Mindfulness and Self-Care

The past seven months or so has not been easy for anyone, not even for a homebody like me who enjoys their solitude. However, this newfound situation has reinforced the need to take care of myself. Roughly four years ago I was introduced to the practice of Resilience mindfulness, which would go on to transform many dimensions of my life. I am most grateful that the practice led me to a deeper appreciation of the present moment and an acceptance of things as they are. I went on to advocate for the practice of mindfulness to family, friends, peers, clients, and anyone who would listen. Some people took to the practice like a fish to water yet most people, found the practice to be frustrating or did not practice enough to reap the benefits. By now I assume everyone is familiar with the practice and has at least attempted it. For those who are still on the fence about mindfulness I hope that you will give it another shot and hopefully what we talk about here will motivate you to do so.

Bringing Mindfulness Into Your Life

There are various ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life. You could sit on a cushion, your favorite chair, or lay in bed. You could be doing the dishes, making a cup of tea or coffee. Taking the much needed walk around the neighborhood, lifting weights or going for a run. Talking with friends or family. While you are reading, writing a paper, participating in class. Mindfulness can even add depth to prayer. It is just about knowing yourself and what your preferences are.

It should be no surprise that experiencing your breath is integral to the practice of mindfulness. We often spend so much time caught up in our thoughts that we are disconnected from our body and thus the breaths we take. To cultivate this awareness of breath, I recommend that newcomers set aside three minutes for a formal mindful practice. Simply lay or sit, and just observe your breathing wherever it is prominent in your body, perhaps your nose, your chest, or your belly. Just familiarize yourself with the experience of breathing in and out; there is no need to manipulate your breathing. When thoughts inevitably arise, acknowledge them, and continue to focus on your breathing. You neither need to suppress or follow these thoughts.

Of course, this all seems easy on paper, but it is different when you sit down and practice it. As I have been told, the practice is indeed simple but not easy. I urge you to push on though, as I have heard it only takes ten minutes a day to reap the benefits of meditation and eventually it will become enjoyable and something you look forward to. Ultimately your mind and body become harmonious, and you find yourself less lost in thought and more present to your moment to moment experience, the only place where we can make the most out of our lives. If it would help to have someone talk you through the process there are many guided meditations out there, and I guarantee one will be the right fit for you.

Cultivating Compassion

A less talked about aspect of mindfulness is the cultivation of compassion. As mammals and more specifically humans, we are wired for interconnection. We crave closeness physically, mentally, and spiritually. We cannot exist without the support of other humans; think of being raised by your parents or your dependence on the massive supply chain that puts food on your table. Yet, we are often so preoccupied with our own lives or ego that we fail to recognize those around us, namely how we affect them, and they affect us.  A practice I have found useful to grow our compassion, which modern science has proven can indeed be cultivated by everyone, is loving kindness meditation. You begin by settling into the present moment by following your breath, once you feel calm and focused, say to yourself “may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace.” Next use your mind to call upon someone close to you, someone you love. Say to yourself, “may this person be happy, may this person be healthy, may this person be at peace.” Next bring to mind someone who you disagree with or maybe irritates you. Again, say to yourself, “may this person be happy, may this person be healthy, may this person be at peace.” Finally extend your loving kindness to the entire universe and to all people. From this practice your compassion radiates from you to the entire universe. These are difficult times we are living through right now and we can all use a dose of compassion.

Compassion

Sometimes the hardest person to extend compassion to is ourselves. We judge ourselves harder than anyone else and tell ourselves things we would never utter to anyone. Thoughts come and go so quickly that we often do not catch what are referred to as automatic thoughts, that flash through our mind. These thoughts, which are usually prompted by stimuli, internal and/or external, can be positive or negative and have an influence on our emotions and mood. A benefit of mindfulness is becoming familiar with this self-talk. When we become familiar with what we say to ourselves we take some control over the process. We can then decide how rational our thoughts are and form more rational, non-judgmental, compassionate thoughts in their place. This practice can have a profound impact on how we feel and how we think about ourselves, as we make a conscious effort to be kind to ourselves.

