10 Unusual Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

10 unusual ways to cultivate gratitude, text on top of a photo of pinecones, feathers, and greenery.10 non-traditional ways to cultivate gratitude that feel authentic, sincere, and meaningful, without turning into a game of show-and-tell.

Around this time of year, there are lots of gratitude challenges going on, where people post about something they are thankful for each day. For some, this is a great way to re-focus on the things that matter most to them. For others, it becomes overwhelming, invites comparison, and causes guilt because there is so much heartache in the world and it feels insensitive, or just impossible to focus on gratitude. It can feel like humblebragging. It can look like toxic positivity. Ew, that’s the opposite of what we want, correct?!

Don’t get me wrong; I am deeply committed to gratitude as a practice. It truly can be life- changing, in the right circumstances. A couple years ago, I wanted to come up with a mindful gratitude challenge for myself that went a little deeper, and didn’t feel like playing show-and-tell. You’re welcome to use it like a personal daily challenge, as a conversational springboard for your family, or any way that feels inspiring to you.

  1. Simple Pleasures: Learning to identify and relish the simple pleasures in life is a key step in overcoming ennui, emotional pain, and even trauma, and also in increasing happiness. Cultivating this habit helps to shed the numbness we sometimes embrace to deal with the pain we feel (either physical or emotional). Do something intentionally, and relish the moment.
    Some ideas:

    • Peel and eat an orange -section by section
    • Immerse yourself in nature
    • Read a book next to the fireplace
    • Do some stargazing
    • Make (or listen to) lovely music
    • soak in the tub with yummy oils or salts
    • Put on a pair of fuzzy socks
    • Savor a cup of tea or hot chocolate
    • Watch a sunrise or sunset
    • Light candles at dinner time
    • Mindfully eat Cheetos. I’m not going to judge you.

Check in: Journal about your simple pleasure, including how you experienced it with each of your senses.

  1. First thought of the day: What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Do you grab your phone and start scrolling? Roll out of bed and go brush your teeth? Whatever you do, I’m sure the thought of adding another ‘thing’ to your morning routine doesn’t thrill you…But what if you knew that just 10 seconds (or less) a day had the potential to significantly change your outlook over time? This is one of those habits that is a very small shift in your radius, but those few degrees over time have the power to put you in a very different frame of mind. This is all it is: Encourage your first waking thought of the day be one of gratitude. To help you remember to do this, try putting a sticky note that says “Thank You” on your phone, or the light switch. Some people even tape a picture of a smiley face up on the ceiling above where they sleep. Put up some kind of reminder that you’re sure to see tomorrow, first thing, and then think of something you’re thankful for.Check in: Take a picture of your “reminder”, or what the first thing you see when you wake up is. Is there anything you would change about what you see first thing, to help cultivate a gratitude mindset?
  2. What is not wrong? If you cannot see what is going right in your life, or in the world, start with what is NOT wrong.Thich Nhat Hanh (poet, monk, and peace activist) said, “When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is happiness. But later, when we don’t have a toothache, we don’t treasure our non-toothache.” I can totally relate to this, can you?!So, be as ridiculous or as serious as you like for this challenge. List everything you can think of that is not wrong. A few things on my list: Not thirsty. Not in danger. No hiccups. No broken fingernails. No power outage. Not injured. Not late. Not cold. No migraine. No illness. No broken bones. No hunger. No nausea. No asteroid headed towards me. Not lost. In a social media age where it’s so tempting to compare my gratitude list with the Joneses (aka influencers) and come up short, start with what is not wrong. Build on that. It will help you gain perspective and feel more gratitude for what already IS, in this moment.Check in: In your journal, answer the question: “What is not wrong in my life?”
  3. Take a mindful drink of water: This is a simple exercise in which an everyday practice becomes a restorative anchor of mindfulness and gratitude. You can keep it super simple or fancy it up to become a personal ritual.*Fill a glass with clean water. Watch the water as it trickles into your cup. Note the movement and flow of the water. Feel the weight and heft of the full glass of water held in your hand. Appreciate the clarity and stillness of the water.
    *Drink the water, slowly. Sip it. Savor it. Pause, and take a breath between sips. Note the temperature of the water. Notice how it feels in your mouth and in your throat.
    *Do you notice how drinking water is a sensory experience even though it has no taste or smell? It is a reset. It is the universal palate cleanser. Drinking water reminds us of how mindfulness is like a palate cleanser for our minds. We let thoughts flow past, we savor the stillness.
    *Drinking water reminds us that we are all connected. We are made primarily of water. When we drink water, we become part of the water cycle, and the ocean, the clouds, the trees, and the sun are all in us. (This concept is called inter-being, or non- duality). Cool, right?!Check in: What other lessons does water teach you?
  4. Body appreciation: Think of something about your body (that has nothing to do with how other people visually experience you) that you are grateful for. This could include your physical strength, your ability to use one of your senses, or the joy you feel when you engage in a favorite activity. When I was in nursing school, we got really nerdy and specific about this. (I.e. thankful for my parathyroid gland, my metacarpals, my internal anal sphincter, my digestive enzymes etc.) There are so many things that have to work properly in order to be alive, so many things going right that are too easy to take for granted. You probably already know how easy it is to be critical about your appearance. Those with chronic illness know how easy it is to become frustrated at the functions our bodies can’t reliably perform. (Check out this post on handling body shaming comments from others.) But there is SOMETHING that your body is doing just right. Think about it, and let yourself be thankful for that thing!Check in: Journal or post about something your body can do that you are grateful for.
  5. Put a pencil in your mouth: Ok, I’m kidding, kind of. This challenge is about the power of humor (it is the best medicine, after all). Let me explain: A study from 1988 had participants hold a pencil between their teeth (which forced the individuals to smile) and rate the degree of humor in various cartoons. Other participants were led to frown while watching the same clips. The hypothesis was that participants who smiled would judge the cartoons funnier than the frowning participants, and that’s exactly what happened. A more recent study from 2012 had the participants hold chopsticks between their teeth in a similar manner, and found similar results. They also found that induced smiling may reduce the risk of heart disease. The researchers went on to say that “findings suggest smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body’s stress response, regardless of whether the person actually feels happy or not.” It’s worth mentioning that they also found that the more genuine the smile (i.e. “smiling with your eyes”), the more dramatic the mood change. So what does this have to do with gratitude? Laughter and gratitude go hand in hand when it comes to reducing stress, boosting the immune system, and changing your brain chemistry in ways that increase happiness. While gratitude must be learned and practiced, laughter is innate. Even babies can laugh. Find something that made you genuinely laugh. This can be a story, a photo, a meme, whatever tickles your funny bone or delights you, as long as it is feel- good material.Check in: Now share your funny stuff with a friend who could use a laugh. Enjoy it together. Preferably with a pencil between your teeth.
  6. Recognize your privilege: This one may be uncomfortable, but it is well worth it. Before I go further, I want to say that recognizing your own privilege (that is, the unearned advantages you enjoy, or rather, the oppression you do NOT face) does not equate with saying you are somehow a bad person. Avoid the urge to deny that you have privilege. Pretty much everyone has SOME form of privilege. This really requires some deep reflection. The thing about privilege is it is often invisible to those who have it.Again, acknowledging your privilege is not meant to cause guilt. It is meant to be a catalyst so that you can see more clearly what you can do to level the playing field, to enact social change. Privilege can be present in areas of race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation, body size and appearance, religion, age, education, physical and mental health, language spoken, and more.When we practice gratitude, we first have to notice what we have. Then, the question “So, what?” arises.Now that we know what we have in our lives, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to improve the world? So this challenge has 2 parts. 1. Try to identify at least 2 ways you are privileged. 2. Think of ways you can equalize privilege (could include sharing your time, money, energy, connections, mobility, etc.). You could donate to a local food pantry or shelter. Or raise awareness for causes that you think are really great. Use your privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized people who are already using their voice. Follow diverse people on social media.

