Mindfulness Is More than Mumbo-Jumbo

Mindfulness matters. Many studies have demonstrated this over and over again, especially related to anxiety and depression. So, to celebrate the fact that we can use our minds to alleviate our suffering, we have gotten together to share some of our favorite mindfulness activities. You CAN use these at home!

Why we use Mindfulness:

Neurologically we know that it helps bring the parasympathetic nervous system online, which is the system that is our default, calm self. When we use mindfulness, we are able to respond to the environment and those around us with more care and kindness instead of working out of the sympathetic nervous system, which comes online when there is a perceived sense of threat. When we work out of our sympathetic nervous system, we are cranky, fearful, and often angry because we are primed for a “battle” of any sort that might be around the corner. Even people who often have a difficult time with meditation or guided imagery are able to utilize mindfulness effectively. Many people find instant relief for migraines, somatic pain, anxiety, and grounding after a tough emotional experience.

We use mindfulness to connect to our bodies and ourselves. We start to feel more relaxed and less anxiety when we do this. We use these exercises to gain insight from a “non-critical” point of view. It typically calms the pressure in the chest, the sinking in the stomach, and tension in the shoulders.

In short, it de-stresses and us. It helps us practice pointing our awareness at something else (other than what we are anxious about.)

When to use Mindfulness:

If you catch yourself having these thoughts, or noticing these things- it is a good time to try an exercise:

  1. "I'm so anxious right now."

  2. "I'm stressed out."

  3. "What the heck am I even feeling?"

  4. "Work sucks right now."

  5. "Why am so impatient?"

Another time you can use these is when you notice something is happening in your body that is uncomfortable and/or distressing.

Exercises to try at home:

#1- The Light Stream Technique

We do a slightly different version of this often in session, but there is a good recording here if you'd like to do it at home! This one especially helps if you are overwhelmed emotionally, or feeling hyperaroused, or overly anxious.

#2- Getting the Scoop

Bring attention to your body and notice the areas where you are holding tension. If you can’t pinpoint them right away, start from your feet and gradually scan your body going all the way up to your head. Start breathing slow breaths in and out, with the exhale being longer than the inhale. Imagine “scooping” out the tension from each part of your body where you are holding it or simply breathing out the tension with each exhale. Do this until you start to feel more relaxed or less anxiety.

#3- Meditation Coupled with Deep Breathing

Meditation and focusing on the breath helps to settle the mind and become more connected with soul and body. The headspace app is very helpful. There are some meditations that include walking and other movement, which can be especially helpful! It is great to practice awareness and presence as we are moving about instead of mindlessly hurrying around.

#4- Picture This

Picture you sitting outside of yourself. Observe your posture, breathing patterns, movement, facial expressions, and thoughts and feelings. As you observe, take a curious perspective. Just notice where you are at in that moment. Simply become aware of what is happening on the inside from an external and observing position.

#5- Mindfulness Through an Activity

Eating: Be mindful around an activity such as eating. Slow down, think about all the nuances of the food you're eating. Where did it come from? How it was prepared? How does it smell? What's the consistency? Identify the taste, etc.

Moving: Be mindful around a more bodily movement such as yoga. Slow down, think about all the muscles that are moving. Picture them. Notice their sensations as you do a slow roll down your body. Feel gravity pulling on you in different places.

Brushing Your Teeth: Close your eyes. Brush one tooth at a time. Envision that tooth as it is brushed from all angles.

You can do the same! Take anything you do and turn it into a mindful activity. Be creative! What do you do every day that could be a time for you to stop and be mindful?

If you would like to learn more or work with a therapist- please feel free to reach out to us.

Take Care,

The Phoenix Counseling Collective,

Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, Molly, & Brittany

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Why "Feelings" ARE Important

Here at the Phoenix Counseling Collective, we believe that emotions (what some call “feelings”) are important for a number of reasons. This post will explore the territory of what emotions are. 

Emotions are...

the language of the body.

the currency of experientially knowing and being known. 

what connect us to ourselves, other people and the world around us. 

what sets us apart from every other creature.

That is much beauty all wrapped up in the idea of emotions. Let's begin to explore these ideas together. 

Emotions are the language of the body. 

Your body has a ton of knowledge that you may not even be aware of, but you can access. Emotions are stored and felt in the bodies, often times unconsciously. The language your body often uses to let you know important information is emotions. Once we get to know this language of emotions, then we understand what our body is trying to tell us and then we can use that information to make better decisions. 

We can integrate the knowledge from our bodies with the knowledge in our heads and move forward as whole beings. 

If we didn't have emotions, then we would be missing out on an entire stream of information that is accessible to us.

Emotions are the currency of experientially knowing and being known by the world around us. 

