5 tips for sanity in the summer of 2020

So here I am, blogging in my home away from home in an attempt to escape the Jones Fire. One of my favorite months (August) is now entwined with anxiety. Last summer was just as unnerving. I just love living in a forested, mountainous region, but I am a city-girl after all, having been born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. While I love my new community, I have noticed that I am definitely much more uneasy than the locals when it comes to forces of nature. That’s just a fact, whether it is a family of bears at my front door, a wildfire, or the random pine tree dropping some of its branches on my roof. Furthermore, as I sit here and blog so soon after having evacuated from my home, I can’t help but wonder…what is wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be focused on something else?

This article is one attempt to stay sane amidst this pandemic and the start of wildfire season. Below, I will share with you 5 tips for wellness and sanity – things that I practice every day. I will lay out each tip in the order in which I do them.

  • 1) Immediately upon waking up I remain still and see what dreams I recall. If nothing is clearly recalled, I notice how I feel. I don’t care if I wake up at 8am or sadly, much much earlier as a result of worry. Why? Dreams or the feeling they give off can tell me a lot with regard to what I should focus on that day. For example, did I wake up with a sense of dread and feel compelled to pack or recheck my ‘go-bag’? If yes, then I do it! Did I wake up to recall a seemingly random scenario? If so, I pay attention. You see, dreams can provide precognitive elements – that’s a glimpse of a future event. So many people (both those in the United States and the Middle East) recalled dream predictions of 9/11, and other disasters. So when I wake up in the middle of the night or the morning, I take notice. It is okay to act on information from dreams. They just might be helping me out!
  • 2) Once awake and moving about, I list 10 things I am grateful for. Sometimes, the list doesn’t change much from day-to-day. That’s alright. The point is that I take a minute or two to set this tone. I like to do this while I enjoy my morning tea. The positivity and humility carry me throughout the day ahead. I can easily return to those thoughts of life’s simple blessings whenever I need to.
  • 3) I’m told over and over that I am what I eat, so I start the day with a healthy boost. I have both a juicer and a Vitamix, but that isn’t necessary. One appliance will do. This month I have turned toward my Vitamix almost daily. I toss in organic broccoli, cauliflower, dark leafy greens, and berries. Once blended, I sip my vegetables while knowing that I have given myself a healthy phytonutrient blast. If I eat something that’s not so healthy later that day, I don’t feel so bad about it. Important side note: if you can afford organic fruits and vegetables, it’s worth it. I read a lot about food politics, but I won’t get into that here. Trust me, buying organic is worth your money!
  • 4) A period dedicated to some form of meditation acts as a reset when the day becomes hectic or unmanageable. Before diving into work or leaving the house, add a 10 to 15 minute time block to the calendar. This makes it more likely to happen. I’m sure you’ve noticed that as well. The e-calendar on my smart phone is a placeholder for wellness-related activities, not just appointments and tasks. Honor this time that is set for self-care. For support, I sometimes use an app while other times I choose walking meditation or sit down for conscious breathing time. This tip alone does wonders for our physiology, supporting the parasympathetic nervous system (that’s ‘the brakes’ or the part that supports ‘rest and digest’). I consider any form of meditation a foundation healthcare practice. Switch out the afternoon coffee break for a meditation break. You’ll get a much healthier level of support to finish out the workday.
  • 5) It’s blazing hot outside, so to finish my day I head outdoors around sundown. During that time, I water the garden, toss around the tennis ball with my Border Collie, or go for a neighborhood stroll. This kind of gentle movement and down time allows me to reflect and process the day behind me. Now that it’s evening time, I can return to step 2 if I need to. There’s no harm in that.

I hope you use these 5 tips as you move forward into this stressful fire season alongside the pandemic. Everyone, everywhere, can use a little help from time to time. I am happy that I shared some of the activities and behaviors that have helped me move toward a heathy lifestyle. Wishing you and your loved ones wellness, safety, and good fortune, from California.

 

Cali Love,

Dr. Kim

For my free guided meditation recordings, CLICK HERE!

For my previous article on breathing and breathwork, Click here.

To purchase my book Extraordinary Dreams, CLICK HERE.

shades of grey

With all that’s taking place in our world right now (pandemic, violence, loss of security and even life), it’s easy to slip. No, not with alcohol (although that might be happening much more lately), and no, not on a banana peel, but with our thinking. Negative thought patterns and cognitive distortions flourish in difficult times. If we don’t pay attention to our own thinking (metacognition), we are liable to continue along with the same mental errors.

There is a branch of psychology, known as cognitive psychology, which focuses on mental processes. Cognition, or thinking, shapes our behavior and feelings. Furthermore, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings are in a constant relationship: one affecting the other. If we think of a negative event repeatedly, replaying it over and over in our mind, for instance, we can bet that we’ll feel lousy for the rest of the day. If we feel lousy and are holding onto some ugly thoughts, how do you think we may act or behave toward others or in a stressful situation? From another angle, let’s say that we do something without thinking (against our better judgment), and are left feeling guilty or embarrassed. This can lead to becoming fixated on the event, perhaps even labeling ourselves, or calling ourselves names. A downward spiral has begun with thoughts, behaviors and feelings all fueling each other.

