“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

Mindfulness has its origins in Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism, but the Western world has adapted it for use in more secular settings (Nagy & Baer, 2017). Mindfulness can be defined as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement” (Davis & Hayes, 2011) or be considered “a universal human capacity proposed to foster clear thinking and open-heartedness” (Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn, 2008). The original role of mindfulness, from its Buddhist origins, was to nurture compassion and relieve suffering.

There have been numerous studies on meditation and mindfulness on a range of well-being outcomes.

Davis & Hayes (2011) conducted a review of psychology-related research into the benefits of mindfulness, acknowledging its similarities to other psychotherapy-related constructs. Mindfulness is similar to mentalisation, that is, the ability to understand oneself and others in terms of their needs, reasons, thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires (Allen & Fonagy, 2006); mindfulness may even enable to process of mentalisation to occur (Wallin, 2007). Finally, Siegel (2009) has proposed a neurological basis for the link between insight and mindfulness. Davis & Hayes (2011) identified a number of affective benefits including emotion regulation, interpersonal benefits and other intrapersonal benefits, including enhancing functions associated with the brain’s pre-frontal lobe.

Kabat-Zinn (1982) reported decreased pain in patients with chronic pain after participating in mindfulness-based stress reduction. Similarly, Speca, Carlson, Goodey, & Angen (2000) reported a reduction in Total Mood Disturbance and Symptoms of Stress in cancer patients who participated in a mindfulness meditation-based stress-reduction program. The existing research seems to indicate mindfulness as being beneficial not only to a general sense of wellbeing, but of possible benefit in medical and clinical contexts.

The studies shown above seem to indicate a a range of positive results from practising mindfulness; but just how do you practise it?

Meditation

One of the most common ways to practise mindfulness is meditation. If you’re just starting out, there are apps and YouTube videos to assist you with guided meditation.

Personally, I aim to engage in meditation and mindfulness when I first wake up, and just before I get to bed. The process is very similar.

Straight after waking up, I find somewhere quiet to sit down. Legs crossed, arms relaxed, with hands resting on my legs. Personally, I don’t do the thumb-and-finger in a circle thing, but if it works for you, go for it.
Start by closing your eyes, and concentrating on breathing. I can usually get my breathing down to three inhale-exhale cycles in a minute. Don’t try to “stop thinking”, or “quiet your mind.” The more you try, the more you’ll start thinking about what you’re thinking. Just keep breathing, recognise the fact that you are thinking, then go back to concentrating on your breathing. Concentrate on the sensations of your breathing
The amount of time you spend doesn’t matter so much as the frequency with which you do it. Just like resistance training, four one-hour sessions a week is better than one four hour session.

When it comes to bed time, the set up is similar, except I’m laying down. Legs and arms relaxed, palms facing upwards. Eyes closed, with slow, controlled breathing. Because I want this to assist me with getting to sleep, I concentrate more on my body than I did during the morning’s session. Starting with my left arm, I slowly flex, then relax the muscles, concentrating on the sensation of the muscles relaxing. I move down to my left leg, from the quad, down the the calf. I move on to the right leg, then right arm, then my core. After relaxing the body, I stick with the breathing until I fall asleep.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ― Albert Einstein

I’ve mentioned before my diagnosis of depression, and that two of my three children have their own struggles with mental health conditions. This was my inspiration to read as much as I could about Depression, Anxiety, Autism, and anything else I thought would give me insight into what my children and I were going through.
Mental illness is the subject of much research and discussion, in the criminal, political, medical and social arenas. Nearly every person will at some stage feel sad, some have and will claim to have been abducted by aliens, and as stated in a 2007 study by Rossler et al, 18% of surveyed Swiss adults claim to have had thoughts that “weren’t their own.”

This raises the question; Where is the line between normal and abnormal? Where is the delineation between criminal and eccentric behaviour, or mental illness?

The three criteria used to assess whether a person’s behaviour is considered abnormal are known as the three D’s.

  • Deviance: Behaviour, thoughts or actions that could be considered to diverge from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behaviour. According to this criterium, people can be described as abnormal if their actions or behaviours can be considered unusual, or disturbing enough, to violate social norms.
    Statistical infrequency, or things which could be considered rare or unusual, deviating from what is considered normal, could also be considered as deviance. This in isolation is a poor criterium, as it would also include statistically rare qualities, such as creative genius, or world-class athletic ability, as deviating from the norm.
    Another thing to be considered is that societal norms vary across cultures, and sometimes sub-cultures, and even between eras within these cultures. What is considered abnormal in one part of the world, might be perfectly acceptable in another.
  • Distress: also considered as personal suffering. Distress, despite being the criterium that people most often use to decide their problems are serious enough to require treatment, is in and of itself not sufficient to be considered abnormal. For example, some people may not experience distress as a result of their psychological disorder, if the disorder has impaired their ability to recognise how maladaptive their behaviour is.
  • Dysfunction: or impaired functioning. This criterium involves having difficulty in fulfilling expected and appropriate family, social and work-related situations. Everyone gets sad sometimes; it is when their sadness begins to impact on caring for their children, or holding down a job, that it begins to be seen as abnormal. Again, in and of itself, dysfunction is not sufficient for a person to be considered abnormal; dysfunction can be caused by something other than a psychological condition, and some people with psychological conditions can still function reasonably well at school, work or home.

At my worst, I ticked all three of those criteria. I was displaying deviant behaviour, I was certainly suffering from personal distress, and I was having impaired functioning in home, social and work environments.

In February 2017, I posted these memes to a social media account:

It appears someone was concerned enough to send some mutual acquaintances around to check on me, and I ended up being taken to Royal Perth Hospital, then transferred to a mental health ward at Bentley Hospital. I spent two weeks there.

I mentioned before that the medication that I was prescribed was not working for me. That’s not to say that medication won’t work for you. Medication can be extremely useful, and in some cases an absolute requirement to getting back to normal.

One of the orderlies at the hospital recommended I look into cognitive-based therapy (CBT). Mindfulness turned out to be a huge stepping-stone to walking my way back to normal.

My next post will discuss CBT, especially mindfulness, and the techniques I used.

Thanks again for reading.

Rosseler, W., Reicher-Rossler, A., Angst, J., Murray, R. et al (2007). Psychotic experiences in the general population. A twenty-year prospective community study. Schizophrenia Research, 92, 1-14

“A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.” – Lao Tzu

Bluff Knoll

I’ve put a lot of time and thought into what my first post on this blog should be. Obviously the holistic approach to health implies that there is a lot of material to cover; where to start?
My approach to holistic health is based upon what I like to call the Stool Theory.

Imagine you’re sitting on this stool. Each of the legs of the stool represents a component of your life.
One leg represents your physical health.
Another represents your mental health.
The third represents your family and social connections.
The final leg represents employment, or volunteering, or other meaningful societal contribution.
Now, if one of those legs is damaged, or even worse, missing completely, your sitting position gets a little precarious, but you can shift your weight about so that you can compensate.
If another starts to wear away, then you start to get a little off-balance. By the time that second disappears, there’s a strong possibility you’re going to topple over.

Prevention has most-often proven to be better than cure. Like servicing your car, or doing little repairs or maintenance around the house, doing little things to maintain your stool legs will ensure a well-balanced, and hopefully happy, life.

This holistic view to health is the inspiration for the name of this blog. To be truthful, you won’t find too many actual hacks. These tips will all have some basis in fact and science, and very rarely involve any short-cuts. I added the term “hack” in because it’s a bit of a buzz-word and it adds a nice little bit of alliteration to the title.

Thanks for reading, and I really do hope someone out there is going to make use of these tips. I know what it’s like to feel like you’ve hit rock-bottom, and my sincerest wish is to help as many people as I can from falling to those depths.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.