Experimenting with 4 meditation apps for a week

Hi all! This is a different kind of post since I am sharing my personal opinion and experiences with some mindfulness/meditation apps.

I have been pretty stressed out lately (job searching) and have also enjoyed very low quality sleep and insomnia. So I decided to get back on track with some meditation or mindfulness activities. (For those of you who don’t know anything about mindfulness or meditation, check this brief post).

It has always been easier for me to practice guided meditations. I had been a user of Headspace a year ago and paid a subscription that never put to good use. The voice of Andy was not so pleasant for me and overall made meditating a pain in the ass instead of more pleasant. But I gave it another try and downloaded the Headspace app again. This time it wasn’t any different: all the sleep aid meditations were subscription only, and the basic meditation wasn’t helping me much.

So I did a little research and I found four alternatives to Headspace that seemed to be nice: Insight Timer, Aura, Calm, and Stop, Breathe, and Think. While most of these apps offer a paid subscription plan, I didn’t pay any so that I can give you some feedback on the free version.

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The first app I tried was Insight Timer. I wanted this app for sleep induction and meditation that was more targeted to any specific need. And it does have a wide variety of meditations. I used some in the middle of the day, like a “mindfulness eating” practice, and then some sleep aid ones.

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I would say it was hit and miss depending on the person that had created the meditation, but since it’s all free, I would not complain. You can save your favorite sessions for easier access next time you want to meditate.

I would use this app if you wanted a huge catalogue of various types of meditations.

 

Calm offers different options like the other apps, but it’s less overwhelming than Insight Timer.  Right when you start you may chose to meditate, play some music, or choose from their sleep section.

For meditation, their beginner guide with 7 free meditation days is a great way to start. If you chose the sleep section, their bedtime stories for adults and children are really g

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reat. They have four stories right now that are free, I don’t know if they will update this in the future.

Oh! A really cute setting of this app is the “scenes” that you use as background for your app. If you choose the Fireplace one, for example, a crackling fire will be shown on your app when you open it, accompanied with its own sounds.

I would use this app if you would like to have a daily guided meditation and bedtime stories.

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From the beginning I was also using Aura daily, since it offers a free short meditation everyday. This works greatly for me if I know I am not ready to purchase a subscription, since it “forces” me to use the daily free one. These meditations were short for the free version of the app, around 3 minutes each day. And they are mood targeted, which I found very useful.

 

The app comes with a gratitude journal, as well as a quick breathing exercise section. Like Calm, it also offers relaxation music, but has nothing on sleep aid on the free version.

I would use this app if you benefit from brief meditation or if lengthy meditations don’t work for you.

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Stop, Breath & Think is a great tool for the newbie. I had some technical issues, as the app for android is new and more unstable. I love that it has tons of information on mindfulness and meditation from the basics to “how it works”.

The app itself is really cute, and guides you to find the right meditation for you. In the beginning you may choose to do a “check in”, which is often used in therapy, specially in group counseling. During this check in you will be asked your emotional state, your physical state, and to choose 5 emotions that describe how you are feeling right now.

 

After the check in, you will be given three meditations to practice. They are pretty well targeted and I felt like the meditations were of better quality than the other apps.

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If you decide not to do a check-in, you may chose directly from their list of meditation,

 

which are about 6 minutes long for the free version.

I would chose this app if you are trying to get meditation practices targeted to your emotional and physical state.

 

 

I hope that these reviews were useful to anyone. If you’ve used any other and want to include it, please comment below!

 

EXTRAS: I accompany my daily routines with a couple of items that have become essential to me. One is an eye cooling pad that a friend of mine got for me. I put it in the freezer for 10 minutes and then cover my eyes with it either while meditating or just while I lay for a little bit. This is specially useful for tired eyes or headaches.

The other one is an essential oil diffuser that I use with different kinds of oils. I use it daily but specially when meditating.

 


Disclaimer: I am in no way related or in connection with anyone working for the mentioned brands and I have no financial gain for any purchases or downloads.

 

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Me too.

CW: Discussion of sexual assault

I just wanted to write a few words in relation to the “me too” movement.

Since I woke up this morning, social networks have been overflown with messages that read “me too”. A large amount of my friends are re-posting the same message, some with their personal stories, some with a hopeful message to other women.

The movement, amplified today by Alyssa Milano on October 15, 2017, was originated by Tarana Burk 10 years ago. She believes that healing comes from a perspective of compassionate empathy towards each other and that what she wanted to express with “me too”. Click here to watch this wonderful interview with her and her daughter about the hashtag and the movement.

I feel very invested on the topic but I also find myself quite triggered. As a woman I have experienced sexual assault and harassment myself; as a therapist, I have been told about it by other people. As both, I am unable to talk about both parts at the same time, but as we all fight this struggle through, I thought that I could better share what other people are saying:

AND as I did in the post about 13 Reasons Why, I wanted to leave some resources:

  • If you want more info about sexual assault, RAINN is doing great work on a national level. If you need help, visit their website or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
  • Because I am Chicago based, I also want to recommend Rape Victims Advocates (RVA) who help hundreds of victims in the area of Chicago. Call their hotline 1-888-293-2080. They help with crisis intervention, medical and legal advocacy as well as therapeutic treatment.

