Pregnancy and Postpartum · Depression · Mental Health · Parenting

Support for the avoidant parent

Sure, you and your partner have talked about having a child. In theory, it seemed fine. But now that your baby has arrived, it feels harder than you ever expected. It is exhausting trying to connect with this unresponsive baby. It feels like everytime you pick up your child, he or she knows to scream at the highest decibel. And while you’re feeling stuck, your partner has somehow become the baby whisperer, whipping out breasts, bottles, and toys and magically making this tiny human succumb into a peaceful and serene state. This post is for parents who are feeling avoidant and helpless. It is for the fathers and mothers who are painfully aware of feeling incompetent, and continue to think “I’m not good at this”. I want you to know, it can get better. I hope the following points leave you comforted and empowered. 

Stop comparing yourself with your partner

I hear a lot of fathers commenting that their partners can do it better. They see their partner staying patient and rocking the baby, doing midnight feeds, and changing multiple diapers. They see how the baby settles shortly after these interactions.  While it’s wonderful to see your partner becoming a successful parent, it can bring up a lot of our own insecurities. It’s really hard not to compare. When your partner picks up the baby, the baby calms down. When you pick up the baby, your adorable little human screams bloody murder. It makes a lot of sense that you feel avoidant.

avoidant parent. new parent. difficulty bonding. perinatal mental health. postpartum depression.

If you have always found security and confidence by doing things well, parenting can bring you outside your safe zone. Rather than work with this struggle, it’s easier to encourage your partner to take the lead since he or she is doing it better. I imagine you already know the consequences to this decision. Sure, the baby is calmer, but your partner is fried. Their arms are aching from constantly holding the baby. They haven’t slept or showered properly in days. And, chances are high, that they are frustrated with you for not taking a more active role. Meanwhile, your own insecurities of being a competent parent continues to worsen. 

Parenting is not always about doing things right. It involves time, patience, and some trial and error to figure out how to best help your little person. Chances are that you have a screaming infant on your hands for the first little while. Please know that this is normal. Your partner has also gone through this trial and error period of being hollered at, and it does get better. If you hand over the baby, your confidence does not improve. It only reinforces to you that your partner is capable and you are not. 

Forget perfection

There is a steep and fast learning curve with parenting. We make mistakes, work through the stress, and try again. We don’t have the option of quitting, and so we keep going back and figuring things out. The stress of doing things perfectly can make us avoidant in getting started. Rather than perfection, please accept that you will screw this up. Accept that you are going to make mistakes, and this will lead to tears (some of it will be yours and some will be from the baby). This is perfectly normal even though it sucks.

avoidant parent. struggles to bond with baby. postpartum depression.

While there are umpteen books and blogs out there about parenting strategies, no one has published a book for your child. Take what you know and try it out. Watch your baby’s cues to see if he or she responds well, or freaks out. It tooks me months of rocking my child to sleep and feeling frustrated before I realized this strategy wasn’t working. We’ve all gone through the nightmare of bathtime and the stress of barely keeping the baby above water. Some of us keep losing the soother- the only thing in the whole world that will make your child stop wailing. It happens. We all make mistakes, and it makes us human.

 We don’t know what will work until we take the time to try it, evaluate its efficacy, and continue or introduce a new habit. This is a normal part of learning new skills. We all start with a keen awareness of our incompetence. We practice and fine tune our skills, and eventually get to a place of being unconsciously competent. Wanting to be a perfect parent right from the start prolongs this very normal learning experience. 

Making mistakes is not the issue. Usually that error in judgment lasts a mere seconds before it’s done. However, our mind can keep us fixated on this mistake, and we get easily sucked into a world of shame, embarrassment or guilt. That small moment plagues us for days. Gently remind your system that you are human and you are learning. Mistakes are inevitable, and you did not do it maliciously or intentionally. You can and will learn from these errors. 

Assess if you have postpartum anxiety or depression

While we often think of postpartum mental health as a mom’s issue, this is just not true. 1 in 10 dads have postpartum depression, although only 3% of dads actually seek treatment. 1 in 7 mothers have postpartum depression. Unfortunately, there is limited research available about sexual minority couples, and the published statistics vary widely. That being said, postpartum mental health does not discriminate based on sex, culture, socioeconomic status, education, or age. It can happen to anyone. 

avoidant parent. struggling to bond with new baby. new dads. postpartum depression and perinatal mental health.

