Tag Archives: Counseling Connoisseur

The Counseling Connoisseur: Pet loss: Lessons in grief

By Cheryl Fisher April 11, 2017

 

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

 

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On Jan. 22, following a three-week whirlwind diagnosis and decline, my husband and I said goodbye to our 6.5-year-old goldendoodle, Lily. Her disease had rendered this Frisbee-catching superstar unable to stand or walk. She needed to be carried outdoors to “get busy,” and she no longer had the stamina to stay awake for extended periods of time.

The author, Cheryl Fisher, with her dogs Max and Lily.

We spent the entire last weekend with Lily in the emergency room as she struggled against various gastrointestinal issues and, finally, internal bleeding. Her vet and neurologist felt that the disease had progressed and her prognosis was bleak. It was then that we made the most difficult decision we have ever made — to let her go. We took time lying with her, holding her, reminiscing … and stayed with her until her last heartbeat.

On the first day without our Lily, I kept tripping over my grief as I called out to see if she needed to go outside or wanted to lie by the window and watch “her birds.” Max, our 9-year-old goldendoodle, moped around the house, trying to sniff Lily out without success. He looked at me as if begging, “Bring her back, OK?” I canceled my clients for the day. I couldn’t imagine sitting with their pain as my pain continued streaming from my eyes.

I found myself returning to the little Catholic girl inside of me and lighting a candle next to a picture of our Lily that I had placed on the fireplace mantle. I wrote, announcing our loss to all 210 close friends on social media. I started a scrapbook and printed pictures long held captive in my iPhone. I cried continuously, as if the floodgates had been lifted and years and layers of grief came pouring out. All the losses in my life appeared to be resurrected with Lily’s death. My heart ached and my stomach hurt.

My attempts to prep for my classes that week proved futile. I just couldn’t concentrate. I kept reading the same sentence over and over again. Mostly I was just tired. Tired from three weeks of relentless caregiving, painstakingly attempting to keep the horrific disease at bay — the disease that stripped my beautiful bird-watching, tail-wagging, never-had-a-bad-day rescue pup of her mobility, energy and dignity. In the end those soulful eyes would beg me to end her suffering, and in keeping the promise I had made to her, I mercifully did, holding her till the end.

 

Tips for coping with the loss of a pet

Experiencing the death of a pet can be painful and devastating. Our pets are often our most vulnerable family members, relying on us completely for their care. This includes end-of-life care, which may involve making very difficult decisions about treatment and finally letting go. This adds complexity to grief because we may struggle with questions surrounding the decision to stop treatment and euthanize: Did I do enough? When is it time to let go?

1) Grief comes in waves. Initially the waves may be intense and relentless, pummeling us to the ground. We may feel that we will never breath (or stop crying) again. But with time and some work, the waves gradually recede, allowing us to stand and take tentative strides toward a “new normal.” Still, the waves will come and go, often crashing near a special day or at a moment when our dear fur-family member comes to mind.

2) Grief is brain work. Grief affects our neurology. It makes it difficult to concentrate. We forget things. We are easily irritated. We definitely are not on our A game. We may even feel like we are in a dream (or nightmare). Neurologically, we have taken a hit and require time to recover. Don’t worry. The grief fog will lift eventually. In the meantime, be gentle and kind with yourself.

3) Grief is an ever-changing chameleon. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified stages of grief related to dying that can also be applied to our experiences of grief and loss. These stages are no longer thought to happen in a linear manner. Rather, they are common experiences that can occur moment to moment as the result of grief.

Anger: Initially, I felt anger at the sudden deterioration of Lily. She had been running and playing catch just days before her back legs began to buckle under her body. Following an MRI and spinal taps, she was placed on a steroid treatment that quickly led to weight loss and gastric-intestinal discomfort. I was angry at the doctor. I was angry at the disease. I was angry at God.

Guilt: Although I knew I had responded quickly to Lily’s symptoms, I was plagued with self-doubt around the decision to use steroid treatment. Should we have gotten a second opinion? Should we have taken her to a holistic veterinarian? Ultimately, I ruminated over our decision to stop all care and put her to sleep. Was there more that we could have done? It was profoundly clear that the disease had progressed and Lily’s quality of life had suffered drastically, but I still experienced pangs of guilt.

