Re-thinking thinking

Local psychiatrist talks about mindfulness

Mindfulness” is a way to mentally focus in life in a healthful way. That was the subject of a recent talk, “Build a Better You! Optimizing Your Mental Health,” by local psychiatrist Dr. Tyanne Dosh. (Drawing courtesy of ForbesOste)

MARQUETTE — Mindfulness can be defined in many ways, one of which is “paying attention in a particular way.”

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, that involves “on purpose,” “in the present moment” and “non-judgmentally.”

Choosing to focus attention in ways that will help a person’s peace of mind was the subject of “Build a Better You! Optimizing Your Mental Health,” a presentation sponsored Wednesday by UP Health System-Marquette and the Peter White Public Library.

Speaking at the program, which took place at the library, was Dr. Tyanne Dosh, attending psychiatrist in the Behavioral Health Clinic at UPHS.

The first thing she told the crowd? “Don’t eat the raisin.”

A raisin had been placed in front of each audience member, but they didn’t react with the tiny piece of fruit until later in the presentation when they used their senses to note its texture, smell and taste.

That was an analogy to how they should view the world in a “mindful” way.

Staying in the moment is crucial, Dosh said, although that could be easier said than done considering the wide use of cell phones and the like.

“There are so many distractions in this age,” Dosh said. “I’m reading ‘Little House on the Prairie’ with my daughter at this point, and what a simple life.”

After all, modern-day life doesn’t focus as much on butter churns and one-room schoolhouses.

Dosh acknowledged, though, there can be costs to today’s distractions, such as job-related ones.

“There’s all sorts of studies and reports about productivity and productivity lost and productivity costs because of problems with distraction at the workplace,” Dosh said.

Relationships too can suffer. To illustrate that point, Dosh showed a Dilbert cartoon with one character not listening to the other because of being distracted.

“You’re trying to tell someone something,” Dosh said. “They’re on their phone, distracted, and before you even can think, ‘Man, I wish they’d listened to me — they’re on their phone,’ your phone is going off, so you’re doing the same thing.”

How much is lost in such a scenario with what could be a peaceful, interactive picnic in the park? Or dinnertime?

It’s because of being distracted, Dosh said.

Then there’s the safety factor when a driver is looking at a cell phone instead of nearby pedestrians.

This leads into the topic of mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is really focusing on the here and now, being fully present, being in that moment-to-moment, and accepting it and observing it,” Dosh said. “Try not to judge it.”

Mindfulness — which she called the “practice of being present” — has been combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, she said, an adaptation that has been used to treat people with depression and anxiety.

Benefits include better memory, increased creativity, less anxiety and a better attention span.

As with many issues, though, awareness is crucial, and with mindfulness, personal awareness of negative thought patterns is key.

Dosh passed out a list of distorted thinking patterns, or cognitive distortions, which are common errors in thinking that make people feel worse.

They include:

• an overgeneralization, which is picking out a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat, such as “It always rains when I plan a picnic”;

• the “fortune teller error” in which a person anticipates things will turn out badly and is convinced the prediction is an established fact;

• assuming negative emotions reflect the way things really are; and

• the “negative filter” — picking out a single negative event and dwelling on it exclusively so a person’s vision of reality becomes darkened.

There are ways for people to deal with this sort of thinking, such as choosing how to respond to a situation.

“It’s reacting versus responding,” Dosh said. “So, reacting is that quick — someone makes you mad, you let them have it — as opposed to that mindfulness where you’re allowing yourself to observe these thoughts as you’re thinking them and holding off from reacting just yet.”

How does a person get started?

If someone suffers from irritability, Dosh recommended finding a quiet, regular place; exercise; having a relaxed posture; proper breathing; and even prayer to ease a person’s mind.

Getting exercise and having good “sleep hygiene” and a proper diet can help mental health as well.

“The breath is very important in mindfulness, because it’s something that’s always there, right?” Dosh said.

Paying full attention too can make a big difference to the small things too, she said.

“We only have a chance to live this moment, yet we also live in the past or the future but we rarely notice what is going on in the present moment,” said Dosh, who noted evidence has shown that people are distracted 50 percent of the time.

Overcoming negative self-talk also is possible, she said.

“You can learn positive thinking skills,” Dosh said.

If they aren’t learned, that can lead to what she called “distress and years lost.”

Dosh stressed “self-talk” relates back to mindfulness because many times people distort their thoughts.

“These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative,” Dosh said.

She recommended that to move from negative to positive thinking, increasing awareness and identifying problem in areas in thinking will make it easier to make that transition.

“It’s OK to start small too, just focusing maybe on one area that you see as a problem,” Dosh said. “Maybe you personalize things a lot.”

Change, however, might not happen overnight.

“It takes time to change,” Dosh said. “It takes time to develop new habits, better habits, good habits, so don’t get discouraged if you keep having to try.

“Try and try again, because that is how you will see improvement.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is