When it comes to depression, symptoms can include lack of energy, disinterest, poor sleep or eating habits, or limited social interaction. Postpartum mental health shows up differently. We want to pay attention to signs like irritability, anger, excessive worries, avoidant behaviours, and poor concentration. Because these are painful struggles, many people try to cope by drinking, avoiding parenting, or getting into arguments. Unfortunately, our friends notice that we are drinking a lot and disengaged with the baby, but they don’t recognize that we are struggling with postpartum depression. 

When it comes to mental health or any diagnosis, we need a treatment plan. This can include: help with emotional processing, behavioural changes, professional interventions, medication, or increased social support. Mental health does not go away with sheer will power. It is legitimate and painful, and requires proper attention. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a helpful assessment that can confirm if you are struggling with postpartum mental health. I would encourage anyone who is questioning their postpartum experience to take this self-assessment.

Exposure therapy can help

If you are struggling with your mental health, you do not have the effort or patience to invest into a new relationship. Depression will make you feel irritable and unmotivated, and anxiety will cause you to worry or panic. Your system just wants to shut down. When we shut down from our relationships and our environment, we address the problem briefly. We find temporary relief because we don’t have to spend time with the newborn. This relief is short-lived because, let’s face it, that baby is not going anywhere. Unfortunately, we fall into this repetitive pattern of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions, and avoiding the stress. This works temporarily until we face yet another scenario where we feel overwhelmed.

 I encourage you to take small steps to help your system see that you can become a strong parent. Exposure therapy involves creating a consistent and gradual plan to do things that you are fearful or avoidant of in order to build your confidence and reduce your fears. We want to first create a list of tasks that provoke anxiety and avoidant behaviours. Then we start with fears that are unpleasant, but manageable, and practice this repeatedly. It is only when the distress goes down and the confidence increases, that we move on to a more challenging task. Everyone’s exposure plan will differ based on his or her comfort zone and anxiety level. The following post explains exposure therapy in more detail, and I encourage you to reach out if you’d like to fine tune or problem solve your specific circumstance. 

Finding the balance between Me and We

Parenting can be a serious buzz kill for our social lives. Chances are that your kid is passing out by 7 PM, which means you’re likely starting a bedtime routine by 6:30 PM. It’s hard to nurture our hobbies, interests, or social lives if you need to be home by that early hour. Parenting can also influence our career path. Signing up for that new project or taking a promotion are incredible opportunities that you’ve worked so hard to accomplish. That being said, these activities mean more hours away from home. 

There is not a simple answer that will help you find balance between your interests and ambitions with your new parenting role. However, I’d recommend first sitting down with your partner and working on a plan. Parenting should not be an all-or-nothing experience. You should not give up all your interests, friendships, or goals. However, being a parent does involve some compromise. You may not be able to take on every project at work. Or, if you do, you will face the wrath and frustration of your kids and partner. It’s hard to win at everything, and we need to let go of the expectation to achieve it all. Instead, pay attention to your priorities. Some activities will feel easy to drop, whereas others may cause a lot of resentment. Fight for the priorities that matter.

While routines and schedules are not sexy, they do ensure you have time for yourself. It’s helpful to speak with your partner to ensure you both have time to do your own things. This might involve you taking on morning chores in order for your partner to go to the gym. As a result, he or she is more flexible about you playing hockey and hang out with your friends during the evenings. The predictability in knowing Mondays nights are yours to do as you please will help settle your anxiety.

There will come a time when your child is old enough to be more self-reliant. He or she will not need you to play such a supervisory role. When this happens, sign up for more things. Until then, work with your spouse in understanding what priorities you would like to invest in during the next few months. Talk about this plan regularly so that there are no surprises and there is room to make changes. 

The pressure to do it all

As the sole parent attending work, you may feel a huge financial responsibility on your shoulders. You may also come home to a very drained spouse, and your guilt prevents you from taking time for your own self-care. Perhaps the added stress of taking care of another person can feel overwhelming. 

avoidant parent. stressed new parent. building a better bond with your baby. postpartum mental health.

