Phone-Life Balance: Using Mindfulness to Reconnect with Your Real Self and Your Real Life

I am honored to share a blog post I wrote for my friend and colleague Gordon Shippey’s blog: Phone-Life Balance: Using Mindfulness to Reconnect with Your Real Self and Your Real Life (also below). Gordon is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Atlanta, GA who specializes in mental health issues surrounding the Internet and our increasingly technological world, including issues such as Internet addiction, compulsive gaming, and addiction to online pornography. Please check out his website and blog for further information about prioritizing mental health in the technology age!

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We all know it’s true, that nagging voice inside is noticing more and more: We’ve become addicted to our smart phones. First thing in the morning (even before coffee!), last thing before turning out our bedside light, waiting at traffic lights or for tables at restaurants, and even during lulls in conversation with our friends and family, we light up our phones and check Facebook, Instagram, texts, email, news and other apps. For some it goes so far as answering calls during sex, or texting while driving – a fatal hazard! We hardly have time to enjoy a beautiful moment before we’re posing and taking pictures of it to post on our media pages. Our experiences are being hijacked by the cataloging of them, and all to supposedly help us feel more connected, maybe even more alive … but is it working?

Now that social media and the smart phones that put it constantly at our fingertips have been standard items for many years, the research is rolling in on how much better off we really are from these powerful inventions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn’t look good. According to a study at the University of Derby, the average smart phone user spends 3.6 hours on their device a day, with 13% of research participants showing full addiction behaviors. And it’s coming with a toll of less connectedness and increased depression.

11846633_1012552652112111_4359517682162020442_nI’m all for smart phones and social media! I love that I get to know the little goings on in my friends’ and family’s lives, and even “watch” their children grow up despite the sometimes thousands of miles between us. I love that I can quickly search for the nearest taco stand from anywhere that I am. I love that I can follow up on email or pay bills while waiting at the doctor’s office.

But what is the price for these conveniences? And what can one do about balancing the scale between help and harm? Borrowing from the ever-wise world of mindfulness, you may find that disconnecting from your phone for even brief periods of time brings great riches to the present moment you are actually living.

Instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning, try:

  • Doing a body scan and noticing where you need to stretch or which parts may need your special attention
  • Checking in with roommates, romantic partners, or children and asking them about their pending day

Instead of reaching for your phone last thing at night, try:

  • Engaging in progressive muscle relaxation where you tense and release the different muscles in your body
  • Checking in with yourself or your partner to share the “best” and “worst” of the day

Instead of reaching for your phone at a traffic light or while waiting in line, try:

  • Taking at least 3 deep, comfortable breaths
  • Really noticing the people and landscapes around you – the unique in the mundane, the little things you’ve passed a thousand times but never really seen

Instead of reaching for your phone while on your lunch break or eating meals alone, try:

  • Using your 5 sense to fully experience your food – what does it smell like, look like in full spectrum of color, feel like against your fingers and tongue, etc.?
  • Giving gratitude for the sun, water, minerals, plants and people who helped make it possible to eat your meal

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Instead of reaching for your phone while with people, try:

  • Listening with deep intent to what others are saying, or if they’re not talking, asking them questions and giving them time and space to fully answer
  • Sharing what’s on your mind – either your troubles or your joys – people won’t think you a complainer or a braggart – they do want to know who you really are!

If possible, push yourself to carve out moments of your day or week where you turn your phone off or at least leave it on vibrate in the other room. Delete apps that you notice are sucking up too much of your time. (I personally did this with much success in terms of improved productivity and time for, gasp, reading actual books!)

Remember, our phones may be really good at lighting up areas of our brain that our brain then interprets as a reward. They may be really good at distracting us from our boredom or anxiety. They may be really good at directions home. But they can’t replace the people in our lives. And they certainly can’t live our lives for us. A perfectly posed picture can’t replace the experience of taking in a gorgeous mountain sunset or your dog greeting you with his merrily wagging tail. And a perfectly choreographed video can’t replace the actual experience of your first wedding dance, new husband or wife warm in your arms.

When we’re plugged into our phones, we miss out on so much. We miss out on our beautifully unscripted and un-catalogued lives. These spontaneous moments are the treasures we all look back on with love and joy. Nothing could be more important.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content owned by Amanda Carver.

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Informal Mindfulness: Small Effort, BIG Reward!

IMG_2056Do you frequently find yourself texting while stopped at traffic lights? Talking on the phone while walking your dog? Reading your email while eating breakfast? Or even layering 3 and 4 activities at once, such as scrolling through Facebook while eating dinner, reviewing your to-do list, and trying to catch up on the day with your significant other? We all know on some level the sad state of affairs that has arisen in recent years when it comes to not paying attention, not even to those most important to us, not even to our own selves. We’ve all been there: situations where we’re already posting something on Facebook or Twitter before we’ve even fully experienced the thing we’re so excited to share with others. Dinner dates with friends where a text pulls our attention away from remaining attuned to conversation. Or the nagging urge even when relaxing in front of the TV to check our work email “one more time.” Technology is amazing! I’ll be the first to say it and embrace it in my life. But it’s also become detrimentally distracting. If you’re looking to get back to the basics of simple pleasures and awareness, consider mindfulness as a powerful bridge for getting you from here to there. You can reap big rewards by weaving a conscious effort into the small, everyday routines you’ve already established.

