Meditation: The What & The Why

pool of water one drop blue

Why Meditation?

As part of my self-care these days I have been practicing meditation and mindfulness. It was a little difficult at first for me to accept this practice as I always associated it with an eastern religious belief system. Not something that as a Christian I should be doing. There has typically been a stigma surrounding the word “meditation” in the Christian community.

My interest in meditation began as I was looking for ways to combat my anxiety. I began to dig in and found several apps that were helpful in meditation and/or mindfulness. I was looking for ones that didn’t feel like they were drawing me into a religious practice but just the basic secular practices of meditation. These tend to focus on breathing, mindfulness, mood check-ins and more. A few of the apps that I think are pretty great are:

All of the above apps have free and premium options, I am sticking with the free options for now as they satisfy me (and I’m cheap).

What is Meditation and Mindfulness?

But let’s back up a bit. You may be wondering, what exactly is meditation and mindfulness? (Definitions from English Oxford Dictionary)

Meditation:

  1. Focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
  2. Think deeply about something.

Mindfulness:

  1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.‘their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition’
  2. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

There are different types of meditations, including mindfulness meditation, contemplative, visualization, and spiritual meditation. To learn more about the various types of mediation, I recommend this article from MindWorks.

What Works for Me

For our purposes today, I am going to focus on the types of meditation that I prefer to do. First, I usually practice mindful meditation in the form of breath control. This practice helps to settle not just the mind but the body as well and can be very useful in providing some relief during times of high anxiety or stress. It forces you to focus on your breathing in a way that calms both the mind and the body. I have found the more I practice, the easier it is to utilize it at a moment’s notice, should I become stressed.

The other meditation that I find effective is visualization, sometimes used in conjunction with breath exercises. For me, these are usually guided meditations. Meaning, I am listening to someone verbally guide my thought process to a calming setting. For example, the guide may tell me to picture in my mind a location that I find peaceful, such as viewing the ocean or walking in a field.

The guide may direct me to use all of my senses and pay attention to the sounds, the smells, the sights, etc. Really become focused and aware of all that is present around me. When I am doing this, I am truly focused on this scene and not focusing on what my current reality might be. Good or bad.

As I mentioned before, I am a Christian and part of my journey is to grow spiritually. So while I was looking for various sites and apps to help with meditation, I found a few interesting ones that are considered Christian Meditations.


These are contemplative meditations that focus on scriptures and prayers but often incorporate breathing and mindfulness practices as well. That is the third type of meditation I enjoy. They help to center me, calm me and also feed me spiritually.

A few of the Christian Meditation Apps/Sites that I prefer are:

How I Practice Meditation

woman long brown hair in a ponytail on rocks at the ocean meditating

When you think of meditation, you may picture someone sitting cross-legged with their hands resting on their knees and chanting some word or phrase. While that may be one way of practicing meditation, it usually isn’t for me.

I often begin my day with a spiritual meditation and I do so while I am still lying in bed. The room still dark, eyes closed, I put on my earbuds and spend about 15 minutes in meditation. It’s a great way to start my day.

I try to do a different type of meditation before I go to bed to help me relax. Maybe the visualization. Sometimes I might be sitting up or even lying down on the sofa. If you are trying meditation, you do whatever feels most comfortable for you. Get in whatever position works best for you.

Why It Works

Meditation is helpful mentally and physically because it guides you into focusing on something other than your present reality. It trains and redirects your mind. It helps you to increase awareness of yourself and your surroundings (mindfulness) and helps your body relax.

With continued practice, meditation can help to reduce stress levels, help your mind become more focused, help you sleep better and a whole host of other wonderful benefits. It is a discipline just like exercise. You need to do it more than once to reap the rewards. Think of it as a workout for your brain but a lot less physically demanding.

If you haven’t tried meditation yet, I suggest you check out a few of the sites/ apps I mentioned and give it a shot. Find what feels most comfortable for you. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but after some practice, you will start to look forward to it daily.


“The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.”

Anonymous

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I Can’t Make It One More Day

black white photo woman with long dark hair looking down with hand over her face. sad or troubled.

