How Having a Morning Practice Strengthens My Mental Health

morning tea

Here we are, another new year and the hopes and wishes for a more evolved you. Since you’ve probably already been inundated with all kinds of ‘how to’s’ and ‘should’s’. I’m not going to even go there. Instead, I want to share with you how I do my best to start off on the “right foot” by developing a morning practice. I’ve found that incorporating a practice of consistent activities into my daily life has helped me find balance over the years. More importantly, I wanted to share how practice has given me a place to return to when everything else around me has become chaotic.

I’ve been trained in the art of “early bird gets the worm” since I was younger. I grew up in a household that followed the rule of, “if mom is up and at ‘em then we all are up and at ‘em”. And my mother was up before sunrise most days…I don’t remember her even sleeping in on the weekends. To this day, I don’t really sleep in unless I’m sick. I say all this to say, I’m a morning person. So I feel obligated to share that waking up early isn’t half the battle for me as it may be for others. 

Find Your Center

Because I’m a morning person, how I start my day plays a huge role in how the rest of my day goes. While I do have the ability to pivot for days that don’t start off so well,  it is much easier to ground myself and return back to my center when my day starts out with a focus on all that is good and lovely. Because all that is good and lovely will then become my go-to position in clutch time rather than panic and run, (or rather anxiety and procrastination). I don’t think I’m alone in hoping for a day where I’m not constantly putting out fires and trying to catch my breath. So, I’ve learned that when I start my day with ease, I go into the rest of my day feeling calm, cool, and collected, which makes me feel ready for the world. And the way I start my day became a practice.  

Proof is in the pudding

Science has been telling us for quite some time that having a routine alleviates stress and anxiety. But I believe even without the academic research, we can feel the difference when we do something with consistency and when we don’t. 

For instance, I like eating breakfast in the morning, it really is the most important meal of the day for me. If I don’t eat my breakfast (or any meal when I’m hungry) I get Hulk angry. But taking it a step further, studies show that, “missing meals, especially breakfast, leads to low blood sugar and this causes low mood, irritability and fatigue”. Feeling hangry is real ya’ll!

Find what works best for you

I think when you’re first starting to build habits it may be helpful to see what habits already come natural to you. You may be able to find gifts in the things you believe are a negative. Here’s a quick example: If you are a night owl and you have been trying your hardest to write in the morning because that’s what all your favorite influencers constantly say they do…you may be better off following the flow of your own body rhythm. Write at night, do your best and most creative work when you are at your optimally best. If it’s night, then it’s night. Here’s my personal example of a slower learning process to finding what works for me…

I already had a habit of reading books often. I love to read! However, I could not read myself back to physically fit. My physical health was the issue and I couldn’t read and then daydream my way into having the strong abs I used to have, and not being out of breath just climbing stairs. 

The problem was I couldn’t find the motivation to go to the gym. The strategy of giving myself a reward at the end of the week to convince myself to go didn’t fly. Going with a buddy, didn’t make it enjoyable or something to look forward to, and whenever I stepped foot in the gym everything just felt…not right. I attempted the gym many times and it just didn’t do it for me. What’s an ‘out of breath from stair climbing’ woman to do? 

Life shifts can come about in the most mundane of actions

So, I took what I did naturally, read – and I used my habit of reading to my advantage…instead of devouring my beloved fiction, I set aside time and started reading books about personality types and how to motivate yourself based on your personality. I started looking up research about the things that get in the way of achieving goals. I theorized that if I could look at my stop signs and red lights with courage, then maybe they wouldn’t be so scary anymore and I could triumph over how they affected my livelihood. I read books like The Four Tendencies and took a second look my personality tests results, (I’ve taken quite a few of them). I found great relief in reading that I may be more vested in other kinds of activities for physical fitness that I overlooked, rather than going to the gym. I experimented with suggestions.  

Surprisingly, I took a renewed interest in martial arts and nature walks. I don’t consider myself an outdoorsy or sports person, and I hate being terrible at things- especially in front of an audience…but despite that, doing these activities make me feel in touch with my body, and in turn my emotions. As a thinking personality type, this does not come easy to me. More and more I can see my fears and anxiety as if they were tangible objects. In this way, I can’t ignore them, I can’t deny them, no putting them aside with busy work, I have to face them. Journaling the morning after a rigorous martial arts practice the night before has really helped me focus my reflective writing. Throughout the day I am better able to look at situations in a different way and consciously learn ways to better cope. 