To recap from a previous post, mindfulness is the experience of being fully present to the present moment. Mindfulness is about awareness and participation in life rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It does not necessarily mean meditation – though meditation is often involved in formal mindfulness practices. It does not mean being happy, or even calm – though those are often the effects of repeated mindful practice. In recent research done by Matt Killingsworth he concluded that people are often happiest when fully engaged in the present moment. (Follow this link to his excellent TED talk.) This makes sense! In a very real way, the present moment is all that exists. Connecting to the present through mindfulness can lead to expanded appreciation of your everyday experiences, improved connection with others, and enhanced union with your wiser self.IMG_2024

If you’re one of those people who experiences herself or himself as too busy, daunted, or unmotivated to establish a formal mindfulness practice, that’s ok! You can still practice mindfulness in informal ways every day. If there’s any single thing someone can do to improve the experience of mindfulness in his/her life, it’s to put down your phone and consciously reduce multi-tasking! As a culture that worships busyness, multi-taskers have long been praised as the go-getters and high-producers of our time. Younger generations are even being heralded as genius multi-taskers due to their immersion in technology since birth. But research shows that multi-tasking is a bit like going through life inebriated or in a fog. We don’t do any of the tasks as well, and we certainly don’t gain the vital enjoyment and knowledge of the present moment when multi-tasking.

Mindfulness in daily routine can happen in the simplest of moments when you allow your attention to focus on only one thing at a time, such as not pulling out your phone on the way to your car after work. But instead checking in with yourself – your mind and your body – at the end of the day, or noting your surroundings – the weather, the landscape, or how the spring light seeps later into the evening hours. Mindfulness happens by paying attention to your driving (imagine that!) and the world around you while driving – familiar yet unnoticed neighborhoods, new businesses splashing up, the same man sitting on the same bench day after day. Mindfulness happens by enjoying your dog’s walk the way he/she does – noting the sights, sounds, and maybe even smells of your journey. Mindfulness happens by nourishing your soul while you nourish your body – savoring the smells, tastes, textures, and nutrients of your food. Mindfulness happens with loved ones, by giving them the incredible gift of your full attention when they’re sharing themselves with you. Mindfulness happens with children, perhaps especially with children, as they are excellent guides to a magically mindful moment. Mindfulness can even happen while checking your phone or sending an email if that’s where you place your full attention. It can happen when brushing your teeth. Listening to music. Embracing your lover. Whatever the task at hand, even if it lasts only a few moments, give it your full attention. Allow yourself to live it, rather than miss it, and potentially miss the little moments that when strung together create a beautifully rich life.

IMG_2047Don’t forget to start small! Pick one thing daily that you’ll do in the present moment: a meal, your commute, showering, your evening jog. Start there. When your mind wanders or you’re back on your phone without even realizing it, don’t judge yourself. Gently bring your attention back again and again to what’s at hand: the present moment – the one and only place you can live a vital life.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Relationship in a Rut? Tap Your Inner Child!

Has the spark been waning from your relationship, or have you found yourself knowing your significant other less and less? Wishing you could reconnect in a deep or vital way? Your Inner Child can help tap the energy you need to get out of a relational rut!

When we tap our Inner Child on the shoulder, we can have the best of both worlds – the fresh energy of childhood and the wisdom and sensuality of adult experience. Your Inner Child can help you re-learn the affection, creativity, spontaneity, and vulnerability necessary to maintain a powerful love connection!

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1) Affection – One of our primary sources of affection in adulthood is through our romantic partnerships. If you are missing affection in your current relationship, chances are your partner is missing it, too. The best way to receive is to give. This does not mean initiating sex and then feeling angry or defeated if it doesn’t go your way! Think of the affection that freely flows from your Inner Child. The part of you that easily gives hugs, holds hands, or needs to snuggle to forget about the “boogeyman” under the bed (ie: the overdue bills, unnerving lab results, etc.). As adults we never stop needing comfort and affection – give and receive freely! Nurturing affection can lead to passionate affection – and both are essential to feeling special and loved.

2) Creativity – In the beginning there are fun dates, love letters, and spontaneous sex. Later on … not so much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t revive the spark through following the example of your Inner Child! (Secret: We often show a lot of our Inner Child when we’re falling in love!) Think of the artwork you offered up and displayed proudly on the refrigerator, or the way you chased butterflies and lightning bugs in your backyard as a child. Now you can make a homemade Valentine or birthday card for your partner, surprise him/her with a spring picnic or a snowman-making contest, or watch the sunset at a local place of beauty (and arrange the baby-sitter, too, if necessary). Now you have a soul mate for a playmate – enjoy it!

