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Mindfulness may be fundamentally understood as the state in which one becomes more aware of one’s physical, mental, and emotional condition in the present moment, without becoming judgmental. Individuals may be able to pay attention to a variety of experiences, such as bodily sensations, cognitions, and feelings, and accept them without being influenced by them. Mindfulness practices are believed to be able to help people better control their thoughts, rather than be controlled by them. Try a couple of these strategies and see what they can do for you.

Focus on your breathing.

When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

Wake up Early

Choosing to awaken a little earlier in the morning not only allows you to begin your day with mindfulness but also extends the amount of time you have to enjoy life. Give it a try for a week or so. You may be surprised at how much more you enjoy your mornings with just a few extra minutes.

Pay attention.

It’s hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.

Live in the moment.

Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.

Accept yourself.

Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.

Awaken with Gratitude

When we begin the day with gratitude, we train our minds to look for the positive rather than focusing on the challenges, frustrations, and slights we have encountered throughout the week.  The key to making this habit effective is not the number of things you feel grateful for or even the amount of time you spend in gratitude, but rather the intensity of focus and feeling you have around the effort. A mindful gratitude practice means immersing yourself in the emotion so that you feel deeply and profoundly blessed.

Do a Mindful Body Scan

The simplest way to get in touch with how you’re feeling is to do a mindful body scan. A body scan is a meditative practice in which you focus on each part of every area, often beginning at the toes and moving to the head.  The key here is to train your attention on each specific part for a moment and pay close attention to how you feel.

Practice a Morning Breathing Exercise

Do you pay much attention to your breathing? Practicing mindful, focused breathing, even for ten minutes a day reduces stress and promotes relaxation. Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing causes a reflex stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in a reduction in the heart rate and relaxation of the muscles.

Notice Your Thoughts

If you allow negative thoughts to run rampant first thing in the morning, you lose the best time for creativity and productivity. Many people wake up feeling anxious and filled with dread, as the cycle of rumination and negative thinking begins the minute their feet hit the floor.

Practice Morning Meditation

Meditation is the centerpiece of practicing mindfulness exercises. It does not take a genius to understand that practicing mediation at some time during your day is going to be an important part of your mindfulness routine. Taking time to meditate for just ten minutes a day will support all of your other daily mindfulness habits, as meditation is a form of strength training for your mind.  The purpose of meditation is to observe the patterns and habits of your mind and learn to tame the incessant chattering of your thoughts. With practice, you’ll gain more and more control over your thoughts, rather than your thoughts controlling you and your emotions.

Write in a Journal

Working through a journal for ten minutes is an excellent mindfulness habit because you completely focus on putting your thoughts onto paper. It’s a way to liberate your mind from the mental chatter that can set your morning off to a negative or anxious start.

Be Present with others around you

How many people around the world begin their days with little to no interaction with the people they hold most dear? What are we working so hard for anyway, if not to spend quality time with our loved ones? The best place to start is be being present with those around you, even for just a few minutes before you begin your work or school day.

Eat Breakfast Mindfully

If you eat breakfast, even if it is something simple like a piece of toast or a cup of yogurt, then consider making breakfast a mindful activity. Mindful eating involves both what you eat and how you eat it. Being mindful about your breakfast is a great way to reevaluate your food choices while slowing down enough to appreciate what you are eating. Eating healthy foods at breakfast can set the stage for smart food choices throughout your day.

Recite Positive Affirmations

As a mindfulness habit, affirmations are positive phrases that you repeat to yourself, describing who and how you want to be, using the present tense, as though the outcome has already occurred. Establishing a positive affirmation habit first thing in the morning can impact the outcome of your entire day. Positive affirmations, when practiced deliberately and repeatedly, can reinforce chemical pathways in the brain, making the connection between two neurons stronger, and therefore more likely to conduct the same message again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine being outside with a blue sunny, sky while you feel the soft snow beneath your skis and you feel the wind on your face.  Any one that downhill or cross country skis will tell you that skiing makes you feel healthy and happy. But while the physical benefits of being outside in nature and skiing are obvious, it has only been in recent studies that science have proved that the mental benefits of snow sports are just as valuable. A study led by Stanford University found that city dwellers have a 20% higher risk of depression than rural residents and a 40% increased risk of mood disorders. 