If you are feeling these types of pressure, pay attention to how you respond. Some parents will work more hours in hopes that they can manage this new financial burden. Some will feel resentful towards their baby or family because these changes feel so hard. Others will become avoidant, and spend all of their time outside of the home. All of these reactions are understandable given how much this postpartum year has left you unsettled.

If possible, take a moment to slow it down and reflect. What is it about this responsibility that is worrying you the most? What makes you doubt your capacity to manage these new tasks? Is your system aware that the financial strain will improve once your partner re-enters the work force? Would it be helpful to look at your budget and make changes so that you don’t spend all day working ? Are you feeling guilty because you are struggling to “fix” your partner’s exhaustion? Does your partner want you to take on this role? By understanding the root cause of our pressure, we are able to make wiser choices. We don’t have to react in impulsive or avoidant ways, and can instead focus on problem solving, communicating, or setting realistic expectations. 

Talk about it 

There are many supports and resources for new mothers, and I recognize that the same level of support is not readily available for dads and partners. A highly effective intervention for postpartum mental health is an increase to our support network. There is significant healing that happens when you are supported by others who truly understand and appreciate the hardships of the postpartum year. This can involve leaning on your parents, friends with older children, neighbours with newborns, or a local support group. It’s helpful to speak up, and receive support and compassion from the other end. It helps to talk with others who can share advice or normalize your experiences. 

Reach out

There are many ways you can build a bond with your baby. While you can remain avoidant, this behaviour tends to bring a lot of consequences. If you or your partner is struggling with this new role of parenthood, reach out. You do not have to struggle in isolation. 

Best wishes, 

Kasi 

Pregnancy and Postpartum · Depression · Mental Health · Parenting

Will I have postpartum depression again?

For anyone who has survived postpartum depression, you know how painful and unsettling life felt after your baby arrived. During that first year, you are overwhelmed with feelings of irritability, helplessness, anger, rage, sadness, and anxiety (just to name a few). The fear of ever facing this experience again causes many parents to hesitate about having another child. There is nothing that they want to avoid more than those intrusive thoughts, hours of sobbing, or crippling anxiety. I hope this post will offer you some support and guidance in considering your next steps.

You have the right to say no

Pressures for nuclear families are constantly pushed at parents. I hear many well-intentioned family members asking when moms will be pregnant again, and expressing concerns that their children will be lonely if they do not have siblings. Firstly, let’s all agree that these folks need to chill out. No one should tell you what your family should look like. There are many, many single-child families who have wonderful, happy lives. If you have decided that one is enough, please rest assured that you are making the right decision. After all, it is your body, your lifestyle, your family, your income, and all of your resources. While loved ones may comment, at the end of the day, you have to take care of this little person. You are absolutely entitled to decide that you don’t want this option.

Many factors will influence your mental health

postpartum depression. Mood and anxiety disorders. Kasi Shan Therapy. online counselling. Counselling in Kitchener.

There are a lot of vulnerabilities that influence mental health. When it comes to postpartum depression, the list can include: poor sleep, stress, hormonal changes, physical wellness, relationship struggles, financial worries, history of mental health, multiple children, and complicated pregnancies/deliveries. This is not an all-encompassing list; however, it does address some important influencers during the perinatal period.

History of mental health struggles (including postpartum depression with your first child) is only one contributing factor. Postpartum depression symptoms typically decrease between one postpartum period to the next, showing that we have the capacity for healing. Research has found that there is high variability of whether parents’ symptoms of postpartum depression increase or decrease in future deliveries.

What does this all mean for you? Just because you had postpartum once does not guarantee you will have it again. If you had experienced significant distress in your first experience, err on the side of caution and seek support as soon you are pregnant. Postpartum depression is treatable. Your recovery experience improves when you do not prolong suffering.

You know more today than you did during your first pregnancy

Many first time parents feel nervous and uncertain about taking care of their babies. I mean, why wouldn’t we? If we are not surrounded by babies all the time, or if it’s not within our line of work, it makes sense that we are not experts on this topic. Since there are many unknowns during the first year with our child, we can feel inundated with worries about the baby’s well-being and our own capacity to parent.

Postpartum depression. perinatal mental health. Worries about having a second child.