3) Spontaneity – Why is it that the unplanned parts of life usually stand out in our memories the most? Because spontaneity has a way of inspiring mindfulness and bringing a spark of energy that elates our moods and calms our nerves. Spontaneity is a magical way to create an experience together that will increase connection. And no one is more spontaneous and inspiring than our Inner Child! Think of the joys of following your curiosity down a new bike path as a child, or of sinking your teeth into a candy sprinkled dessert! Sharing your spontaneity and offering yourself as an encouraging partner in your significant others’ impulsive urges will give your relationship a needed jolt. Make yourself a promise that next time you feel a twinge to stop off at a carnival or go to that often seen but never frequented hole-in-the-wall restaurant, follow it toward the chance to make a memory together! Even if it turns out to be sub-par, it’s something to bond over and laugh about for years to come.

4) Vulnerability – Over time we can begin to feel we already know everything important about our partner; or conversely, we can assume our partner will never understand an important dream or wound of ours. Maybe you’ve known each other for years or decades, but continued engagement is necessary to continue knowing someone. If you feel as if your partner doesn’t know or understand you anymore (or that you don’t know/understand him or her), reach out from a place of vulnerability. Think of the unabashed way you used to talk about the cool new thing you learned in school, the super scary spider you saw on the playground, or how you were going to be an astronaut when you grew up! Only now you’re old enough to know how to say, “This is what I think and feel … what about you?” Share a hard moment from your workday, a bad dream you can’t shake off, or fun idea for a long-weekend away. If you lead with your own vulnerabilities while also offering your partner the chance to reciprocate, intimacy and passion are sure to follow.

Of note: Sometimes our Inner Child no longer feels safe in the company of our significant others. Or sometimes our Inner Child is still quite wounded from the traumas of childhood.

If these tips are met with your partner’s apathy or opposition … or if you can’t even imagine how to tap your Inner Child or how to receive a good response for putting yourself out there in these ways, please don’t hesitate to seek a couples therapist to help break apart defenses and rebuild intimacy.

If your Inner Child is wounded due to physical or emotional traumas in childhood, please take these wounds seriously and seek care and support for yourself. There are many qualified therapists who can assist with healing the lifelong pain of childhood trauma to help you reclaim vitality in adulthood.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

 

Gratitude: The Cure for What Ails You

I come to the page this morning to share something that’s been on my heart and mind, a practice that is my no. 1 go-to for moments of frustration, anxiety, inertia, and even hopelessness. Even when mindfulness seems like too much energy to muster and I am stuck in a place where my mind refuses to grant me a moment’s peace, I can always count on gratitude to help me take that next step forward in a healthy direction.

I practice Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) with kids and teens, teaching the skills of mindfulness and coping on a near-daily basis to those whose brains can barely grasp much less practice the concepts, and to those whose hearts and minds have been harmed in ways unfathomable. Yet I keep teaching it, because at the heart of this behavioral treatment, there is a depth of wisdom, a philosophy even, that can powerfully change lives. One aspect of this treatment is the ability to hold two seemingly opposing concepts at the same time – “I am doing the best I can and I can do better.” As well as shifting perspective, back and forth between the forest (life goals) and trees (mindfulness). Gratitude is an excellent way to quickly shift perspective. In the midst of feeling there’s too much of this and not enough of that, you stop and recognize what already is and how absolutely perfect the present moment can be.IMG_1785

For some, taking a moment to reflect on gratitude may come quite easy. You stop and think, “My family, my job, my health.” For others, perhaps those in great pain and loneliness, it may be more difficult. Yet I am here to tell you that one doesn’t have to search far to find something or someone to be grateful for. Even with my most pained clients, all it takes is some gentle nudging to get them on their feet and smelling the roses of gratitude. It doesn’t cure a problem. It is not an ever-lasting happiness pill to pop. But in that moment, it can give you the oomph you need to take the next step toward your healthy life.

I invite you to take a few moments right now and consider at least 10 things you are grateful for in this present moment. Things that do not need to come to fruition in order for you to be grateful, but what you are grateful for right now. If you’re having a difficult time getting started, start with the basics: you have met enough of your basic needs to be here right now (food, shelter), you can read, you at least have the desire to desire more for yourself (you want to want, which is a start). As you gain in ability to open your heart in this way, consider even more specific and “simpler” things: the exact gift of the bird song outside your morning window, the freedom of feeling the earth beneath your bare feet, sipping your favorite tea from your favorite mug, and as I always say, the sweet summer perfection of strawberry rhubarb pie.

My 10 Things

1. getting to sleep late right in the middle of the bed, surrounded by pillows and the dabbling of morning light
2. looking back and seeing how I always get back on the horse, no matter how hopeless that may have seemed at times
3. fresh berries – blue, black, rasp, or straw
4. in the midst of summer, everything is gorgeous green – and the flowers!
5. these clothes that cover me, often softly
6. these feet that take me where I ask, usually without complaint
7. the Internet – seriously. So much knowledge, so many connections right at my fingertips
8. just how often I remember my dreams, the glimpses into my deeper struggles and knowing
9. human touch on a daily basis, hugs are profound
10. the cardinals, blue jays, squirrels and chipmunks who make it worth being outside despite the mosquitoes

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All content owned by Amanda Bowers.