Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Mindfulness – It’s not just the latest buzzword!

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A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!

My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.

After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.

As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting

How I Get My Kids Out of the Spiral of Negative Thinking

It happened again last night. My little guy had a few disappointing events happen to him in a row, and then it started: the downward spiral of negative thoughts. “This always happens to me.” “Nothing goes right.” “I hate today.” “Nothing’s fun.”

We’ve all been there. A bunch of things don’t go the way we’ve hoped or planned, and it seems to wreck an entire day or even week, it feels like. As adults, we’ve experienced a lot, and we mostly ride the ups and downs. We know that some good or some luck comes our way, and that there may be disappointments in our future, too. But, we need to keep in mind that our mature brains can process these waves in ways that a child’s brain cannot.

A child’s brain develops incrementally. In fact, some evidence suggests that the brain doesn’t fully reach maturation until well into our 20’s! So, when something doesn’t go as planned for our little ones, they are typically 100% upset by it. Their whole being is upset by the event and their brain can flood with emotion. Enter the tantrum, or in my little guy’s case, the negative thought patterns.

Here is what I’ve done for my children to help break the cycle, once they have calmed down a bit and after I’ve acknowledged their feelings:

  1. List, verbally or in writing, their favorite things or activities. This switches their thinking immediately to what they love, which generally brings a smile to their face. It also helps them to realize that things do go “right” for them, as well. You can even have a conversation about this balance of ups and downs.
  2. List 3-5 things they are grateful for. Again, this works to switch their thinking, and it has the side benefit of realizing that there are things for which they are truly grateful.
  3. Share with them an experience. This can come in any form. You can share with them something that made you happy or sad or how you handled a similar situation.
  4. Brainstorm solutions. Once they have truly calmed down, you can brainstorm solutions together. This encourages them to think about solving problems and how to work around disappointments. The more you help them realize that their are solutions to most problems, in time this will help them manage problem-solving/troubleshooting on their own.
  5. Mindfulness. With my daughter who is oldest, I’ve let her participate in some of my meditations with me. It has allowed her to rest her mind and body, and she has come out of it reset and feeling relaxed.

I do work hard to not allow negativity to invade and take over my thoughts. Just as it’s important to ensure that I don’t “hardwire” my brain to go down that negative route, it is vital that I teach my children to break that cycle, as well. I want to acknowledge their disappointment, but I also want them to understand that that disappointment doesn’t have to rule their day or mindset. The ideas above have often helped me to break that cycle, once they’ve calmed down and their brains are receptive to it. These values will then go a long way towards teaching them how to handle frustrations in a healthy manner as they get older.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Calm: The Meditation App

I absolutely love the Calm app, and I am not getting paid to write about it — the makers have no idea that I’m writing this! I have recommended it to my students at Indiana Wesleyan University, and basically anyone who will listen to me. Haha! I love it.

As I have blogged before, I try to practice meditation / mindfulness several times per week. Not only do I find it relaxing, it gives me a chance to change my thought patterns, put some space between my mind and the outside world, and allows my body to reset. I find it easier to maintain some inner peace, to relax and soften my muscles at will, and to fall sleep. I can recharge and continue on with my busy day.

I love several things about the Calm app. The app uses meditation to help with several aspects of life that can cause anxiety and stress. There is really something for everyone. In each of the different sections within the app, the speaker helps to deconstruct what causes each specific source of anxiety, from performance anxiety, to reactivity and even flight anxiety. There is even an entire section devoted to kids! There are stress management tools and self care, all using meditation. The best part about this, for me, is that the speaker is in control of walking you through your 15 minutes of meditation. This relieves the burden of doing it yourself, freeing your mind to fully relax, thus deepening the meditation experience. As a result of working through this app over the course of the last several weeks, I have improved my meditation experience — I almost feel as if I am in a trance in most cases. It has really has improved most aspects of my life.

