What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is translated from the Pali word sati and means “to remember.” Mindfulness includes a series of techniques designed to help individuals achieve a mental state that focuses on one’s awareness of themselves and their surroundings. Mindfulness can be defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Often we are stuck thinking about the past or future and forget to bring our awareness to the present moment. It is important to clarify that mindfulness is not the absence of thought. Research tells us that trying to stop thoughts is not effective and tends to backfire. Instead, we can use mindfulness techniques to give us more ways of handling the thoughts we do have. For many people, mindfulness practice is preferable over silent meditation. I have had many clients report that unguided meditations result in an increase in their amount of worry or depressive thoughts.

Mindfulness Techniques

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is typically very guided and focuses on teaching specific techniques to reduce stress. Some of the most popular techniques include learning to do a body scan, noting thoughts and bringing awareness to daily sensory experiences, such as eating. One of the first techniques often taught in MBSR is called a body scan. A body scan is used to improve one’s awareness of physical sensations and can be helpful for processing uncomfortable emotions.

Noting is a technique used to acknowledge a thought without reacting to it. When we experience distressing thoughts and emotions, our tendency is push them away. Unfortunately, this only makes us think about those thoughts more. Noting, as well as several other techniques, can help depressive, angry, and anxious thoughts. MBSR takes practice, but it is a cheap, easy, and low-risk activity for reducing negative thoughts and feelings.

Research Support

There is a large body of research demonstrating the benefits of mindfulness. For example, individuals who participated in a MBSR program reported less life stress compared to a control group. Several studies have looked at the effect of mindfulness on chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia and cancer. Results show an improvement in psychological functioning, including decreased anxiety and depressive symptoms, and a decrease in physical health symptoms. Researchers claim that mindfulness improves emotional regulation and responses to stressful situations. In a sample of couples, researchers found that individuals with higher mindfulness reported more positive perceptions of their partner and relationship following a conflict discussion.

Although most of the research has been done with adults, studies are starting to explore mindfulness practice in children. Mindfulness curriculums for children have been found to reduce children’s level of cortisol (a hormone related to stress), improve their cognitive control, reduce their symptoms of depression, and improve their social skills (greater peer acceptance, empathy, and perspective-taking).

Mindfulness Classes

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, consider signing up for one of our MBSR classes. They are drop-in based and we have specific classes for adults and children. If you would like more information, please call us at 612-470-4099.

Recognizing ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis that is often misunderstood and improperly diagnosed. ADHD is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or both. Below are examples of each:

Inattention Hyperactivity
Fails to give close attention to detail Fidgets with or taps hands or feet
Makes careless mistakes Squirms in seat
Does not seem to listen when spoke to directly Runs about or climbs in situations where this is not appropriate
Does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish tasks Unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly
Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities Often “on the go”; may appear restless
Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort Talks excessively
Loses necessary items Blurts out an answer before a question has been completed
Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli Has difficulty waiting his or her turn
Forgetful in daily activities Interrupts or intrudes on others

When most people look at this list, they identify with many of these behaviors. When diagnosing ADHD, it is important to consider if these behaviors happen often and when they started. A person with ADHD does not just get distracted and loses things. Everybody does that. An individual with ADHD shows a consistent pattern of the majority of the symptoms listed above. There are also many other reasons, other than ADHD, that someone would display these types of behaviors and that is why a thorough diagnosis is important before selecting a treatment plan. ADHD is a disorder that starts in childhood and some symptoms must be present prior to age 12.

Symptoms of ADHD may go unnoticed for several reasons. First, particularly for girls, when there is an absence of hyperactivity, symptoms of inattention may fly under the radar because these particular children are not disruptive or demanding of extra attention from teachers and caregivers. Second, many individuals with ADHD have a high IQ and thus may be able to compensate for their ADHD symptoms and not fall below grade level. In fact, many of the adults I meet that are just getting diagnosed tend to be of high IQ and did not start showing academic difficulties until college. Finally, we know that ADHD is genetic. This means that if your biological child has ADHD, the odds are higher that you do too. This may make the problems associated with ADHD less noticeable to you because you remember experiencing similar struggles.

Because many people can identify with some of the symptoms related to ADHD, it is important that a thorough assessment be conducted in order to make the correct diagnosis. In addition to determining the symptoms of ADHD, testing also looks for patterns in IQ and test performance that are often found individuals with ADHD. This type of testing is often required by schools if you are interested in academic accommodations and physicians if you are interested in trying ADHD medication.

There are many effective treatments for ADHD. Medication and behavior therapy are effective and either may be chosen based on the pattern and severity of symptoms. Research has shown that behavior therapy, which for children usually includes a parent training component, is especially effective when combined with medication. It can also be enormously beneficial to look at possible school-based interventions and accommodations to help work with the challenges associated with ADHD.

Can’t Fall Asleep?

What is insomnia?

Do you take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night without being able to drift back to sleep quickly? You might be suffering from insomnia. A lack of sleep has been linked to a number of psychological and physical health problems, such as depression and diabetes. There are a number of other sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea, sleep terrors) that can also cause disruption and impairment.

How is it treated?

For many people with insomnia, there are several factors contributing to their lack of sleep. Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) addresses these factors in order to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. CBT-I is found to be as effective as sleep medication without all of the side effects and tolerance issues associated with medication. In fact, CBT-I appears to be more effective long-term compared to medication. Many of us experience insomnia as a secondary outcome of another mental or physical health problem. Luckily, research shows that CBT-I is helpful in patients with chronic pain, cancer, HIV, depression, PTSD, and alcohol dependency. CBT-I includes practicing good sleep hygiene, restructuring thoughts related to insomnia, and implementing evidence-based relaxation strategies.

Sleep Hygiene

Practicing sleep hygiene is one of the best way to improve your sleep. It is crucial that your bed be used for nothing but sleep. No eating, no watching TV, and absolutely no phone in your bed. Okay, so this is a pretty hard rule to follow, but it makes a huge difference. We want your body to associate your bed with sleep so it serves as a cue to make initiating sleep easier. There are other components of sleep hygiene, such as exercise. Exercise is known to improve sleep, but you need to be thoughtful about it. Exercising too close to bedtime may make it more difficult to go to sleep.

Restructuring Thoughts

Many people with insomnia experience anxious thoughts about being able to fall asleep. Unfortunately, this tends to have the unintended effect of keeping us awake. When you find yourself thinking, “If I fall asleep now, I will only get X hours of sleep,” reframe that thought to something like, “My body knows how to fall asleep and it will happen without me forcing it.” The more you can stop worrying about falling asleep, the sooner sleep with come.

Relaxation Training

Relaxation training is an essential component of treating insomnia. CBT-I is focused on finding ways to relax your body and mind enough that sleep will come naturally. We can’t make ourselves fall asleep, but we can practice evidence-based relaxation strategies, such as progressive muscle relaxation, that can prepare the body for sleep. Relaxation training is straightforward, brief, and effective for many people that suffer from insomnia.

If you are struggling with insomnia, consider calling us at 612-470-4099. We specialize in treatment of insomnia using research-supported techniques, including CBT-I.