As cliché as this may sound, practice makes perfect. Consider how vulnerable you felt when you first took your little one home versus how you felt six months or even 2 years in to parenting. You’ve gone from feeling incompetent to suddenly having a knack for diaper changes, effortless feedings, and confidence in bedtime routines. That level of skill and knowledge took you weeks of trials and errors before you could confidently move forward. This is the beauty of having a second child. That level of uncertainty and worry still exists; however, it is significantly more muted than the first time experience. You are much faster at handling all of those questions from your first time simply because you have the experience in your tool belt.

Understand your vulnerabilities

postpartum depression and experiences. journal. mental health.

As painful as it may seem, I encourage you to sit down and reflect on your first-time experiences of pregnancy and postpartum months. What was hardest for you? When did you struggle the most? Did you have support available, and was your support team actually helpful? Were you able to rely on your partner? What kept you down on your hardest days? When did circumstances improve? Did you use medication, or were you able to manage without? What resources did you bring in the last time?

Knowing what was hard the first time can give us a working plan of how to handle the situation differently this time around. Some moms are so clear that they do not want to have another child while COVID-19 is still a concern. Other moms are aware that sleep training is what they needed in order to feel more stable. Many moms know that attending counselling and couples counselling helped them work through anxieties as they surfaced. It sucks to have to learn from our hardships. Knowing what did and did not work can help you decide what to do differently this time around. When you have the awareness, you have a lot more control and influence over the situation.

Find a community

The stats are very clear. About one in seven mothers and one in ten fathers experience postpartum depression. Yet, we live in a world where we suffer silently. Joining a support group, or connecting with other safe parents is one of the best things that you can do for your system. Let go of the pinterest-moms in your world. Don’t try and find validation from your next door neighbour who always looks well-presented and has the most well-tempered baby. These people will (hopefully, unintentionally) make you feel lousy. FInd parents who help you feel less alone. Your worries are similar to the stressors that others have also experienced. Find those who have survived postpartum mental health, and hear about their experiences. Learn what worked for them to not only have this level of encouragement, but to also find strategies that you want to employ.

If you experienced postpartum depression with your first child, it’s highly likely that you felt overwhelmed or frustrated with parenting. The circumstances are much more complicated if you are a single parent, or if your partner works long hours. While this is no one’s fault, feeling isolated in your parenting is an important factor to keep in mind. Gather your support team and come up with a plan that will support your needs. This may involve asking your mother to stay with you for the first week, or asking a friend to check in daily. You might contact resources like a lactation consultant, a postpartum doula, or a sleep-training specialist earlier into your postpartum experience. Your support team can be informal like friends or family, or professionals. Irrespective, these folks are helping you to fill in the gaps. There is a reason for the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” No one should be expected to do it all alone.

Move your body

When we struggle with depression, our body wants to shut down, isolate, hide, or retreat. This makes a lot of sense when the world feels too much. Of course, you want to escape and disengage. It’s far safer in your home than to socialize, take the baby out, or pretend that everything is normal. When we stay hidden away, we can get caught in this safety net for a long time. Sure the world may feel safer when you’ve stayed away, but it’s also felt bleak and painful everyday that you’ve been hidden. If you are ambivalent to have another child because of this shut down experience, there are strategies that can help. There are many coping strategies that can be employed to use address anxiety and depression. The key is to find the right set of skills that fit for you.

One effective distress tolerance skill is to increase our activity level. I get that exercise is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I want to emphasize how quickly it can help you in getting out of a funk. When it comes to a crisis situation, getting even 2-5 minutes of intense exercise will force your physiology to change. Your shut down system is forced to be more alert with this sudden intensity. After this burst of working out, we have about 15-20 minutes of reprieve. We feel more regulated and think more clearly. This gives you a chance to look at your current setup and schedule. You may find you have more capacity to get out of your room, go for a walk, or call a friend. Things that felt unmanageable, suddenly feel more accessible.

Seek treatment

Postpartum mental health is not based on will power. Crying everyday, or stressing about spending time alone with the baby is not a normal part of parenthood. If this is your experience, I want you to know that it does not have to be like this. Postpartum myths can prevent us from seeking out help, and I can appreciate that these are genuine barriers. Whether it’s due to internal shame, external pressures, cultural expectations of motherhood, or any other factors, it can be hard to shift away from this perspective. However, the best part of working in perinatal mental health is that I know it gets better. I see mothers improving within a year or two of delivery. This may involve regular therapy, a community of support, various coping strategies, use of medication, or a combination of interventions. With support, postpartum mental health can improve.

Postpartum depression does not have to define your experience

If you are feeling scared of having postpartum depression again, please reach out. Just because you struggled with your mental health the first time does not mean it will happen again, or that it has to get as bad. There are numerous preventative and reactive interventions that we can incorporate to help you feel more resilient. Reach out when you feel ready.

Take care,
Kasi

Anxiety · Depression · Mental Health

Five Ways to Challenge Negative Thoughts

After writing my last post about common anxieties during the postpartum period, I wanted to provide some strategies to help challenge these negative thoughts. Irrespective of whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy thinking styles when you feel vulnerable. I hope these five strategies can help you refute negative thoughts and shift into a calmer frame of mind.

1. Finding Evidence

Cognitive-behaviour therapy uses the term hot thought (a.k.a. “automatic thoughts”) to refer to thoughts that pop into our mind after we are triggered. These hot thoughts are often mean, disheartening and self-deprecating. They often express a vulnerable belief we have about ourselves or the world. For example, if you have had a difficult conversation with your partner, a hot thought might be: “My partner is going to leave me” or “My partner is sick of me.”

Because these thoughts make us feel fragile, it is easy to fall into an emotional spiral rather than address the truth of these statements. This is where the strategy of finding evidence for and evidence against a hot thought can be helpful. There is a part of you that truly believes this critical thought to be true. Rather than pretending this part doesn’t exist, it’s more helpful to consider its perspective (don’t worry, we don’t stop the exercise at this step). Write down every fact (statements that are objectively true) that helps argue the validity of this negative thought. For example, if your hot thought is “I’m a crappy student”, then your evidence might include: a poor test score, a lower grade on your report card, your friends’ grades, or difficulty grasping teaching material.

5 ways to challenge negative thought patterns. Kasi Shan Therapy: Counselling support in Kitchener, ON
Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Now, pretend you are in a court trial. In order to fairly assess your hot thought, you need to also consider counter arguments. This involves spending time looking at every evidence that refutes this negative thought. It is when we start assessing this counter argument where most of us recognize the fallacies in our hot thoughts. For the most part, our negative thoughts come from a place of emotional reasoning, rather than actual evidence. When we are forced to identify the evidence (or lack thereof) behind our thinking, it becomes clear fairly quickly that our hot thoughts are not valid.

Example of hot thought: “I’m a crappy student.”

Evidence For Evidence Against
– I did poorly on my last test
– I didn’t get an A on my report card
– My friends have higher marks than me
– I didn’t understand the last lesson
– I have a B average on my report card. I am meeting the expectations.
– It takes me a bit of time to review material on my own before I understand a concept fully
– There are some kids who are getting higher grades than me, and there are some kids who are getting lower grades than me
– This is not my strongest subject, but I am doing well in other classes/activities
– When I study with my friend, I’m able to see where I understand and don’t understand concepts fully. This has helped me get better grades in the past.
– I am able to ask the teacher questions if I don’t understand the material
– I take notes in class, do my homework and try my best.

2. Checking for Double-Standards

5 ways to challenge negative thought patterns. Kasi Shan Therapy: Counselling support in Kitchener, ON
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When it comes to giving advice or offering feedback to others, we are usually gently and generous. However, when the same problem happens to us, we become the meanest critics. When we have negative thinking patterns, it’s important to step back and consider how would we talk to a friend in this situation. If the same thought of “I’m a crappy student” was stated by a friend, how would we respond? Would we agree and voice other criticisms, or would we look for evidence that shows a more balanced perspective? Checking for double-standards refer to assessing whether we would respond differently if the same circumstances were happening to someone else.

3. The Survey Method

5 ways to challenge negative thought patterns. Kasi Shan Therapy: Counselling support in Kitchener, ON
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Sometimes our negative thoughts escalate because we feel we are the only ones to be thinking or feeling a certain way. There are times when this assumption is accurate, and there are also times when this assumption is false. By asking others for feedback, we’re able to assess whether there is any truth to our beliefs. The survey method normalizes our beliefs because it helps us recognize we are not alone in feeling or behaving in this manner. The survey method also helps clarify how some of our difficult thoughts are coming from unrealistic expectations.

