BREATHE

 
breathe.jpg
 

Whether or not you are breathing is a deciding factor as to whether or not you are alive. Breath is life. Your breath works as a part of an automatic response within your body, meaning, you will breathe whether or not you are thinking about it. The cool thing is, if you bring your breath into your conscious awareness and under your conscious control, you create the opportunity to control your nervous system.

The pace, rhythm and direction of your breath all directly point to your mood state, mental state and can trigger your nervous system towards causing stress or a state of relaxation within your nervous system. There are two major elements of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, or the mode of fight or flight or freeze and the parasympathetic nervous system, the mode of rest and digest. Ideally, unless of course there is a true emergency, we all want to live in rest and digest mode.

The importance of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system response, or remaining in rest and digest mode most of the time is well documented. You see, stress is the cause of upwards of 90% of illness. The stress response as you experience it in your mind and body can be caused by something stressful that is actually happening, or it can be caused by just by thinking about something happening that is distressing. The good news is we can do something about the latter—when the stress response is triggered by our thoughts. This something is super simple and is absolutely free of charge. This something is using your breath.

When you take ahold of your breath, you can take ahold of your whole nervous system. You can calm your mind and body and reconnect to what is true right now, rather than what is occurring in your mind that is creating a fearful, stressful response within your mind and body. Your body does not know the difference between the real or perceived stressors and will respond accordingly to either. When you find that you are catastrophizing and creating the stress response within your body, you can bring the process of breathing into your focus by slowing down each inhale and each exhale and calm your mind in the process.

Breathing diaphragmatically engages the parasympathetic nervous system response. Try this, place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest. As you breathe, notice which hand is moving. You are not judging your breathing process. You are simply noticing your breath in order to improve your ability to calm your mind/body. If your hand on your chest is moving but your hand on your abdomen is not moving (meaning your chest is expanding as you inhale), you are paradoxically breathing. This type of breathing can come about by feeling as though you have to suck in your stomach all the time, and it can actually cause you to go into fight or flight mode. Yikes!

If this is how you generally breathe, don’t fret! You can change how you breathe right now! You can practice diaphragmatic breathing in order for it to become your new method of breathing. To diaphragmatically breathe, allow your abdomen to expand into your hand as you inhale and allow the hand on your chest to remain relatively still. As you exhale, draw your navel in towards your spine. Allow this to become your new pattern of breathing—abdomen expanding as you inhale, navel drawing in towards your spine as you exhale.

When you breathe in this manner you are creating an opportunity to calm your nervous system in the here and the now. By allowing your attention to rest on your breath, not in your stressful, repetitive thoughts, you ease your body of the excess cortisol and adrenaline produced by your stressful thoughts. In the moment you recognize that you are feeling stressed within your body due to a thought or perception, rather than an actual stressful occurrence, try this process of connecting with your breath. Breathe diaphragmatically, slowly and deeply. Begin to slow down each inhale and each exhale. Focus on your exhale and allow just a slight pause at the end of your exhale and at the top of your inhale. Follow your breath with your mind. Notice the sensation of your breath against your nostrils. Notice the cooling, calming impact of your breath as you inhale and the warm, soothing impact of your breath as you exhale. 

When you focus on your breath you create an opportunity to become fully engaged in the present moment, the only moment. When you are fully engaged in the present moment you create the opportunity to live your life right as it is unfolding, rather than in the anxiety of the future or wishing for a different past. Your breath is your link, it is your powerful anchor to the present moment. Use it. Be aware of it. Allow it to create the transformation of your nervous system that is possible. Be here now, be aware of your breath and allow stress to no longer rule your life, your body and your mood state.

If you’d like some guidance on how to breathe, you can listen to my 5-minute guided diaphragmatic breathing practice here in the resources section of my website. Has changing your breath changed your life? I’d love to hear how using your breath to manage stress has impacted your life for the better! And…if you haven’t already signed up for the Free Webinar: Spring Cleaning for Mind and Body that is THIS Thursday, March 21st at 12pm EST (even if you can’t make it live, still register and I’ll send you the replay!) be sure to do so now! We will do some breathing, journaling and chatting about healthy lifestyle practices to make space for your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing! Register here!

Healing Emotional Eating With Mindfulness

 
mindfulness.jpg
 

Mindfulness is something of a buzzword these days. When concepts, words or disciplines become buzzwords they can lose their true meaning and power. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. When you are practicing mindfulness you do not judge the present moment, you experience it. When you are living mindfully, each moment of life as it is experienced just as it is unfolding in the here and the now. The ability to stay present invites you to experience your life in a meaningful way, where you are not simply responding to past experiences and stress or future worries. Engaging with the present moment is experiencing what is true right now.

When you are able to experience what is true right now you are able to acknowledge, feel and accept your emotions. The act of being mindful—of being completely engaged in the present moment—offers the opportunity to no longer act or respond to life out of your unconscious mental and emotional programming. When you step away from acting out of autopilot mode, you can begin to make conscious choices about how to live your life right now. When you are able to both be aware of your emotions and make a conscious choice, emotional eating becomes less overbearing and more within your conscious control.