    Check in: If you have read an impactful book, or you follow someone on social media that has helped you in this area, how about sharing some of their content with a friend, or on social media?

  7. Feel- Good Playlist: Music has the power to evoke memories, shift emotions, and change our whole vibration.Think of a song that makes you happy when you listen to it. It could be a song that changed your life, one that gives you warm fuzzies, or one that gets you pumped up for the day. Listen to it and do what your heart wants you to do– dance to it, sing along, put earbuds in, turn it up, close your eyes and sway, or whatever makes your heart light. If you don’t already have a playlist of music that makes you feel hopeful, joyful, or excited, consider making one to listen to whenever you need a pick-me-up.*Here’s a link to the collaborative playlist I made with people’s suggestions on Spotify when I posed this challenge on social media a while back.Check in: Find out what the go-to songs are in your loved ones’ lives are and ask them what they appreciate about them.
  8. Identify a flower/compost/flower cycle in your life: There is a parable about a wise farmer and a foolish farmer. The foolish farmer wants their farm to be “clean” and look pristine. This farmer works hard to remove all the piles of rotten, stinky compost. Then, at planting time, the farmer goes out and buys someone else’s compost and lays it down in the fields. On the other hand, the wise farmer takes in their piles of stinky compost and works with it, raking it into piles and letting it sit in the sun. This farmer recognizes the seed of creation inside the pungent smell, and doesn’t feel shame about the decomposition happening all around their farm. When the time is right, the farmer will spread it in the fields, and grow beautiful plants with it. This farmer also knows that once the crops are spent, they will be added back into the compost piles and contribute to the cycle of decomposition, creating rich soil for the next generation of crops to grow.*The creation of beautiful crops was in the “disgusting” compost… and those beautiful plants will return to being compost. Creation and destruction are part of one whole. If we can have the courage to recognize this cycle in ourselves, it allows us to be curious and non-judgemental with ourselves and eventually grow into exactly who we are.*When we dislike something in ourselves, and we bury, hide, or displace it, we begin to judge ourselves harshly. Eventually that judgement extends to others. We go to extreme measures to keep from seeing our own “messy”, and we get super uncomfortable with vulnerability in ourselves and those around us.*When we have the commitment and compassion to sit with the difficult things in ourselves, we may find that what is “disgusting” in us holds the fertile soil to allow what is beautiful to grow.Consider how the metaphor of this field, with its crops and compost, show up in your life.

