Being Still: Perspectives from the Counselor’s Couch

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From the moment I wake up at 6:35am, my routine consists of scrolling through my phone to check my emails and Facebook, brushing my teeth, taking my morning meds, feeding Daphne the puggle, taking her out for a quick walk, giving her a treat, going upstairs to get the boys ready for the new day, and if the boys are cooperative, coming back downstairs for breakfast. Phew.

One might pontificate I have my act together and have excellent time management, while others would say I have a time management problem that may cause me to eventually break down. Our lives are constantly on the go from the moment we wake up, that by the time we start work, our energy tank is almost at low. Think about what your routine is like from the moment you wake up. Do you find yourself going from step A to step B without stopping to process what you just did seconds ago? Many are looking to solve step Z, when they barely got out of step A and ponder about skipping to step D. Do you know someone that fits this description?

I Don’t Feel Motivated to Start Right Away

Think of a time when you woke up to the sound of the alarm and were already thinking about how to solve today’s problems without taking time to breathe and be still. The 4pm work deadline consumes your thoughts from the moment you wake up, to the moment your feet touch the cold tile shower floor, as you wait for the cold water that hits your head, shoulders and back to get warm (such an awful feeling so early in the morning, unless you have the same DNA as a penguin).

As you drive off to work, you find yourself still wondering about where to begin when you arrive to the office, and you realize you forgot a few important items like putting on deodorant or taking your lunch to work. You may find yourself more irritable than usual. Oh yeah, and how can I leave out the snooze button that was pressed three times so we can sleep an extra fifteen minutes longer, which actually interrupted our sleep pattern and has no benefit for feeling more rested.

Our mind is flooded with feelings, emotions, and thoughts of how the day will turn out. One may feel worried about a loved one who was recently diagnosed with a medical condition, or perhaps social distancing has made an individual feel lonely and isolated.

Every example I gave so far are of people feeling depressed or experiencing anxiety of the unknown. Anxiety can become so intense that people may often procrastinate as a way to avoid what’s on deck.

As a psychotherapist, I have worked with people who struggle with procrastination, not because they were lazy or have poor management skills, but because an emotional barrier has caused self-doubt, frustration of not knowing, fear of failing, or worrying for others, which leads to anxiety (the fog). I help the client explore and uncover the underlying reasons for procrastinating. Not only would the goal of counseling be to explore the root cause, but also modeling to the client ways to control cognitive distortions that lead to irrational emotions by using grounding techniques and reframing statements.

Staying Grounded

Grounding exercises—such as breathing, guided imagery, and mindfulness—are techniques used to help a person be fully present in the moment. Most people believe being present means just physically showing up, but it also involves the mental, emotional, and spiritual presence as well. This is known as the whole-body experience.

For example, one of my wife’s biggest complaints is when I don’t make eye contact with her when she tries to communicate what’s on her mind. I try to listen, while doing something else (I confess, it’s usually the TV or the phone, or I simply don’t have the mental and emotional capacity to process after a long day of helping my clients). Perhaps the root cause is fear of communicating my feelings right in the moment that I feel vulnerable. I may not be ready to talk and may need to communicate, “This may not be the best time. What you’re saying is important and I want to listen, but I need more time to process. Can we discuss after dinner?”

What else can I do to become mentally and emotionally present in that moment?

Breathing

This could be a good time for me to go somewhere quiet to gather my thoughts and think of ways to communicate vulnerability, as well be validating to my wife. During this “time-out,” or debrief, I can practice deep breathing exercises while focusing on my breath, as I slowly breathe in, release, and repeat. Breathing allows me to focus better and provides the brain with oxygen to clear the mental fog.

This is a skill that takes lots of practice, so don’t worry about being perfect. Your mind may wander at first, but with practice you’ll notice how breathing can decrease feelings of fear and uncertainty. Other ways to practice grounding include practicing guided imagery and mindfulness.

Guided Imagery

Many experience anxiety related to relationship discords, work deadlines, being a caretaker, and coping with a medical condition. With guided imagery, I gather information about a favorite or happy place, such as the beach, the mountains, a garden, etc. I use that information to guide my client through a mental journey through their “happy place” (most people tend to pick the beach) and incorporate their senses—sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste.