While mindfulness may seem like a simple concept, it is definitely not an easy practice. While there are helpful apps, classes and books you can use to learn and practice mindfulness, having quiet time to be present and reflect on your experience of the present moment is where your power lies. The power is in the practice, not it in the learning about and studying the practice itself.

When you can experience your rich internal emotional world without hesitation or attempt to flee from any emotional distress or discomfort, your self-awareness grows. Through a consistent mindfulness practice, your ability to make a choice in the present moment is enhanced. When you practice mindfulness in a disciplined manner, over time, you free yourself from the binds of emotional eating. While this progression may sound simple, or too good to be true, remember that it requires these two elements that allow it to be integrated, over time, into your life: dedication and self-discipline.

When you bring the element of dedication to the practice of mindfulness you can offer yourself time daily to pause, reflect and release any emotions that are triggering your emotional eating. (You can read more about creating this personalized plan from a previous blog on this process here.) The importance of self-discipline is all about showing up for the practice, showing up for yourself and your emotions for the long-term. When you are fully conscious of your emotions, they become less uncomfortable and more of a message about your experience of your life. When you are more deeply connected to your internal emotional world, you can respond in an empowered way to your emotions and therefore not run from them, not attempt to escape them with food—or anything else that only serves to numb out your emotions.

To establish a mindfulness practice, it is best to start with one minute and then build from there. One minute of attempting to witness your emotions, thoughts, body sensations and external environment can feel like a really long time when you first begin the practice! After two to five days, increase to two minutes. Over time you may find that ten minutes feels really great! I recommend spending some time in reflection following the practice whether through journaling or simply acknowledging what the experience was like for you. I also recommend logging the minutes and making some simple notes about how you felt before and after the practice and any emotions or thoughts that arose, just to notice, not to judge.

As you apply this practice to food, eating, and further into your life, you will see how showing up for yourself in this way is empowering and freeing. You will see how allowing yourself to experience your emotions offers you valuable and deeply meaningful information about your experience of your life. Being mindful and emotionally aware allows you to make a choice about how to respond. Over time, food becomes less of a coping tool and more of a space where you can derive nourishment and pleasure. When you begin to integrate a consistent mindfulness practice into your life you open the opportunity to truly make peace with food.

4 Tools to Create Self-Regulation

 
CreateAPlan.jpg
 

Self-regulation is the ability to regulate your own behaviors, actions and choices consistently. Self-regulation is a personal strength and for many of us it is a strength that is, well… a work in progress. The ability to moderate your needs, actions and choices from a whole-person perspective—mind, body, spirit—can be a challenge. The good news is that self-regulation is a strength and if you think of it like a muscle, you can make it stronger with repetition and practice. It is a strength that can be honed, developed and utilized in order create how you want to feel about yourself.

These four tools that I list here will help you to establish, create and build upon your self-regulation. These tools are applicable to any area of your life that you would like to feel more in control. If you find you are not following through like you’d like to in certain areas of your life, it will be of benefit to you to strengthen your self-regulation skills. OR if you find that you are excessively rigid anywhere in your life, this indicates an imbalance as well. Over-regulation and obsession with perfection is not healthy either. Living in an overly regulated space is generally not sustainable and it creates unnecessary internal stress and discomfort.

So how do you go about increasing your self-regulation skills? The following are four practical tools that will help you grow in your ability to self-regulate. These four tools are useful and actionable and will offer you the best place to begin.

1.    Create a Personalized Plan

When you create a personalized plan, you set yourself up for success. The ability to regulate your behaviors can be hard. If your goal is to heal your relationship with food, your body and yourself but you don’t have any type of plan for how to make that happen, you will not have anything to regulate. This leaves your goals merely a daydream and you will be stuck in a space of fantasizing about what could happen tomorrow. On the other side of the coin is an overly rigid plan. These could include a restrictive diet plan, excessive exercise plan or other extreme measures. This doesn’t allow you to grow in self-regulation because you are relying on an someone else’s external plan to tell you what to do for often just a limited period of time.

When you create your own personal plan to grow self-regulation, and in sticking with the example of healing emotional eating, losing weight or improving your body image, your plan will need to set manageable guidelines. Your plan will need to have small changes that are actionable and realistic. Your plan will need to offer you space to grow (meaning you will have to learn from mistakes) and make the changes that will allow you to meet your goals and will be sustainable over time. Your plan will need to have opportunities for you to reflect and make shifts and changes as needed. Your plan is yours. Not your friends, your moms, your co-workers, but yours. Your plan will need to fit your personal needs. Your plan will need to offer you space to create growth through self-reflection and self-awareness. Your plan will encourage the shift to create the ability to self-regulate your own needs in mind, body and spirit.