    Check in: Answer these questions for yourself- Are there any changes you would like to make? How can you show yourself more compassion? Are there any “compost” things in your life that you can look back and feel grateful for?

  9. Reflect Back: Sometimes we view gratitude as being almost self- serving. As in an attitude of “it doesn’t matter what sad things are happening in the world, I’m just going to focus on my blessings and what’s good for me”. But that attitude clearly lacks real thankfulness and empathy.Gratitude researcher Robert Emmons of UC Davis said, “True gratefulness rejoices in the other. Its ultimate goal is to reflect back the goodness that one has received by creatively seeking opportunities for giving.”Reflect back the goodness in your life. How can you share it, and rejoice in goodness in other’s lives?Check in: If you are food secure, can you donate some food or money to a food bank or shelter? If you enjoy good health, can you donate to cancer research, a children’s hospital, or mental health non-profits? You could leave an anonymous gift for someone in need, or participate in an art abandonment group. Maybe your “reflecting” looks like spending time in person or on the phone with someone who might need some extra love during this time of year.

I hope this list gives you some ideas of different ways to cultivate gratitude that feel authentic, sincere, and meaningful. I encourage you to come up with other creative ways to find joy in the good things that already exist in your life.

Walk Slowly, Go Farther: a Case for Rest

text walk slowly, go farther, overlaying an image of a woman walking a red rock labyrinth.Sometimes the answer to getting somewhere is to do it slowly, and rest along the way. I’ve heard different versions of “Walk slowly, go farther” over the years, attributed to different people, most often to Confucius. However there is also the Aesop’s Fables version, in the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race (that phrase used to really irritate me as a kid).

I’ve always wanted to do everything, and do it fast.
I started walking at 9 months old.
When I was 4 years old, I lost my first tooth.
I couldn’t wait to be all 10 fingers old.
In middle school, I decided I was going to read ALL the classic literature (and I made a pretty big dent in the list).
In high school, I took AP classes. Tutored elementary kids. Joined the Spanish Club. Key Club. National Honor Society…

In college, I tried to do everything too. Studying to get in to nursing school, taking ballroom dance classes, attending extracurricular activities, juggling a part time job and dating. I was burning the candle at both ends, as my dad would say. I burnt out and got really sick. So sick that I could hardly drag myself out of bed to get to class and my shifts at work. That earned me my first ever “failing” grade, in Organic Chemistry. I was so sick that it triggered a cycle of chronic pain and fatigue that I still deal with, 20 years later.

My body had been telling me I needed to rest, and I ignored it until it demanded that I rest. Still, I forced myself to continue on. I finished nursing school, working 12 hour clinical shifts, had three babies, continued working part time and took care of my family.

From time to time, my body would shut down and I would miserably watch my children play from the couch, hardly able to move, feeling like I was fighting my way through wet concrete. I received multiple medical diagnoses, none of which offered me much hope, but demanded rest. A sickening anxiety surfaced, which would edge me toward a numb abyss of depression, which I referred to as my “deep dark hole”. I felt stuck because I wanted to do so much, but my body couldn’t perform. There was a grieving process for what I felt I had to give up, but I started learning to learn to treat my body with care and tenderness. I learned that I could still do the things most important to me (but not every whim that popped into my mind) if I would gift myself with adequate physical and mental rest.

This rest does not limit itself to naps or sleeping, or prostrating myself on the sofa. I learned (as the Nap Ministry has often shared on social media), that rest is anything that connects your mind and body.

I still have a long list of projects that I would like to accomplish, yesterday if possible. I want to become an expert in a dozen different subjects. Like so many others, I want to find the answers to all the questions that keep me up at night.

But the answer that keeps coming into my heart, over and over, is to walk for now. Rest, and then get up and walk again. Self compassion has helped me to process so much grief and recognize all the things that walking still allows. I used to think that I could rest when I was dead, but I have learned to treasure rest as a worthy endeavor by itself, and for its own sake.

Do you ever find that you can go farther by walking slowly?

Migraine Checklist: Options for a mindful approach

Migraines- ugh. Anyone else out there regularly deal with these joy- sucking neurological events? If so, you truly have my sympathy. Like so many migraine- experiencers, I have done hours of research, spent so many dollars, and tried so many therapies to rid myself of migraines. I have created a migraine checklist that is a compilation of the things I have tried that have helped, and a few that I haven’t tried but personally know people who have with good results.

Disclosure: Wild Goose Meditation is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, and we may earn a small commission on items you purchase using our links, at no additional cost to you.

I should note that while I have had a measure of success with many remedies I have tried, I haven’t yet found any treatment that is 100% foolproof. When I feel one of these headaches coming on, I try to use my intuition to select a treatment, or multiple treatments. Sometimes I can nip it in the bud, sometimes it takes a few hours, and sometimes I just have to accept that today I am going to experience this and go to bed for the day.

I am lucky enough to have a prescription that works for me most of the time, but it does have side effects, and I am not always willing to trade discomforts. Other people I know can’t take prescription medication because it doesn’t work for their particular migraines, or they are pregnant, or have medication interactions. It’s good to have options that are alternatives to medication. So, most of these therapies are non- pharmaceutical, with a few exceptions.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and I cannot diagnose, prescribe or treat any conditions. Feel free to peruse my list, but do consult your physician and do your own research about treatment options- you use them at your own risk.

