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Creating Everyday ‘Insta’ Moments with Nature

The old pond
A frog leaps in.
Sound of the water.
– Basho, (1644-1694)

In therapy, one of the things counselors like to share with clients is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is something that everyone, even kids, can learn. It is bringing attention to the experiencing of the moment. The idea is sensual noticing, acknowledging thoughts and accepting feelings. But practicing mindfulness can also be incorporated into daily life, to uplift the moment. For this exercise, we will use the frog haiku poem as mindfulness inspiration.

Basho, a famous Japanese poet, wrote the above haiku in the fifteenth century. It recalls just one single moment of nature. The silence is part of it. The sound of the water is easy to imagine. When you think of it, can you visualize the moment? What do you see, hear, smell?

Here is an exercise in mindfulness that anyone can do. Pay attention to the details and experience of nature like Basho. Think of it like producing mini ‘Insta’ moments for your senses and mind. This can be done anywhere there are elements of nature. When you notice something beautiful or special, breath it
in deeply like you are smelling a beautiful rose.

Here are some ideas:
-Take a nature walk in your neighborhood and focus on the flora and fauna in all the yards, any nature sounds you hear and the state of the sky. Breath it all in.

-Go to a botanical garden and give yourself permission to soak up the beauty of each tree, flower and shrub. Breath it all in.

-Go bird watching. Take in all the splendor of the environment. Enjoy the movement of bird flight. Breath it all in.

-Sit or take a walk on the beach, noticing the sounds of the waves, the colors and shapes of the shells, the rocks, and the composition of the horizon. Watch the sun rise or set. Breath it all in.

-Buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers and take time to study them. Look at their textures and colors and smell each part of them. Breath it all in.

-Listen to the birds in the morning through your windows. Florida is a place with birdsong. Tune in to them like a radio channel. Breath it all in.

-Try kayaking or paddle-boarding and notice all the life under the water. Breath it all in.

-Grow a seed and observe each stage closely. This one is great for kids. Teach them to breath in the moment.

-Stare at the clouds. Notice subtle colors, the sky in in motion. Look for beauty. Breath it all in.

-Houseplants are also a reliable source of connecting with nature. Study the beauty of an orchid, or the smell of a basil plant.

The exciting news is that you can bring mindfulness to anything. You can do your dishes mindfully. You can play with your children mindfully and interact with your partner mindfully. You can bring it into the shower, and to yardwork. Mindfulness is kind of like magic because it transforms the moment. If you transform enough moments, your life will be transformed.

Written by Megan McKeon – Mental Health Graduate Student at University of the Cumberlands

Therapy Goals

We have all experienced moments in which we felt we were at a loss for handling a situation or a feeling. It is during these times we seek outside assistance, be it from friends, loved ones or with a therapist. Because these are difficult and stressful times, problem solving, positive thinking, or solution finding can seem impossible. However, in therapy this is exactly what we strive for in the midst of these chaotic moments.

This first requires an individual’s awareness they have exhausted their mental and emotional resources and acknowledge the need for professional guidance through this process. Finding a therapist with whom you can share this space continues this process through the sharing of these experiences, feelings, and struggles. It is through this exchange of honest and often difficult information the therapeutic alliance is formed. This alliance between therapist and client is the foundation on which therapy goals are created and refined.

Many individuals do not have clear therapeutic goals at the outset of this journey. Taking the time and making space to sort through uncomfortable situations and emotions brings clarity to one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and therefore, their goals. Therapeutic goals can and will change throughout the process but having a goal on which to focus allows us to see solutions, successes, and areas of improvement. Therapy goals could be considered the mile markers on the journey to wellness.

Working with a therapist to achieve these goals requires individuals, couples, and families to join together, taking the information and insight acquired in sessions into their everyday lives. This day-to-day application solidifies new skills, new ways to view or assess problems, and ultimately achieve goals. Once the goals for therapy are achieved, the skills and benefits of these changes can be applied to future issues and concerns resulting in lifelong improvements in one’s well-being.

Written by April Daniel MS, NCC, LMHC – National Certified Counselor (NCC) and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

 

Protecting Your Peace

Peace is often thought to look like a straw hammock on a sunny beach or a crackling indoor fireplace on a cold day. And as comforting as these moments are, what they represent is something deeper and more crucial for fortifying our mental health. How can we cultivate feelings of peace that carry over into our day-to-day lives?

In our era of 24-hour news cycles and constant smartphone notifications, it may feel like there’s simply no time for real peace. When free time arises in our busy lives, we have an instant abundance of bite-sized video clips, clickbait headlines, and social messaging to drown our attention in. And somewhere in the constant reach for pleasing distraction, we might occasionally wonder why we feel drained, strained, and burnt out.