It started with a small shift. Instead of reading fiction for an hour right before falling asleep on week nights, I switched to reading nonfiction before falling asleep and everything else began to piece itself together from there. I still have a ways to go, but for starters, I’m no longer out of breath when I walk up the stairs. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a win! Which reminds me…

Celebrate the small victories

Just showing up to do the practice in and of itself is reason to pat yourself on the back. We don’t really get participation medals for making healthy choices and changes in our lives, but I don’t see why we can’t pause to acknowledge all of the mini battles we had to fight and overcome just to even get to the starting point. If you’re at, “Yay! I made the bed today!” after a major depressive episode, then go you! If someone shares how they have depression too and are able to function just fine…good for them! But this is your life that you’re fighting for…they don’t fight for it for you. Compare = despair…I don’t even want to play that game anymore. I am already my biggest critic, now, I’m learning to be my biggest cheerleader. I do that by pausing.

Pause is an important practice in my day. I am not a fan of hustle culture nor am I a fan of team no rest. I’m not interested in promoting a culture that teaches us to treat each other as if we’re robotic commodities only as useful as the sum of our good parts. Which brings me to what I consider the best part of how having a practice keeps me well…it’s there when I need it and I don’t beat myself down when I don’t follow it with perfection. I strive to not be married to the outcome of my anticipation, but rather, be open to the possibilities that intentional self-development manifests in my life. Enjoying the journey transforms practice from “just some routine” to a meaningful way to embrace the totality of my human experience in this world. The mental health benefits are a bonus or in foodie speak, icing on the cake. 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

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Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Sabrina Umstead Smith

The 2018 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 3 – Featuring: Sabrina Umstead Smith, Grief Specialist and Advocate for Special Needs Families

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7eUDATvTl3Y

About

Sabrina is the author of Gratefully Disappointed – Learn Through Forgiveness her inspirational and encouraging memoir. Sabrina shares her journey to remind us no matter what we experience there is a lesson for us to share. Sabrina is the creator of Forgive4U, a program that defines the six essential steps to overcome emotional roadblocks. She coaches clients one-on-one and spreads the Forgive4U principles through professional speaking engagements. Sabrina and her husband Roosevelt (Rosy) founded, Erick’s Place, a non-profit organization named after her son, a special needs child, who passed away at the age of 3. She is also a contributing author to two books: Fearfully & Wonderfully Made and; the Amazon Best Seller, Pathways to Vibrant Health and Well-Being.

Visit Sabrina’s website: www.gratefullydisappointed.com for additional information and resources.

How You Can Help

Support Erick’s Place and help chronically ill children as well as the hospitals, facilities and people who care for them get the resources they need.

Resources mentioned

Sabrina’s other book mentioned: Pathways to Vibrant Health & Well-Being

 

Related Posts

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Dior Vargas

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Autumn Tompkins

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Faith Waringa Odhiambo

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

Be The Change Interview Featuring: Global Women 4 Wellbeing

The 2018 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 2 – Featuring: Mim Senft and Nancy Board of Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W)

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/xYz2Eujm7aY

About

GW4W is on a mission to Empower healthy female leaders for a more sustainable world. They accomplish this by:

*Honoring that true gender equity is about addressing both diversity and inclusion issues

*Welcoming women from all backgrounds who want to see positive change and the great men that stand beside us

*Producing quality, unbiased research for women’s health, wellbeing and leadership challenges

*Inspiring through sharing our stories, our wisdom, mentoring and advocacy

*Highlighting self-care for leaders for personal empowerment and to be a role model for those you lead

Mim Senft, CWWS GBA AAI RYT / CEO – Global Women 4 Wellbeing
LinkedIn

Mim Senft has over 20 years of corporate experience in project management, benefits design and wellness program strategy and implementation. She specializes in providing companies with strategies that positively impact culture and create team innovation. She is a certified as a Worksite Wellness Specialist through the National Wellness Institute; has her GBA group benefits designation through the International Foundation of Benefit Professionals (IFEBP); her property and casualty insurance certification, Accredited Advisor in Insurance (AAI), through the Insurance Institute of America; and became a certified yoga instructor in 2006. Prior to founding Motivity Partnerships, she worked with over 70 clients in a variety of industries including finance, manufacturing, law, fashion/retail and not-for-profit. Some representative companies include Optum @ Goldman Sachs, Springleaf Financial, Tory Burch, Steptoe and Johnson Law Firm, Natures Path, Open Door and Consolidated Precision Products.