First things first

Before anything else, ask yourself these questions and address them if needed:

  • How is my hydration? Do I need to drink?
  • How are my electrolytes? Do I need salt? Potassium? Magnesium?
  • Where is my blood sugar at? Do I need to eat?
  • How is my stress level?

It seems basic, but it’s worth saying. Consider your hydration and electrolyte balance. This probably won’t treat your migraine by itself, but dehydration and low electrolytes will make your migraine worse. Make sure you’re getting enough clean water each day. At minimum, your weight in pounds divided by 2 is the number of ounces of water you should be drinking every day. As for electrolytes, you could definitely drink a sports drink or use an oral rehydration solution, but you can easily replenish your electrolytes with food, or by drinking an electrolyte drink called solé that you can make yourself.  Beyond that, just try to make sure your needs as outlined in the bullet points are being met.

Migraine checklist: first line treatments

It’s also important to act as soon as you become aware of your migraine. Early treatment is key. If you have an aura before your migraine, start right then, or at the first sign of pain. Some first- line treatments include:

  • Hot/ cold therapy- Depends on the person; some people get relief with hot packs on their heads/ necks. Others prefer cold packs, and still others swear by using a combination of heat and cold on various parts of their body. For me, heat on my neck with my heating pad is usually the most successful option (This is the one I have).
  • Acupressure- stuff you can try on your own, like ear seeds (tiny seed on an adhesive patch that you put in a specific place on your ear depending on what you want to treat), wearable acupressure devices (like this one that you wear on the webbing between your thumb and index finger). 
  • Aromatherapy- as long as you’re not smell sensitive. If scents worsen your headache or cause nausea, skip this. Otherwise, peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus essential oils are great options to quell nausea, tension, and sinus pressure, which sometimes contribute to migraines.
  • Breathwork- The breath is an under-appreciated yet powerful tool in your arsenal! Changing your breath can slightly alter the acid/ base balance in your blood. It also has the power to release tension you hold in your body, so don’t overlook this option. There are two main breath exercises I use when I have a headache.
    • Balanced breath: this exercise is about as easy as it gets! Just breathe in to a slow count of four, and breathe out to a slow count of four. Continue as long as it feels good, but try for a minimum of a minute.
    • Sitali Pranayama: this is a traditional cooling yoga breath. Roll your tongue into a ‘U’ shape, with the tip of your tongue just past your lips. Inhale deeply through your mouth, through the rolled tongue. Exhale through your nose. (If you can’t roll your tongue, just breathe over a flat tongue.) Repeat for 8-12 breaths, or up to 3 minutes at a time. I have tried this with good results, especially when paired with other approaches.
  • Body scan- Some migraines are triggered by tension held in the body. Assess your musculoskeletal system, and focus on letting tension drain from your body. Check out this body scan script if you need ideas.

Nutritional supplements

Consider taking vitamins and supplements that may help with migraines. Keep in mind that while there is anecdotal evidence for these options, the research is ongoing and in some cases inconclusive. I recommend that you do your own research and consider checking with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a new supplement, especially if you’re already taking medication. Here are the supplements that have helped me to some degree:

  • Magnesium
  • B-vitamin complex
  • Feverfew
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • Omega-3s
  • CBD oil
  • Natural caffeine
  • Ginger/ Turmeric

This is by no means an exhaustive list. On the subject of nutrition, however, it’s worth pointing out that there are foods you may need to eliminate from your diet. Some people find that their migraines are triggered by wheat/ gluten, alcohol, chocolate, dairy, caffeine, or sugar. Many people experience a fewer migraines when they adhere to the ketogenic diet.

Know your triggers

Prevention is, of course, best. Knowing what things tend to trigger migraines (even if you can’t always pinpoint it) is an essential strategy. So, do what you can to understand your migraine triggers. These things might help:

  • Keep a migraine journal
  • Use a migraine tracking app (like Migraine Buddy)
  • Chart your menstrual cycle (if applicable)
  • Consider: Am I light sensitive? (Make sure you have good sunglasses to wear outside, and an eye mask to wear during a migraine.) Motion sensitive? Sound sensitive? (I have worn noise dampening earplugs with good results when I am in noisy crowds.) Weather sensitive? Smell sensitive?
  • Are you getting enough good quality sleep? (If not, and especially if you have neck or shoulder pain, reevaluate the pillow you are sleeping on! There is no pillow that is perfect for everyone. Some people love memory foam contoured pillows, others love buckwheat filled pillows, etc. Find the one that feels best.)

It might be worth visiting your physician and getting lab tests done to rule out allergies, nutrient deficiencies, or an autoimmune condition. If you often have neck, shoulder, or back pain that precludes a migraine, it would definitely be a good idea to visit a chiropractor or physical therapist. Things like poor posture and pinched nerves are very treatable causes of headaches. When I went to my chiropractor, I got X-rays done that showed a congenital abnormality in my spine around my neck, and knowing that definitely affects what I do to prevent and treat my migraines.