To begin, you need to identify what you want, why you want it. Determine your personal values in life and how you connect these to what you want in order to help support yourself and create the change you want. Then set specific (meaning measurable), doable (they will actually fit into your current life), and desirable (meaning you truly WANT it) goals. Each goal needs action steps that you can take daily, no matter how small, so that you are creating movement and momentum consistently towards what you want. Create a timeline for reflection, reevaluation and what to do when you achieve a goal. Your ability to create this personalized plan for YOU in and of itself demonstrates an ability to practice self-regulation!

2.    Recognize Where You Sabotage Your Goals

When you bring awareness to where you are sabotaging yourself, you have two choices. The first is to stop the self-sabotage and the second is to give up. Ok, maybe it’s not that simple. But if the option of stopping the self-sabotage sounds like the more appealing option than giving up (which is equal to giving in to any negative beliefs about yourself: I can’t do it, I’ll never change, it’s too hard, I will fail, why bother, what’s the point, blah blah blah…), it will require some work. This work includes self-reflection and a decision to change your thoughts, beliefs about yourself and your actions. I call this self-saboteur the Deal Maker, if you want to read more about that concept, I have a chapter dedicated to it in my book, or you can read more on my blog here.

For today, what you need to know is that this part of yourself will sound convincing in its effort to foil your plans to make the change in your life that you desire. If your goal is to create greater health, to eat healthy, to move your body more, to lose weight, to save money, to change careers… no matter what it is, if you are not fully committed, you set yourself up for self-sabotage. Some examples of self-sabotaging thinking are “I have to be perfect,” or “I will fail” which only leads to the feeling of why bother or what’s the point. Your internal Deal Maker will try to put off taking action towards your goals and it uses these negative beliefs about yourself to keep the lie and resulting inaction going. Your internal Deal Maker preys on your fears. When you can highlight for yourself the exact thoughts, beliefs and fears that derail you, you can challenge them, work with them, and change the way you respond to them. When you are aware of the roadblocks that show up and you struggle to push through and past them, when you see that you are in your own way, you can do something about them. This is a daily practice. When you can understand where you tend to self-sabotage and see the common excuses and fears that your Deal Maker uses to keep you from taking action, you can recognize that they are not valid. You can recognize that there is another way. This leads me right into the next step: MINDSET!

3.    Change Your Mindset

When you change your mindset, you change everything. When you place something into your mindset before you plan to do it and you spend time visualizing yourself doing it, you are FAR more likely to do it. When you leave your plans in a fantasy space, you are FAR less likely to take action. Mindset is a decision that you make ahead of time. Mindset is a shift in perspective and it’s intimately tied to self-regulation and self-discipline. However, it is not discipline that you might think of in terms of punishment or consequences. I am talking about reward based discipline because making progress and meeting your goals feels amazing!

One of the most important elements of creating a focused mindset is the perspective you bring to what you want. If you view hard work as draining, overwhelming, tiring and inaccessible to you, it will only be another barrier to address. If you view hard work as rewarding, building momentum, creating the change you desire and freeing you to live the life you want, then you are well on your way to achieving what you want. When you change your perspective you change your whole life! Take time daily to create a mindset of action. Visualize why you want what you want and connect with the belief that what you want is possible. And this leads me right to the final tool to build healthy and balanced self-regulation skills. 

4.    Create an Accountability System

The only person you can truly be accountable to is you. When you are “held accountable” to others, it implies the possibility of punishment or reward. When you are accountable to yourself, your personal follow through IS the reward. Your progress IS the reward. Creating a life you love and managing your life in a way that feels as though you are regulating your behaviors in a way that aligns with what you want IS the reward.

All of that being said, being involved in an accountability group can help maintain your momentum. When you have others to cheer you on or share your struggles, you will feel more connected. This helps you tap into energy reserves that come from feeling supported and encouraged. Begin by setting up a review system for yourself so you initially will know what you want to work towards, what it will take to get there, and any struggles (areas of potential self-sabotage) that may arise. Talk these through within your accountability team. Your accountability team could be peers, friends, family, people you meet in a Facebook group, co-workers, someone from the gym or anyone else who has a vision for their life and is ready to stop dreaming about it and ready to make it happen. If you find you could benefit from additional support hiring a coach or therapist will offer this level of support and accountability as well. When you are consistently taking action towards your goals, you are building the ability to self-regulate. When you share that within a pair, group or team setting you inspire others and receive inspiration to make it happen.

Building self-regulation as an internal strength takes time. If you have struggled with this for a long time, know that it will not happen overnight! Change is hard, growing is often uncomfortable, but it is absolutely worth the effort. When you follow these steps of creating a plan, help yourself get out of your own way, develop a focused mindset and a method of accountability, you will see the changes within your life. The first place to start is always with what you want and why you want it. Reminding yourself often of your ultimate goal will help you make the necessary and at times uncomfortable choices that grow your self-regulation. Every time you choose your plan, you choose to not believe negative thoughts, you don’t respond to your internal fears, you take time to create a healthy mindset and you check in with yourself and your supporters, you are growing your self-regulation muscle! Keep me posted on your self-regulation journey!