No stranger to finding creative ways to connect people to nature, Heather Hendrie is a Squamish based clinician who offers Ski Therapy in addition to her regular clinical practice. As an avid skier, former ski instructor and outdoor guide, Heather hopes to add ski therapy sessions to her suite of offerings this winter.  Heather became interested in the healing power of nature through her healing journey, where nature provided great relief and a sense of perspective leading her to pursue a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counselling, specializing in Wilderness Therapy.  Ski therapy seems a good fit for Hendrie, who made headlines when she created the “Lifts of Love” event in Banff.  An annual singles speed dating event held at Mount Norquay. It follows naturally that she’d take her therapeutic work to the chairlifts and groomed trails.   I caught up with Heather to discuss this interesting form of therapy.  

What is Ski Therapy? 

Heather describes Ski Therapy as a playful, Nature Based  way to connect with a therapist while moving one’s body.  The therapeutic process is at work while breathing fresh air, taking in the surrounding scene and engaging in bi lateral movement that is proving to support significant reductions in the levels of both bodily distress and emotional stress. These combined emotional physical and physiological benefits could make ski therapy a real 2 for 1 type practice, and ideal for people who’d like to try a novel approach in therapy. 

Where do you offer Ski Therapy? 

Heather hopes to offer sessions through maintained cross country skiing trails at the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley.  Making this therapeutic modality accessible to more people is currently a passion of Heather’s, as skiing has historically been such an exclusive pursuit. 

Do you need to know how to ski?

While Heather’s background is as a guide and instructor, the focus of ski therapy is healing and relief from symptoms, rather than the technical aspects of the sport. 

ski therapy 3

What theoretical approaches do you use? 

Heather applies a Transpersonal, humanistic, mindfulness-based, experiential approach to her work, inspired by such leaders as Rogers, Maslow, Van Der Kolk and Peter Levine.  

How do you manage confidentiality with others around? 

Confidentiality looks different outdoors than when sessions are conducted within the confines of an office, but fortunately, the field of therapy is increasingly being de-stigmatized. That said, Heather mitigates any concern in this area by always addressing consent and confidentiality with a client before beginning work together.  

 

Interested in learning more about Ski Therapy? Check out https://heatherhendrie.com/

Sleep is a fundamental need for humans to function at there best.  In addition to proper nutrition and exercise, a regular good nights sleep  can help lead to better wellness in people. Struggling with our sleep can have negative effects on how we perform in our daily life. Beyond making us tired and moody, a lack of sleep can have serious effects on our health. Increasing our propensity for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. The good news is there are lots of proven strategies that can help those that struggle with sleep to improve and get some shut eye.

Try some of these tips to get you a better night’s sleep:

1) Relaxation techniques, including breathing exercises or meditation, may help you fall asleep.

2) A warm bath, shower, or foot bath before bed can help you relax and improve your sleep quality.

3) Exercise can have a positive effect on sleep. Regular exercise during daylight hours is one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep.

4) Eat a small healthy snack (such as an apple with a slice of cheese or a few whole-wheat crackers)

5) Daily sunlight or artificial bright light can improve sleep quality and duration, especially if you have severe sleep issues or insomnia.

6) Blue light tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime. Try to avoid electronics right before bed to reduce your exposure to blue light before bed.

7) Caffeine can significantly worsen sleep quality, especially if you drink large amounts in the late afternoon or evening.

8) Optimize your bedroom environment by eliminating external light and noise to get better sleep.

9) Try to get into a regular sleep/wake cycle — especially on the weekends. If possible, try to wake up naturally at a similar time every day.

10) Long daytime naps may impair sleep quality. If you have trouble sleeping at night, stop napping or shorten your naps.

 

benefits of a good nights sleep

5 Reasons to Try Nature Based Therapy

Nature-based therapy is an effective means to boost mental wellness. Nature is viewed as a healing partner in the counselling process. For instance, when an individual is depressed, they often retreat into indoor spaces, isolating themselves from the world around them. Using a nature based therapy approach can help people to receive the benefits of being outdoors while still engaging in therapy.

1. Nature based therapy can be less intimidating than a traditional office setting

Nature based therapy

The traditional office setting can be seen to be an intimidating experience for some clients. The face-to-face interaction can be off putting and cause unease in some. Moving therapy to an outdoor space can alleviate this as some people experience nature therapy as less intimidating than an office setting. 

2. Enhanced self-concept, self-esteem and self-confidence

Employing nature is a potent therapeutic intervention in combating negative self concept or self esteem. One study found that combining exercise and nature and participating in group exercise activities outdoors improves both mood and self esteem. 

3. Nature based therapy can improve anxiety and depression.

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced anxiety and depression. It’s not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect. Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

4. Nature based therapy can lower stress levels

 

Research shows that exposure to nature will have profound impact in the decreasing of cortisol levels. The calming effect of nature can have a profound effect on stress levels.

5. Psychological effects of therapy in nature include lower blood pressure

Natural light, fresh air, exposure to trees and plants seem to improve many people’s outlook on life in a positive manner but also reduce blood pressure. Research also points to increased resilience, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially with other members of their community and society at large.

Therapeutic Nature Based Therapy: Nature as a Healing Partner

Ecotherapy

As our technological society advances and urbanizes, it is apparent that we are putting distance between ourselves and how our ancestors once lived. Could it be that perhaps our distance from nature could be having an impact on our psyche? There are some that aim to bridge this divide by bringing humans back to their roots, in nature. Nowhere is bridging this divide more important than in the therapeutic work that counselling professionals do.

Ecotherapy is the name given to a form of experiential therapy that incorporates counselling interventions in the natural world to improve the client’s growth and development. There are wide ranges of treatment programs, which aim to improve mental and physical well-being through doing outdoor activities in nature. Examples include nature-based meditations, physical exercise in natural settings, horticultural therapy, adventure therapy, conservation activities and therapeutic nature-based counselling.

What is Therapeutic Nature-Based Therapy

Nature based therapy

Therapeutic nature-based counselling is an aspect of ecotherapy that has shown great results for work with individuals and/or groups. It encompasses working with clients in a natural setting with an end goal of individual and/or family wellness. This style of therapy has a close relationship to family systems theory in that both theories recognize the inter-relatedness of being and our surroundings. Nature is viewed as a healing partner in the counselling process. For instance, when an individual is depressed, they often retreat into indoor spaces, isolating themselves from the world around them. Using a nature therapy approach can help encourage individuals to move outdoors while still engaging in therapy.

Further, nature-based counselling helps cultivate awareness in individuals as they explore their relationship to themselves, others and their sense of place in the world and natural surroundings.
The fundamental process for therapeutic practices in nature is the reconnection to nature as a reconnection to self. (Jordan, 2009)

Effectiveness

Research on the effectiveness of therapeutic based nature therapy is limited but encouraging. However, there has been considerable research into the effects of individuals spending time in forests. Several studies demonstrate the unique factors that forests can have on individuals and the counselling process.

In Japan, a very popular and well-studied concept is Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing. This involves the simple health improvement strategy of immersing oneself into a forest. The effectiveness of this practice is well documented with benefits such as immune function enhancement while in contact with forest environments. It also has been shown to lower elevated stress levels when in natural environments (Lee et al, 2012).

The therapeutic rationale for having experiences within nature is to encourage clients to awaken their senses. An important step in truly grounding oneself through distress. Buzzell and Chalquist (2009) cite enhanced self-concept, self-esteem and self-confidence as benefits to therapeutic nature-based therapy. They also believe that to facilitate treatment of mental health issues or improve family relationships, employing nature is a potent therapeutic intervention. It has been shown to improve mood, anxiety, stress, and depression. It has also been demonstrated that it works well for a variety of ages. Nature therapy is about utilizing these demonstrated benefits in order to help facilitate a client’s therapeutic goal.

The traditional office setting can be seen to be an intimidating experience for some clients. The face-to-face interaction can be off putting and cause unease in some. Moving therapy to an outdoor space can alleviate this as some people experience nature therapy as less intimidating than an office setting.

Doucette (2004) outlines the nuances of walk and talk therapy as walking outdoors whilst engaged in counselling. Walk and talk therapy happens outside the usual confines of an office space. In Doucette’s research with adolescents, therapist and participants met over 6 weeks, once per week for 30-45 minutes or walking outdoors on school grounds. This research found considerable improvements on individual’s moods. Participants discussed what had happened that week and they were taught strategies during the sessions, which included ways of managing stress and painful situations, positive self-talk, mental imagery and through focusing techniques to reduce stress.

Considerations

Moving from the confines of the traditional four walled therapy space involves some considerations in order to be successful. It is important that during the initial client assessment that any initial fears about the outdoors be discussed. Comfort levels with the weather can vary and are important to mention. If the client gets cold easily, it obviously best to avoid the outdoor space when the temperature dips down. Client safety in outdoor spaces is important and so it is recommended that simple well-worn paths, which do not have any obstacles, are best.

It is imperative that the therapist knows the area well before embarking with clients in an outdoor space. The therapy should be the focus, not trying to navigate both of you back from an unknown path.

The confidentiality piece is important and needs to be addressed at the initial assessment. While the four walled office space provides you with a contained, private venue for intimate discussions and limited interruptions, the outdoor space brings with it other challenges. For example, it should be discussed what the client is comfortable with when other people are encountered on the trail. Would they prefer to stop conversation, lower their voice, or continue talking?

Case study

Michael was a bank teller. His past counselling experiences had not been positive. Michael mentioned that his previous counselling sessions had brought up very difficult feelings that he did not know how to handle. At assessment, Michael talked about his family history, which included how his mother and father’s marriage had been unstable with numerous splits and walkouts. He noted that his father was very volatile in his family interactions while his mother had been very self-absorbed. Michael had grown up with a poor sense of self, quite often adapting himself to others’ needs and wishes in order to be liked. Michael was mistrustful and it was apparent that he felt attacked and persecuted through the therapist standard line of assessment questioning. There were long pauses and silences in the subsequent sessions and Michael reported feeling very ambivalent about therapy. The therapist suggested they might meet outdoors and walk together, as the sessions indoors felt so difficult, and for them both to see how this felt. They met at a local municipal park, walked, and talked as they made their way through a quiet forest loop. In the session, Michael talked more about how he felt and the session went well. At the end, the therapist asked Michael how he felt about this way of working. Michael report that he found it much easier to talk without the room and the eye contact of the therapist and that compared to his previous experiences of therapy it was much easier to open up and share with the therapist outdoors which they were walking. In subsequent sessions, they met in forest locations, walked, and talked. The therapist also found it easier to tune into Michael on an embodied level and make contact with him more easily than he had done indoors. At times, Michael would stop and make eye contact with the therapist when he had an important thing to say in therapy. As the sessions progressed, Michael was more able to initiate contact in this way in the therapy and began to be more able to stay in touch with painful feelings whilst moving outdoors.

Integrating Nature into your counselling practice

Incorporating therapeutic nature-based therapy into your practice is not for every client or clinician but there are many that would benefit from the alternative setting for therapy. When you think of those resistant clients that really struggle in the traditional setting, it can be worth it to look for new spaces to engage them in therapy. By incorporating nature in a relational way into your practice, this can support new internal perceptions which help individuals to reflect, challenge and support new ways of thinking on their therapeutic journey. Nature has been healing through the times and so, an important consideration for clinical work. As society becomes more urbanized, it will be important for therapeutic work to remember the inherent connection we have to the natural world. As Abrams so eloquently describes in his book The Spell of the Sensuous, “By acknowledging such links between the inner, psychological world and the perceptual terrain that surrounds us, we begin to turn inside-out, loosening the psyche from its confinement within a strictly human sphere, freeing sentience to return to the sensible world that contains us.”

For further reading:
– Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind – Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist
– Nature and Therapy: Understanding counselling and psychotherapy in outdoor spaces – Martin Jordan
– Eco psychology – nature as therapist http://counsellingbc.com/article/ecopsychology-nature-therapist
– Back to Nature – Martin Jordan https://www.academia.edu/1502225/Back_to_Nature

References:
Abrams, David (1997). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
Doucette, P.A. (2004) Walk and Talk: an intervention for behaviourally challenged youths. Adolescence 39(154), 373-388.
Jordan, Martin. (April 2009) Back to Nature. Therapy Today
Jordan, Martin (2015) Nature and Therapy: Understanding counselling and psychotherapy in outdoor spaces

Juyoung Lee, Qing Li, Lisa Tyrväinen, Yuko Tsunetsugu, Bum-Jin Park, Takahide Kagawa and Yoshifumi
Miyazaki (2012). Nature Therapy and Preventive Medicine, Public Health – Social and Behavioral Health, Prof.
Jay Maddock (Ed.),

Problematic Smartphone use, Nature Connectedness and Anxiety

Richardson et al dig into how these 3 items relate to one another.  Society’s disconnection from nature has paralleled an increase in smartphone use.  Some findings from their research:

  • Human relationships with nature bring mental well being at a time of huge demand on health services
  • Nature connectedness benefits?  Life satisfaction, Meaningfulness, Vitality, Happiness, Higher self esteem, Mindfulness, Balanced emotional regulation
  • Selfie taking and phone use emerging as predictors of decreased connectedness with nature
  • Nature connectedness is a key part of a healthy life and planet

 

Problematic Smartphone use, Nature Connectedness and Anxiety, 2017, Richardson et al, University of Derby

nature therapy

Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy

As a result of stressful situations in daily life a, research is pointing us in a direction of getting back to our roots. Nature therapy, a health-promotion method that uses medically proven effects, such as relaxation by exposure to natural stimuli from forests, urban green spaces, plants, and natural wooden materials, is receiving increasing attention.

 

It is empirically known that exposure to stimuli from natural sources induces a state of hyperawareness and hyperactivity of the parasympathetic nervous system that renders a person in a state of relaxation. This state becomes progressively recognized as the normal state that a person should be in and feel comfortable.  Could this immersion in nature be helpful for you?

 

 

teen skating

How do you develop Resiliency in Youth?

Advances to the theory of resilience directs attention to the processes whereby individuals who face significant challenges interact with their environments to optimize personal success (Ungar&Liebenberg, 2011). Resilience is developed when there is significant exposure to adversity.

The APA outlines these 10 recommendations for building resiliency in youth.

  1. Make connections
    Teach your child how to make friends, including the skill of empathy, or feeling another’s pain. Encourage your child to be a friend in order to get friends. Build a strong family network to support your child through his or her inevitable disappointments and hurts. At school, watch to make sure that one child is not being isolated. Connecting with people provides social support and strengthens resilience. Some find comfort in connecting with a higher power, whether through organized religion or privately and you may wish to introduce your child to your own traditions of worship.
  2. Help your child by having him or her help others
    Children who may feel helpless can be empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that he or she can master. At school, brainstorm with children about ways they can help others.
  3. Maintain a daily routine
    Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives. Encourage your child to develop his or her own routines.
  4. Take a break
    While it is important to stick to routines, endlessly worrying can be counter-productive. Teach your child how to focus on something besides what’s worrying him. Be aware of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling, whether it be news, the Internet or overheard conversations, and make sure your child takes a break from those things if they trouble her. Although schools are being held accountable for performance on standardized tests, build in unstructured time during the school day to allow children to be creative.
  5. Teach your child self-care
    Make yourself a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure your child has time to have fun, and make sure that your child hasn’t scheduled every moment of his or her life with no “down time” to relax. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.
  6. Move toward your goals
    Teach your child to set reasonable goals and then to move toward them one step at a time. Moving toward that goal — even if it’s a tiny step — and receiving praise for doing so will focus your child on what he or she has accomplished rather than on what hasn’t been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges. At school, break down large assignments into small, achievable goals for younger children, and for older children, acknowledge accomplishments on the way to larger goals.
  7. Nurture a positive self-view
    Help your child remember ways that he or she has successfully handled hardships in the past and then help him understand that these past challenges help him build the strength to handle future challenges. Help your child learn to trust himself to solve problems and make appropriate decisions. Teach your child to see the humor in life, and the ability to laugh at one’s self. At school, help children see how their individual accomplishments contribute to the well-being of the class as a whole.
  8. Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook
    Even when your child is facing very painful events, help him look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Although your child may be too young to consider a long-term look on his own, help him or her see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good. An optimistic and positive outlook enables your child to see the good things in life and keep going even in the hardest times. In school, use history to show that life moves on after bad events.
  9. Look for opportunities for self-discovery
    Tough times are often the times when children learn the most about themselves. Help your child take a look at how whatever he is facing can teach him “what he is made of.” At school, consider leading discussions of what each student has learned after facing down a tough situation.
  10. Accept that change is part of living
    Change often can be scary for children and teens. Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable. In school, point out how students have changed as they moved up in grade levels and discuss how that change has had an impact on the students.

3 Ways to Train your Brain to be Happy

Three Blessings

You must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Research shows merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.  Gratitude is a powerful force for training your brain.

Social Comparison

People probably encourage you to not compare yourself to others. Research shows it’s not necessarily harmful — but only compare yourself to those worse off than you.  When you compare yourself to those that are better off than you, this does not lead to positive feelings and may make us feel worse.  

Tell Yourself The Right Stories

When your vision of your life story is inadequate, depression can result. Psychotherapists actually help “rewrite” that story and this process is as, if not more, effective than medication.“Retrospective judgment” means reevaluating events and putting a positive spin on them. Naturally happy people do it automatically, but it’s something you can teach yourself. And when it comes to the future, be optimistic. Optimism can make you happier.

Eric Barker – Time Magazine

Social groups alleviate depression

depression help

Building a strong connection to a social group helps clinically depressed patients recover and helps prevent relapse, according to a new study. While past research has looked at the importance of social connections for preventing and treating depression, it has tended to emphasize interpersonal relationships rather than the importance of a sense of group identity. In addition, researchers haven’t really understood why group therapy works. “Our work shows that the ‘group’ aspect of social interaction is critical,” the authors note.

 

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