If you can afford to get regular massages, or you have a friend or partner who is willing to work on your neck and shoulders consistently, this can help prevent tension from building up, which can sometimes trigger a migraine. Even if it doesn’t prevent every migraine, it’s a pretty pleasant form of self- care! I regularly use this neck and shoulder massager during the winter, which is migraine season for me. 

Speaking of triggers… If your migraines are related to muscle tension at all, you should know about trigger point therapy. This therapy goes along with massage, but it is not so pleasant, at least not for me! This involves the masseuse putting firm pressure on your muscle knots until they release. Painful, but effective. I also have a trigger point device that I can use on myself.

Get creative

If you’re willing to try some non- traditional forms of treatment, there are even more options available to you for treating migraines.

  • Binaural beats- “A binaural beat is an illusion created by the brain when you listen to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time.”- Source: WebMD. Basically you listen to these tracks (often paired with music) through headphones so that each ear receives a slightly different frequency, and your brain perceives a third frequency that isn’t really being played, but is the result of your brain trying to incorporate the different frequencies into one unified frequency. This is called brain wave entrainment, and depending on the sound frequencies played, it induces different brain wave states. Brain waves in the delta range are associated with deep sleep, pain relief, cortisol reduction, and deep meditation. Migraine relief is not a sure thing, but it helps some people, some times. Research at least agrees that it can’t hurt, although you may want to steer clear if sound sensitivity is a thing for you during a migraine. Search “binaural beats for migraine” on YouTube or Spotify, and look for tracks that use low (delta) frequency, under 4 Hz. Read more about binaural beats for migraine here.
  • Green light therapy– there is some research out there about using green LED light to alleviate migraine pain, and even decrease the frequency of migraine headaches (after months of use). I have not personally tried this, but it might be worth looking into.
  • Biofeedback- This amazing therapy has been extensively studied and found to be very helpful for sufferers of both migraines and tension headaches, along with a host of other issues. This therapy teaches you to control some of your body’s functions that are normally beyond your control. Electrodes connected to your skin measure things like heart rate, breathing, muscle contraction, skin temperature, and even brain waves. Then you undergo training to learn to control those things. This training can take place in a therapist’s office, but there are some options becoming available for home practice as well. This is definitely worth looking into if you haven’t tried it already!
  • EFT/ tapping- This is a highly studied modality based on Chinese medicine. (Seriously, there is tons of reputably published research. My child’s therapist even uses this with her patients.) Basically, you use your fingers to gently tap on specific areas on the body that are energy centers, while repeating certain phrases. This helps “dislodge” stuck emotions, and sends signals to the part of the brain that controls stress. The result is that negative emotions are neutralized, stress is reduced, and physical healing can begin. Read more about it here. Use the setup phrase “Even though I have this _______________, I deeply and completely accept myself”. You can fill in the blank generically with “migraine”, but it is more helpful to be specific, i.e. “shooting pain behind my eyes” or “vise around my temples” etc.

A little more extreme

These last few options are a little more extreme, and none of them are a silver bullet, but they might be worth researching and considering if they might offer you some relief:

  • Daith piercing- this is an ear piercing that goes through the ear’s innermost cartilage fold. It is placed over an acupuncture point that is supposed to relieve headache pain. The research is very mixed about whether it is helpful or not. I personally have a daith piercing on each ear. My experience was that it was more painful than a regular earlobe piercing, and that it took nearly a year to be fully healed. During that time, I did experience fewer migraines. Now that they’re healed, I do think fiddling with them or changing out the earrings- anything that causes slight inflammation- helps slightly. That is just my opinion. The TLDR is a daith piercing might help, a little. I really like my piercings anyway, but it might not be worth it if you don’t want the look as well.
  • Botox injections- I have not tried this, but I personally know people who swear by it. Basically, botox is injected into one of several muscle groups around the face, head, neck, or shoulders. Whatever your trigger area is that holds tension. This needs to be repeated about every 3 months, and it is not cheap. This treatment definitely isn’t for everyone, and it is only FDA-approved for those who experience migraines more than 15 days out of a month. It’s good to know what the options are, however.
  • Acupuncture- Another one that I have not tried, but does help some who can handle dealing with needles. It is also based on Chinese medicine and meridians (energy pathways in the body). The American Migraine Foundation states “It’s not completely clear how acupuncture eases pain or decreases migraine. The overarching belief is that it activates pathways in the brain that are responsible for turning pain off.”

Practice mindfulness.

This is really important, both when you are in the midst of a migraine, and when all is well! When you don’t have a migraine, try to note it. “Noticing what is not wrong” is one method of practicing mindfulness. Obviously, it is so much easier to identify what is going wrong. As human beings, we are hardwired to do so- it is an evolutionary survival mechanism. Find the thing that isn’t right, fix it, survive another day. It becomes less helpful in these modern times where our survival isn’t at stake, but those mental pathways remain. Now we’re stressed because of it! So we purposefully try to do the opposite. We identify the non-toothache, non-migraine, non-hunger, non-embarrassment, and this is a practice of mindfulness. It is also, as you might guess, a practice of gratitude.

When you do have a migraine, instead of panicking, try to bring that same quality of noticing and identifying. Note the location, quality, and movement of the pain. Be curious, and follow it. It is sometimes (though not always) possible to halt a headache just by paying attention to it and not fighting it. But if not, learning about where and how you feel your headache pain can help strengthen your intuition about how to treat it, or at least give clues about what triggered it.