I Can’t Make It

Can you think back on a time in your life when you weren’t sure you would make it one more day?  It could have been because of pain, hopelessness, fear, hurt, financial troubles, relational troubles, loss, betrayal or any other situation. Maybe today you are feeling that way. Feeling that you don’t think you can make it one more day.

I have been there a couple of times myself. While I had no intention of harming myself, I just couldn’t see how I could live or move forward. The pain had been too much. I shared some of my story in regards to mental health issues in my family in a previous post. Those struggles are (and have been) some of the most difficult days of my life.

While I do have a spouse and maybe one other person that I talk to, no one really knows the depths of my pain, except for me and God. I do talk to Him. I talk to Him in prayer but also as if He were sitting right next to me. I’d vent to Him about how unfair all of this is, how I don’t think I can stand it anymore, how I wish He would do something, like right NOW.

After I am done venting and crying, I close my eyes and can almost feel Him wrapping His arms around me, letting me know that no matter what happens, He is right there with me to comfort me and hold me up. Knowing that alone, gives me peace.

Just Enough Light

3 steps that are lit up

I am at a point in my life where I am taking it one step at a time and God is giving me just enough light for the step I’m on. I am choosing to trust Him through all of my pain. What about you? Do you have a relationship with God? One where you are comfortable talking, crying, even yelling at Him? Don’t worry, He can take it.

Even if we don’t know what tomorrow holds, we can trust that He is there to help us get through it. He never promised us a problem-free life. But He did promise He would never leave or foresake us. He would be there beside us to sustain us and help us through.

What are you going through today? I encourage you to seek Him and his guidance. Read His word. Pray. Even if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or at the top of the staircase, just look for the light on the next step. And then the next. And then the next. Take it one step at a time.


Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Psalm 119:105

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Some People Just Don’t Understand (Your Mental Health Struggles)

man sitting with knees up resting closed hands on forehead

They Don’t Understand

Have you every had a conversation with someone who doesn’t even begin to understand mental health issues? I was recently talking with a close relative about a mutual relative who suffers from depression periodically. She says that there are only 3 things to consider: “We either live in the past, the present or the future. When we focus on anything other than the present, it can cause anxiety or depression and one just has to stay in the present and they’ll be fine.” Sounds simple, right?

While there is some validity to that point, but she just doesn’t understand that mental health struggles are not simply a will of the mind. Often times, there are physical or emotional issues causing them. A hormone imbalance, chemical imbalance or a history of trauma. Her statement basically dismissed the reality of the struggle. Ugh. She is not someone who is open to understanding things she doesn’t know about, so I chose not to engage further in the conversation. For my own mental health!

With that being said, I am happy for her that she has never had to deal with the heavy weight of either depression or anxiety. In the past couple of years, talking with others who haven’t suffered, I have found that many of them just don’t understand. I don’t blame them, as it is something that is hard to fully comprehend or let alone truly explain to others.

What To Do? Where To Turn?

Don’t get angry with those who don’t “get” what you are going through. In the same way you may not “get” the struggles of someone going through cancer treatments or diabetic issues, others may not understand your trials.
Because of the disconnect at times, I think it is important that those of us who deal with depression or anxiety find someone who can relate or at the very least, empathize. There is nothing more difficult than to be dealing with a mental health issue and feel like no one understands or cares about what you are going through. What can you do?

  • Find a therapist to talk to.
  • Friends or family who are sympathetic.
  • Seek out websites, blogs, social media. There is a huge community of those dealing with mental health challenges and it is amazing the support you can find there.

The bottom line is we ALL have stuff we are going through. Most of us have no idea what the other person is dealing with. Find support where you can and choose to be kind to one another.

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Mind Games: Anxiety and Panic Attacks…How to Deal With Them

Mind Games

As some of you may know, I have suffered from anxiety attacks. I also have family members that suffer with them. Let me tell you, they suck. Anxiety and Panic in general is no fun.  It is nothing but a thief. It steals joy and peace and no one should have to deal with them.

But the reality is that many of us do. They manifest themselves differently for most of us. And we all have individual things that trigger them. For some, the attacks are mild  for some extremely debilitating. They have your mind (and body) feeling things that make you think you are dying or are going crazy. They can be all consuming. Even after one is over, the fear of when the next one will come is always looming.

