The Problem with Mindfulness

In recent years, Mindfulness Practice has gotten a lot of attention. It is part of recommended treatments for everything: from anxiety and depression (see archived articles on this blog) to cancer and pain management. There are numerous physical and mental health benefits from mindfulness meditation, and it is practically risk-free, so what could be the problem?


Despite my obvious affection for it, I do take issue with how mindfulness meditation is sometimes approached, particularly considering its growing popularity. People hear how effectively it helps high stress--and other conditions--so they download apps or stream videos on YouTube and give it a whirl! Though these resources house fantastic guided mindfulness practices, this is often where the problem begins.

Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as, “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”. When mindfulness meditation is practiced with the focus on relieving stress, it can frequently have the opposite effect. We start setting expectations for ourselves and for mindfulness, like:

  • “I should be able to do this, it’s so simple”
  • “This is supposed to be relaxing. Why don’t I feel relaxed?”
  • “This isn’t working. There must be something wrong with me”
  • “I’ve done this a few times now and I’m still depressed/anxious/stressed. I knew this wouldn’t work.”

When this happens, we lose sight of the fact that mindfulness is meant to be practiced with the sole expectation of being present in that moment, nonjudgmentally. That’s the goal. All the other things are wonderful, helpful, fantastic side effects.

So if you’ve given up on the idea that mindfulness could be for you, or if you’ve tried practicing mindfulness and thought it was ineffective, I urge you to reconsider.

Try starting with the sole aim of paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. It sounds simple but this goal is plenty lofty.

Supporting Grieving Loved Ones


Grief is one of those ubiquitous human experiences. We all feel it, no matter who we are or where we come from. Though it’s universal, it is also deeply personal, and every loss is uniquely mourned. This can make it extremely challenging to be the supportive friend or family member you want to be when someone else is grieving. How, then, do we support those we love when they experience a loss, be it a person, pet, job, health, relationship, or opportunity?


Ease the Challenge of Daily Functions

We often feel at a loss as to how to support others. We ask them how we can help but they’re not sure either and may not want to burden you. This is a time to take action and, within reasonable boundaries, roll up your sleeves and help out.

Here are some ideas of what to do:

Drop off meals that are:

  • Freezable
  • Healthy
  • Individually portioned
  • Within their dietary restrictions and preferences

Do simple, unintrusive chores, such as:

  • Laundry (stick to things like towels & bedding, avoid delicates/undergarments)
  • Sweeping and mopping
  • Washing dishes
  • Dusting
  • Taking out trash
  • Mowing, raking, weeding, shoveling
  • Grocery shopping for simple items (bananas, granola bars, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Helping care for pets.

Make or bring coffee/tea in the mornings (but not too early)


**Always let the person know what you’re doing and confirm they feel comfortable with that. When you’re there, offer a supportive ear without creating a feeling of obligation for the other person to talk.

Hold Off Judgment

The reality is, we make judgments about our friends and family members--as much as we try not to. We too often let these judgmental thoughts about how intensely and how long people “should” mourn certain losses that we forget our loved one is suffering and in need of support.

So here’s what you do:

  • Accept that your brain comes up with judgmental thoughts, even when it seems terribly inappropriate to do so.
  • It’s what you do with these thoughts that matter!
  • Remember, even if a loss seems less significant to you, it could be a major upheaval for others (the opposite can also be true!)
  • There is not a prescribed period of time for grieving
  • Just because it’s been a year, two, or ten since the loss, does not mean a person is “over it”.

If you truly are concerned about your loved one’s behaviors as they grieve, encourage them to seek professional help and support them as they do.

Acknowledge the Difference

Grief is, in part, a reflection of the lost relationship. This loss will be different from any other before and most definitely different from other people’s losses--even if situational similarities exist. It’s essential you acknowledge this for yourself (you may even need to verbalize this to your loved one).

It’s helpful to refrain from:

  • Bringing your past experiences of grieving up unless prompted or asked
  • Saying, “I know exactly what you’re going through”

Instead try saying something like

  • “There’s no way I can know exactly what you’re going through but I’m here to support you any way I can.”
  • “I know this hurts and I’m here with you.”

Don’t Forget

Remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries, anniversary of the deceased’s parting, or any other significant dates. These will likely be challenging times for your loved one. Verbalize that you remember and offer support.

Use the deceased’s name specifically

  • It can be difficult for a person to move forward in grief if they think their loved one will be forgotten.
  • We often refrain from using the deceased’s name because it feels gentler but for the grieving, use of the name can be a comfort
  • Be mindful that for some cultures or religions, use of the name of the deceased in the first year is inappropriate

Ask your loved one what feels right and best for them, then respect that.

Ask the Hard Questions

If you become concerned about how your loved one is coping, it’s important not to shy away from some of the difficult questions. You may be the only person asking them.

Ask if they have started to have thoughts about not wanting to exist

Ask if they have had thoughts about suicide or otherwise hurting themselves

  • If they say yes, ask if they have thought of a plan.
  • Ask if they have intention to act on the plan.
  • Remain calm and understanding, especially if they say yes.

Keep resources on hand to help you help them.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Texting Crisis Line: Text “Help” to 741741
  • Nearby hospitals
  • Mental health professional contact information

Above all, don’t panic. Remember it is not uncommon for thoughts of suicide to arise for a person who is grieving.