Once we understand the language of emotions, it gives us the opportunity to know that language in another. Emotions give us the sense that we are seen, and connect us to be able to access the environment around us. They are a primary lens that we see and make sense of what is going on around us. Consequently, strong painful or joyous emotions make an imprint on our minds because they help shape our existential experience of an event. Our memory is intimately connected with the emotional sensations that we have along with it and the stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory. (However, sometimes the memory is so painful that our mind protects us by "forgetting" at a conscious level that something has happened.)

Emotions are what connect us to ourselves, other people and the world around us. 

Because emotions are naturally short term and vary throughout the day, when we are tuned into our emotional responses we begin to see how moment to moment experiences influence us. This provides us greater insight into our values, motivations, and worldview. Additionally, because we do not live within a vacuum our perception of events are largely impacted by our history. By having the opportunity to notice our emotional experiences we begin to recognize the why behind the way are behaving or responding to various stimulus. Often times it points to another time in our life that we have felt similar. Emotions have context within not only our current situation, but also our individual stories. For example, how we feel about sadness has to do with how we learned (or didn't learn) to name sadness. And what we do with the sadness is based on what we did with sadness when we were 6 months and 4 years old and 16 years old. All these ways of navigating, avoiding, or being overwhelmed by an emotion effects what we do with our emotions as an adult.

When it comes to interpersonal relationships, emotions are the key that unlocks connection with others. Our emotions are expressed in our tone, facial expressions, and body language. They allow us to be understood by others and allow us to understand them. They move us from being robots, into people who create an interactional process that defies math. It provides context and ability to be better known by others. Emotions connect us with others.  They allow us to connect in deep and meaningful ways and help us bond in a much deeper way than other species. When someone cries and feels sad, we may cry and feel sad with them. To experience emotions with someone is deeply connecting and helps us know that we are not alone. 

Emotions are a core component of what sets us apart from all other creatures. 

There is not another species on the planet that can experience the intensity and expressiveness of emotions like humans can. In fact, to deny our emotional depth is to deny a part of what makes us fully human. Emotions are something that happens in our bodies when we experience something meaningful. For instance, when we hear about someone losing a job or a boyfriend or girlfriend, we may will literally experience in our body our heart drop, tears well up in our eyes, or simply a heaviness in our shoulders. These are indicators that something big and meaningful has happened. We don’t experience emotion when something is small or meaningless and therefore when we feel and notice emotions (such as sadness, joy, fear, shame, pain, hurt, or anger) we should pause and be willing to notice what is happening in the moment. Emotions tell us that something meaningful is happening and if we don’t slow down, we might miss something. 

Emotions are what we are feeling. They inform us of how we are responding to our surroundings and others.  Our emotional states are not random and they can give us much insight into what's happening within our minds and bodies. 

Take a moment to tune in to yours- right now. 

What are you feeling?

Pay attention. 

If you’d like to come in and talk to us about it, or if you have trouble sorting out your emotions, please contact us.

Take Care, 

The Phoenix Counseling Collective 

Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, Molly

Photo by Marco Molitor on Unsplash

Why Do Emotional Wounds Cut So Deeply?

Almost everyone knows the feeling of an emotional wound, whether it be heartbreak, abandonment, or loss. When someone you love hurts you, often you can actually feel physical sensations that go along with that.

For example, people will say they "have a heavy heart" or "I'm heartbroken" and this correlates to actual physical sensations they feel in their chest.

This blog explores why physical sensations go with emotional wounds. 

While other people can see physical wounding (for example, if you break your leg and wear a cast, people will have empathy for you and ask how it is healing), emotional wounding is often hidden and minimized by ourselves and others.

Many people don’t carry physical scars or wounds from their emotional wounds, and that means other people can't see them right away. Sometimes, people think that it must not be that bad, since there aren’t any physical scars. Some think "I should be able to ignore this." But you literally, physically cannot do this. 

Here's why: 

Emotional pain registers in the same place in the brain as actual physical pain. This leads us to believe that we experience emotional pain the same way we experience physical pain. Let that sink in for a moment. 

Our mind does not differentiate between a physical wound or an emotional wound.

The same flooding of neurotransmitters and pain-relievers occur with both wounds. 

Read this link for more information on the science behind this. 

Emotional pain can cause "dorsal vagal shut down." Do you remember in your Psych 101 class how you learned about Fight/Flight response? There's a third response called "Freeze." It is when the dorsal vagal shuts down, and you can read more about it here. 

Emotional wounds are wounds from/within/of relationships. 

It is a natural need of survival that causes emotional wounds to hurt. In the same way our ancestors had a need to avoid disease and a broken body so as to prevent most certain death, our social support is a threat to our survival as well. From a practical standpoint, humans are more likely to survive in a tribe than on their own. We feel as if we are more likely to have a tribe (ie. friends, a spouse, support within our relationships etc) if we are "acceptable," "good," "worthwhile," or "have something to offer." If we believe that these things are NOT true of us, then we have a physical response as a survival mechanism. These thoughts can create emotional wounds.