 

Please reach out to me if you need anything.


EDIT: this article was edited on October 19 to add information on Tarana Burke and the origination of the movement.

 

Self-care

You’ve all probably heard or read about self-care sometime. The term seems to be gaining momentum lately. Therapists and ‘influencers’ alike are sharing their #selfcare moments with the world, and yet, many people have asked me about what self-care really means.

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For me, enjoying some nice hot tea is part of self-care

Often reduced to a synonym for drinking wine, self-care varies in the way it is used, by whom it is used and the situation surrounding it. Audre Lorde described “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”, and as her, I believe it is rebellious and self-preserving to care for oneself. For any person, self-care would be the practice that helps them ground back to a more desirable state both in mind and body. For someone with mental health difficulties, it could mean understanding specific needs and targeting them. For someone with psychological trauma, it would start by identifying the triggers and skills to be able to re-stabilize into “normality” after they occur. These are just some ideas, and of course they will vary much depending on your experience, culture, ability or race.

So how to go about practicing self-care? The first thing I consider to be of great use is to have a Self-Care Plan. You can write up this in a moment when you are feeling at peace and relaxed and when you are at a good mind space.

Your plan can be organized however you like, as it suits you better. It can be organized by areas, situations, moments of the day, or by places, among others. For example I organize mine by areas (food, exercise, people) because that works better for me, but some people may need to organize it by places (self-care at home, at work, on the bus).

After you make a broad classification, you can go ahead and add activities you will do that make you feel better. Sometimes activities will be individualized “take a bath” and often these behaviors will be specified as situational (if ‘x’ happens, do ‘y’).

If you are under psychological treatment, please talk to your therapist to create together your self-care plan. This plan could include going to therapy, taking your meds, or practicing something related to your treatment.

It is important that you create a plan that is manageable, and always reminding yourself that this isn’t homework. If it feels tiresome, it’s SElfCareprobably not a good self-care activity. Forget about Instagram stars sharing their self-care activities, or even forget about what I said. Write what would make you feel better, more grounded and more comfortable.

Of course this is not to say that it will be easy to apply it. It’s usually not. Women, and more so, women of color, carry with them this role of the “caregiver”. Under this lens, we’ve
all been taught to care for others, hide weaknesses and be selfless. This has traditionally only created burnout, mental illness and unhappiness. It will take a hard collective effort to care for ourselves and help others care for themselves.

I would highly recommend to have the list of activities and areas close to you at all times, either printed, written down or on your phone on the cloud. Some people also create self-care packages that they keep in their homes for moments of need. They may contain chocolates, bath salts, face masks, color pencils, popcorn… You don’t need to spend a lot of money and time creating these, for example check out some pinterest ideas for packages.

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This may also be a great idea to gift someone who you know may be struggling with mental illness or just a difficult stage. You can even create your boxes together with a friend!

If you are looking for specific tools, I highly recommend this interactive guide to self-care by Jace Harr. It is most appropriate to be used in the moment, meaning it’s not that much of a plan but more of an instant helper. Check it out whenever you are feeling down or not completely grounded. Jace has a patreon page if you feel like checking it out (or you can also donate to their PayPal account).

I hope any of this helped clear some doubts!

 

What do you all think? What do you do for self-care? Please let me know if you would like to know more or ask for more examples of what you can do.

 

 

 

 


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13 Reasons Why: A (somehow) critical overview

I honestly wasn’t going to watch the latest trendy Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. I had heard various criticism from different areas in my life and I honestly didn’t want to watch TV to feel upset. But after many people also recommended me to watch it, “because you are a therapist”, I thought it would actually be good to understand how society may be seeing some of these issues.

And aside from being a “binge-worthy” kind of show, and being an artistic and cinematographically well done show, it has some very problematic representation of many issues. These issues by themselves would be difficult to tackle in a show, but together send some very confusing ideas. I would like to go over some of the most important ones and share how, in my opinion, the show gets it right and wrong. I will try to not give away major spoilers other than general story themes.

It is definitely not a show for teenagers

Netflix categorizes this show as “TV-MA”, or “for mature audiences”, adding “it may not be suitable for children 17 and under”. It speaks to me about the irony of a story that is lived by people under 17 that cannot be watched by them, as if what teenagers usually live is almost unbearable given their maturity.

Bullying

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Bullying is a big topic on the show and although it may touch on some components, it does little help to shed light on the issue. Sure, the show is not a documentary and has every right to be sensationalist, but I still think some aspects could have been brought up.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 40 to 80 percent of children will be bullied at one point of their school career. According to them:

Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions.

The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.

