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A Mindful Moment for Conscious Breathing

A Mindful Moment for Conscious Breathing

Throughout the day our attention is often scattered among countless responsibilities and tasks. At times this can leave us feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Taking a mindful moment within your day can help to combat stress and bring a greater sense of calm so feel more confident in taking on these daily tasks. But with our busy schedules, we often ask how can we even find time in our day to do this?

Deep breathing practices are one of the most simple but effective ways to relax and lower stress. Best of all, most practices can be done in as little as 30 seconds!

Why is deep breathing helpful? When we are stressed, our body responds to this stress as a threat. To protect ourselves our sympathetic nervous systems kick in and our body goes into the fight-flight mode. We find our heart beating faster, blood pressures increases, our breathing quickens and becomes shallower and our body tenses up. Breathing practices are aimed to teach you steadiness and support a gentle shift away from this fight-flight mode. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. Your brain then sends this message to your body to engage your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as our rest and digest function. Those things that happen when you are stressed, all decrease as you breathe deeply. This practice grounds and stabilizes an overactive system, so the mind and body can relax again. Many breathing practices include counting breaths, as this counting provides focus and feedback to let you know if your mind is drifting from the practice.

The “Equal Breathing” exercise, which focuses on steady inhalation and exhalation of equal duration is a easy but effective deep breathing practice which can be almost anywhere. It is an effective tool to help when you find yourself anxious, overwhelmed, or simply disconnected from your body/mind, or just needing a moment of calm. It is also so simple that it can be a great practice to teach children to help them when they are experiencing anxiety that can support you in experiencing the benefits of deep breathing.

Here’s the step-by-step process to help guide you through this practice:

  1. First, find a comfortable seated position. You can sit on a blanket, pillow or in a chair to support the diaphragm to be open for easier breathing. You may also do this practice lying down for greater effortlessness. You may choose to have your eyes open or closed, whatever is most comfortable.

  2. Begin to notice your natural inhale and exhale. Notice the length, the sensations in the body and how the breath is flowing. Notice the transition between the inhale and exhale.  If you notice tension, try to slow the breath so it is quiet, gentle and smooth between the transitions.

  3. Then, start to count the inhale. Start by breathing in slowly for three steady counts. Gently turn to exhale, breathing out for three steady counts. Continue this for several rounds.

  4. If this counting feels too short, slowly start to increase the count working your way up to a steady count of 10 (ie. breathe in for 6, out for 6, breath in 8, out 8, breath in 10, out 10). Only go to a count that you maintain comfort and ease in the body and mind. Most important to just ensure your inhalation and exhalation are the same lengths.

  5. You can Do 10 rounds of this breath, or if you would prefer you can set a timer for 30 to 60 seconds so all you need to focus on is breathing at a gentle pace, continuing to relax and remaining present. If you lose count, simply begin again.

  6. As you finish your practice, let the breath return to normal. Pay attention to the relaxation you feel, and the changes you notice in your body and mind after this balanced breathing.

When first starting to introduce breathing exercises into your day, it might be helpful to set a reminder to help you remember to take a moment to practice. With time, these practices will eventually become a more natural part of your daily routine.

How to Make New Friends

How to Make New Friends

Unlike our family, we can choose our friends. So in a way friends are our “chosen family”. It’s important that we choose wisely and surround ourselves with supporting and loving people. Happy International Friendship Day!

Are you hoping to make new friends but don’t know where to find them? Look no further!

Here are the top 3 places to check out to meet new peeps!

1. Meetup.com  

This is a great website to meet people who share similar interests to you.  Sign up on the website, choose the categories that interest you, i.e. sports, nature, movies, etc., and then get out there!

2. Bumble BFF 

Yes, you read that correctly. Bumble⁠—best known for its dating app⁠—also has an app to meet your future bestie. Add a few photos of you in your element, write a brief bio and then start swiping!

4. Eventbrite  

You’ve probably bought tickets on Eventbrite before (maybe even for a Shift event!) but did you know it’s also considered the “new” meetup.com. Easily search by date, location, cost and category to find the perfect event to mingle with like-minded folks.

Try something new. You never know what you will learn about yourself!