Several decades ago, research by psychologists Aaron Beck and David Burns lead to identification of some of the most common cognitive distortions and the problems they can cause. Here, I will describe a few of them.

Black-and-White Thinking: This dichotomous, either/or thought pattern is also known as all-or-nothing thinking. Things are good or bad, right or wrong – there is no room for any shade of grey. Because the middle ground has been ignored, and only two sides or outcomes are believed to exist, there is little possibility in finding reasonable ground.

Overgeneralization: Does your inner voice like to use the words “always,” “never,” “every,” or “all?” If so, be on the lookout for falling into the trap of overgeneralizing. One or two single events cannot provide a reliable conclusion. We need much more data to make solid generalizations. For example, if you are stood up on a blind date, that doesn’t mean that blind dating is unreliable or that every scheduled blind date will lead to being stood up.

Catastrophizing: When something unpleasant takes place in your life, do you twist it into something potentially ‘off-the-charts’ disastrous? “A person who is catastrophizing might fail an exam and immediately think he or she has likely failed the entire course. A person may not have even taken the exam yet and already believe he or she will fail—assuming the worst, or preemptively catastrophizing.” (borrowed from GoodTherpay.org)

Should Statements: It’s fairly common to direct ‘should statements’ toward ourselves and others, even though the end result is no fun. Be on the lookout for “should,” “must,” or “ought” because they indicate that you are operating here. “She should have told me sooner!” “I should have arrived to class earlier.” “He ought to thank me for all I’ve done for him.” “I must ace this mornings exam!” If you feel guilt, shame, frustration, anger or bitterness, examine your thinking. Is this cognitive distortion common in your mental life? Should statements serve no healthy purpose and typically lead to feeling lousy. Spot them, challenge them and see what you discover.

A full list can be found online in blogs at goodtherapy.org and psychologytoday.com.

From a cognitive therapy standpoint, we can get a grasp on this whirlwind by first identifying maladaptive thinking – those pesky patterns of thinking that do us no good. Without attention or correction, a negative outlook on life can develop. The correlation with depression comes as no surprise. And again, without attention or correction, these negative schemas are likely to stick around, sometimes for a lifetime. This is bad for one’s health and no good for anyone’s long-term well-being.

A beginning step toward resolution, is to slow down and live ‘in-the-moment’ in order to increase awareness of cognitive distortions as they rise. Every time I have shared the above list with a university student or psychotherapy client – I’m talking hundreds, if not thousands of times – each one of them has quickly identified the distortion(s) in which he or she frequently operates. Just know that these are THAT common. Each time I share these with others, I look at my own patterns of thinking again and again. I’m grateful for the practice because thought patterns can become habitual and need frequent examination. It’s good practice to shine a spotlight on shades of grey.

By tracking our thoughts, we have the opportunity to increase our awareness of our own thinking habits. Do they serve us or would it be best to make some changes? This awareness allows us to challenge ourselves and choose more adaptive thoughts for a more positive way of living and being. There is no shame in adopting more thoughtful, enlightened responses and charting a new course.

 

Here’s to clear thinking,

Kim

To get my book, Extraordinary Dreams, CLICK HERE.

coping holistically though COVID-19

Here we are, living day by day with ‘shelter-in-place.’ The news reminds us to play it safe by wearing masks and gloves, keep the six foot minimum distance when in public, and most of all to stay home. In addition, media sources show us what to fear most and blast the death toll constantly. This provides information, sure – yet it can also increase stress and elevate fear, obviously. During these times, it is crucial that we learn to take really good care of ourselves, from the physical and mental, to the emotional and spiritual. This doesn’t need to cost a penny, nor does it need to become a burden. You can find a free 12 minute guided imagery experience at the top of my product page – or just click here.

I’d like to see more about holistic self-care from the media during times like these. I think the increase in online ‘happy hours’ and classes of all sorts has been really helpful as a way to build comradery, decrease lonliness, keep life as consistent as possible, and offer an alternative to television. There are some really creative outlets out there! For example, just about any form of physical exercise can do wonders for our mental and emotional states while ‘doing right’ for the body. Most people know this. Personally, I’m not a fan of the gym; I prefer exercises I can do in or near my home. Some of my favorites include mindful stretching and yoga, hiking, and dancing. Learning certain practices, even something totally new, can be done online. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or yoga are just a few examples that bring with them a positive holistic impact. Mindful movement that attends to the breath does wonders! Most recently, I was invited to an online Zumba class and a group of friends decided to attend on the same day. Now that’s an energy release combined with laughter and emotional support!