Last but not least, a word about acceptance and expectations. This post is all about trying different things to find relief from migraine pain. I hope if you try some of the things on this list that they will help you. In fact, during the course of writing this article I had a migraine come on, and I hit it with half a dozen of the things I mention in the post. Luckily, my migraine abated without me needing to take my prescription. I wish that for you, too. But here’s the thing: when we become too attached to an outcome, or we refuse to accept what IS, we create more suffering for ourselves. I’m not saying don’t try to relieve and prevent pain. Of course not. But try to approach whatever is happening at the moment with equanimity. Try not to attach negative meaning to your migraines. I promise that will help you see the situation with more clarity.

I wish you the best on your mindful migraine healing journey. <3


How to celebrate the Autumn Equinox

The last kiss of Summer is upon us, and the Autumn Equinox is here. The days are shorter, the nights becoming longer. We are shifting out of the summer yang energy (vibrant, sunshine, upward, male energy) and towards the yin energy (restful, water, receptive, female energy) that begins with Autumn. I’m taking my cues from Mother Nature that it is time to slow down a bit, and begin to turn some of my energy inward.

Equinoxes are unique events that happen twice a year; once in the spring, and once in the fall. The equinox occurs when the Northern and Southern hemispheres receive the sun’s rays about equally, and the daylight and nighttime hours are approximately the same. One really remarkable thing about equinoxes is that they are experienced by every person, everywhere in the world, at the same moment (although the actual “clock time” will depend on what time zone you live in). 

Equinox Symbolism

The term equinox comes from the Latin word aequinoctium (aequi-, meaning “equal,” and nocti-, meaning “night.”). The equinox represents balance in nature: opposites like night and day, light and darkness, or yin and yang.

During the equinox we have the opportunity to find that balance within ourselves. This is one of those things that sounds simple, but requires a little effort. Balance is not a state we can stay in constantly. Most of us do best with mono-tasking, which means it is easy to get off- kilter because we have been spending our energy, time, or attention on one thing, and maybe neglecting other things. This is a time to evaluate where we are at and how we have been spending our energy, and re- calibrating.  Human beings are complex. We are not all light, nor are we all darkness. We have both inside of us. Think of it this way: even when we stand in the light, we cast a shadow.

Don’t be afraid of the shadows

We shouldn’t be afraid of our shadow side- and yes, we all have one. What is a shadow side? It is the inner part of us that is the least known to our conscious minds. It could be the dark parts inside of us, or it could be vulnerability, fears, grief, and hidden hopes. Marie-Louise von Franz (a renowned Jungian psychologist and scholar) wrote: 

“Whether the shadow becomes our friend or enemy depends largely upon ourselves… The shadow is not necessarily always an opponent. In fact, [it] is exactly like any human being with whom one has to get along, sometimes by giving in, sometimes by resisting, sometimes by giving love—whatever the situation requires. The shadow becomes hostile only when [it] is ignored or misunderstood.” (quote from “The Realization of the Shadow.”)

The fall equinox is meant for us to give attention to our shadow side, and to seek to understand what it needs. Remember that the fruits we are harvesting now had to be planted as seeds, in darkness in order to grow. Before we can experience “en-light-enment” we have to be willing to experience our own darkness. The key is to let gratitude accompany us along the whole process, so that all the lessons we learn in the darkness come with us to the harvest. Then, we let go of everything else (i.e pain, fear, grief).

Autumn Equinox traditions

Historically, the autumn equinox was a celebration of gratitude for a bountiful harvest, known as Mabon. My Celtic ancestors would have celebrated collecting a plentiful harvest, collecting seeds for the next growing season, expressing gratitude for the earth, sharing their abundance, and preparing their homes and themselves for the winter ahead.

Today, you may want to celebrate in ways that are similar and also reflect modern life. Ideas for personal/ inner observance of the transition to Fall include:

  • Finishing projects you began earlier in the year
  • Clean house and donate items
  • Preserving food (canning fruit and veggies, making jam, salsa, and applesauce, drying fruits, collecting nuts and seeds, etc.)
  • Reflecting on the fruits of your labors so far this year (What have you been cultivating?)
  • Letting go of the things that no longer serve you
  • Processing grief
  • Create your own mental health toolkit
  • Expressing gratitude to the earth and to the people that have supported you
  • Meditating on the balance of yin and yang energies
  • Start a gratitude list
  • Go on a hike or walk in nature
  • Arrange a cornucopia
  • Donate to a local food pantry or shelter

There are also so many fun activities that you could do to celebrate the autumn equinox with friends and family:

  • Making leaf crowns
  • Visit an orchard and pick apples
  • Drink spiced cider or wassail
  • Doing crayon rubbings with different kinds of leaves
  • Make an autumn tablescape with small pumpkins, gourds, leaves, and walnuts or acorns. Add a couple of candles.
  • Bake bread
  • Host a gathering with a caramel apple bar (provide apples on sticks, caramel sauce, and all the toppings for people to choose from).
  • Have a bonfire
  • Dip colored leaves in beeswax and make a garland for your home
  • Go on a lantern walk
  • Make flower/ leaf/ rock/ stick mandalas

Here is a script for a guided meditation you can practice around the autumn equinox, and an optional release ritual at the end.