Hope

There is hope, however. There are numerous ways to help prevent, tame or stop them. Various things we can do to help. Some may work for me and not for you. And vice versa. Unfortunately there is not a one-stop shop fix-it remedy. How I wish there were!  We literally have to try a variety of methods or treatments to find what works best for each of us. It is a journey, but hold on. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

How to Deal with Them

I don’t know all the stats for anxiety levels today as compared to say, just 25 years ago. But from what I can tell just in my own little neck of the woods, I know numerous people who deal with anxiety and many who also suffer from attacks. Think about it. While we have everything at our fingertips with all this amazing technology and convenience, we have become screen addicts, socially isolated, less active and more worried. The state of the world is reported instantaneously. The media thrives on chaos and we are witnesses to it daily.  The stresses of jobs, families, bills, health, school, social life…all of it can wear us down.

If you are someone who struggles with anxiety/panic I encourage you to think about yourself as a whole. Not just as your thoughts. But your physical body, your mind and your soul. We are humans and need to learn to take care of ALL parts of ourselves. Some of us just focus on one aspect. I am guilty of that myself.

What if we could really develop a plan to take care of our whole-selves what would that look like? Let’s start with The Body.  Are you someone who spends a lot of time and thought caring for your body? Do you eat healthy, exercise, see your doctor regularly? Or do you eat whatever you can get your hands on and sit in a chair the majority of the day? (I am guilty!)  If so, that needs to change.

I have learned over the last few years how the foods we eat and the exercises we do can have a huge impact on our mental wellness.

A few foods I know for sure are to be avoided for anxiety are:

  • Caffeine (opt for decaf instead)
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Foods High in Sugar
  • Sodas (reg or diet)
  • Energy Drinks
  • Alcohol

A few foods to help relieve anxiety (and depression) are :

  • Foods high in Omega-3 (salmon, spinach, canola oil) You can also take a Omega-3 supplement.
  • Almonds, Walnuts
  • Eggs ( also high in Vitamin D)
  • Dark Chocolate (for the anti-oxidants)
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Green Tea (preferably decaf)
  • Yogurt (probiotics)
  • Fresh fruits and veggies (almost all of them provide benefits for various vitamins that counter act anxiety and depression)

While these lists are not exhaustive, it is a starting point.  Anything with high sugar, artificial sweeteners or caffeine are definitely things to avoid to help keep your anxiety at a minimum.

As far as exercise, any physical activity that gets the blood pumping releases serotonin and dopamine in our brains and that can help to regulate moods.  YOGA is a well known stress relieving exercise that incorporates mind and body. It can help to ease your stress and help you to feel better all over. It includes helping you focus on the present and to be mindful of your physical body.

The Mind

We touched on the mind a bit while mentioning yoga, so let’s go there.  You may think, What can I do about my mind? I can’t control it?  While we can’t always control where our mind may drift to, we can redirect it and we can do our best to avoid filling it with garbage. Sometimes all the garbage we see and hear that has filled up our memory banks can trigger our minds to literally play tricks on us. Causing us to become anxious, when our rational self knows there is no actual threat. Our fight or flight response going into affect at the wrong time is basically what anxiety or panic attacks are.

While we can’t always avoid negative things from happening to us, we do have control (for the most part) over what we allow into your minds, via our eyes or ears.  Remember this phrase, Guard Your Mind. This is a mantra of mine. I have to repeat it to myself sometimes. We often think very nonchalantly about the things we watch on TV, see online, read on social media, listen to or watch on YouTube.

I imagine we all have varying degrees of what we would consider good or bad for our minds but think about the things you have seen or read lately. Distressing news reports about a kidnapping, hearing about a murder or a car crash. Seeing a click bait ad on Facebook about some horrible event. While we can’t simply ignore all the atrocities going on in the world, we shouldn’t be fueling our mind with those over and over again. Sometimes we actually do need to take a break from it all. Simply for our own mental well-being.  That is part of self-care.

So what do we do as part of the self-care for our mind? Feed your mind with positive things. Uplifting or funny videos, music, movies, books, blogs, etc.  Look to various places to seek out the good in the world.  Surround yourself with people who are uplifting. Avoid (if possible) people who are negative, pessimistic or who simply complain all the time. And don’t be a complainer your self. Practice positive self-talk. Chose to see the good in even the most challenging situations.