Let’s consider a scenario where a child isn’t listening to a parent, and the parent snaps. In this case, the hot thought may include: “I’m a terrible parent for getting snappy” or “I’m not allowed to be angry at my child.” If we were to take a survey and ask others whether they also get snappy with their child, what kind of answer would we get? Chances are that other survey takers would acknowledge that they also have moments of frustration while parenting. If we were to share our beliefs that it is not acceptable to be angry with our children, many individuals would question the feasibility in pushing away a normal emotion like anger.

4. What other factors are involved?

five bulb lights
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This technique is referred to as “re-attribution”, and it can be very helpful to challenge thoughts about personalization. Rather than assuming that you are solely to blame for a scenario, re-attribution helps us step back and consider all of the factors that could have contributed to a situation. There are many points of influence such as environmental, cultural, physiological, psychological, financial, or social factors.

Many times parents personalize their children’s behaviours. While parents play a pivotal role in their children’s upbringing, they are only one influencing factor. Let’s consider a scenario where a child get into a fight with a classmate. If a parent personalizes this behaviour, hot thoughts may include: “I didn’t teach her the right ways to talk things out… Am I too aggressive at home?… I’ve been too lenient when she’s rough-housed with her siblings.” While these points may be valid, it does not acknowledge the impact of other influencing factors. For example, this child may have gotten into a fight because her classmate was egging her on. This child may have watched a TV show that modelled fighting, or seen peers manage conflicts in this way. Or, this child may have felt threatened, and went into a more subliminal fight/flight mode.

5. Test out your belief

A lot of times or our worries involve catastrophizing that negative things will happen. Unfortunately, because these negative consequences seem so frightening, we give up or give in to our worries. By testing whether your negative thought is likely to happen, you’ll either learn (a) the feared outcome didn’t actually happen, or (b) it did happen, and you were able to survive it.

brown eyes of scared young person
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For example, many of us feel nervous on a first date. We worry about not liking the person, or whether we’ll do something awkward. Rather than avoiding the date to prevent any negative scenarios from happening, we can actually test out our theory by going on the date. Afterwards, we’re able to make a more informed decision of whether that fear had any evidence to back up its argument. This strategy of challenging our negative thoughts through testing is the hardest to manage, and it’s helpful to connect with a therapist for additional support, such as the use of exposure therapy.

What works for you?

I’m describing these fives tips as if they were simple, and they aren’t always this easy. That’s partly because when we’re anxious, we are so caught in our emotions, that it’s hard to hear that logical part of our mind. However, what I’m hoping this post will offer you is the chance to try something different. You may end up picking one of these strategies and actively trying it, or simply pausing before an anxious moment and assessing if there is any evidence to it. Whatever you choose, I hope that the distress in challenging your fears are short-lived and that you start to see positive turns.

As always, please feel free to reach out or ask any questions.

Kasi

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Mental Health · Anxiety · Depression

15 mindfulness exercises to try today

There are so many ways to incorporate mindfulness in to your daily life and one post doesn’t suffice. Mindfulness is a moment to moment awareness of what’s happening internally (your emotions and physical sensations) and externally (using your senses to note what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch). While the definition may sound complicated, the actual practice can be quite simple.

It may seem like I’m constantly talking about mindfulness, but there’s a reason I keep encouraging its practice. By trying mindfulness exercises, you can gain various benefits such as:

  • feeling more in control of your emotions
  • improving your attention and concentration
  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • becoming aware of your thoughts and triggers
  • having more capacity to pause and reflect versus acting automatically
  • improving relationships
  • living in the present moment (rather than worrying about the past or future)
Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

How to be mindful:

When we start our mindfulness exercises, it’s important to keep the following components in mind. These four factors shift our normal daily activities into intentional mindfulness practice.