As I guide the client with my voice and the use of language to paint a natural scenery (the beach) on this blank mental canvas, I incorporate the five senses, as the client process quietly such experiences like the feeling of the sand in between the client’s toes, the smell of the ocean, and the sound of the waves crashing to the shore. I may ask the client to look at the shells lying around their feet (big, small, and broken). I may instruct the client to pick up the largest shell located by his/her right foot and place it on his/her dominant hearing ear, as the client listens to the ocean.

Relief and rejuvenation are several positive effects that have come out of this exercise. Guided imagery can help relieve tension, stress and pain. Another way to reduce tension and stress is by practicing mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation

With mindfulness meditation, you use your senses to regulate your emotions during the “here and now.” If you’re feeling anxious about a future event, mindfulness meditation will guide you to slow down and return to the present state. If you’re feeling depressed about an event that occurred in your past and it doesn’t seem to leave your sight, mindfulness meditation can keep you stay grounded by bringing you to the present, as you focus on your internal experiences, thoughts, body sensations, all while bringing your awareness back to your breathing.

Don’t feel discouraged if at first you struggle to focus or be still. It will take time and lots of practice in order to feel grounded through mindfulness meditation. For more information on mindfulness meditation, or to see for yourself how mindfulness meditation works, go to the Facebook page of AdventHealth Wellness Center Celebration and listen to Certified Mindfulness Instructor Mitch Osborn. Guided imagery and mindfulness meditation are great grounding techniques that help reduce anxiety and depression. Along with these techniques, I also use reframing to restructure a client’s perspective of their problem.

Reframing

Once a client reaches a place of relaxation, with their permission, I explore with the client where these fears and procrastination originate. For some, it could be a memory or traumatic event that keeps returning to the surface, causing them to push tasks aside, feel anxious about the day, or go from point A to point B without pausing to reflect. Their attitude can tend to feel bleak, stirring up feelings of not being able to accomplish anything. I model a technique known as reframing to help clients look at their situations from a different lens.

For instance, if a client complains about feeling incompetent because he/she hasn’t completed a work project, I would model reframing by changing his/her statement to, “It could just be that you were too tired from caring for your children when they were sick. It could also be reframed as, You’re just waiting for the right time in the day to work on your project. That may have not been the right time for you. How do you know when you’re ready to start?”

Another example of reframing a negative statement could be a father who yells and demands his children turn off the TV and do their homework, saying, “You always come home from school and sit glued to the TV screen. Turn off the TV and do your homework!” One could assume the father’s temperament is harsh and unnecessary, while I could presume the father was worried and cares about their future. Notice how a negative statement was reframed to sound positive and hopefully send a message to dad of effective ways to communicate by expressing and modeling vulnerability to his children.

The Spiritual Perspective

So how would you incorporate spirituality and faith into the daily grind of worries and unknown? William Penn was an English Quaker leader who founded the colony of Pennsylvania as a place of refuge for Quakers and other religious minorities from Europe. Penn quoted, “In the rush and noise of life, as you have intervals, step home within yourselves and be still. Wait upon God and feel His good presence; this will carry you evenly through your day’s business.”

Several verses come to mind for me as I process this quote. During this time of uncertainty and our eagerness to return to work and interact in social proximity, I am reminded of Psalm 37:7: “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.”

The phrase “Be still” is a reminder for me to slow down and listen to God speak wisdom to my heart, as I give thanks for all the things that make me thankful. It’s an opportunity for me to surrender my fears and anxieties to God and listen carefully through prayer and meditation. There will always be a deadline, and there will always be questions about what today will bring us. But I can’t control what unexpected events will happen today or tomorrow. I can, however, choose to be still and listen, for the Lord will fight for me while I keep still (Exodus 14:14). So be still and listen. We are all in this together!

Guest columnist Kelly Londono
Guest columnist Kenny Londono, MS, LMFT is a Clinical Psychotherapist at the AdventHealth Wellness Center Celebration

Lifestyle Clinic.

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