Denial: The first few days were the most grueling. Walking in a daze, I still held some hope that this was all just a nightmare, and as I tripped over Lily’s misplaced toy, I would awaken to find both of our dogs curled at the foot of the bed.

Sadness: It is immensely sad to lose a love one — even a curly headed, wet-nosed, tail-wagging one. I am free with my tears in general, so I just let the emotions stream down my cheeks. Sadness, like grief, looks different for each individual. I am an emotional griever. I emote. My husband is an instrumental griever. He does research on the internet to seek answers. He walks our dog, schedules doggie play dates and arranges activities to help our other dog, Max, with his grief.

Acceptance: Ultimately, the hope is that there will be a sense of peace and understanding at some point and time. This may be experienced in fleeting moments rather than in an arrival at a destination, however.

4) Grief is individual. For me, Lily’s death overshadowed any other event occurring in the world. My Lily had died. Nothing else mattered to me. I crafted my coping strategy selfishly without concern for the feelings or needs of anyone else, including my husband, who had experienced the same loss.

It quickly became apparent that my grieving was more expressive and ritualistic. I made a scrapbook, displayed sympathy cards on the mantle with Lily’s urn, wrote blogs and lit candles in memory of our little rescue. My husband’s grief was more privately experienced, with an occasional shared story and shed tear. It was important not to trip over each other’s grief experience.

5) Grief grows out of a relationship. Some people (and even some therapists) may dismiss the death of a pet as a lesser loss. However, as with any relationship, it is important to understand the meaning ascribed to this relationship. Often a pet serves as a companion who provides unconditional love and affection. Many clients have told me stories of the richness and depth that surrounded their interactions with their pets. For me, Lily was the piece that completed our family puzzle.

 

Conclusion

The death of a pet can be such a huge loss. These fur-family members may serve as faithful friends and playmates, enriching our lives with their magnificent and comical personalities. It is important to honor their story as it intertwines with our own narrative.

I still tear up every time I hear Eva Cassidy’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I imagine my curly white bundle of pure love bounding across a green field to greet me … just around the Rainbow Bridge.

 

 

 

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Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practicesthat speaks to nature-based wisdom. Contact her at cyfisherphd@gmail.com.

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

Counseling Connoisseur: What Would Yalom Do? A Tribute

By Cheryl Fisher March 10, 2017

 

Editor’s note: CT Online columnist Cheryl Fisher writes this appreciation of Irvin Yalom in anticipation of his keynote address at ACA’s upcoming 2017 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Find out more at counseling.org/conference/sanfransisco2017.

 

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“What I want is to be intimate with the knowledge that life is temporary. And then, in the light (or shadow) of that knowledge, to know how to live. How to live now.”

― Irvin Yalom, Creatures of a Day: And Other Tales of Psychotherapy

 

I have a passion for books. You know, the old-fashioned paper kind. The kind that are transforming, as they [themselves] are transformed by every crinkled, coffee-stained page and dog-eared corner with smudges of comments penciled in the margin. The kind that, once read, become a part of one’s being. I love books so much that this past summer, I had beautiful built-in bookshelves installed in my home, along with a window seat where I fancied myself enjoying my literary mecca. I have shelves devoted to theologians, philosophers, feminist scholars and mental and holistic health experts ― with a smattering of best-selling novels and summer romance paperbacks.

As I reflect on the insights penned on the pages of the many volumes now perched on my bookshelves, my attention turns to the vast wisdom found in the works of Irvin Yalom. His work, spanning decades, contributes to the counseling profession in ways that transformed psychotherapy from science to art. In The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients, Yalom invites the clinician to not only invest in, but therapeutically utilize, the client-counselor relationship that presents in each session. Through a series of vignettes, Love’s Executioner provides examples of the tender and complex tapestry of human experience that occurs between the therapist and client: “A therapist helps a patient not by sifting through the past but by being lovingly present with that person; by being trustworthy, interested, and by believing that their joint activity will ultimately be redemptive and healing.”

In Momma and the Meaning of Life, Yalom graciously offers his experience in grappling with his relationship with his own mother (“who had a poisonous tongue”) years after her death. He further examines grief therapy intimately by exploring the many facets of loss and death. He continues his exploration of death anxiety in Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, where he posits, “It’s not easy to live every moment wholly aware of death. It’s like trying to stare the sun in the face; you can stand only so much of it.” He returns to the topic of death anxiety as he explores his own mortality in his more recent release, Creatures of a Day and Other Tales of Psychotherapy.

In his fictional teaching novels — The Schopenhauer Cure, The Spinoza Problem, Lying on the Couch and, my personal favorite, When Nietzsche Wept — Yalom plucks key philosophers and physicians from history and transplants them into a terrace of tales that not only explore the complexity of human behavior and mental processes, but dare to venture into the minds of those who struggle to understand it.

Yalom’s words and transparency have informed my own practice and guided me to discover my ultimate message as a counselor educator: “Illuminate the shadow and embrace your humanity so that you may fully consummate your life. For we are people, not pathologies seeking to connect to oneself, others and the Sacred.”

 

In tribute to this great clinician, author and educator, I offer online readers the article I wrote as a final letter to my graduating counseling students, titled What Would Yalom Do? Ten Nuggets of Wisdom for Counselors Old and New.

 

 

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Cheryl Fisher

 

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practices that speaks to nature-based wisdom. Contact her at cyfisherphd@gmail.com.

 

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Dr. Irvin Yalom will speak Friday, March 17 at the 2017 ACA Conference & Expo in San Francisco and will sign books afterward. His keynote will also be live-streamed online. Find out more at counseling.org/conference/sanfrancisco2017

 

Find out more about his work and books at yalom.com

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

The Counseling Connoisseur: Winter wonderland: Lessons in patience and perspective

By Cheryl Fisher January 30, 2017

I listen to the howling of the wind as it whips the snowdrifts about our modest rambler. Branches dangle from their fragile joints, and birds huddle beneath boxwoods and holly. The birdseed scattered just moments earlier is now covered with a new layer of snow. In the warm glow of our fire, the scent of tomato, garlic and onion from the bubbling pot of chili drifts throughout our home. The dogs lie at our feet gnawing on their bones, and we huddle in the family room, surfing through Netflix … as we brace for the storm.

Just days before, we were collecting supplies to ready for the blizzard. Flashlights were recharged, shovels and ecofriendly salt positioned by the doors, fresh treats and toys gathered to entertain our dogs, ingredients for soups and stews and favorite comfort foods purchased and stored. Cars fully gassed and parked, we were ready … almost delighting in the idea of a weekend of snowshoeing, book reading, movie watching and family time.

The first 24 hours were beautiful to witness as the white blanket began to cover the brown and drab of January. The contrast of cardinals on snowy limbs resembled holiday greeting cards, now discarded for the season. Social media ignited with pictures of snowy backyards and decks, while friends and family in more temperate climates were not denied their contribution of palm trees and sunny skies.

“Wish you were here!” read the captioned picture of a friend lying on the beach with a fruity umbrella drink.

“Right back atcha!” replied another as she sat in her steaming hot tub, snow falling all around, enjoying aged brandy.

There was a time I would have joined the ranks of “winter haters.” I had been in the tropics in my early teen years, and seeing Santa in anything other than Bermuda shorts just seemed wrong! Winter in Maryland was cold — and boring. So I grumbled and grunted the months away, counting the days to spring.

Then, somewhere along the way, I realized that I was complaining for a full quarter of my life, wishing the months would vaporize into warmer days. I was missing out on opportunities to witness beauty and joy that could be experienced even on snowy, bleak winter days. So, I decided to learn to love winter.

 

Perspective

Viktor Frankl, in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, suggested that the one thing that can never be taken from a person is her perspective of her situation. Therefore, according to Frankl, we have the opportunity to view any circumstance in a beneficial — even transcendent — manner. It is with this intention that I offer to you a few of the tricks that helped me transcend my wintertime bah-humbug blues:

1) Enjoy comfort foods. What are your favorite cold-weather foods? Let’s face it … soups and stews, ciders and hot cocoa (aged scotch or brandy, for that matter) just taste better when it’s cold outside. I could appreciate winter food and drink with little effort.

2) Get involved in winter sports. I made a list of activities that could be experienced only in snowy weather. This list included ice skating, snow skiing, snow tubing, snowshoeing, and making snow people and snow angels. As I’ve mentioned, my childhood did not include weekends at the slopes, so I invested in lessons. I learned to ice skate at a local arena and took ski lessons any chance I could get. Although I never acquired a passion for either, I found that I really loved sitting by the warm fire in the ski lodge with a hot beverage in my hand and enjoyed the glow that physical fatigue offers after a day on the slopes or ice.