Mim is a co-founder of Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W), served on the Board of Directors for the National Wellness Institute and is a member of The Global Wellness Institute’s Future of Well Work Initiative. She is a regular speaker at conferences and roundtable discussions on topics related to employee benefits, corporate wellness/wellbeing programs, and keeping a competitive edge in today’s workplace.

Nancy Board, MSW – Co-Founder / COO – Global Women 4 Wellbeing
LinkedIn

Nancy Board is a long time EAP professional, experienced in corporate health and wellbeing globally, and a leader in workplace mental health, trauma response, risk management and women’s issues. She is also a sought after speaker, facilitator and international trainer for women’s health & wellbeing worldwide, having worked with thousands of women to help them remove barriers to achieving success.

Previously Nancy was Vice President of Healthcare, EAP and Wellness for JP Morgan In the Asia Pacific region, responsible for over 38,000 employees in 18 countries. She is a versatile, technically savvy, culturally competent leader. Having also led individuals, teams and organizations through the chaos and grief of workplace violence and major disasters, Nancy has a unique lens from which to gauge and teach personal resiliency, recovery and trust. As Co-Founder of Global Women 4 WellBeing, she is passionate about doing more good to create gender equity and build inclusive, respectful workplaces for women to become thriving, healthy leaders.

Nancy received her Master’s degree in Social Work/Behavioral Medicine from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo, certification as a Global Professional in Human Resources and certification as Facilitator and Guide for Women’s Circles through the non-profit organization, Woman Within, International.

How You Can Help

You can visit https://gw4w.org/ to find ways to get involved with GW4W and their global mission to empower healthy female leaders.

Resources mentioned

Women won’t have equality for 100 years – World Economic Forum

The medical research gender gap: how excluding women from clinical trials is hurting our health

 

Related Posts

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring ChopArt

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Faith Waringa Odhiambo

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Karla Thut

The 2018 Be The Change Interview Series

Week 1 – Featuring: Karla Thut, Trauma Specialist and Immigrant Advocate

Here’s the direct link to the recording on YouTube: https://youtu.be/PNc4LFLItBM

About

Karla Thut was born and grew up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She graduated from Goshen College with a BA in Social Work and Temple University with a Masters in Social Work. She has worked as a family therapist in the city of Philadelphia for 15 years primarily with co-victims of homicide and survivors of domestic violence and other violent crimes. During this time Karla trained at the Philadelphia Child and Family Training Center as a family therapist and at the Philadelphia Family and Children’s Play Therapy Training Center where she trained in Contextual and Structural Family therapy and play therapy. In addition to working as a therapist Karla teaches part time at Chestnut Hill College in the Masters in Counseling Psychology department in their trauma studies concentration and is on the board at La Puerta Abierta. La Puerta Abierta is a non-profit in Philadelphia that provides mental health services to immigrant youth and their families. Karla lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

How You Can Help

Support La Puerta Abierta whose mission is “To improve access to quality, culturally and trauma-informed mental health support in the immigrant and refugee community through collaboration, training and service”.

Contact Karla to learn more about her private practice mental health care services, or healing trauma training services at: karlathut (at) gmail (dot) com

Resources mentioned

The movie I was referencing was called Inside Out

 

Related Posts

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Sarah Fader

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Emily Wu Truong

Be The Change Series Interviews- Featuring: Mia Anika

 

Until Next Time…Peace!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

Sign up here for a free copy of The ABC Method to Managing Your Mental Health While Running a Business.

 

How Mental Health, Religion, and Spirituality Are Interconnected (My Story)

If you didn’t already know, May is Mental Health Awareness month in the U.S.A. Depending on the organization, you’ll find different themes. #CureStigma for NAMI, #4Mind4Body for Mental Health America etc.  So far, this year has led me to looking for lost keys, and finding them once I’ve stopped looking.  I’ve found myself religiously pursuing the wisdom of spiritual texts and practices. I have been implementing old practices on a new level, and leaning new ways to look at the wisdom and teachings of my elders that I had previously either ignored, or wasn’t yet at a level of awareness where I could understand their guidance, even on a basic level. Feelings and experiences I didn’t have words for, now have new meaning. And as I learn and struggle with growing through changes I have moments of anxiousness and of deep sadness, while also experiencing deep gratitude and joy. Honestly, it’s been a ride.

