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What is Mindfulness and how it can be used to reduce Anxiety and Depression

Mindfulness has attracted a lot of attention from researchers and practitioners over the past 30 years and is the subject of a rapidly growing body of research.  Studies suggests that the practice of mindfulness is helpful in alleviating the symptoms of many problems, including generalized anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders and drug addiction, as well as improving one’s overall well-being.

So what is Mindfulness?  The word “mindfulness” may conjure up images of yogis, incense, prayer flags and Buddhist monks, but simply put it’s the practice of “nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness.”  More specifically, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgment.  You can think of it as a mental discipline that helps reduce a person’s tendency to react to one’s thought in ways that may lead to stress.

Most of our minds tend to become preoccupied with thinking about the past, planning for the future, and labeling and making judgments about our everyday experiences.  While this is a normal human tendency, our racing minds can lead us to feel mad.  I don’t know about you, but my brain seems to have a mind of its own!  When we’re mindful we can observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad giving us the space to be present in the NOW.

I try to teach the concept of mindfulness to nearly every client who comes into my office these days.  Even in small doses, mindfulness can help with mood regulation with impressive changes in how we feel and think.  We can practice mindfulness at any time during the day and we can integrate mindfulness into our daily activities (washing dishes, doing the laundry, or even on your drive to work in the morning).

While mindfulness can be done anywhere, a formal meditation is also a helpful practice even if we only have a few minutes.  Nothing complicated here, just quietly observe whatever enters your field of awareness—whether thoughts, emotions, or sensations—without emotionally reacting to or judging them.  Think of your thoughts as clouds floating by in the sky of your mind and allow the clouds (thoughts) to gently pass without reacting to them.  It will take some practice, but with time you’ll get better.  If you prefer some guidance, there are plenty of guided meditations on the Internet.  I like those found on the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center website.
For many this is a new concept, so experiment with the idea in your life and lean into it.  Mindfulness is a fundamental concept in my counseling practice, so I will post more blogs on the subject.

Scott J. Leenan, MS, LPC, CRC
Executive Director & Therapist

Is therapy an appropriate place for me to work on setting SMART goals?


People often enter counseling when something in their life has caused them some sort of discomfort. Being uncomfortable is usually tolerable for a short period of time, but it isn’t a place we want to linger for too long.  Discomfort creates a doorway for change because it forces us to find way of alleviating our discomfort that’s not always available when life is status quo.  Our personal problems can provide an excellent starting point for creating personal goals.

The idea that our destiny will find us often holds people paralyzed from taking a more deterministic stance.  During counseling, I often help people understand the necessity of goal setting by using the analogy of going on a trip without deciding on a destination first.  It sounds silly to think that any of us would take time off of work without making travel plans, booking a hotel room and browsing the internet to find attractions that seem interesting to us; however, many people take that position when it comes to many life decisions.

Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about one’s future and goals help keep us motivated and on course.  If goal setting sounds too stuffy or old school, then it might be helpful to think of goal setting as dreaming, which is nothing more than using your imagination. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I suggest considering the “big picture” and identify large-scale goals that you want to achieve.  Then, you break those larger goals into smaller targets that you must hit on the way to reaching your “big picture” goals.  Consider spending time brainstorming the various arenas in your life such as family, career, education, finances, health, spirituality and your social life. You will likely need to condense your ideas to focus on a manageable number of goals.  By knowing what you want to achieve, you know where you have to concentrate your efforts and the more quickly you can spot the distractions that may lead you off course.

If you have problems setting goals or you anticipate needing support, working with a knowledgeable therapist can be an invaluable tool.  Therapists can help draw out your personal goals by asking the “magic wand question.” The question goes roughly as follows: “If I could wave a magic wand in your life/business/career right now, what would you like to have happen?”  Asking yourself this question can serve to identify possible goals that you can work on.  Research also suggests that your chances for success increase when you make S.M.A.R.T. goals.  Your goals should be S=Specific; M=Measurable, A=Attainable; R=Realistic; and T=Timely.

Written & Published By: 
Scott J. Leenan, MS, LPC, CRC
Executive Director & Therapist

Lets get this party started

My hope and intention for this blog is to inspire my readers to live a better and more fulfilling and mindful life.  I’ll be tackling various topics including mindfulness, mental health, motivation, self-esteem, happiness, nutrition, exercise, relationships, spirituality, meditation and anything else that might help us elevate and enhance ourselves.  I couldn’t think of a better time to get started than the beginning of a new year!

The close of each year provides us an excellent vantage point to evaluate the year-gone-by and to consider the possibilities of the approaching year.  The New Year supposedly affords us hope that we might muster up enough determination to improve our lives (this time).  Despite our possible failures to finish last year’s list of resolutions, we get another opportunity and a fresh slate to start anew. 

The trouble with resolutions and the reason that so many scoff at the idea is likely because they create a gauntlet, which begets a mixture of excitement, dread and anxiety.  Most people are trying to rid their lives of anxiety, not add to it.  My challenge to you this year is to look at anxiety straight in the face.  Instead of running or allowing stress to paralyze you, I encourage you to befriend it to the extent that you don’t mind it rearing its ugly head.  2014 might be the year that you realize that anxiety is a barometer of importance.  It provides a signal that something is in need of attention!   Whatever is stressing you out simply alerts you that you need to get amped, in gear and ready to rise to the occasion.  To ignore or avoid stress is to miss the mark and 2014 is the year to walk through the fire!  You don’t have to have it entirely figured out, but you do need to get walking.

Take a look at the following link for some inspiration about starting a new habit.  My advice is to embrace anxiety, and slow and steady wins the race!

http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days.html?source=email#.UsRsFpfMeTV.email

My hope and intention for this blog is

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