Everyday Mindfulness

While these are wonderful formal practices you can use, if you find that being mindful during activities is more your speed, than you can apply the same techniques to any action. Say doing the dishes. Pay attention to every movement, while following your breath to anchor you in the present moment amidst the sea of thoughts about the past and future. Pay attention to your senses and what you feel, smell, see, and taste. Anything can be practiced in mindfulness, and every mindful thought and action waters the seed of peace and happiness within you and within the world.

Equanimity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I encourage everyone to give mindfulness a chance even if you struggle with it at first. I have heard people say they are “bad” at meditation. I would argue no one is bad; you just haven’t found the practice that is best suited for you. You will know when you find the right practice because instead of cultivating frustration with the present moment you experience profound joy.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. May you be healthy, happy and at peace!

-An SSAC Intern

Dating and Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Hello Mason Friends! 

        How is everyone doing? Before we get started, let’s do a pulse check and take a moment to check-in with ourselves. How am I feeling? What are my needs right now? What is one thing that I can do to take care of myself today? These are questions I ask myself when I am stressed and overwhelmed, but even when I’m not sure what I’m feeling. Checking in with myself throughout the day helps me stay grounded and practice self-care.  

        The following post will contain information on Dating and Domestic Violence, grounding tips for allies and survivors alike, as well as educational resources and how you can get involved in raising awareness of this topic. If you would like to meet with a confidential advocate at the SSAC, request an appointment through our website, ssac.gmu.edu. Let’s get started! 

        October is Dating and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We at the SSAC have been planning and participating in a variety of events related to DDVAM as you may have already noticed, such as the Clothesline Project, Purple Thursday, and Chapter Next. The purpose of these projects and initiatives are to give our survivors a safe place to share their strength and story, and to raise awareness of Dating and Domestic Violence. Dating and Domestic Violence can affect anybody. It does not discriminate between race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, or religion. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, ¼ women have been victims of severe intimate partner violence, and 1/7 men have been victims of severe intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence affects over 12 million people every year. Intimate partner violence also affects those who identify as LGBTQ+. Again, it does not discriminate. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, recent studies show that domestic violence impacts members of the LGBTQ+ community at equal or even higher rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts” (NCADV). By raising awareness and advocating fosurvivors, we can help survivors get the help and support they need, empower them, and bring an end to dating and domestic violence.  

What can you do to help? 

  1. Dive into education! Learning about dating and domestic violence and what it entails can be a great start to raising awareness of the topic. This may include recognizing red flags in relationships, and the warning signs of dating and/or domestic violence. You may have just learned about these through our recent Ask an Advocate session if you follow our social media (@ssacgmu on Instagram, and www.facebook.com/ssacgmu on Facebook)! Here is a great resource by the National Domestic Violence Hotline on identifying relationship abuse: https://www.thehotline.org/resources/know-the-red-flags-of-abuse/. This includes relationship red flags and other helpful information. 
  2. Raise Awareness: Participating in initiatives such as the Clothesline Project and Purple Thursday is a great way to get started! Sharing these initiatives, and other information, infographics, hotline numbers, and workshops on your social media is another small but meaningful way to raise awareness of dating and domestic violence. 
  3. Get involved: There are a lot of ways to get involved, virtually (in COVID times) and in person when it is safe to do so! Check out your local domestic violence shelter and see if they are in need of resources, such as care kits, hygiene products, food, or volunteers! Most DV shelters will have this on their website. For example, Bethany House of Northern Virginia has a page on their site for those looking to volunteer: https://www.bhnv.org/volunteer.

        Lastly, here are some grounding techniques and self-care tips for survivors of dating and domestic violence. If you would like to speak to a confidential advocate in our office, do not hesitate to request an appointment by visiting SSAC.gmu.edu and filling out a “request an appointment” form. We stand with survivors.  

Image: this image contains grounding tips in purple font, on a light yellow background with the SSAC logo on the bottom of the page.
 Take Care,

-an SSAC Advocate

Tips for Survivors Around Wearing a Mask

Content Warning: Sexual and Interpersonal Violence, Trauma, Triggers

COVID-19 has brought with it the requirement by many states, organizations, and Universities (including George Mason University) to wear masks in order to prevent the spread of the virus. With that, I know that for some survivors, wearing a mask may present a difficult challenge. It can be really uncomfortable and sometimes downright triggering. Some survivors may find themselves wanting to be able to comply with safety regulations but the act of wearing a mask may be bringing up some very valid and real concerns and experiences. For some survivors wearing a mask can bring on reminders of their abuse. It may bring up images, thoughts, feelings, or bodily sensations of someone covering the survivor’s mouth, of not being able to breathe, of previous experiences of being told what to do and wear, and may remind survivors of times when they felt like they were having a flashback or panic attack. If this resonates with you, first and foremost I want you to know that what you are experiencing is a trauma response because of the experience you have faced. Your response is a perfectly normal response to something that should never have happened to you. ANY and ALL feelings you have about this response is valid. 