The only downside to the app is the cost. The Premium edition is $70 every year (I would consider a one-time fee, but $70/year feels like a lot for me right now). You can get a lot out of just using the free version, and I still absolutely recommend it. I have gotten so much out of it! I’m definitely going to keep using it. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Posted in Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

My 4 Steps to Achieving a Healthy Work / Life Balance

Life can come at us like a fastball, and from all different directions, too, especially when trying to juggle being a working parent. In my case, I am a musician, a mother of three children, and a wife, not to mention all of the responsibilities that come with those roles. We love every aspect of our lives, and being high-achieving, active working parents, we want to be able to do it all! But how do we juggle or balance this thing called life? Achieving a healthy work / life balance requires us to set reasonable goals, take care of ourselves, and nourish our personal relationships while we advance our careers. Here are the 4 ways I achieve a sense of balance.

1.Prioritize projects. One way to create work / life balance is to prioritize activities or projects, and set long- and short-term goals. You may have 20 different projects going on at the same time. Remember, they don’t all have to be completed immediately. Prioritize your projects. Some projects need to take a backseat and wait for a little bit. That’s OK! You’ll get to it when the time is right. Long-term goals or larger projects can be completed when you get big enough gaps in your schedule. For your short-term or smaller-sized goals, try to get the quickest or easiest jobs done during the week as much as possible. Don’t let them sit! The more you can keep up with the day-to-day bits the less stressed you will feel and the more time you will have in the end. As an example of how I help myself manage my projects, I use a small whiteboard in my kitchen to set a daily schedule for the smaller daily or weekly jobs, and on my monthly wall calendar I track when I may have time to work on my larger projects.

2. Set aside some “me time.” Making time to devote to just you is a another great step towards achieving a sense of balance. This can be difficult at times, but it’s so important and worth it! I notice a huge difference in my energy and concentration level when I find even just 10 minutes to meditate, or practice mindfulness. I also dedicate 15-20 minutes most mornings to working out or to go for a run. These practices significantly elevate my performing ability. Workouts give me energy, stamina, and strength, and meditation allows me to keep my head clear during performances and to stay relaxed during the day. Another special “me time” is heading to the Farmer’s Market most Saturdays. There are several enjoyable activities out there for your special “me time.” Think about what the most relaxing or fun way would be to spend part of a Saturday morning that’s just for you, and make it a ritual that you really look forward to each week!

3. Maintain your relationships. The one aspect of a working parent’s life that is very easy to crumble, if not well supported and maintained in a healthy way, is relationships. Continue to date your spouse or significant other, and spend time with your friends. Some couples find it best to set aside one time each week or every other week as a guaranteed date day or date night. You can even mark it in your calendar like an important appointment that you can’t miss. Whether it is a long walk on a trail or the river-walk downtown, having game night with our close friends, a relaxed dinner nearby, or a movie, as long as you can get a few hours to yourselves, it counts, and it makes a positive difference towards the relationship! This can require thinking ahead and having babysitters and even back-up babysitters lined up. Communication is also a big part of cultivating and nourishing any relationship. When things are going well, talk about it! When things are not going so well, talk about that, too. It is healthier to get your feelings, thoughts, and emotions out in the open. Socialization, dating, and communication are easy to overlook, but it is an essential part of the work/life balance. Make sure you are working it into your busy schedule from time to time!

4. Play with your children. Finally, spend quality time with your children every day. Play with them, help them with homework, read to them, and talk with them. They need to know that they are important in your life, too. It’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in your day, but by giving them your undivided attention every day, you can avoid many behavioral problems that can arise from them craving your attention. Depending on the age and temperament of the children, even 10 minutes of fun here, and another 10 minutes there can go a long way toward helping them feel secure and appreciated. Also, give yourselves a fun weekend. Being a big part of their lives enriches your relationship with them and nourishes your own sense of fulfillment.

Preserving a good work/life balance is crucial to keeping us healthy and at our peak mentally and physically. It’s easy to let ourselves fall into a workaholic rut while other important aspects of our lives fall by the wayside. With just a little adjustment to our schedules like the ones above, however, we can sustain all facets of our busy life, giving it a more structured, flourishing, and harmonious feel. Ask yourself if you can delegate any of your responsibilities, if there is a way of making one part of your day run more efficiently, if you can hire household help, or maybe you can train yourself to wake up just 20 minutes earlier for that workout. Find what works with your own life structure, and stick to it! We are creative, imaginative people with a lot to juggle. We can apply this ingenuity to balancing our work with our busy lives, and live the enriching life we crave!

(Disclaimer: A version of this article has been submitted to Ezine articles, and another version appeared in the Chicago Flute Club’s Pipeline newsletter in the summer of 2018)

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Have Beaten the Insomnia Demon

I have suffered from poor sleep for years. Long gone are the days of a blissful 8-9 hours of sleep. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Ever. Prolonged insomnia can lead to so many health issues down the road, and it absolutely wrecks you mentally in the short-term. If you’ve ever gone even a few days of not having good sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s horrible.

My sleep problems started just before I moved to the UK for grad school. Yep, stress. Stress of getting my visa approved, stress of moving internationally, stress of being surrounded by some of the best flute students anywhere. Then, of course, there was the pressure once school started. So. Much. Stress. I think I averaged 1-3 hours of sleep total each night my first term, and I was able to up it to about 5-6 hours by my third term. I was so grateful! By the time I graduated and moved back to the States, I was sleeping better until I started having children. The cycle began again. Now, with changing hormones, it’s only getting worse! Enter another bad cycle of poor sleep. Over time, and working with my doctor, I learned some tricks to help. It’s still not perfect every single night, but I am sleeping so much better than I have in years. I’ve even managed to sleep through storms. That’s new! Now, even when I go to bed with my mind racing, I can still get to sleep. I want to share these with you, because, like I said, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this, ever. (Sorry, fellow mommas, but these methods work best when you’ve not had that glass of wine.)

1. Melatonin. First of all, ask your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplements, but I use 5mg of melatonin to help me reset my circadian rhythm. We think between grad school and waking babies, it just got out of whack. I only used it once I was finished with my pregnancies and breastfeeding. Start small, like a 3mg dose if you’ve never used it before. Again, see your health care provider first!

2. Use a weighted blanket, a heavy, large DIY rice pack that you can heat up, or anything with weight. The extra weight that you put on your body helps you to feel more secure. I absolutely cannot sleep without something extra across my chest. When it is the summer, and it’s hot out, maybe I’ll just use a pillow to hug, but having the extra weight has worked very well for me. My sister-in-law let me borrow her heated rice pack when we were staying the night at her house, and it worked brilliantly!

3. Write down your worries. If you are laying down for the night and you find yourself starting to worry about anything and everything, get right back up and write them out immediately. Usually you’ll find that either the problems don’t seem so huge when you look at them on paper, or you’ll realize that you can’t actually deal with them that second, but you can easily get to them the next day. I have found that this helps me to relax because I know I have a list of tasks to tackle, and I won’t forget about them.

4. White noise. I know that they say to have a completely silent room, but that actually doesn’t work well for me. It unnerves me to have complete silence, allowing you to hear every creak and pop your house or apartment makes. Maybe I’m odd? I think what happened was learning to fall asleep with my baby’s sleep sheep over the years, and now I have to have some noise. In any case, we have a small fan that we turn on every evening. It helps to keep the air moving, which is so nice, and it gives me the white noise I feel like I need. The other advantage to white noise is that it can give you something else to focus on as you fall asleep, instead of your racing thoughts.

5. Mindfulness and imagery. I use a few techniques here. One is to breathe in slowly while thinking of the word “in” and breathe out slowly while thinking of the word “out”. This worked for me for a long time. When I begin meditating, I’ll often use this to help me get fully relaxed. Another technique that I learned from a friend is to start at your toes and imagine that you are slowly filling up your body with sand. This has been working extremely well lately. I don’t even get past my ankles before I’m out! I imagine that my feet are hollow, and the sparkling sand is very slowly falling from my toes to my heels, filling up my feet. Once your feet are full, move up your leg, allowing your leg to feel quite heavy. I love this trick!

If you are suffering from poor sleep or full-blown insomnia, please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot! So many of us have been there, and we all wish you the best sleep. There are loads of ideas that might work for you. I also highly recommend seeing your health care provider, too. Sleep is crucial to a healthy life and for being at your best when you are caring for your children or at your job. Do try the above methods and see which work best for you. I use all of them every night, because I absolutely have to. Sweet dreams!