Mindful Monday: Make Tea

When I saw this I knew I had to share it. Pugs! Tea! Both things I love. It also like what it illustrates about healing. There are many small things we can do, for ourselves and others, that do not “fix” the big picture problem but make a difference in the moment. These things are mindfulness. They build our capacity to be with what is. Cumulatively, this can lead to big change.

I know that when therapists suggest small acts of self-care it can be frustrating or worse. How can something like tea (or deep breathing or fill in your therapist’s most annoying suggestion) address the magnitude of trauma you have experienced? Of course it can’t! No one thing can. But every time you are able to do one small thing, to choose nurturing over neglect, it can shift things in powerful ways. You can build the capacity for compassionately  being with your feelings and yourself, one cup of tea at a time.

make tea

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Mindful Monday: Impact

On Mondays I like to share things with you that speak to me. It can be easy to overlook the impact we each have on others and the world around us. I like to think about how even a small stone creates ripples in a pond.  I invite you to practice mindfulness as you consider the following:


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#TBT: Making Meaning

Today is the anniversary of a tragic Tucson event. A fitting time to revisit this post.

Making Meaning from the Collective Trauma of Public Violence

I was in the midst of writing a 2011 goals and intentions post this past weekend, when the news from Arizona hit. Tucson is a special place to me, ever since my doctoral internship year spent at the University of Arizona’s Health Sciences Center. For the next two days that was about all I could focus on. Perhaps I’ll get back to that original post, but New Year’s goals seemed trivial in light of this tragedy first. Then again, maybe not.

It has taken me this long to formulate my thoughts, to put words to my feelings and reactions. I knew immediately what I did not want to write. I did not want to add my voice to the arm-chair speculations, the many quick to “diagnose” someone they had never met based on bits of reported information or disjointed and confusing YouTube videos. Let’s remember, fellow mental health professionals, that it is unethical  to “diagnose” someone we have not assessed and have no professional relationship with.

When random, public violence occurs like this,  we all can feel vicariously traumatized. We are shocked, horrified, grief-stricken and angry. We look for someone to blame. We look for reasons, answers to the unanswerable “whys” of human-on-human violence.

Why do we do that? Why do we speculate about the motives, the mental state, the triggering influences of a heinous act like this? I suspect it is about our desire for control, our need to restore sense and meaning when it has been torn asunder.

How easy it is to feel angry at those we see as responsible, both the shooter and those we may see as inciting this sort of violence. Remember, violence comes in the form of words too. Anger in the face of injustice makes sense. But anger in the form of public expressions of hatred and personal attacks adds more fuel to the fire.

If we believe that words have power, as I do, let’s also reflect on another word getting bandied about quite a bit: “Crazy” .  As we are thinking about the impact of words, let us remember that calling someone “crazy” or “a nut job”  rather than “a person who is mentally ill” contributes to the stigmatization of mental health issues.

We also need to keep in mind that knowing that someone is mentally ill does not tell us anything about their propensity for violence. Check out Oxford psychiatrist Seena Fazel‘s epidemiological research on mental illness and violence here and review of the findings inthis article at Slate by Vaughan Bell:

A 2009 analysis of nearly 20,000 individuals concluded that increased risk of violence was associated with drug and alcohol problems, regardless of whether the person had schizophrenia. Two similar analyses on bipolar patients showed, along similar lines, that the risk of violent crime is fractionally increased by the illness, while it goes up substantially among those who are dependent on intoxicating substances. In other words, it’s likely that some of the people in your local bar are at greater risk of committing murder than your average person with mental illness.

We hold onto this myth that mental illness equals and explains violence to try to help us make sense of the senseless, to try to regain our illusion of control. The reality is we are not good predictors of this sort of human violence. Period.

So how do we make sense of this sort of horrific event? How do we pick up the pieces and move forward? And can we do so in a way that contributes something, in a way that enriches us rather than keeps us stuck in a place of despair or retaliatory anger?

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place and time for righteous anger. I have felt plenty angry in the aftermath of this tragedy. I also believe there then comes a time for living what we want to see more of in the world. Do you want peace? Empathy for each other? Civil discourse? How can you start to live that yourself rather than decrying the lack of it in others?
Here are my intentions in the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson:

  • I want to move forward being more mindful than ever of the impact of words. I want to stay aware of how I talk about events and people, to remove any language of violence, of hate, of stigmatization. I plan to call for the same from others around me: be they friends, colleagues or elected officials.
  • I further intend to recommit myself to the work of decreasing the stigmatization of mental health issues. While it is true that  we do not have the power to force treatment on someone, we do have the power to make community-based treatment options more readily available and to decrease barriers to care by continuing to work on destigmatizing mental illness. Checking our language and challenging myths and misconceptions are stigma decreasing actions we all can take.
  • I also intend to not allow myself to stay stuck in the horror, anger or despair.  I can focus beyond all of that to examples of hope and goodness that emerge in times of human crisis. One possibly very ill person committed horrible acts. Many, many others responded with courage and kindness, doing the right thing automatically for those around them even at great risk to themselves. I find those stories to be profoundly moving and a powerful reminder that we can all choose to do the same.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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Mindful Monday: New Year

Happy Monday and Happy New Year! I’ve written before about my view of resolutions and preference for setting intentions. This is a practice that can be done at any time! No need to limit it to the first of each year.

So many resolutions buy into the myth that we are not okay now, just as we are. That we are not enough. What if instead we started 2015 with a committment to valuing ourselves just as we are? Powerful things would happen, I predict.

I wish us all an authentic 2015.


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Mindful Monday: Year’s End

Today is the last Mindful Monday in 2014. It is also the time of year we may make resolutions for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, this can also involve judging ourselves for what we did not accomplish in 2014.

What if instead we adopted a self-compassionate stance like the one in this image? Taking stock and setting goals does not have to involve beating ourselves up. You can contemplate this post as a mindfulness practice by following these steps.


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