Second, I am hoping to provide you with some tips and ideas to help you as much as we can with the overall experience of wearing a mask. Please know that you are in control. You may try all or none of these and that is okay.

💚💛 Tip #1: If at all possible, find a mask that represents you. What I mean by this is to find a mask that has a pattern, a color, a fabric, a design, or other attributes that you find appealing. I want to note here that you may have the means to access only one mask. If that is the case, please reach out to advocates in the Student Support and Advocacy Center so we can problem solve how to get another mask to you. By personalizing or making the mask your own, you are more likely to slowly build a more positive association with the item. This may be particularly true if you have faced medical trauma or you have had to be around masks a lot in the past. 

💚💛Tip # 2: Practice Wearing Your Mask. While this tip might sound kind of silly, this tip might be one of the most effective ones out of the entire bunch. The idea is that you will practice wearing your mask for short amounts of time in a space that you generally feel safe or comfortable. For some, this may be their home or another similar place. Try your mask on while you are calm and in a space where if you have a reaction, you have the tools you usually use to support yourself.

  • Try your mask on with a friend or safe support person around who can reassure you and support you if you have a strong reaction.
  • It can be helpful to use your senses to stay in the present moment as you are practicing wearing your mask. What does your mask feel like? What does your mask smell like? This can help keep you centered and grounded in the fact that your mask is an object you have the control over removing at any time. 

It can be helpful to practice in a safe place that way when you go into public wearing your mask or in places where you may be more likely to experience a trigger or anxiety related to the situation, you’ve practiced with the mask and you know you can overcome the difficult sensations that come with wearing the mast. 

💚💛 Tip #3: Make sure you have a good fit with your mask. A mask that is too loose or a mask that is too tight may be more likely to cause discomfort and a potential reaction. Masks come in all different shapes, sizes, materials, and more so finding one that works for you is especially important for survivors. Use this as an opportunity to practice choice. 

💚💛 Tip #4: Think creatively. If wearing a mask is just too much for you right now, what are other ways that you can get similar protection? Can you consider a bandanna, a handkerchief, a scarf, or some sort of other face-covering that might feel different than a mask? Choose what material and item is best for you. 

💚💛 Tip #5: Consider grounding and affirmation as tools to help you. 

  • Think about the things you can do for yourself to put yourself in a calm state of mind right before you have to wear a mask. Can you do something that is either self-soothing that you enjoy putting yourself in a calm headspace?
  • Affirm yourself as you wear your mask. I might say to myself, “I am safe right now” or “I am wearing a mask but I know I can still breathe.” You are doing this. You can handle tough things. 
  • Consider drawing upon your senses to help keep you present? What do you see at this moment? What do you feel? What do you smell? 
  • Hold something comforting or with a nice soft or smooth texture. This can help ground you and give yourself something to focus on. 
  • Steady your breathing and check-in with your breathing. Consider a few breathes in and a few breathes out as a reminder that you can breathe. Do this as often as you need!
  • Consider spraying a soft pleasant scent on your mask so that when you put your mask on you are reminded of that scent. Do this a minimum of 30 minutes before wearing your mask to dry so that the scent is not too overwhelming. Every time you smell the scent, remind yourself “I am selling “this scent.” This can help also keep you grounded and in the present moment.