Now more than ever it is up to us to be deliberate about cultivating peace. It starts with finding what practice works best for us – prayer, mediation, reading, walking, journaling, or other focused, lowkey activities. It should facilitate a shift from preoccupation to centered mindfulness, creating time for presence, reflection, and grounding. With enough consistency, practices like these can open up a new perspective quite different from the hustle mindset that colors modern life. But what happens when the practice ends, and we step back into daily life?

Just as peace is cultivated, it also needs to be protected. As a calm perspective helps us recognize the inner habits and outer noise that shake our focus, we can also find new approaches. This may look like restructuring a room to limit distractions, setting healthy boundaries in relationships, or challenging negative patterns of thinking or action. In doing so, we protect the restorative peace that prepares us to take on more of life’s challenges.

So, in those times when a vacation is still aways off and it feels like our responsibilities are piling up, we can always choose to be deliberate about cultivating and protecting our peace. When we set aside time for lowkey reflection and mindfulness, it can flow outward and refresh other areas of our busy lives.

Written by Louis Nicholas, IMH24151 – Registered Mental Health Intern

Walk + Talk Therapy by the Bay

Walk + talk therapy by the bay is one of my favorite approaches to mental health therapy. As a trauma-informed therapist, I utilize many different therapeutic techniques to best accommodate each client’s needs. I know that sitting on a therapist’s sofa doesn’t feel safe or comfortable for many people. That’s why I offer walk + talk. It’s just like going for a walk with a friend (if your friend was a highly trained mental health professional who knew therapeutic techniques that are clinically proven to improve your mood). ♡

For people who have experienced trauma, the idea of meeting an unknown person in a small office in a new building can feel paralyzing. With walk and talk, we are able to meet in a public park where we are surrounded with other people and beautiful views. While the name implies that we will walk the entire time, there are many seating areas along the route to enjoy the shade and the warm breeze from the bay.

Walk + talk therapy offers an opportunity to reduce stress, relieve body tension, improve circulation, breathe deep and clear the body-mind of intrusive, negative, and ruminative thoughts. These sessions can help you decrease anxiety, regulate mood, enjoy more restful sleep, and more. Additionally, you can receive the feel-good brain chemical benefits of exercise, mindfulness practice and eco-psychology. In session, you can enhance insight, release body trauma, and alter behavior patterns while verbally processing your authentic truth.

In urban planning, there is a concept of integrating waterscapes into cities called “blue spaces.

👫Studies have found that short, frequent walks along waterscapes (blue spaces) are good for your mental health.

👫There is a significant improvement in well-being and mood immediately after a person goes for a walk in a blue space, compared with walking in an urban environment or resting.

👫Waterscapes have healing effects that enhance psychological resilience to promote mental health.

👫Walk + talk therapy by the bay gives clients an opportunity to enjoy some blue spaces while boosting their mental health.

Similarly, when urban architects add nature elements to cities such as trees, plants, and grass, these are called “green spaces.

👫 Green spaces provide fresh, healing air to the body

👫 Some mental health benefits of green spaces include: lowered stress levels, reduced rates of depression & anxiety, reduced cortisol levels, and improved general well-being

👫 Enhance your cognitive functioning, improve your sleep, and increase your levels of physical activity.

👫Walk + talk therapy by the bay gives you an opportunity to spend some time outside connecting to nature while working on your mental health.

If you’re joining me for walk + talk therapy, here are a couple things to keep in mind:

👫We don’t have to walk the whole time!

👫There is plenty of seating along the route should we choose to sit by the water and/or stop to talk in the shade.

👫Walking shoes or comfy sandals are recommended.

👫Please bring a water bottle—we’ve got to stay hydrated!

Written by Kalli Portillo, IMH24576 – Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern, EDMRIA-Approved EMDR Therapist, Certified Prepare/Enrich Couple Counselor

To learn more, review the following open access research studies or google “blue and green spaces mental health benefits.”

Benefits of walking psychotherapy:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8892051/

Waterscapes for mental health:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8618438/

Importance of greenspace: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663018/

The Marvel of EMDR Therapy

Research shows that the brain has up to 70,000 thoughts per day, and most of them are negative! It is just the way that the brain has been wired through our collective evolutionary experiences, but now we have this wonderful tool, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), that can allow for the engagement of the part of the brain that looks for creative solutions and adaptive thinking-the cerebral cortex. So, if you’re wondering why some thoughts and unpleasant emotions stick around much longer, no need to ruminate, try EMDR. Many people are not aware that EMDR can be used for many unhelpful thinking patterns and not just what we define as traumas. If something has affected you, and it is still on your mind in the present day and guiding or influencing your, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, that too can be accessed and processed in an efficient manner and bring you relief. What may create a trauma for one person, may not for someone else, but distress can be a very subjective matter. Don’t hesitate to consult with an EMDRIA-approved therapist to assess whether EMDR is right for you, as unhelpful thinking can cause unnecessary suffering. Through EMDR, you can truly have a more balanced brain.