Just Be There

Enough said. Your friend or loved one may not want to be with you. They may not want to talk all the time. They may want to do their own chores, they may want to work, they may not want to leave the house. Respect any and all of these. Everyone grieves in their own way.

You don’t have to have the perfect words or know what to say. After all, there’s nothing you can say to bring back their loss.

It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but the most supportive thing you can do is just be there.

Be ready to listen and be ready to help.

Winter Blues

When the sun goes down earlier and the temperature drops, it feels natural to start “hibernating”. Does hunkering down on the couch under a blanket to read or binge watch tv for hours on end sound familiar? Our eating habits also turn toward starchy and sugary options--and those holiday treat traditions don’t help. So what do you do when these behaviors begin to impact your daily life?


What is it?

What was formerly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder is now called Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern. It’s a “specifier” within the Depressive Disorders category (specifiers allow the diagnosing clinician to clarify particular characteristics of a disorder). What does that mean?

It means that a person can experience symptoms that are commonly associated with depression that align with certain seasons, usually fall and winter. The symptoms have a pattern of emerging at the beginning of cooler, darker seasons, and they recede with the return of warmer, sunnier weather. Some people can experience seasonal depression during spring or summer months.

  • Depressive episodes with a seasonal pattern are often characterized by the following symptoms:
  • Lower than usual energy.
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
  • Overeating.
  • Increased craving for starchy and sugary foods.
  • Weight gain.



How can you combat Depressive Disorders with Seasonal Patterns? Here are some helpful suggestions.


 Light Box

Light therapy boxes are often used to treat seasonal depressive episodes. They emit a light that is similar to the sun, and it’s recommended that the user sits in front of it for about 30 minutes. Consider the following when purchasing a light box:

  • Research! Make sure that the light won’t damage your eyes or skin.
  • Check to see that it filters out UV light to protect your eyes.
  • Talk to your doctor. It’s best to check in with your physician about the most effective products for your experience, as well as their recommended exposure time for you.


Dawn Simulator

With the sun rising later and later in the winter months, it can become extremely challenging to wake on time naturally--or with any sort of enthusiasm. Dawn simulators:

  • Are alarm clocks that use full spectrum light instead of sound to gently wake you.
  • Use light that brightens gradually and can be set to take 30 minutes to a couple hours to fully brighten before your wake time.
  • Mimic a natural sunrise, and help you awaken in those darker hours of winter.


Move It!

As always, it’s so crucial to not just workout in the summer but to continue your routine through colder months. To stay active, healthy and happy:

  • Do something to raise your heart rate and make you break a sweat for at least 30 minutes each day. Walk, swim, jog, box, play sports, anything! Just move.
  • Spend time outside. Yes, I know it’s cold and it’s probably raining or even snowing*! I know the weather sucks, but push through, the fresh air is great for you and you’ll feel great.
  • Also, you probably won’t melt so bundle up, be safe, and have fun moving your body!



Dehydration can have a slew of adverse effects on not only your body, but your brain too. Many studies are emerging highlighting the role hydration plays in mental health.

  • Proper hydration has been linked with better mood and improved alertness. It’s vital as an aid for every bodily function.
  • Staying hydrated can help you feel awake, focused, energized, and can curb cravings for starchy, sugary foods.
  • In winter, it’s easy to forget to grab our water bottles before leaving the house. The summer heat serves as a natural reminder but hydrating is just as important when it’s cold--even when you aren’t breaking a sweat.
  • Aim to consume anywhere from 88 to 128 ounces of water daily, depending on your biological sex and how much water you consume from other sources like fruits, vegetables, herbal tea, and low-sodium soup broth.


Establish an Active Routine

It’s so tempting to flop on the couch after a long day and commuting home in the dark. Do your best to stay off the couch for as long as possible and keep moving through the evening. Motivate yourself to:

  • Make a healthy dinner, do some cleaning, go for an evening stroll, and save couch time for the very end of your night.
  • Keep moving throughout your day, getting up at least once every hour to stretch your limbs and your back.


Eat Healthy

You know the drill here.

  • Welcome fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins while enjoying simple carbohydrates (baked goods, cereals, sugar, white bread/pasta, soda, candy, etc) sparsely and in small amounts.
  • Simple carbohydrates zap you of energy and can have a serious impact on your mood.



Consult with your primary care physician about taking supplements, such as Vitamin D, to assist with symptoms of seasonal depressive episodes.

  • Remember that vitamins and other supplements should be taken as carefully as other medication.
  • Please talk with your physician before starting any supplement regimen, and research the manufacturer thoroughly, as they are not closely regulated like other medication manufacturers.



Processing and tracking your symptoms of seasonal depressive episodes throughout the season can be very helpful in better understanding yourself and your needs. These symptoms can make relationships, jobs, and general daily living more difficult to maintain and manage. It can be helpful to work through these new challenges in regular therapy sessions.


Seasonal depressive episodes are very real and can impact your life in significant ways, especially for folks here in the gloomy Pacific Northwest. Take a moment to reflect on past seasons and whether the symptoms of seasonal depressive episode resonate with your experience. If so, please reach out to a licensed mental health professional soon. There’s plenty of hope for you to stay healthy and energized through the darkest months!



*Advances in clothing technology has resulted in some fantastic options for attractive, lightweight, thermal clothing to keep you warm in winter. What’s more is there are options that are possible for most every budget!