💚💛Tip # 6: Ask for support. You deserve to be supported. It is hard to experience a personal trigger around something that is so present in our world today and you should never have to deal with your trauma alone. It can be helpful to process and brainstorm about what wearing a mask is bringing up for you in a safe and supportive space. Your safe person can also help you to brainstorm other tips and ideas to help you get through wearing a mask during this time. If you are currently working with a therapist or counselor and you feel safe enough to do so, consider talking to them about what wearing a mask is like for you. If you are not talking to a therapist or counselor but you think it would be helpful, consider reaching out to a University resource such as Counseling and Psychological Services for support in this. Or you can always reach out to the Student Support and Advocacy Center and we can connect you to CAPS and other resources both at Mason and in our community. Additionally, confidential advocates in the Student Support and Advocacy Center are here for you. We regularly process through triggering or difficult experiences such as this with students all the time and we would love to help you too. You can get in contact with us by visiting our website at SSAC.GMU.EDU. 

💚💛Wearing a mask can pose some difficult challenges for survivors. I hope some of these tips help you. You deserve to feel safe and supported and we are here for you!

With compassion and care for you!

-Courtney, confidential advocate in the Student Support and Advocacy Center

Juneteenth

Hello Mason Friends and Community,

This week the Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Juneteenth would be recognized as a holiday across the Commonwealth with plans to establish this day as a yearly holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, and recognizes the significant roles and many contributions of African Americans to the Commonwealth and the nation. In conversations with peers around the University, we learned of the ways that white-authored American history textbooks and education systems inadequately failed to fully bring to light the importance of Juneteenth. An advocate in our office shared a link to read to learn more about Juneteenth. This link can be found here: https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm

In addition, a black scholar from Temple University, Timothy Welbeck, cultivated a list of what to read, watch, and see for black history month. I find the selections on this list to read, watch, and see to be incredibly important. The list can be found here: https://news.temple.edu/news/2020-01-29/what-read-watch-and-see-black-history-month If you are purchasing a book and have the means to do so, consider purchasing from a black-owned book store. A national list can be found here: https://aalbc.com/bookstores/list.php.

In addition, we are reposting the Student Support and Advocacy Center Black Lives Matter Statement which we shared previously on our social media and website, but have not shared here.

Thank you for reading our blog. As a group, we have made plans to use tomorrow to celebrate, to learn (and unlearn), and to support the Black Lives Matter movement. We hope you consider joining us too.

-Courtney

The Student Support and Advocacy Center wants to acknowledge and say the names of #TonyMcDade, #GeorgeFloyd, #BreonnaTaylor, #AhmaudArbery and so many other black people who have been murdered.

We want to acknowledge the systematic oppression and trauma our black students and colleagues face every single day in our community. We believe and stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. We believe that we, the Student Support and Advocacy Center, must be a part of the work to support black students and colleagues and to address systemic racism in our community and on our campuses. We will do this by supporting the work of offices such as Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Multicultural Education and the Women and Gender Studies Center as well as all other units supporting black students and colleagues. However, this is not just the work of diversity offices. This is our work. At the Student Support and Advocacy Center, we commit to being a part of the deep and important work to support racial justice.

We will do this by working to understand our privileges. We will do this by promising to not burden our black colleagues to educate us, but instead by actively engaging in this work and by listening and supporting initiatives and programs shared by black voices. We will lift up black voices because they deserve to be heard because black lives matter. We will do this by being vocal and active in conversations and movements that support the Mason black community. We will do this by devoting time and resources to educating ourselves about the needs of our black students and students of color. We will do this by centering the voices of black scholars, students, practitioners, and survivors in our community as we work to be a part of creating an inclusive university community.

We understand these incidents have an impact on individuals’ mental health and overall sense of security. We encourage our Mason community to support each other during these difficult times regardless if individuals are publicly struggling or not. We encourage individuals to utilize Mason resources such as our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and local support services in your area. If you are in need of support and are unsure of where to look, please contact us.

One of the Student Support and Advocacy Center’s values is inclusion and we stand in solidarity with those affected during these difficult times.

We are here for you!

-The SSAC Staff

Reflections from SSAC Interns

Hello everyone! This semester, the three of us had an amazing experience interning for the Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC). We each learned so many different things and have grown from our experiences with the SSAC. As we finished our internships, we thought it would be fun to share some of our experiences with you. So let’s start with some introductions before we talk more about them!

My name is Amie and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I interned at SSAC during the last semester of my graduate program to gain insight and experience in what student advocacy and support for survivors look like at Mason.

Hello, everyone, my name is Dan and I am a social work major. My pronouns are they/them/theirs. I was so excited to intern with SSAC this semester. I am committed to empowering others and promoting a healthy and safe community at Mason. I was happy to work toward this goal with SSAC in-person and virtually.