Autumn Equinox Meditation and Release Ritual

Find a comfortable seated position. Begin to focus on your inhales and your exhales. Let your eyes gently close if you like. Just sit and breathe for a few minutes, mentally following the path the air takes as it enters and exits your lungs. As thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, and then let them pass by without judgment or dwelling on them. Allow your body to relax.

Imagine all of the plants and abundance that the summer months have brought. Picture ripe fruits and vegetables being harvested from an abundant garden. See vibrant flowers, winding vines, and fragrant herbs ready to be cut and dried. Imagine the sun’s energy being absorbed into these powerful plants and transformed so that they can grow and offer us oxygen, nutrients, and beauty. Let your mind be fully present in the conditions of summer. How does it look? Feel? Smell? What thoughts come to mind? 

Now imagine the lengthening of shadows, and the earlier onset of the sunset and night time. Notice the air becoming crisper and the leaves’ transition to brilliant reds, oranges, and golds. Mentally welcome autumn as if it was a “second spring, when every leaf is a flower”. See the leaves falling from the trees and other plant life changing. Know that this is a necessary and beautiful part of life and the cycles of the seasons. Smell the sweet and spicy aroma of fallen leaves decomposing into beautiful rich soil. Bid farewell to the summer light and surroundings. Inhale the new light of autumn. As you observe the leaves falling from the trees, bring to mind something that you have been grieving, or that you have been holding on to- but that no longer serves you or supports your highest intentions.

If you are ready to release that thing from your life, whether it is your inner negative self talk, a habit you’d like to be rid of, resentment, or unhealthy co-dependency, imagine that thing as a crumpled brown leaf, trembling in the wind, nearly ready to be separated from your tree.  If it feels right, let yourself feel gratitude for the things you have learned and the ways you have grown because of that thing.  See that brown leaf flutter to the ground, and then be lifted up in the breeze to join dozens of other swirling leaves that have been released from their trees. All of these leaves will break down over the next seasons and become rich, fertile compost for the new growth in the spring.

Return your focus to your breath. In and out, in and out. Now breathe in, to a slow count of four. One count for each season. Hold the breath in for another count of four. Let the breath out evenly to a count of four, and finally, hold the breath out for another count of four. Repeat this breath three more times. Stretch your arms and open your eyes, and mentally welcome Autumn.

***Optional release ritual:

Instead of imagining the thing you’d like to release as a leaf, you can collect a leaf of your choice ahead of time, and take a moment during the meditation to write a word or short phrase on the leaf with a pen or marker. Then, walk somewhere that you would like to release your leaf- either to the wind, into a stream or lake, off a footbridge, etc. Let your leaf go. Finish with the breath work.

This release ritual could alternatively be done by writing your word onto a stick and tossing it into an autumn bonfire.

Create a Personalized Mental Health Toolkit

We’re on the other side of Labor Day, and that means it is the unofficial beginning of Autumn. Even though Autumn is my absolute favorite season, I have mixed feelings (ok, read: actual dread) about the season that follows… Alright, I don’t hate Winter, but historically, it has been a struggle for me. I have chronic pain that is worsened by the cold, but it’s also the shortened daylight hours, feeling cooped up indoors, the poor driving conditions… you get the point. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, or seasonal depression, wintertime blues, etc.) is a real thing for me. I want to share one of my best tips for getting through the cold weather doldrums ahead: the personal mental health toolkit.

Those wintertime blues…

Prevent Wintertime blues with mental health toolkitSeasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that recurs around the same time every year, and lasts for a few months. Most people feel its effects beginning in late fall and lasting through the winter. A few people actually experience it the opposite way… starting in spring and lasting through the summer. Typical depression symptoms are common for both (hopelessness, low energy, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, sleep problems, change in appetite and/or weight, frequently thinking about death/ suicide, and problems with concentration). Read more about SAD symptoms here.

SAD seems to be connected to dropping levels of serotonin ( the “happy hormone”) and melatonin (the “sleep hormone”). The amount of natural light you are exposed to affects both of these hormones. So less daylight = less serotonin and melatonin = mood and sleep problems. To make matters worse, these effects are stronger the further away from the equator you live. This is because there are fewer hours of sunlight the closer to the poles you are (i.e. SAD is more prevalent in folks who live above the 35th parallel). 

You’re not in this alone

I hope you’re still with me, because my point isn’t just to share statistics about seasonal depression. My point is that if you know that you are prone to seasonal mood changes -even if you don’t think you quite hit SAD levels of depression- you can make a plan right now to support your mental health. Let’s call it your mental health toolkit, for any time you feel yourself getting depressed, anxious, or just moody.

Now, here’s the part where I tell you that I’m not a doctor, and I can’t give you medical advice. So use your own best judgement. Personally, I have talked to my doctor about this. He is aware of my history, and every year in about November, he writes me a prescription for an antidepressant that I can keep in my purse and fill at any time if I feel like I should. It’s a good option for me, since I am fairly mindful about my mental state. I recommend good communication with your own doctor as part of your mental health toolkit.

Your mental health toolkit awaits

There are a ton of research- backed treatments and practices that you can do to minimize the wintertime blues. Proven, official treatments for SAD that might belong on your list include:

  • Light Therapy (you can buy special LED lights for this exact purpose, google “light therapy for SAD”)
  • CBT (counseling/ therapy),
  • Medication
  • Stress- relief strategies (including yoga, meditation, music and art therapy),
  • Time outdoors and exercise.

plan now for good mental health during the winter time

But these are just a starting place- there are a ton of other options. YOU know best what kinds of things help you to feel better when you’re experiencing a “low”.

Your mental health toolkit is basically a list of options for you to run through when you don’t have the energy or willpower to think of how to pull yourself away from your darkness.

When I start feeling depressed, it feels like I am approaching a huge, dark pit in the ground, and if I get too close, I will fall in. The closer I get to my “deep, dark hole”, the harder it is to pull myself away and turn my mood around. I don’t have the energy or motivation to research what to do to feel better. But I can open up my notebook to where I have written out my checklist of things to do to feel better, and I can start doing things on the list without expending a ton of energy.

The toolkit

I will share some of the things I have included on my list. My toolkit includes things like: 

  • Meditation routine (I shoot for a minimum of 10 minutes a day. If you don’t know where to start, may I recommend trying a progressive body scan, blog post with instructions linked.) 
  • Nutrition choices (This could be cutting something out, like sugar or dairy, or adding something in, like trying to get an extra serving of veggies or fruit. It could also be allowing yourself to mindfully enjoy a special treat.) 
  • Sleep choices (Either going to bed or getting up at specific times. Taking a nap, etc.) 
  • Hydration (A good rule of thumb is your weight in pounds divided by 2 = ounces of water you should drink every day.)
  • Gratitude practice (I have a designated journal that I write a minimum of one sentence of gratitude in each day.) 
  • Continuing education (Find something you want to immerse yourself in, and learn more about it. Last winter I finished classes for a certification I was working on, and then I signed up for a labyrinth drawing class. Just find something that seems interesting, and maybe sign up for it ahead of time.)overcoming seasonal affective disorder
  • Music (I have a couple playlists of music that make me feel good- some are peppy and upbeat, and others are mellow, but feel- good songs. I also took up playing the ukulele a few years ago, and there are a ton of free tutorials, printable music, etc. out there. It’s a huge return on investment in terms of money and time invested to actual playing of songs and enjoyment in a relatively short period.)
  • Exercise (This can be as simple as a daily walk. Ok, true story- last winter, I walked my son to school almost every morning, all winter long. Even when it was below freezing, we bundled up and walked, as long as it wasn’t icy or stormy. Interestingly, last winter was the first winter in almost 20 years where I felt like my mental health was reasonably good all winter long. That’s huge for me. :))
  • Affirmations (Write out a list of a few positive affirmations, and for bonus points, pair them with tapping/ EFT to supercharge them. Here’s a classic: “I deeply and completely accept myself”.) 
  • Journaling (This can be anything that works for you, either bullet journaling, blogging, journaling prompts, a plain notebook where you record everything you did that day, write in letter format, or just do a brain dump, profanity and all. Whatever does it for you, seriously.) 
  • Nature therapy (Check out my social media posts on Shinrin Yoku, or Forest Bathing, to see all the amazing ways that nature boosts your physical and mental health. Consider investing in good quality clothing and gear that will keep you warm outdoors, and get outside.) 
  • Purposeful social connection (This could be forcing yourself to get out the door and go to that GNO, going out to lunch with a friend, or calling your sister/ friend/ mom/ SO on the phone for a few minutes.)
  • Vitamins and Supplements (I may do a separate post about this, but I do take at minimum a women’s Multivitamin, Magnesium, Omega-3 Fish Oil, and some other herbal supplements shown to positively affect mood and energy. You’ll have to do your own research about what you feel is right for you.)
  • Reading comics that make me laugh (My current favorite is Strange Planet by Nathan Pyle, but my son loves Calvin and Hobbes. Try creating a folder on your phone with your favorite comic strips, memes, or TikTok videos. Again, whatever works for you.)

Caring for your mental health in the winter timeYour personal resource

I don’t do everything on my list everyday. It is a kit filled with options that I turn to when I need it. Some of the options are intended as prevention, and others are meant to be utilized once I am already feeling down. My toolkit is geared around depression (and it’s written in my notebook under the heading “Anti- Depression Toolkit”). This is totally personal preference. Your toolkit might be geared around anxiety, or intrusive thoughts. Just try to notice now if there is anything that helps you feel better, even if it’s only a tiny bit, and put it on the list. Sometimes just knowing that you did something good for yourself, like drinking a glass of water instead of a soda, is enough to pull you out of a spiral.

Hot tip: Share your list with a trusted person who can remind you to use your toolkit when you’re struggling. Even if your mood is generally pretty stable throughout the year, consider taking 5 minutes to jot down a short list of mood-lifters or things that make you happy.

If it helps, you can download a free template for coming up with your own Mental Health Toolkit- link below. No strings attached. Just click and the download will start.

Personal Mental Health Toolkit Template

Mental Health Toolkit Thumbnail

I wish you the best as we head toward Fall and Winter, and I hope you find creating your own Mental Health Toolkit helpful.