So, it made the most sense for me to introduce the theme of spirituality as it related to mental health (or perhaps mental health and how it is connected to spiritual being-ness).

I’ve invited some special guests to talk about the relationship between Mental Health, Religion, and Spirituality. I write it as three items, but I believe both mental health and religion are the human touch we bring to spirituality. I can’t wait to share the interviews with you this month!

But before I present their insights and perspectives, I wanted to share with you some of my own even as I’m still learning them…it’s a journey after all.

The first time I started doing inner-child work, I began to uncover what I believe to be the start of my anxiety and depression. Even though we didn’t have much in our single parent home, we seemed to have just enough and I remember having a happy childhood. I spent most of my time with my grandmom and her friends, I loved sitting around them and being all up in grown-folks business. Growing up, I was the only girl my age on my street, so all of my closest and dearest friends were boys. I was for all intents an purposes not a “girly girl” and was frequently called a “tomboy”. That didn’t bother me, and I didn’t take it as an insult. I was shy and quiet upon initial meeting but once I warmed up I was an active, wide eyed, “chatty Kathy” around people I considered friends and family. Knowing what an introvert was and claiming that as a label simply wasn’t a thing. I was an old soul with a close knit neighborhood, and happy go lucky.

But then something changed. 

My mom would meet a man who would become her husband, uproot us from my grandmother’s house, the house and neighborhood of my happiest memories with my childhood friends and neighbors who watched out for each other and took turns keeping an eye on us kids. She also unintentionally separated me from the base of my identity, and the foundation of my wisdom and knowledge when I moved away from the one person who understood me the most, my grandmom. I didn’t feel right about the man she would marry but I didn’t understand why, my instincts simply told me he was not a nice man and that my mom was not the mom I loved when she was with him.

It was then that I began to let go of the girl who happily played freeze tag and hide and go seek with the guys, and replaced myself with a false self to survive the dysfunction of my home and the environment around me. Depression for me formed out of suppressed anger, fear, disappointment, hatred, and powerlessness turned inward with no outlet.

I eventually made friends with a few girls, one in particular came from a very religious family and while I knew prayer, I learned a new level of prayer from her family. She introduced me to ballet and I found my outlet in dance and peace in talking to this old invisible guy that watched over me from the sky. By the time I was 10,  I would have vivid dreams I could recall and write stories about, including dreams about the end of the world. I began writing stories about my dreams and had an invisible friend to share them with.

Eventually, my mom would divorce the mean man and start taking us to church consistently. I again would meet a man who gave me creepy feelings only this time he would be the pastor. At this point I was being taught not to trust myself and my instincts because I was just a kid…what did I know? That pastor, who was a married man, ended up in scandal being found out to have been sleeping with multiple women in the church. The second husband of my mother, a minister of the Christian church, walked out one morning, happily smiling and laughing only for us to come home from school and see half of the house empty and having to call our mom at work to report a robbery that didn’t happen because the step father was gone too. So as I prayed to the invisible old man, I was also being constantly lied to, and abandoned by men of power and influence. And the women around me were always taking it, fighting each other for scraps, and suffering in silence convincing themselves that their husbands and husbands (the not really married kind) were heaven sent.

I sponged it all. 

I eventually forgot about the peace I felt in that solitude with my invisible friend/old man of the sky, and I stopped dancing from the joy pouring out of my spirit. I thought about death a lot, and non-existence, I often wondered why did a mistake like me have to be so much a burden. I built my life trying to be useful, perfect, not needing much from others so as not to get on people’s bad side, and I wondered why I still couldn’t fix things. Why I wasn’t alright. I wondered if I was to blame for everything that went wrong. I went to Catholic school and learned that if I killed myself I would go to Hell; a fiery red flaming furnace of everlasting pain and agony, and I didn’t need any more of that. Great, now I had to stay in a world that I hated and that hated me.

By the time I got to high school I still struggled with depression, but it became a part of my life by then. I continued to have panic attacks when presented with any type of confrontation and I was a geek, without the honor roll to go with it. Youtube shows like Awkward Black Girl didn’t exist back then to help me feel like I belonged…somewhere…anywhere! My only saving grace (survival mode mask) was that I could dance and sing. I wrote short stories that classmates took a liking to, and I wrote poetry for friends to give to their crushes. Luckily, perhaps by Divine intervention, my guidance counselor took an interest in me and even though her goal was to get me to college, she became my confidant who I talked to about my depression.

