By Sarah Postlewaite, Courier & Press, Feb. 16, 2016 –

Mindfulness is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. It seems to be the “buzz word” of the moment.

However, many people don’t fully understand the concept of mindfulness. There is also a lot of confusion about how it works and how to do it.

Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention. It is the faculty of purposefully bringing awareness to one’s experience.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers of mindfulness, defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Why do we want to be more mindful? Mindfulness has a whole list of benefits including improving attention, increasing compassion, assisting in emotion regulation, improving calming techniques, and improving adaptability and resilience. There is solid scientific evidence that mindfulness works and improves the quality of life for those who practice it.

Mindfulness practices can be applied to any experience: sensations in the body, emotional experience, thoughts, sights or sounds. The quality of the attention is more important than the object of attention.

So basically, it doesn’t matter what you are paying attention to; just pay attention. If you are showering, don’t plan your day — think about showering. Whatever the task may be, the purpose is to fully focus on what you are actually doing in that moment.

When discussing mindfulness, I hear others say the struggle is that their mind continues to wander or it is difficult to focus and get started.

The first method of practicing mindfulness that I learned and always share with others is the counting breath technique. Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet room and close your eyes. Then, just count your breaths.

As you breathe in, say “1” to yourself. As you breathe out, say “1” to yourself. On your next in- breath, say “2” to yourself. On your next out-breath, say “2” to yourself. Continue on until 10, and then start back at 1. It’s that simple. Count your in and out breaths until you get to the number 10 and then start over.

The counting breath technique is a formal mindfulness practice, a way of taking a moment out of your daily life to sit and just practice mindfulness. The formal mindfulness practice leads to more moments of mindfulness in our daily lives.

When I think of my own mindfulness practice and helping others with theirs, I always come back to wise words I heard regarding mindfulness years ago when I first began to practice:

Things will happen to us in life that can cause us a lot of pain and suffering. Learning and practicing mindfulness gives us the opportunity to not just cope with life, but to thrive.

We can’t always control the events that happen in our lives, but we can come out on the other side not just coping, but thriving.


By Wendy Lynch, Courier & Press, Feb. 9, 2016 –

About a month ago, many New Year’s resolutions were set. Determined to have a fresh start, many of us set goals to exercise more, eat healthier or work on relationships. Some of us may already be disappointed in our progress one month into 2016, however, because we set unrealistic goals.

Setting achievable goals allows us to change behaviors and challenges us to make progress. Goals provide us with direction and focus. When we have control we can make changes. However, there are several things that need to happen before change can occur.

First, having a commitment to goals is important, because it allows us to be involved in the change process. Being committed and practicing the right skills will help us stay dedicated. When we challenge ourselves we are moving forward, so having determination and enthusiasm will help.

Second, we all need motivation. Do not let your motivation dissolve; follow through! Motivation is essential to change a behavior or an environment. It keeps us on track. Having a support person is also very important. We all need someone in our lives to give encouragement and provide support. It is especially important when we are making a change, because change will always need to be supported — even after our goal has been achieved. Find someone who will be supportive and hold you accountable for your actions.

The next step is to organize and prioritize your goals. Begin with the end in mind. For example, you could write, “I know my goal will be achieved when I have read eight books for the entire year.” Writing down your goal will provide a sense of accomplishment when you succeed.

In his book, “The Essentials of Family Therapy,” Michael Nichols states that useful goals are specific and include positive actions. One way to organize goals is to break them down into manageable steps. If, for example, your goal is to read more books this year, you might think about writing down a plan to read six chapters this week and 12 chapters next week. Writing down these smaller goals provides a clear picture of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there.

It is also important to list some obstacles that might get in the way. When you list your obstacles you are preparing yourself, which will help prevent you from being derailed. This step will take some self-reflection and honesty, but it will help when problematic situations arise. Setbacks are going to happen, so when setting goals think of some scenarios or situations that might make reaching your goal difficult.

Celebrate your successes as you achieve small goals, and give yourself credit every step of the way. And then keep going. Set more goals after you succeed.

Lastly, whatever your goals are, know that making a change can be difficult. Try to think of the result and how your life will benefit from your commitment.


By Teresa Mercer, Courier & Press, Feb. 2, 2016 –

If you are a parent, grandparent or guardian, you know that raising a child can bring challenges, struggles and fear of the unknown.

There will also be good times, however. Children of any age can bring many happy and proud moments. Many will reach milestones such as completing kindergarten, finishing junior high and graduating from high school. Attending dances or proms, getting a driver’s license, entering the workforce and going off to college will be other new experiences for many.

There are many things for a parent to worry about. You may wonder how your child will perform in school, whether they will struggle socially, if they will experiment with drugs or alcohol or if they will experience issues such as depression, anxiety, etc.

Today’s world has changed. Social media, the Internet, movies, games and music create opportunities and the need for immediate gratification among our youth. They are exposed to and familiar with drugs and alcohol like never before.

As a school social worker, many times I have listened to parents say, “I raised and taught my child well. I only hope they take these things with them.”

All parents want the best for their children. They try to provide love, guidance, nurturing, morals, beliefs and values. But still many young people will make the decision to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and there will be some who are on the road to addiction.

Addiction within a family is a challenge, especially for the parent. Many times they will blame themselves. The “what if’s,” “should haves” and “could haves” can really take a toll, but no parent wants to give up on their child.

Leah Davis, M.Ed., outlines some ways to help prevent your child from becoming involved in drugs and alcohol:

1. Don’t give in to their demands. Just because they want something doesn’t mean you should get it every time. Don’t give in to their tantrums.

2. Don’t always rescue them from the consequences of their negative behavior. Don’t allow them to make excuses or blame others for their poor decisions or choices.

3. Don’t model poor principles such as lying and cheating.

4. Show affection to your child. Kids of all ages need hugs and time together. Don’t you? They also need to know it is ok to express their feelings. Let them build self-esteem by experiencing interaction with others through sports, clubs, etc.

5. Don’t focus on the negatives or weaknesses of their personality or habits. Praise them as much as you can. Take an interest in their ideas and accomplishments.

6. Rather than passing judgment, show them forgiveness, understanding, patience and love when they make poor choices or decisions. Let them know you make mistakes too. Turn a mistake into a learning opportunity.

7. Don’t demand perfection, but don’t be afraid to set rules and expectations. Let them know their ideas and questions are respected by giving them the opportunity to talk while you listen. Acknowledge their need for independence, but let them know you have to set rules.

8. Don’t be unpredictable. Have consistent routines in the home such as eating dinner together. Be consistent with your reactions to behaviors. If it’s not OK today, it’s not OK tomorrow.

9. Don’t be uninformed about drug and alcohol use. Discuss your attitudes and beliefs.

10. Don’t ignore your own value as a human being. It’s important for you to model good behaviors and healthy ways to cope and communicate. Avoid resentments and negativity that can lead to self-destructive behavior.

Remember, it’s never too late to intervene with someone struggling with an addiction. Seek professional help or reach out to your child’s Youth First school social worker. But it’s equally important to be proactive with behaviors, ideas and actions that can start at home.