The Benefits of a Digital Detox

The Benefits of a Digital Detox

Have you ever mindlessly scrolled through social media only to look up and see that an hour has passed by without your knowledge? Well, I definitely have. 

While the use of tech and social media can be a welcome distraction at times, it can also be emotionally draining and can inhibit our capacity to genuinely connect with those around us. It can also lead to what’s called cognitive overload. We only have so much mental bandwidth to work with at a given time and the never-ending flood of images and information being presented through digital media can lead to cognitive exhaustion, loss of attention, and irritability.

The obvious solution would be to take a break from your phone and digital media from time to time. If you’ve tried, you’ve probably noticed this is easier said than done! 

Have you ever wondered why it can be so difficult to put your phone down? Most apps are designed to keep us engaged way longer than we’d like to admit. For example, the use of “likes” and notifications on social media actually work to create what is known in psychology as a “reward pattern”. We see a notification, we take in the fact that someone has liked our post, and we experience a surge in dopamine, the chemical in our brains responsible for feeling good. Hence, we are rewarded for the use of our phones. Engaging on social media actually becomes a way for our brains to keep seeking a “reward”, i.e. that surge of dopamine that occurs when we get a new follower, or view a bright and beautifully-coloured image. 

In light of this, try to go a little easier on yourself. Taking a break from digital media is HARD. And it’s hard for everyone. But the benefits are worth it!

A digital detox usually involves a set period of time where a person refrains from using their tech devices.

Detoxing from digital devices can also include limiting time spent on social media, checking emails, sending and receiving texts, the list goes on. Digital detoxes allow us to take a step back from the distractions on our phones and maintain focus on the happenings in our daily lives. We’re better able to focus on the thoughts and feelings that come up, rather than distracting, numbing or disconnecting through the use of technology.

Here are some of the benefits to taking a digital detox:

 

Increased productivity. If we give ourselves the permission to take a break from our devices, we can make time for things that are higher on our priority list. We may also avoid the loss of attention that occurs as a result of digital-media-induced cognitive overload, and can do more things with a renewed focus. 

Deeper connections. There’s no doubt that texting and phone calls can help us maintain connection with our loved ones. When we consciously unplug, however, we are able to connect more deeply with those around us. We are limiting the likelihood of distraction and better able to be present with those who are right in front of us.

More restful sleep. When our bodies are ready for sleep, our brains release a chemical known as melatonin. This chemical is responsible for helping our bodies prepare for a deep sleep. When we are glued to a screen, our brain takes in light from the screen which convinces our bodies that it is still daytime, and prevents melatonin from being released. A digital detox can help us reset our sleeping patterns and get back to a natural circadian rhythm, which also improves our mental health.

3 Tips for Studying from Home if you’re Living with ADHD

3 Tips for Studying from Home if you’re Living with ADHD

To study or work from home is challenging. If—like myself—you’re a person living with ADHD, it may feel especially difficult to adjust to the lack of structure that can come with switching to a fully online work/study environment.

Studying (and for some of us, also working) entirely from home means that we are more susceptible to the distractions of our household, and may find ourselves overwhelmed. The habits we’ve developed to adapt to traditional formats for work and study and are not so easy to tune into from the bedroom or living room. So— how is an ADHDer supposed to adjust to remote studies during the current COVID-19 pandemic?

Here are 3 tips to help us cope:

1.     Prioritize your own structure and routine

An issue that arises for ADHDers is that at times we may struggle with internal structure. This means that we may be more distracted and feel less tolerant of boredom, which can affect the ability to accomplish tasks in a routine way. In this case, it’s important for ADHDers to set up a structure and routine that is specific to their unique needs. Instead of looking at a routine as boring and infringing on creativity and freedom, we can look at routine setting as a way to get things done efficiently, so that later we can spend time on unique interests without having to face the overwhelm and guilt that can come from pushing aside work tasks.

Routine-setting doesn’t need to be boring! It can actually be helpful, for example, to structure breaks and fun into the work day. This may look like pre-structuring and planning routine breaks, like scheduling 20 minutes after you complete a task to go for a walk or have a quick call with a friend. Planning a consistent and predictable routine may feel challenging at first, but as time goes on, it can become second nature and habit, which can really benefit ADHDers while working from home.

2.     Limit household distractions as best you can

Decide early on in your remote-working journey where you will be doing most of your work. Keeping this space consistent is helpful for implementing a routine. Be sure that the area you choose to work in is quiet (if possible) and limited in visual distractions. Making sure things are uncluttered amongst your work space can help the ADHD brain to remember to prioritize and focus on only what is in front of it.

3.     Set boundaries with loved ones and housemates

You are allowed to be clear about and set healthy boundaries. Now more than ever, it is important to be upfront about what is needed to allow your remote study journey to be successful. Try your best to make it clear to family and/or housemates that you have set a specific schedule, and that this means you need to be off the clock for house duties, answering texts or calls from friends, having conversations with your housemates, social media, etc. Implementing these boundaries can help take the pressure off of trying to juggle your school and/or work responsibilities while also remaining a supportive housemate, friend and family member.

The Most Helpful Adult ADHD Productivity Hack I’ve Ever Tried

The Most Helpful Adult ADHD Productivity Hack I’ve Ever Tried

Oftentimes when I share with others that I live with ADHD, I’m met with the pretty common response of “but you don’t act like you have ADHD.”

Throughout my life, it’s been pretty evident to me that there’s a major stigma associated with ADHD along with a whole host of misconceptions; among them that folks like us are altogether incapable of focus, that our lack of attention is just a form of laziness, and that it’s a diagnosis that only applies to children. Although living with an attentional difficulty does come with its challenges, there are a whole host of benefits that aren’t commonly discussed.

Living with ADHD allows us to live life with a sense of spontaneity that can bring upon so many wonderful life experiences. Living with ADHD allows us to experience the excitement of hyper-focus, a common symptom of ADHD in which one can be so intently focused on a task that we forget the world around us. Living with ADHD allows us to be intuitive and curious. Since the ADHD brain lets in a lot of what the non-ADHD brain might consider irrelevant noise, sometimes, ADHDers are able to notice things that others naturally filter out. This allows us to recognize patterns where others may only see chaos–a huge benefit for creativity and problem-solving!

Oftentimes, living with ADHD means that the good old trusted organizational strategies that work well for a majority just don’t seem to work quite as well for the ADHD brain. Working productively with an attentional difficulty requires a much more creative and clever approach, but it can absolutely be done. The next time you find yourself having difficulty with focus and productivity, consider using the Time Cube method. It’s a system that has worked wonders for me in terms of productivity and getting things done effectively while living with an attentional difficulty.

The Time Cube Method

The Time Cube is essentially a fancy kitchen timer shaped like (you guessed it) a cube. There are durations of times written on each of its sides, anywhere between 5 minutes to 60 minutes.

The key strategy behind the Time Cube is that it can help with compartmentalizing tasks. By doing this, we are teaching our ADHD brains to focus on one small task at a time, instead of the big picture. We are learning to allot a specific amount of time to individual tasks, rather than multitasking and then feeling even more distracted.

So how does it work? Begin your day by writing out the most important tasks that you are hoping to complete on that day. Decide for yourself how much time you should allot to each task. For example, allocating 60 minutes in the evening to finish up a work assignment or school paper, or allotting yourself 10 minutes in the morning to catch up on emails. Set the timer on your Time Cube and remind yourself that this time you have set is for that task and that one only. The minute the timer rings, take a break, have a snack, and begin your timer for the next task. This teaches our ADHD brains how to compartmentalize tasks and encourages us to utilize the ADHD superpower of hyper-focusing on the tasks that we’ve deemed most important for the day.

When we’re having a day full of distractions, we can likely feel pretty frustrated with ourselves and our ADHD. Being mean to ourselves about it, however, doesn’t increase our focus. Rather, we can see it as an exciting challenge to get creative in exploring tools and productivity hacks that work specifically for us. And if all else fails, remind yourself that you share your ADHD brain with the likes of Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan, AND Richard Branson (which is pretty cool if I do say so myself!).

 


Dorian Schwartz is a therapist with Real Campus