So without going much deeper on the topic I see a couple of misinterpretations that the show does. One of the worst factors of bullying is the factor of repetition that we see in the definition. We may see some of that on the show, but not through the same people always, it’s almost like it’s separate incidents that make someone feel bad. It is not usually the case.

Another important detail in the definition is that the person being bullied does nothing to cause it. This is very unclear in the show as the protagonist is reminded of how she is “bringing this to herself”. Very dangerous statement that I see constantly brought up again.

If you are interested in learning more, check out The Bully Project to access tons of resources on the topic for educators, parents or students. They have help for many things, like what to do if you are being bullied as well as a toolkit for educators to bring to their schools.

Suicide and Mental Health

The topic of suicide is represented throughout the TV show with some (but little) understanding of the phenomenon of suicide. This is such an important topic that I believe it would need a separate post. Mental health in general is not represented in any realistic or useful way. I don’t want to spoil the show but definitely the portrayal of the counselor is not the best we could have gotten (and yes, I am biased on this one) and it could make other teenagers think that they should not ask for help.

A quick search on google scared me, as the first websites when searching for suicide content are not very well founded. I personally disagree with the notion of blaming and scaring youth to not kill themselves. It has proven to be an unsuccessful method (quick google search of news) and I personally think it’s counterproductive to wanting adolescents to have honest and meaningful conversations with adults.

On the basics of what you need to know, suicide is more complicated than just deciding to kill yourself or not. It is true that it can be prevented, if the person goes to counseling, takes medication and/or has a good support network that can notice the warning signs. However, even with those strength factors, someone may decide to kill themselves. It is also true that bullying, sexual assault and stress can be risk factors for teenagers who are already struggling with their sense of “being”.

One thing I was very against of is the depiction of the actual suicide with the method. Multiple researches (this or this for example) have found that depiction of suicide in media and news actually increases suicidality in the target population of that media. To do this in the show for artistic purposes is very irresponsible, in my opinion.

If you or anybody you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, remember the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or check out their website.

Sexual Assault

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The show does poorly in representing sexual assault in any useful way. We all should know by know that women are not believed and slut shamed when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault. By representing the same idea, and by showing rape in a very graphic way, the show does nothing to help on this issue. It does represent rape culture in the way that many of us have gotten to know it. But by itself, it becomes more of a problem than anything else.

I do think 13 Reasons Why represents sexuality in a more realistic way than other shows. Through the eyes of hormoned teenagers we learn about fluidity, exploration and about the difficulties that come from understanding one-self and our needs. If anything, it exemplifies (through the act of not addressing it), that consent is something that needs to be taught in schools, prior to the ages in which adolescents are sexually interested.

If you want more info about sexual assault, RAINN is doing great work on a national level. If you need help, visit their website or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Adolescence

How well is adolescence represented in the show?

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These people are the generation ‘Z’ers, those whom some adults have described as the saviors of the wrongs that all the previous generations have done. But what we see depicted is more of the old ‘millennials be millennials’ content. They are represented as entitled, spoiled, struggling, self-serving, selfish, sex and drug oriented youth. Is this all true? Without wanting to talk for them (although my answer is a clear no) this great article of non other but Teen Vogue has some brief commentary from teenagers themselves.

What can we do?

So, I have explored some of these issues and given you just a couple of resources to get more information for you, your children, or your students.  I think it is great that many people are reflecting on these issues and talking about it. It’s really good if our teenagers are talking to us about it. But, I also believe wholeheartedly that, awareness, for the sake of it, it’s useless. Prevention, however, is useful. And awareness campaigns are usually in the very beginning of prevention, but they are not enough.

For all of these issues, we need to educate ourselves if we are privileged enough to have access to information. If you can contribute into other people having this education, do! This goes from crating training for teachers about bullying, legislating for sexual education, creating caring environments in our schools, or as simple as making sure that no child goes to school hungry. I am sure that the writers of the show did not expect to change the world with 13 Reasons Why, but they sure should have given it more thought into what they could have done to better help our society in some of these problems.

If you want to contact me for anything, you can do so here, or in the comments bellow!

 

Paradox of choice

Picture by Amnesiac86 from Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wondered what could you do to take your life easier? Let me give you a small piece of advice: reduce the choices you have to make everyday.

To be honest, this idea is not originally mine. The idea belongs to Barry Schwartz. Barry Schwartz is an American psychologist that has been working and researching in the field of social psychology. He has published some books, among them The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less Continue reading

Psychology in the movies

 

Image by Holger Ellgaard on Wikimedia commons

Movies reflect situations and parts of the human life. Sometimes they reflect our desires and fantasies, others our fears and worst realities. They are not always realistic, and neither their characters should be taken as role models. But I think they have succeeded in this struggle that I have, to bring psychology and therapy closer to everyone.

Therefore, as I am a big movie buff, I could not hesitate to create this post about movies about psychology and therapy. I ordered them alphabetically. You can find the year, director and the theme. Hope you enjoy it and if you want to add any, comment below!

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