Considering mental and emotional states, I think about my habit of overscheduling. I’ve been considered a “go-go-go” kind of person most of my life. It took a serious illness for me to learn to say “No” and seriously scale back. Furthermore, from my years teaching Cognitive Psychology, I knew that multi-tasking was not any faster than completing one task at a time. In fact, with multi-tasking we are worse off. Most people are doing too much. I knew I was too, but also struggled with making lasting change in this area. I’m hopeful that this virus will pass sooner than later, but until it does pass, we can use this time to ask ourselves how would we want to spend our time (especially if we knew we had so little of it left). So, if you need to say “No, thanks, not today” in response to an online invite of any kind, that is okay!

On a spiritual level, “living every day” becomes a way of life, especially for those most closely impacted by COVID-19. I’m talking about those that are currently ill or know someone who has been infected, along with every single person that is working to get us all through this: Nurses, mental health professionals, grocery store clerks, bankers, gas station attendants, and other service workers come to my mind immediately. How about for you? Those that cannot #StayHome during this crisis, may not be feeling isolated, but may be feeling incredible levels of stress. They may just want to sleep during the off hours and that is alright – sleep is very healthy. While on duty, conscious, abdominal breathing or slipping in a three minute mindfulness break while in the bathroom (I’m very serious about that) may be all that is possible. Do not underestimate the value of just these alone! If you are on the front lines, know that I am here for you and will gladly send free, pre-recorded guided mediations your way – just send me your email address through my services page. In addition, limiting exposure to politics and news stations can help reduce anxiety and relieve mental tension. You probably hear more than enough at work! Recognize what sources provide quality information as opposed to hype and drama.

Here are some additional ideas that can make life a little better when feeling alone, lonely or isolated, or in need of a little nurturing:

  • Get sucked into fantasy with a good book. Maybe reread one that you put back on the shelf years ago. I’ve been doing this lately and have even come across ones that I never read in the first place!
  • Begin journaling. Some prompts are as simple as “What am I feeling today? How is this similar or different than yesterday?” Other people use journals to write a letter to your future self. Project yourself in 5 years. What are your hopes and dreams for 2025? And of course there is dream journaling. Have you wanted to start engaging your dream life more? This just might be the time. Journaling our dreams is a great IMG_2508practice. Dreams are like a mirror, reflecting our inner world. They are the language of the soul. Dream plots and imagery are also inspirations for poetry, story-telling and art.
  • Take a sensuous bath – add oils, flowers, herbs or sea salts to the bath water. Allow yourself to soak away. Light candles or bring a good book for additional relaxation.
  • Write letters, the old-fashioned way, and snail-mail them. No text messaging this time! When was the last time you did this? I bet it’s been years. If you have old, used greeting cards, cutting them at the fold, turns the front side with design or picture, into a postcard. No need for stationary.
  • Spend time in nature. When was the last time you did a nature walk in your town? Get outside and notice what’s in bloom. Take in the spirit of mother nature, commune with her aliveness. If you have kids, a spontaneous treasure hunt or eye spy game is fun. Some kids love to collect leaves, bark and other tidbits to make a collage. Got glue?
  • If at all possible, allow yourself to sleep in! After all, you probably are not commuting to work or school (unless you work in particular industries, that is). That commute time, whether it be 30 minutes or an hour, can go toward increase shut-eye. This is healthy on so many levels and who knows, maybe you’ll have dream visitors – friends and family that, during these time, feel so far away. Give a dream hug! It can feel just as warm and beautiful…
  • Find a recipe you’ve always wanted to try and make it. Got any neglected cookbooks on your books shelf? This becomes extra fun with kids involved, so long as the adults feel calm and patient (Ha!). Or even better, go online and enter someone else’s kitchen – cook right along with them.
  • Consider doing a craft. This can really take our mind away from problems we are currently facing. Arts and crafts pull me into ‘the zone’ and I loose all track of time. How perfect on a rainy weekend! Consider this easy craft: Turn your attention to img_5155that stack of old magazines and catalogs lying around the house and simply rip out the images. Find glue or tape and a piece of cardboard, paper, or poster board (If you’ve ordered anything online recently, these can often be found in packing material once your product arrives) Once you’ve collected those, you are ready to begin constructing a vision board. The basics of vision board making include imagining what you want to complete or accomplish within the next 3-6 months. Be as specific and concrete as possible. From there, find images that reflect this. The idea is to create a board of images that move us in the direction we want to go. Imagery is powerful, so I suggest avoiding (or seriously limiting) the use of words or phrases – try to stick solely with images. I’ve made vision boards for my biggest goals: finishing a PhD program, getting published, finding the perfect home, and more.

Are you already engaged in any of these practices? Let me know what works best for you!

 

Wishing you wellness and inner peace,

Kim

My book, Extraordinary Dreams, can be purchased here!