I also discovered that I loved snow tubing. After all, if you are going to end up on your bum … why not begin there? I later obtained snowshoes and now thoroughly enjoy romping in freshly fallen mounds on a quiet evening. If you are more of a spectator of sports, remember there is always the Super Bowl, March Madness and the Winter Olympics (every four years).

3) Dress appropriately. Winter is cold, and I learned quickly that my jeans and bubble jacket didn’t offer enough warmth as part of my new quest to appreciate winter. So, I invested in the real deal — insulated, wicking pants and jacket, along with matching headwear and gloves. What a difference appropriate winter clothing makes. Trust me!

4) Huddle in community. I live in the best neighborhood ever. In addition to keeping an active email blitz going to check on our aging neighbors and helping out with an occasional malfunctioning heater, we arranged a snowperson contest followed by a potluck feast. It is such fun mounding snow with intention and in community. Laughter and silliness permeated the wet gathering. Then we peeled off our snowy gear, warmed ourselves by a fire and enjoyed a table spread with each neighbor’s favorite idea of comfort food. Yum!

5) Relish the silence. I am inherently an introvert. Although I thoroughly enjoy my practice as a counselor and my academic career as a counselor educator, I recognize my need for quiet. I always have a book or two (or three) on my nightstand waiting for me to openly indulge in literary wisdom or adventure. Snowy, wintry days are perfect for lounging in your favorite snuggle-wear and reading away the hours guilt-free.

6) Appreciate the beauty. It is no secret that I swoon to the beauty of nature regardless of season. The birds feast at the feeders on suet and seed. The squirrels run along the branches, dodging snowdrifts that randomly plop down from the tree limbs. The red berries come to life against the green holly bushes, framed by winter’s white. If you are fortunate to live near a forest, you may spy a family of deer out for a moonlit walk. Winter offers a variety of natural beauty that is unique to the season … if only we open our eyes.

7) Realize that it is temporary. For those who, after exhausting all possible avenues to appreciate the winter months, still crave the warmer weather, I remind you … it is a mere few months that will be over before you can say “Easter Bunny” (especially if the occasional tropical vacation is sprinkled in).

Yes, winter is all about perspective and (for some of us) patience.

 

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Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practices that speaks to nature-based wisdom. Contact her at cyfisherphd@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

The Counseling Connoisseur: Enjoying the holidays by letting go of expectations

By Cheryl Fisher December 21, 2016

“Peace begins when expectation ends.” — Sri Chinmoy

 

My family recently celebrated several milestones of honor. Turning 16 and now boasting a driver’s license, my nephew has intensified his campaign to own that ever-elusive Mustang. Meanwhile, his parents celebrated their 50th birthdays. The grandest of celebrations, however, honored my parents, who both turned 80 this year.

This special event warranted all the hoopla we could muster. We reserved my parents’ favorite restaurant, which has played host to their Saturday date nights for more than 30 years. We ordered a three-tiered cake that was glazed in teal and decorated in white-and-black lattice and beads. Cherries jubilee, my father’s favorite dessert, was assembled to accompany the cake.

Furthermore, decorations, flowers and unique trinkets were crafted and arranged to create a special tribute to family members. We compiled a soundtrack, with a conglomerate of music specially selected to appeal to each of the honorees. We hired a photographer to document this precious event. The drinks were poured. The food was delectable. Everything was perfect.

Except … the music wouldn’t play because there was no access to Wi-Fi … and the cake leaned like the Tower of Pisa as it settled on the stand … and the toast I had spent hours preparing didn’t come out quite as eloquently as rehearsed. Even the cherries jubilee failed to ignite, requiring the dousing — OK, the dumping — of more brandy than should ever be used in any dessert.

It was a circus of mishaps. Nothing turned out as planned. But once we were able to lean into the moment and dispel our illusions of control and perfection, we engaged in merry-making and memory-making that will last a lifetime.

 

Five tips for enjoying the holidays

‘Tis the season for gatherings filled with song, culinary bliss, gifts and expectations. Invariably, it is the stress generated from these expectations that diminishes the magic that can be found among family, friends and festivities. Rather than succumb to the tyranny of expectations, here are five liberating suggestions for the holidays:

1) Focus on the moment. Often we impose expectations around time. We either have the perception of too much or, more commonly, too little time. However, time is, according to Einstein, an illusion.

Therefore, spending precious time in the past or the future can be futile. Focus on the moment at hand. What is it that you want to remember about this moment? Is it the perfectly crafted table setting and trimmed tree … or is it the communion of family? Finally, find ways to simplify your schedule. Prioritize activities and give attention only to those that are meaningful to you.

2) Set boundaries, and don’t take it personally. Setting boundaries is probably the most powerful tool you have for protecting against the stress that is sometime generated by family and friends. Be clear and assertive. If you are unable to host an event, then (practice with me) just say, “NO.”

No is a complete sentence and really does not require an explanation. If you feel compelled to provide an explanation, then do so … but do not personalize any response you may receive. Everyone is entitled to her or his reaction; however, we do not need to take that reaction on. If Aunt Susan always criticizes your sweet potato casserole (regardless of how much you modify it to her specifications), then let it go. This is not about your casserole. Aunt Susan simply benefits from the illusion of control she exerts when she criticizes. It is her baggage — you don’t need to carry it.

3) Think in possibilities rather than expectations. Unlike expectations, which often hold assumptions from past experience and promote rigid thinking, possibilities are based in the mystery of the moment. All things are possible in any given moment. It is possible Uncle Tommy won’t have too much eggnog and need a ride home. It is possible that the cousins won’t engage in a passionate dispute over political views this year. Possibilities allow room for change.

4) Embrace the mishaps. If we must carry expectations at all, then expect that mishaps will occur. Stuff happens. Presents don’t arrive on time. Dinners don’t look like their airbrushed pictures in the magazines. People … well, people can be temperamental. Yet it is often the mishaps that generate the charming memories that we hold so dear.

5) Remember that it is temporary. In the midst of the hustle and bustle and family dynamics, remember that it is all temporary. All of it. The holiday. The time together. The busyness that we impose on ourselves and each other. It is simply a flash, and then it is over. All that remains are the memories we have chosen to create. Therefore, craft wisely.

 

Conclusion

The pictures from my parents’ celebration arrived recently — 335 snapshots that captured moments from this monumental family event. Each print portrayed a perfect interaction of smiles and hugs. Beautifully set tables, the cake perfectly straight and tall, the cherries jubilee aflame.

Yet behind each perfect pose and print resided another story … a narrative flawed by imperfections. A narrative that fades into our family history of “mostly happily ever after.”

From my family to yours … Peace and Happy Holidays!

 

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Cheryl Fisher

 

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the pastoral counseling program at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research is titled “Sex, Spirituality and Stage III Breast Cancer.” She is also writing a book, Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practices, that speaks to nature-informed wisdom. Contact her at cy.fisher@verizon.net.

 

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

 

 

The Counseling Connoisseur: Mini-mindfulness moments

By Cheryl Fisher November 17, 2016

I wake up in the early morning to the sound of birds chirping delightfully outside my window. I quietly make my way to my yoga room, where the gentle flow of the tabletop waterfall cascades rhythmically, inviting me to my morning meditation. I inhale deeply, letting the stream of thoughts flowing in my mind pass gracefully in and out of consciousness. I then exhale any tension or tightness my body may be holding as I sit in my deep meditation for a delicious 40 minutes.

BEEP BEEP BEEP! The sound of my alarm wakes me from my dream. I roll out of bed, grab my robe and fumble to let the dogs out, stubbing my toe along the way. Following a few expletives, I scoop the dog food into the metal bowls, toss them to the floor and make my way to the steaming shower that must quickly wash away the lingering fog from my still-sleepy brain.

I jump into my clothes, paint on some semblance of a face and pull up my hair. I grab a glass of juice, a packet of instant oatmeal and a yogurt, which will serve as my breakfast and lunch when I make it to the office. I secure the dogs and (as I exit the house) take a deep breath (holding it for the required four seconds), offer a blessing for the day on the exhale and haul it to my Jeep because I am now five minutes late for work!

Research continues to remind us of the role of mindfulness in our experience of overall wellness. Yet, a culture of “busy” permeates, sabotaging earnest attempts at a peace-filled, mindful lifestyle. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his groundbreaking book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, writes, “There is something about the cultivation of mindfulness that is healing, that is transformative and that can serve to give our lives back to us.”

A practice of mindfulness extends beyond the individual practitioner and benefits those who surround her or him. Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and author of many books, including Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness With Children, offers, “When you are solid, happy and full of photo-1478980236323-01c287f81aedcompassion, you will naturally know how to create a happy family or school environment, and how to water the positive qualities in your children, other family members, students and colleagues at work.”

Although most of us would agree that this sounds divine and long to attain a lifestyle that promotes full presence, many of us struggle with the basic logistics of beginning a mindfulness practice. To devote the suggested 40 minutes a day to meditation would require many of us to eliminate sleep. I am a huge advocate for daily meditation, but I find that a 20-minute practice following my hour at the gym is about all I can devote to it daily. However, there are numerous ways that we can create moments of mindfulness throughout our day.

1) Add intention to routine activities. Routine activities can take on contemplative practice when we set our intention on being fully present in the moment. Walking the dogs, making the bed, even emptying the dishwasher can become moments of mindfulness (if we put the distractions of our phones away). For example, a morning shower is filled with sensory experiences if we allow ourselves to be present to the sensations of the water cascading down the body. We can use that time to do a body scan and note where tension is being held, then allow the warm water to release the tightness and relax our muscles.

2) Breathe through the mundane. Traffic lights are notorious stressors. We can, however, repurpose those few minutes by taking deep breaths, setting aside our agenda for the day, turning off the radio and becoming fully present in our bodies.

3) Seek consciousness through coloring. Adult coloring books have become the latest craze because they allow the individual to focus on a single task. The activity incorporates creativity and color and allows for a few moments of relaxed consciousness. Grab a book and color during breaks at work.

4) Practice jigsaw meditation. Jigsaw puzzles are another way to promote a focused meditation. Dollar stores carry small puzzles that can be placed in break rooms at work, promoting collective consciousness with colleagues. Taking a few quiet moments to focus on this task may be just what the doctor ordered to relieve stress during the day.

5) Delve into devotion moments. Opening a book with inspirational quotes can offer moments of reflection and contemplation. My recent favorite such book, The Meaning of Life by Bradley Trevor Greive, provides brief reflections captured in combination with precious pictures of animals.

6) Make time for teatime. Taking a break for a cuppa tea has long been one of my favorite routines. Tea has been a staple in China for centuries, first being used for medicinal reasons and later for more social purposes. British afternoon tea was offered to break up the extremely long time between breakfast and the fashionably late dinner, which were the only two meals served. Still, a good cup of tea in the afternoon can provide a soothing, fragrant mini-escape from a stressful day.

7) Embrace the Zen of nature. Years ago, I purchased a mini-Zen garden, filled with sand and miniature rocks, for my office. I use a small rake and create swirls and twirls in the sand as I release the tension of the day. I know other colleagues who enjoy the art of bonsai and trim their tiny trees during breaks. Nature is a sacred space that connects with us in meaningful ways. Gardening, taking nature walks, watching a sunrise or sunset — just being present to the outdoors can significantly reduce our stress levels.

8) Blow bubbles. Bubble therapy is one of my personal favorites. It requires one to take a deep breath and skillfully exhale in a way that will not burst the bubble. After a particularly stressful day, I like to take my huge bubble bottle outside and blow to my heart’s content.

9) Make a gratitude list. Counting our blessings appears to offer not only moments of mindfulness but also a shift in brain chemistry. Taking time to reflect on that for which we are grateful can promote an immediate reduction in the experience of external stressors — and the effects can linger long after the moment has dissipated.

10) Connect with others. Animals can provide connection and comfort in the most primal way. For me, watching goldfish pop to the surface during feeding and then swim gracefully among the miniatures in the bowl is therapeutic. However, few things beat a cuddle (and a good tummy rub) with my two 65-pound dogs. We all huddle together and enjoy the connection between human and animal. Of course, although I love my canine cuddles, my ultimate is simply sitting quietly and hugging my spouse for a few moments.

Armed with a handful of ways to incorporate moments of mindfulness, take a deep breath, exhale and enjoy being present in your day.

 

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Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher

Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the pastoral counseling program at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research is titled “Sex, Spirituality and Stage III Breast Cancer.” She is also writing a book, Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practices, that speaks to nature-informed wisdom. Contact her at cy.fisher@verizon.net.

 

 

 

 

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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.