I also had the mentorship of a male deacon (who sadly passed away due to lung cancer) and new church and pastor, both of whom I adored and saw as father figures. Both of whom never truly addressed mental health issues when we spoke, and likely did not recognize my mental health symptoms in how I spoke and questioned everything. Not only me, but other people in the church would be written off as “that crazy uncle” and such. Later, I would be able to recognize that people living with conditions such a schizoaffective disorders and bipolar disorders were just called crazy relatives. The rest of the members, mostly women would simply shoot my natural curiosity about the world and religion down. They were women of faith and no question, and I believe they were good intentioned and well meaning, but their rejection left scars. When I questioned things, when I spoke about my thoughts about death, when I mentioned my dreams I was written off as being disobedient, told I needed to pray more, and constantly reminded about “the enemy” aka the devil that was clearly attacking me. Of course “love” wasn’t just chastisement, but I’m sharing this aspect of how I perceived things at that time.

My depression grew deeper and deeper and I kept feeling worse and worse about myself believing that something was inherently wrong with me because even though I prayed, and did what people told me to do, nothing changed and I wondered if I was always being punished for everything that shaped who I had become. Church and religion gave me friends, and community, which helped ease the pain of my depression, but at the same time, I had no real relationship with this Jesus guy and the invisible old man of the sky he called Father. And quite frankly, I couldn’t relate to what was presented to me of either depiction.

Even though my dreams were so revealing that if I had known about psychoanalysis I would have learned so much about myself and my history, I stopped listening to my dreams, I stopped listening to the small voice inside my head that spoke from my gut. I found that could not hear from the G-d that my dreams introduced me to amongst the noise of dominating men leaders and liars and the women who made excuses for them. I couldn’t feel this Divine Presence that gave me Breath when I couldn’t see my way through my disappointment for the few good men who didn’t know how to adequately address mental illness and the women who though they probably meant well, encouraged me to just pray about it. I could not find myself, when everything about the me that kept bubbling up despite my trying to suppress myself simply did not fit nice and neat into the orthodoxy of “normal”. Even though the last Christian church I went to was a pretty good experience (heck, they even had a husband and wife team as co-pastors), the damage was done and I was tired of pretending to be a  title or affiliation just to fit in, to survive, to avoid conflict and confrontation. I began letting go of religion and eventually left the church.

My story about my relationship with contemporary Christian religion is not unique. Heck, even my fall out with religious communities and the belief systems they present as truth is not unique. People have often wondered why G-d has forsaken them in times of atrocities such as genocides, marital abuse, rape and so on. The very communities that give us peace in times of storm, also give us the most aggravation, frustration, and leave us with a deep spiritual hunger. Nevertheless, my story hasn’t ended with bitterness and anger though.

I eventually found my way into mental health recovery, and after some serious hard work I released, (and make it an ongoing and conscious practice of releasing) toxic relationships including the one I had with toxic masculinity.  Just as I began to question why I even held onto to a belief in the divine, I had a spiritual experience that I’ll have to tell you about some other time (though words would not be sufficient) and was compelled into purpose by the Higher Power of my understanding.  Based on that spiritual awakening I was moved to again seek fellowship with people who I could practice my foundational contemplative practices with, (now that I knew what they were called).

After an invite that came at the right time, and an openness to inner wisdom leadings, I began attending Meetings for worship with Friends, and I eventually came across an organization called The Mystic Soul Project where they caught my interest with a focus on people of color centeredness and pretty much had my full attention with the words “intersections of contemplation/mysticism, action/activism & healing”.  I volunteered to organize a local inclusive community fellowship where we could explore those intersections together. (Hit me up if interested to learn more!)

Through Mystic Soul Project, like other people who found it and attended their inaugural conference,  I too found missing pieces that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but felt their absence from my life. I began being introduced to concepts such as indigenous reclamation, decolonized religion, and healing intergenerational trauma, and how all of this has to do with mental health and spirituality.

There’s so much more I could get into with this topic and many pieces of my story that simply wouldn’t fit in a blog format, perhaps a memoir one day eh?

In the upcoming interviews I hope to shed some more light on this topic.

Until Next Time…Peace, Love, and Wellness!

Oh! By the way, if you want to learn more about the blogger of this post feel free to check out my about page.

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