Musings – 08.05.21

Mindfulness – and how it applies to mental health

“Mindful eating means simply eating or drinking while being aware of each bite or sip.” 
Thích Nhát Hahn.

The Mindful M&M.

I wrote about my use of mindfulness in all that I do, i.e., personal life and professional life. I first started using it in my mental health practice approximately 10 years ago when I worked at a Crisis House in Oceanside, CA. One of my activities I performed as Psychosocial Rehabilitation Counselor was to take clients on a daily Mindfulness Walk. The house was only about three blocks from the beach, and the walk always a treat and a treasure. I preferred then, and still do now, to focus on a natural environment approach, such as noticing sights (the sky), sounds (birds), smells (flowers, fresh-cut grass), touch (the feeling of ocean mist/spray on your face) to the more traditional, do you feel pain in your feet…in your back…in your abdomen?

As I wrote a few days ago, in my first Mindfulness Musings blog, there are any number of ways to think and feel, and indeed, just “be” mindful.

Which brings me to the Mindful M&M. I don’t think that many of you know my love of all things peanut M&Ms. My love affair started WAY back with my father, an incorrigible sweet tooth. He lived in my hometown back in the Mid-West but would frequently visit me out here in California. His sister lived approximately two-three hours north of me, and we would always drive up the “5” for visits. And of course, my dad would always buy a large plastic bag of peanut M&Ms for the trip. I have very fond memories of those short trips, having my father, who has since passed, share his love of all things candy and sweet with me. I really like peanut M&Ms too as they combine sweet with salty and crunchy, something that of which I’m VERY fond.

So as I start work with ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) with my clients, I’ve transitioned from EMDR to ACT for clients who meet the diagnosis for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There are many things that I appreciate about ACT, first and foremost its focus on teaching people to “notice” their thoughts and feelings, memories and sensations. Unlike EMDR which tries to teach people to control those things, ACT encourages people to embrace and ACCEPT those experiences and events, and to commit to finding a positive outcome, albeit unintended and unexpected.

ACT resonates with me in ways that EMDR never did, as I find that my most difficult experiences and actions and choices have led (through a LOT of hard work) to some of my most profound, valued life changes and life lessons.

Now, back to peanut M&Ms and how they, too, can be mindful. I performed this exercise with a client on my caseload this week. It was a simple exercise, difficult for me only because I wanted to eat an M&M too! I think the most difficult thing for my client was eating the M&M really slowly. BUT, it was a perfect exercise. The client began with putting the M&M in their mouth, and they were instructed to be gentle with the candy, not biting or pressing down on it unless directed by me. We focused on noticing the outside of the candy, was it hard, was it slick, what did it taste like, was there any sensation of smell… Next, by “worrying” the candy coating with their tongue, they were able to move to inside coating of chocolate, but it was all “melty,” “going down the back of my throat.” My client then noticed an unexpected skin or “paper on the peanut…I don’t know what it is…” They noted that the peanut didn’t have flavor, nor did the skin, until directed to “chew the peanut” and they said, “oh, it’s salty.”

Now to solidify the mindfulness aspect of this exercise, I instructed them (and I did too, as I was feeling very peanut M&M deprived 😉 to put an entire peanut M&M in their mouth and eat it like “normal.” We both did so, and client reported that it just tasted like a peanut M&M, and that they didn’t really notice to hard candy sugary taste of the outside, didn’t notice the “skin” of the peanut, and that it “wasn’t as fun.”

The purpose of this exercise was to fully engage the client. To  move the focus on the entire experience, using all the senses…to move it from a near automatic experience to a mindful one.

In ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) it is VERY important to be present and fully grounded in the process; in one’s own body. As I’ve written, today’s society does NOT encourage that; instead focusing on being quick, being fast, being efficient, being first, not being present. 

Mindfulness will facilitate the opposite, i.e., focusing on the experience, being timely, being present, understanding that the process is the most important thing, not the outcome.

The next blog will continue to focus on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and how it can be utilized in treatment in many, if not all, modes of therapeutic process.

More Mental Health Musings coming next week!

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