Monday, April 9, 2012

Get your mind out of the gutter!

As Kennedy’s Disease progresses, one of the side effects is often an emotional one. Frustrations occur because we can no longer perform certain basic tasks. Or, we are put into situations that we cannot get out of without help … a fall, for example. Frustrations can easily lead to anger. To help us cope with this issue, the KDA had a special guest for Saturday’s KDA chat room.  This is a much longer article than normal, but it would not have been effective to break up the exercise into two posts.

Dr. Julie Bindeman is a psychologist licensed in Maryland and with a degree from George Washington University. Her focus is on life transitions and dealing with the emotions that accompany them. She also has expertise in depression, anxiety, grief and loss.

coping-skillsWe all enjoyed participating in Dr. Bindeman’s coping exercise. She has given me permission to post the process in my blog. I am using the actual transcripts of her chat (with only minor changes ) in hope you will give the coping exercise a try.

Below is the transcript of her coping exercise as well as some comments from those that participated in the exercise.

Dr. Bindeman: I wish that I had magic words or actions that could take away both the actual symptoms as well as the emotions that go with it. What I can help with are some coping techniques that might help the day to day or moment by moment. It can be common with loss to dwell on what had been rather than to try to be in the moment.

Asking for help is a great strategy, but certainly not an easy one! So, I would love to share ideas on how to be present in the moment, and prevent your minds from thinking about those things that you had been able to do.

Before we start, let me say we tend to not notice a lot of information that we take in with our senses.  And, since this is a whole different experience to do within a chat room versus face-to-face, I hope you all can bear with me.


To begin the exercise, locate an object that might be around you. It can be anything -- a rock, a piece of food, a screwdriver. Pick up your object. In order to be in the present, it's important to activate our senses--all of them! I'll need a little bit of leeway on this one, as I'm sure that depending on what your objects are; many of you won't want to necessarily taste them. We tend to use our senses of sight and touch most frequently, so I want to hold off on those two until the end.

  • We will start off with the sense of sound.

For those that have food or beverages, close your eyes and think about the sounds used to make them. For those with other objects, tap them on your hands, furniture around you, etc. Listen to the sounds that it makes and how those sounds differ depending on what it was tapped on. For the coffee drinker, you can also listen to the sound of the liquid swishing in the mug.  When you are ready, describe what that was like.
  • Alright, let's move onto the next sense. Let's try the sense of smell.
Those of you with food/drinks are in luck with this one. It might be weird to smell your pen, for example, but perhaps you (and others that might have an object not really smell-worthy) can imagine smells that might accompany that example, a place you might be to use the pen. There will be some objects where using certain senses is more challenging. For these, try to let your imagination take you to a time/place/location where you can associate the sense.

Smells can bring up feelings and memories, so let yourself be open to those experiences right now as well.
  • Ready for the next one? Let’s move onto the sense of taste.
Again, this one might be challenging for some--I'm not sure I'd want to taste a pen or hole punch. I think those of you with water, omelets, or coffee, will really like the next sensory experience. But again, allow yourselves to associate--food in an office? Or whatever comes to your mind. Describe either what their object tastes like or what associations are made?
  • OK, let's move onto the sense of sight.
Really LOOK at your object. What colors do you see? Can you notice textures? What shapes are present? Try to study your object, as if you've never seen it before. Is there a sheen to it? Any scratches? On the pen, any cracks or the letters rubbed off? Hopefully, you are all noticing things to these everyday objects that you hadn't before. Feel free to let your minds wander. Describe what comes to mind.
  • When you are ready, we'll proceed to the last sense ... the sense of touch.
For this exercise, if you can, close your eyes, and let your hands experience your object. Feel for temperature, texture, shape, etc. And also, feel free to let your minds wander to anything that you might associate while you are touching your objects. Feel for ridges, edges, etc. See if from your hands, you can conjure up a picture in your minds.

Closing Thoughts:
One of the reasons I like to teach this exercise to my clients is that you can do it whenever you need it and with whatever you have handy.

You now need to consider what trigger points (for example, what mood or situation) will remind you to use this exercise to get you back to living in the present. Using moods as a cue is a great way to remember this.

It is so easy to stop being mindful and resent. The absence of these two things tends to be our default. We have little control over our past or our future, but we are able to do something with the present, whether we choose to embrace it or let it pass us by. I know that with the clients that I work with, it is so easy to get stuck inside yourself and to feel sorry for your own suffering. It's hard to remember that every human has their own kind of suffering.

Someone earlier mentioned about laughter being the best medicine. This is also such a truism. What makes you laugh? When you are in a funk, seek out something that will make you laugh.

Participant Feedback:
Dr. Bindeman asked for feedback as to what using all five senses was like. Not necessarily specific things from each sense, but the overall exercise. “What did you experience, notice and learn?”

These are some of the comments from the group participating:
  • Slow down...enjoy life's little moments.
  • I am realizing the opportunities available for experiencing everyday life.
  • We all have limitations, and it's easy to get down. When we do so, then we fail to see our opportunities.
  • Appreciate what we have ... not what is lost.
  • This has been a great reminder to truly live in the moment and enjoy the pleasures of life.
  • Don't think about should, could, would, etc. and be thankful for what we still have and can still do.
  • Focus on the here and the now versus getting frustrated because I can’t do something. (Dr. Bindeman: Exactly--rather than look at what you "used to do" observe and note what you "are able to do.").
  • I read a quote from Michael J. Fox, "If you worry about something bad happening and then it really does happen, you've suffered through it twice."
  • I like to use this prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  • If you spend your day worrying about tomorrow, you will not live for today.

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