Hi there! My name is Carolina and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am an undergraduate student at GMU studying psychology. I had a great experience interning with the Student Support and Advocacy Center this semester. It gave me a lot of opportunities to learn more about what the work in my field looks like.

Work environment

Hi, it’s Amie! As far as work environments go, the SSAC is a very collaborative and welcoming space both in the office and virtually. I remember the first day of my internship. I walked in and was greeted so kindly by Liz, our office manager. She assisted me with everything, from getting settled, to introducing me to the other office staff members. By the end of the day, I felt comfortable being in the office and felt like I was a part of the SSAC team.

One thing I especially appreciated throughout my internship was the honest feedback that I would receive from the Sexual and Interpersonal Violence (SIPV) team on the media content I would put together for programming and awareness. It helped me think critically about using trauma-informed language and using images of people and learning about the kind of messages it could unintentionally send. I also learned about the importance of using disclaimers for sensitive information. I also appreciated that the people in SSAC communicate effectively. This helps everyone stay on the same page about things we are all working on so we can deliver consistent content and work effectively. This also helps us in being here for our supporters and survivors especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Process of creating content

Hey, its Dan and I will be discussing what it is like to create content with SSAC. The process of content creation, if you are entirely new to it like I was, is nerve-wracking at first. However, the way it is accomplished at the SSAC is not an individual process. This is a team orientated office that is more than happy to help you along the way. You won’t have to go through it alone. You will receive constant feedback from other interns, graduate assistants, and staff! I would say the content creation process for me was simple. Sharing ideas and receiving constructive feedback helped me tremendously. Everything posted comes from a trauma-informed perspective and learning how to achieve that felt very rewarding. The process felt simple because of the great team support. Never feel shy about putting out an idea! Everyone is there to support you and make sure the idea becomes a successful trauma-informed and inclusive event or web series.

If you are still not sure about creating content, there are a lot of resources you can access in the office that will inspire you. You can also use those ideas as a foundation to build your content. I was so happy to work on the Art of Self Care web series and to have such a supportive supervisor, graduate assistants, and fellow interns. Also, I loved to support other interns and graduates with their ideas! Without them, creating the series would not have felt so easy. Go in with an open mind and you will find out that content creation is not as difficult when you have an awesome team.

Opportunities

Hi guys, it’s Carolina! I’ll be talking about the opportunities I was able to experience and take part in as an intern.

One of the biggest opportunities I found working as an intern was the chance to collaborate with other students and staff members within the Mason community who shared a similar focus. Organizing events or brainstorming ideas with the other interns, our supervisors, club members, and advisors gave me insights on what collaboration looks like in my field. Seeing that the advocacy work and support we do on campus can involve sensitive topics, it’s important to learn how to be inclusive in your planning, language, and events. On a more personal level, being an intern challenged me to learn more about my work style. It was up to me to delegate my time, projects, meetings, etc. and this was something new to me. So, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about myself in that way. 🙂

The biggest opportunity I found to be the most helpful was being able to participate in trainings. Whether it was an in-person training or webinar, a new well of information was now available to me. The training was hosted by professionals in the field and gave me a real look into what work in the field currently looks like.

Conclusion

We gained new experiences, opportunities, and knowledge during our time at SSAC. We genuinely enjoyed the content we worked on and felt that the rest of the team shared insightful, creative contributions and shared the same commitment to the important work that we do. The exposure to delivering resources and activities in a virtual space that is trauma-informed, educational, and fun as well, was at the heart of our SIPV teamwork. We not only learned how to serve and engage with other students, but also learned how to do so inclusively and mindfully. We created a space to let students know that their feelings are valid and that we are here to help and listen in any way we can.

The SSAC has a lot of opportunities for students to get involved. Through internships, volunteering, and/or holding positions such as peer leaders on campus, not only do you gain professional experience, but you form great, supportive friendships as well. Keep an eye out for the SSAC internships on Handshake and volunteer opportunities on our website. 🙂

https://ssac.gmu.edu/

https://gmu.joinhandshake.com/login

We hope that you all stay safe and well!

Carolina Bonilla

Amie Mbye

Dan Molina