Written by Michelle Gissendanner – Registered Mental Health Intern/EMDRIA-Approved EMDR Therapist/Certified Integrative Mental Health Professional

Follow the Pattern

As a therapist or even someone on the receiving end of therapy, looking for and following patterns is a concrete way of making sense of ourselves. How we handled or reacted to situations in the past can be a great indicator of how we will approach them in the future, as well as allude to how we learned to get by before. Patterns and tendencies act as a road map of sorts that we subconsciously follow to get us to a place that is comfortable and familiar. This concept can be broken down into two parts: (1) the pattern and (2) the destination. As aforementioned, the pattern is the behaviors and thought processes we follow that are seemingly inherent to us, while the destination is the end goal or result we hope to gain or accomplish. If the pattern is the treasure map, then the destination marks the treasure. Let’s put this into context! Suppose you are in an argument with a friend. If tension tends to make you extremely uncomfortable and you want to get to a place of peace quickly (destination), you might succumb to their demands and agree to whatever you need to in order to restore said peace (pattern). Within the same situation, suppose your aim is to prove that you are right and impose that you have your way (destination), you might interrupt your friend, speak loudly over them, and be unwilling to explore their point of view (pattern). In the final example, suppose you want to maintain your friendship and find ways to reach a mutual understanding of one another (destination), you might ask questions and respond with compassion while also presenting your case (pattern). The takeaway here is that when we are aware of our patterns, through the assistance of therapy and self-reflection, we can better identify ways to change the unhealthy and strengthen the healthy tendencies. Additionally, we can wind up with more satisfying and sustainable destinations.

Written by Cindy-Joy Rosado – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

An Effect of Alcohol on Neurofunction

Generally speaking, we think of chronic alcohol drinking as being associated with alcohol addiction or alcoholism. This is far from the truth. Chronic consumption of alcohol refers to a consistent intake, be that weekly or daily, and could mean one drink or many drinks on a consistent basis. This is much more commonplace than we may realize. Think of folks who enjoy one glass of wine or one beer after work five days a week. Think of those who drink heavily every weekend. Chronic is not necessarily problematic, however, from a neurological perspective, chronic alcohol consumption has shown distinct and definitive changes in the neurocircuits and neurochemistry of the brain. Those who chronically drink show higher stress and anxiety when not drinking and decreased mood and overall wellbeing when not drinking. This means that chronic alcohol consumption actually changes the chemistry of the brain in a way that causes these increases and decreases even when drinking has stopped. So, in order to get back to baseline, a person is then compelled to drink even more and the cycle continues (Huberman, 2023). This is an important thing to note for those who regularly consume alcohol, as these changes are dramatic ones that have an overall negative impact on health.

Sources

Huberman, Andrew (Host) 2023. The Huberman Lab [podcast]

Written by Nicole Geddie – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

 

 

Tips for Planning for Self-Care

Reaching the point of burnout is, unfortunately, an all too common experience for many. Given the fast-paced, productivity-based work culture that exists in America today, burnout has essentially become the marker by which we measure success. The message we receive is this: “If you feel like you have exhausted your limits, then you are doing something right!” There is this tendency to equate how much we produce to whether or not our lives are worthwhile, but this could not be more untrue. Similarly, rest is often portrayed as something you earn once you have put in the work, but this is also false. Rest is not something we need to work toward, it is something our bodies and minds require in order for us to make it through life. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of helpful tips to utilize when planning for self-care. While I wish I could tell you I picked this up without error, the only reason I am able to make such a list is because I have tried and failed many times… And this is what I have learned!
1. Identify the difference between things that make you feel rested versus what makes you feel fulfilled. Some activities might fall into both categories, but it is helpful to distinguish between the two. Restful activities often alleviate stress and induce a sense of tranquility. Fulfilling activities are things one enjoys and are often fun. For example, meditating or going on a walk might help one feel rested, whereas painting or gardening might be fulfilling.
2. Identify the people and things that hinder your ability to unwind. For instance, if you are a parent and being around your child is stressful in that you focus solely on their needs, you may need to find someone to care for your child during your self-care time. Similarly, having your work phone on you while you attempt to rest might prevent you from being able to relax as your phone might go off or you might feel compelled to check it regularly.
3. Review your weekly schedule and identify spaces of time in which you are able to engage in self-care. Whether your schedule is wide open or packed with commitments, making time for self-care is something one has to be intentional about planning because it will not always “just happen” or “work itself out.”
4. Once you have decided on a restful or fulfilling activity, have ensured you will not be distracted by certain people or things, and have chosen a date and time for self-care, make sure all of your regular responsibilities are tended to prior. As an example, one might handle all of their house chores, clear out their inbox, and predetermine dinner plans in order to set themselves up for nothing but rest on the day of their self-care. This is important because “past you” is taking care of “future you” in a way that will make you feel even more taken care of.
5. Finally, make sure you plan for self-care at least once a week. While there are ways to find rest and fulfillment in small ways throughout the week, it is imperative that you care for yourself and separate blocks of time. If you are able to give so much to others (i.e. work, school, family, etc.), you need to be able to give yourself much as well.
Written by Cindy-Joy Rosado – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Elevate Your Mood