Don’t forget seeking help from medical professionals, family doctor, therapist, counselors, etc.  Maybe medication will help, maybe therapy or both. They often times can be utilized together for a great treatment option. This is all part of caring for your mind. I know often times we can be afraid of seeking medical/therapy treatments, not knowing what to expect or worrying about the stigma that it sometimes holds. But be brave and do what is best for you and your well being.

The Soul

I often wonder if this isn’t the most important part of the equation.  Our soul is truly the essence of who we are.  This entails our emotions, our connections with others and with God.  We can feed our soul by doing things that are enjoyable and calming to us.

  • Spend time talking with a friend and sharing. Open up your heart.
  • Pray. Connect or Reconnect with God. I don’t know what that will look like for you. Perhaps it means being in nature. Seeing a sunset and actually stopping to enjoy it’s beauty.
  • Grow a garden and enjoy the wonder of nurturing growing plants.
  • Going to church. Read your bible.
  • Find a charity in the community where you can help out. Giving to others is an amazing way to not only help people but it has a huge impact on your own sense of well-being.
  • Find ways to be a blessing to others. Seek out things you can actively do to make someone’s day better. Whoever that might be…a family member, a friend, a stranger.
  • Give yourself permission to be you. Act silly, sing off tune at the top of your lungs, have a dance party in your living room (alone or with a friend), try out a new recipe.
  • If you feel adventurous, travel to a new place. Doesn’t’ have to be far from home, but somewhere you haven’t been before and take it all in. Really be in the moment and look around.
  • Find 5 things each day to be thankful for. Keep a list daily and reread before bed.
  • Be kind to you. Forgive yourself when you mess up or don’t live up to your own expectations.

There will be days that are great. There will be days that are awful. When things aren’t going well emotionally remind yourself that you have gotten through this before and you will again. Make a promise to yourself that you will care for yourself as a whole. Body, Mind and Soul.

I pray for peace for you today!

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Mental Health: A Crisis of Financial Proportions?

About Our Mental Health

Mental Health is a Hot Topic these days. More and more people are coming out and talking about their journeys with varying mental health issues. From depression and anxiety to bipolar and panic attacks, just to name a few.  While I am so grateful for the many public figures that are helping to destigmatize these issues, I feel there is so much more that needs to be done.  We often hear people say, “Seek help if you need it.” And at this point in time more people are recognizing that, yeah, perhaps I do have an issue and I really need to get some help.

Then a hurdle is placed in front of them. Where do we go to get help and how in the world do we to pay for it?  Most people start with their primary care doctor if they feel something isn’t quite right. If the scope of the person’s mental health issue is perhaps out of the doctor’s range, they will refer the patient to someone more specialized. A therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, etc.  Usually with these visits come costs. Unless you qualify for medicaid (because of low income, etc) you are likely to have a co-pay at the very least or a “no co-pay until your exuberant deductible is met” policy.  Typically you meet with a therapist a couple times a month. Maybe more, maybe less depending on your situation. So while you are trying your best to muster up the courage to even meet with this therapist or doctor, in the forefront of your mind you are stressing about how you are going to pay for it.

 

Getting Help Isn’t Always So Easy

Figuring out how to pay the bill, may cause some to abandon getting help at all.  My insurance for example, has a $4000 deductible. Which means I must incur $4000 worth of medical expenses before my insurance will cover most anything.  So that means if I want to see a therapist or psychiatrist, I’ll have to pay their fee upfront, anywhere from $90 to $120, which is typical in my area.  I may be able to swing that for a one time visit, but that isn’t usually how it works. I’d likely have to see them at least once a month.  And let’s say I need meds as well. Insurance may cover cost of some, but not always the case.

So what are we to do? We tell people with mental health issues to get help. But if they have no insurance or a high deductible insurance, how are they getting help if they don’t have the funds to pay for it? I think one way we can help our society as a whole is to figure out a way to pay for people to get the help they need, without being stigmatized. We would all benefit if those who needed help would have easy access to healthcare professionals without the fear or anxiety of how to pay the bill.

I urge all of us to lead the charge and encourage lawmakers to create some sort of universal policy for mental health coverage and access to local providers.  This issue not only affects us individually, but as a collective society. I think we are worth it.

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