  • Observe: When we are mindful, we are observing using our five senses to notice what is going on internally and externally.
    • Note: You stop being mindful when you move away from observing with your senses to focusing instead on interpretations (e.g. “That person is looking away from me” versus “that person must think I’m the worst”)
  • Participate: When we are mindful, we throw ourselves into an activity and fully engage with the present task. Rather than shying away, or being an observer, you want to be an active participant.
  • Non-judgement: When we are mindful, we describe only what we observe. This means noticing and moving away from interpretations, evaluations or judgements.
  • One thing at a time: Mindfulness means the end of multitasking! Instead, we want to only focus on ONE activity at a time.
observing with our senses

15 Mindfulness Exercises

So let’s dive in! There are many ways to practice being mindful. The importance is doing these activities by observing with your senses, participating fully, being non-judgemental and doing one thing at a time. Whenever your thoughts stray away from the activity, you want to bring it back. This may involve bringing your attention back many times, and that’s okay! Mindfulness is like a muscle, and the more often you practice, the stronger it becomes. With practice, your attention will improve.

Eating a meal

Notice how the food tastes and smells. Pay attention to the movement involved in taking a bite. Notice the visual presentation and the sounds that you hear from the moment you pick up your food to swallowing.

Going for a walk

This is a great way to be mindfully aware of how your internal environment interacts with the external environment (e.g. can you notice how it feels when your feet hit the floor? What happens in your body when you notice your surroundings? How does your body respond when it hears a bird chirping versus a loud car horn?

20 mindfulness exercises that you can practice today. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling online and in Kitchener, ON.

Listening to the news

This is a great way to practice being non-judgemental! Try and sit through the evening news noting when judgemental thoughts arise. When they show up, can you try and bring your attention back to the material shared on the TV instead of evaluating the information?

Dancing

This works especially well if you feel self-conscious about dancing. Can you throw yourself into this activity letting go of all judgemental thoughts and insecurities?

Watching TV

Yes! You can watch TV mindfully. It involves only doing this activity (not also playing on your phone, talking to your family member, or get supper ready). Can you bring all your thoughts back to the show that you are watching whenever you get distracted?

Washing dishes

Can you notice the sense of touch when you are washing dishes? What temperature is the water? What does the suds and sponge feel like? Are you able to focus on just watching dishes instead of thinking of something else?

Describing your home

Can you close your eyes and describe your home? What is actually observable? Where are items located? Can you notice if any judgemental thoughts come up and replace them with observable facts?

Mindfulness exercises to practice today. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in-person (Kitchener, ON)

Engaging in a conversation

Can you participate in a conversation with someone mindfully? This means truly taking the time and effort to hear what the other person is saying (as opposed to planning your retort). Are you able to focus on the conversation and not multitask?

Mindful breathing

Paying attention to your breath is boring, which is what makes it a great mindfulness exercise! It’s easy to have your attention wander if all you’re doing is focusing on your inhale and exhale. This means ample opportunity to gently bring your mind back whenever it shifts away from the breath.

Observing your thoughts

Set a timer for two minutes and notice the various thoughts that come to mind. We want to teach your brain to not become hooked to these thoughts. This means acknowledging a thought when it pops up, but not going down the train of thought to elaborate. This one takes practice and can be frustrating, and it’s part of the reason I recommend sticking with a two-minute timer to begin.

15 mindfulness exercises to practice today. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in person (Kitchener, ON)
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Using a meditation app

There are many online apps that can guide you through meditation such as: Insight Timer, Calm, Pacifica or Head Space.

Completing a body scan exercise

Take the time to start noticing the various shifts that happen internally. This video is a great starter to help you start mindfully observing your body.

Courtesy of The Mindfulness Teacher

Driving

It’s so easy to get critical of others’ driving when you’re on the road. Can you observe what is happening around you without these critical thoughts? If critical thoughts happen, can you rephrase so that you focus on observation rather than evaluations?

Finding music that puts you in a specific mood (sad, angry, happy)

Listen to each song, and observe the shifts it has in your body when various emotions come up.

Cleaning your home

Try and create a plan of cleaning your home one step at a time. Once a task is done, move on the next. Pay attention to judgemental thoughts if they arise, and bring your attention back to the task at hand. Notice how it feels when you are sweeping. What do your muscles feel like when you are dusting? Instead of focusing on the end result, can you slow the process down to being in the present moment?

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out.

Kasi