How can we turn our good mornings into good days, and our good days into good evenings? One simple but potent way to help steer your mental health in the right direction is to be consistent about getting your daily dose of morning sunlight. Research heavily suggests that exposure to
early morning sun elevates mood by producing serotonin, a crucial chemical for the prevention and treatment of depressive symptoms. Being diligent in getting that morning sunshine is also a great way to create a routine that helps set the tone for the day, likely increasing productivity and overall satisfaction. It may be especially helpful to get outside in the sun for some physical activity in the morning, such as walking or running. This will increase endorphins, elevating your mood even further.

Furthermore, exposure to full-spectrum morning sunlight will help reset your circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin in your system until it is needed later in the day, while increasing your serotonin giving you a boost in both energy and mood. When consistent, evidence suggests you’ll experience more restful, uninterrupted sleep creating a healthy sleep-wake cycle which plays a huge role in overall mental health and wellbeing. This one small change to your daily routine packs a powerful punch.

So grab your cup of coffee, and a good book, or put your walking shoes on and bask in that soft, early morning sunshine as you get ready to face the day ahead!

Written by Nicole Geddie – Graduate Student in Mental Health Counseling

Six Dimensions of Wellness

On the heels of world changing events like a global pandemic, many communities were intensely affected by Hurricane Ian in September. As we adjust to new challenges and situations which have arisen from these, we continue to experience the problems that existed before pandemics or natural disasters. Now, as we approach holidays and other stressful situations it is more important than ever to focus on key concepts for maintaining wellness.

Mental health counseling focuses on striving for wellness in all areas of our lives as foundational to managing stress and other mental health concerns. If you currently feel overwhelmed, lack direction, or simply don’t ‘know where to start try using the six dimensions of wellness listed below daily to gain control over your mental health and wellbeing.

Environment: First, take a look at your daily routines throughout the week and on the weekends. Your environment is your home, your commute, your workplace, etc. As you evaluate your space, you may feel calmer when your space is tidy and organized. This would become an area of focus each day by spending time to clean and organize and then to maintain this space. If your commute is stressful, take a look at areas you can improve. For example, choose calming music, an entertaining audiobook, or podcast to reduce the focus on the stressful aspects of the ride. Or turn the music off and use this time to transition from work to home.

Emotional: A daily focus on emotional wellness may begin with noticing your emotions throughout the day. Are you in control of your emotions? Do you struggle maintaining your level of calm, anxiety, happiness, sadness, or anger? Journaling is a great way to record your thoughts and learn more about the emotions you are experiencing. Therapy is a great place to jump start or explore this focus and to gain insight into how you are feeling and how you are currently managing.

Physical: Physical health is a dimension most of us are aware we need to focus on. A daily focus on physical health means eating foods that are nourishing, establishing a sleep schedule for adequate restorative sleep, going for a walk or taking time to stretch between activities throughout the day. These can be simple, but it requires us to make them a priority consistently to achieve wellness.

Intellectual: Learning something new every day can be the goal here. Or it can mean reading a new book, exploring a subject of interest at the library or online. Learn more about yourself as well by seeking to learn a new skill or hobby. Overlap between the dimensions might be helpful here, so use that long commute to listen to an audiobook or podcast.

Social: Focus on the social dimension might include calling a friend or a loved one just to check in and say hello. It may mean making time to visit a friend or family member. This could also be a time to overlap dimensions with the intellectual and join a group and learn to cook or paint. Volunteering your time is also a good way to develop friendships and make lasting contributions to the community.

Spiritual: This dimension is about your connection to your belief system. Meditation, prayer, or taking time to commune with nature are ways to recharge your batteries in this dimension. This also allows you to explore how you find meaning and the ways in which that meaning is influencing your life.

The six dimensions of wellness focus on our environment, emotional wellbeing, physical health, intellectual pursuits, spiritual involvement, and social interactions. Remember, we are individuals and our needs in each area will vary from person to person. Also, being flexible with how we focus on each dimension daily will help with making these a priority in some way every day. If you are having difficulty finding or maintaining balance in your life, reach out to a qualified mental health professional for assistance.

Written by April Daniel – Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern