Make goal engagement rewarding

If we are constantly in self-control mode, your body and brain will surely rebel. As much as possible, pair your goals with something pleasurable: e.g., Write in your favourite café, light scented candles while doing housework, exercise while listening to music you enjoy. 

Just make sure that whatever your chosen accompaniment, it is guided by your core values.

If you put these techniques into practice on a consistent basis, you can make some gains in achieving your goals. 

Psychologists at CFIR are also available to offer you support in defining and sticking to your objectives this new year and beyond!

For more information please see the following sources: 

  • Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.
  • Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the present moment – and your life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
  • McGonigal, K. (2012). The willpower instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it. New York, NY: Avery.

What is Mindfulness?

by: Tatijana Busic, PhD. Candidate

Welcome to our blog on mindfulness. This is the first in a series of upcoming blogs in which we’ll introduce you to the concept of mindfulness and talk about the incredible benefits of this simple, yet, powerful way of living! 

In this first blog, we’ll define mindfulness and talk about some important distinctions between mindfulness and meditation. In our second blog, we’ll explore the psychological and physical benefits of a simple mindfulness practice in everyday life. In our third blog, we’ll talk about how mindfulness can be used to enrich and deepen your relationships at home, school and work. Finally, we’ll tie things up by introducing you to some very basic tools and strategies that you can start practicing, as well as, share some helpful resources. So let’s begin!

To start, lets talk about what mindfulness actually is. Some folks may think of mindfulness as meditation, and this can be scary! Rightly so! We might imagine spiritual gurus spending years of their life practicing and honing the powerful skill of meditation. Although these two concepts are closely related, there are some important differences.

Similarities: The beginning stages of learning mindfulness and meditation are virtually identical. We are learning how to do two very important tasks – How to consciously relax and how to consciously direct our attentional processes. Essentially, we’re learning how to relax our bodies and control where and how our mind wanders.  

Differences: Basically, meditation stems from Buddhist philosophy and spiritualties that derive from ancient monastic traditions. Learning how to meditate involves learning the values, beliefs and traditions that are embedded within various traditions. Mindfulness, on the other hand, emerged from the discipline of psychology, scientific research and modern day language and culture. Learning to be mindful, doesn’t necessarily involve learning the practice or values of monastic traditions. In many ways, mindfulness is far more applicable to our complex, modern society and therefore, a lot easier and faster to learn. 

Some other differences include:

  • In meditation we sit still – In mindfulness we can be engaged in any task.
  • Meditation takes time. Mindfulness can be switched on at any time.
  • In meditation we focus inward on the body. Mindfulness involves thoughts, feelings, actions and any state of mind!

So, what is mindfulness, exactly?

Mindfulness has become a key focus in psychological and educational research and practice since the 1980’s. Our busy, modern-day lifestyles have steered our minds and bodies toward a constant state of frenzy. We’re always doing – multi-tasking, multi-thinking and multi-moving!

It’s like the autopilot switch in our brain has been turned on permanently. At times this kind of intensity is great! We need it to get a job done while under high pressure. However, when chronically activated, over time, our brains and our bodies become hungry for, addicted to constant stimulation. We may find it hard to switch off or we may become uncomfortable when things are quiet. At other times, we may miss the beauty that surrounds us. Have you ever been on vacation or even just walking through an autumn kissed park and found yourself worrying about other things? Things you have no control over in that moment? Have you found yourself unable to take-in the serenity?  Notice it, feel it and reap the rewards from it? 

Put simply, mindfulness is about slowing down our stimulus-bound attentional processes and taking the time to consciously, with self awareness, choose what we pay attention to vs. automatically responding to whatever is going on around us. 

Like any skill, learning how to live a more mindful life, takes time and practice – about 100-200 repetitions or three months to consolidate this new and wonderful practice in your brain, your mind and your body. 

In the next blog, we’ll talk about the physical and psychological benefits of mindfulness. And explain how and why this practice can help alleviate psychological issues such as anxiety and depression.  How it helps us sleep better, feel better and see our selves and the world around us in a different and healthier way.

Stay tuned!

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