Mind(fulness) Over Matter

Feeling...not exactly normal? Same. Our minds are wired to make sense of our surroundings, but from the news to our new world order that’s not exactly possible right now.

Comfort comes in knowing we’re not alone. While anxiety already impacts 1 in 5 Americans, experts have seen a nearly 20% increase in anxiety screenings since February. Complicating matters is the fact that typical coping mechanisms—outings with friends, group exercise classes—are suddenly shuttered. Since we’re all about comfort, we turned to Ann Marie Smith, MA, LMFT, Founder of Awakened Heart PDX, a collective of therapists in Portland, OR, to help us sort through it all—the bad, the good and the what-even-does-this-mean.

“We don’t feel normal because things aren’t normal.”

There’s so much uncertainty right now and it’s easy to go down that rabbit hole. Our thoughts can really get away from us and if we’re practiced at catastrophizing, we can get to the worst-case scenario in no time.

Mindfulness is a huge part of my personal and professional practice and what I love is its heavy emphasis on compassion. I think we mostly hear that mindfulness is about breathing or being present and, while this is true, it’s hard to get excited about those components (Let’s face it—they’re kind of boring.). Compassion stands out to me as the all-star of mindfulness because it’s all about being okay with what’s happening. We don’t have to love where we’re at today but we can be okay with it. Another way to put it is that compassion means not judging yourself, your kids, your house or anything you have going on as bad or not good enough.

"We’re not aiming for perfection, we’re working on giving ourselves the grace to be okay with what’s in front of us."

Some days are better than others and, again, we’re not aiming for perfection. Just do the best you can, because that’s a beautiful thing.

Mindfulness can also help you observe what you’re doing and thinking. What do you feel in your body? How’s your posture? Notice how your heart feels. Now that you’ve pressed pause, you can make a change.

Two fixes:

Breathe. Breathing down-regulates the nervous system. When we’re anxious or upset, our fight-or-flight response gets turned on. We’re in survival mode and all we can think about is the looming threat or catastrophe we’ve conjured up. The part of the brain that discerns, organizes and problem-solves—the prefrontal cortex—is shut down. Deep breathing signals to the body that we’re okay, which then allows the mind to see alternatives and relax. Try a five-count inhale and a five-count exhale through the nose, five times.

Move your body. Physical activity changes the circuitry of the brain. When we’re spinning on a thought, we’re only using our mind to focus on this thought. Moving the body requires the brain to process how to move and how to move around in space. Different parts of the mind are activated, which takes us out of the catastrophic thinking rut. So go for a walk, do some jumping jacks, twirl, twerk—whatever floats your boat.

More from Ann Marie to come—stay tuned for future posts!