Emotional wounds trigger our own shame and fear. 

If we are afraid that we won't be accepted, it feels as if we may not survive. Or, that we will be left alone (it equates to the same thing.)

The process of healing emotional pain is nuanced. Usually the pain has to do with our relationships and our identity. These issues are really close to our hearts, so when we are wounded there, it takes effort and intention to heal those wounds. Most often, they connect deeply with other stories of our past where others have wounded us before. That's like re-opening a physical wound over and over again, and can make them worse and more complicated to heal. Each time we are wounded again, that old emotional wound is reopened and the infection spreads. 

The stigmas and perceptions associated with emotional pain make it even more difficult to seek help. 

The cultural mentality of "suck it up" and "get over it" doesn't allow these wounds to be processed and healed, therefore causing more ache and deeper pain.

Emotional wounds can linger and grow deeper (often times are left untreated and almost stay in an infected way). It seems "easier" to ignore emotional wounds and bury them. But they are always there, and often doing more damage as the years go by. 

Don't ignore your emotional wounds. If you are heartbroken, or have some deep emotional pain that you're experiencing and you want some help, please feel free to contact us.

Take good care of yourself- physically and emotionally. 

The Phoenix Counseling Collective 

Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, & Molly

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Go to Therapy, Get a Counselor – It’s Healthy

When we find out that a friend or loved one has started to work out, or gone to a physical therapist, our response is usually not a disapproving,  “Oh, you’re one of those people who has to go to the gym… sounds like things are pretty rough for you.” Nor is the response, “You had to get a personal trainer? You couldn’t take care of that on your own?” But, often these are the types of reactions that people get, or at least are deathly afraid of receiving, when they confide in someone that they recently started seeing a counselor.

Now, I realize that people aren’t going to start taking selfies with their counselor, but I do believe that we, as a culture, need to start rethinking the purpose of therapy. Instead of it being an act of last resort to avoid psychological collapse, it would better serve us to think about therapy as healthy activity and counselors as personal trainers who are there to assist and encourage us along the way.

If we saw therapy much more like working out, we would understand that the purpose is to grow stronger and live well.

I am not the most disciplined soul when it comes to physical exertion; especially when running a counseling practice, doing home projects, and attempting to be a decent dad and husband take up so much time. (To be honest, I also know how to scroll through Instagram, read copious amounts of whatever I can get my hands on, listen to podcasts, and I know my way around Netflix too). But, about 3 months ago, this all changed, and I started regularly working out again. I would like to say that I gathered up my will and resolved to make a healthier lifestyle choice and just went out and did it. The truth of the matter is that I started to go to the gym because I couldn’t move my elbow or arm without immense pain and some of my normal movements were restricted. I also didn’t figure out how to heal myself. I went to a physical therapist for help.

What I came to find out was that I had been overcompensating for a long time for a weak back by using my shoulders, arm, and elbow too much when I played sports, swam sometimes, and moved around in every day life. I remember when my physical therapist had me do my first pull down and told me to be aware of what muscles I was using to pull with. I noticed how much the muscles in my shoulder, arm, and elbow were engaged. She then had me try it again, but this time she told me to focus on my back muscles. She put her hand on the muscle I was supposed to use as I pulled down, and it was like a light went off. I was able to pull the weight through in a different way and it seemed to take away the pressure on my shoulders and arm.

Over the last 17 years, hundreds of patients have sat down in their first session, and in so many words asked me to help “fix” them.

But the purpose of good therapy is not to “fix” someone.

The goal of good therapy is an awareness of self.

We are preconditioned to make the same self destructive choices over and over again. I had been using my shoulder, arm, and elbow in such a way to avoid the weakness of my back. So too we as humans participate in a myriad of harmful strategies to protect ourselves from some type of pain. (Or shame, or other unenjoyable emotional/physical state.)

So, in the same way that I needed help to become aware of how I was not using my back, we need help to see how what we’re doing is actually hurting us.

we often need the help of another to become aware of the self-protective ways that we are hurting ourselves and the people around us.  

Awareness of self creates the opportunity for choosing something different. When my physical therapist made me aware of how I was using my shoulder and arm and not my back, I was able to try something new. If you are experiencing pain in the deep recesses of your heart, something might be off and having someone else gently and kindly mirror back to you what might be going on can make all the difference in learning how to do life differently.

This process of becoming aware is often emotionally painful and difficult. There were a number of excruciatingly painful moments with my physical therapist as well, but in the end the relief from the chronic pain was well worth the effort. And, the beauty of therapy is that you do not have to do it all on your own – the counselor is there to be a kind guide along the way.

My hope is that when you and I hear that a loved one is seeing a counselor, that our initial reaction is, “Well, that seems pretty healthy.”

If you’re ready to start your mental health work, please feel free to contact us. We’d love to walk alongside you.



Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash