Mindfulness: An Excuse to Eat Chocolate

I frequently incorporate mindfulness in mental health practice. It’s something I’ve practiced long before I knew it had a name or a “scientific” action. I am quite an advocate of using mindfulness since it is essentially using our senses, which makes sense.  

Chocolate here
Mindful eating does not have to be done with a raisin

The Mindful Myth 

There is a negative opinion many have towards it, whether because pictures make it seem associated with either hippies or specific religious activities. Another reason is likely do to its association with the phrase “coping skills” of which many have come to grow tired of. People usually list deep breathing and music as their primary coping skills, when I ask. 

However, I believe the biggest problem is the approach to using it. In the video shared above, I discuss the value of mindfulness and the ways in which I make it less a chore and certainly more joyful an experience. I am a believe that we cannot feel joy 100% of our time, but I also understand that many have enough joy sucking life situations where they are only going to try a new habit if it might bring some type of relief immediately.  

A picture of my art
Origami is a great coping skill

Mindfulness & Flow 

I called the opposite of mindfulness, mindlessness. There in fact does exist another term called FLOW which is a better description of mindlessness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991). The two mental states compliment each other and exist in opposite ends of your attention spectrum (Reid, 2011). Mindfulness is essentially your willful, intentional effort to be aware of your present experience through your senses. FLOW is a state in which you’re not trying to be intentionally engaged in something, you just are without trying, immersed in the action as some call “being in the zone.”  

Life is a roller coaster so the saying goes. Maybe we can’t change that, but zoning everything out to get to the end of the ride is a waste of a ticket. Both of these mental states, mindfulness and Flow, are to prevent you from feeling fully out control of your experience of everyday life (Bakker & Moulding, 2012). That is, you may not be able to stop a traffic jam on the way home from work, but there are ways to not be irritated by it for the rest of your night. 

A Mindfulness Book
Mindfulness and Mindlessness are my two favorite mental states

The Mental Health Benefits 

Mindfulness has been shown to support pain, depression symptoms, and quality of life (Hilton et al, 2017). I believe certain activities can be far more enjoyable to experience mindfulness with than others when first trying, if you’re the practical type. Engaging in hands-on activities are a good place to start, such as Legos (Barry & Meisiek, 2010; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). As with any skill, mindfulness does not have to be a grueling hour practice every day, ten minutes daily works just fine for children and can for you too (Nadler et al., 2017). 

For types of mindfulness exercises, resources, ideas on how to make mindfulness more fun, and incorporate into your routine, watch the short video above. 

If you are curious about what other types of groups topics I practice for mental health, read the article found in the link below. 

What I Teach for Mental Health



Bakker, K., & Moulding, R. (2012). Sensory-processing sensitivity, dispositional mindfulness and negative psychological symptoms. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(3), 341-346. 

Barry, D., & Meisiek, S. (2010). Seeing more and seeing differently: Sensemaking, mindfulness, and the workarts. Organization Studies, 31(11), 1505-1530. 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. Harper Perennial: New York, NY 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. Harper Perennial: New York, NY 

Hilton, L., Hempel, S., Ewing, B. A., Apaydin, E., Xenakis, L., Newberry, S., … & Maglione, M. A. (2017). Mindfulness meditation for chronic pain: systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine51(2), 199-213. 

Nadler, R., Cordy, M., Stengel, J., Segal, Z. V., & Hayden, E. P. (2017). A brief mindfulness practice increases self-reported calmness in young children: A pilot study. Mindfulness, 1-8 

Reid, D. (2011). Mindfulness and flow in occupational engagement: Presence in doing. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 78(1), 50-56. 

How to Use Coffee for a Better Day 

 How to Use Coffee for a Better Day

Coffee is one of the best known drinks in the US and world, I don’t have to argue that (Mitchell et al., 2014). I recognize, to many, coffee is not just some drink, it’s part of a valuable routine. If that routine works for you, don’t let me disturb that.  However, coffee can influence our daily energy and sleep, which in turn impacts our mental health. 

If your interested, I have a few tips to share. 

Coffee and Caffeine Content 

I didn’t know when I first started drinking coffee, that light roast has more caffeine than dark roast. Or that 2 shots of expresso is only equivalent to 1/3 a cup of coffee in caffeine content (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). This knowledge makes a big difference when studying for a test. Maybe your not studying for tests or pulling all nighters any more.  Instead, maybe it’s a better nights sleep you want.  

It’s suggested not to drink coffee past 3 pm, that’s because it can take up to 16 hours for body to get rid of the caffeine (Clark & Landolt, 2017).  

Coffee and Sleep 

So maybe you think, “I can drink a cup before bed and fall asleep just fine.” 

Actually, coffee can negatively affect deep sleep. 

This means you might not be awake, but your body isn’t getting the rest it needs. (Clark & Landolt, 2017). So you get up the next morning and drink coffee to wake up from the lack of sleep it may be causing.  

Another Problem  

One hour after waking is the normal bodies natural highest cortisol level (Krieger et al., 1971). This means the thing coffee does to make you feel awake, is already at peak performance. 

Adding coffee at this time makes your body less sensitive to it, building a tolerance. This tolerance is why people come to be able to drink more and more cups. The recommended maximum is only 4 cups or 400mg (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). 

Coffee a Better Way 

The better time for a cup is early afternoon, such as right after lunch when otherwise you might get a food hangover anyways. Late morning to early afternoon is when you have dip in your cortisol level and a cup of coffee then is perfect. Depending upon your tolerance, many argue a 2 week break from coffee is all that is needed to reset. I do practice this, and this works for me, it’s called caffeine cycling. 

It helps to avoid sugar in coffee, for that makes you crash harder and gives a false sense of energy. Also, coffee tends to make things worse for those struggling with anxiety (Clark & Landolt, 2017; Veleber & Templer, 1984).

Maybe you don’t drink coffee for the buzz, but rather for the joy of a morning brew,  and that is just wonderful.  I hope this may help you use coffee just a bit better to jumpstart your day and live mentally healthy.



Veleber, D. M., & Templer, D. I. (1984). Effects of caffeine on anxiety and     depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93(1), 120. 

Clark, I., & Landolt, H. P. (2017). Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep medicine reviews, 31, 70-78. 

Mayo Clinic Staff. (March 08, 2017). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678 

Mitchell, D. C., Knight, C. A., Hockenberry, J., Teplansky, R., & Hartman, T. J. (2014). Beverage caffeine intakes in the US. Food and Chemical Toxicology63, 136-142. 

The Creative Value of Lego

The Creative Value of Lego 

This is not a transcript of the video, though I have wanted to share my passion for Lego and video for a while. Finally, I did it. A special thanks goes out to the family that has been supporting my Lego addiction, and my wife for letting me keep them. I even offered to get rid of them after graduation, but my wife let me know she loved me anyways. 

When I was young, I was homeschooled. I did not enter the public education system until high school. Back then, I constantly complained about how I wanted to go to public school. While public school is not responsible for everyone’s problems, I can certainly say those homeschool years were possibly the best and most influential periods of time on my positive mental health. I believe boredom was one of the best gifts my parents ever gave to me; that was having me play outside and inside, with no cellphone, computer, or TV. 

How Lego Relate to Mental Health 

Millennials and particularly those age 18-25 have the highest rates of mental illness of any age, ever. This age group reports experiencing a mental illness in the past year at a rate of 22.1% during 2016 (SAMHSA, 2017).  Currently, college students are not only showing a poor ability to deal with stress, but in fact engaging in behaviors that are decreasing their ability to handle stress (Bland et al., 2012). Whether that is the helicopter parenting or the social media, is hard to determine, though Millennials are lacking strong skills in problem solving and patience, which are highly important to mental health (Howe & Strauss, 2000).  

That’s where Legos come in. 

The use of unstructured play time with Legos can be valuable early and later in life in developing problem-solving skills (Pike, 2002). Lego’s can stimulate convergent and divergent thinking depending on the format of play such as unstructured or completing a set following instructions (Mochari, 2015). Lego’s and similar “artifacts” (toys) even show potential to provide creative inspiration and foster mindfulness, bringing greater meaning to the work experiencing (Barry & Meisiek, 2010). What’s there not to like? 

Is Lego the Solution? 

Will playing with Legos fix all our mental health problems? 

It’s unlikely. 

That’s not my point either. Rather, recognizing the value of learning how to problem solve and deal with boredom at an early age has significant benefits later on in life. For parents that means less screen time for their children, and for themselves too (Sudan et al., 2016). While Legos may not be the answer, its likely exercise, community engagement, and productive use of leisure time would support better mental health, whereas passive activities, such as smart phone use in particular, do not (Barkley & Lepp, 2016).  

What’s important to recognize, it’s never too late to begin developing better mental health. So my call to action is to grab those crayons, Legos, note pads, journals, camera, paper, and put away your cell phone, computer, laptop, and ipad. I mean keep those devices out of reach and far away, because your hand will itch to pick them up. If your feeling writers block, or creative block, it helps to have some inspiration. But this can be done with magazines and not Pinterest or instagram. That is a topic for another day. Today, maybe that will be an excuse to go to the library and find a few books on photography or knitting, or drafting, and maybe, just maybe… 


Expect to see more videos coming soon! Until then, you read my first post here: The Best Job Ever: Occupational Therapy in Mental Health


Barkley, J. E., & Lepp, A. (2016). Mobile phone use among college students is a sedentary leisure behavior which may interfere with exercise. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 29-33. 

Barry, D., & Meisiek, S. (2010). Seeing more and seeing differently: Sensemaking, mindfulness, and the workarts. Organization Studies, 31(11), 1505-1530. 

Bland, H. W., Melton, B. F., Welle, P., & Bigham, L. (2012). Stress tolerance: New challenges for millennial college students. College Student Journal, 46(2), 362-376. 

Howe, N., & Strauess, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York: Vintage Books 

Mochari, I (2017, Aug 20) How playing with legos (the right way) boosts your creativity. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/ilan-mochari/lego-creativity.html 

Pike, C. (2002). Exploring the conceptual space of LEGO: Teaching and learning the psychology of creativity. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 2(2), 87-94. 

SAMHSA (2017, Sept 9). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the united states: Results from the 2016 national survey on drug use and health. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Key-Substance-Use-and-Mental-Health-Indicators-in-the-United-States-/SMA17-5044 

Sudan, M., Olsen, J., Arah, O. A., Obel, C., & Kheifets, L. (2016). Prospective cohort analysis of cellphone use and emotional and behavioural difficulties in children. J Epidemiol Community Health, 70(12), 1207-1213. 


What I Teach for Mental Health

What is Mental Health OT? 

People often confuse occupation for vocation, meaning therapy strictly relating to employment or job status. However, occupational therapy (OT) actually began with mental health in mind.  

The civil war sparked the thinking that led those observing bed-ridden soldiers during WWI to believe the soldiers were suffering more from mental debilitation than physical debilitation. Long story short, 6 figures initiated the official practice they called occupational therapy. This is because as humans we must ‘occupy’ our time with goal-directed, meaningful tasks that make up our daily routine. The WWI vets often suffered from PTSD and depression, OTs helped them engage in craft and trade skills such as leather work and pottery. Sometimes, this meant they had to create a prosthesis for missing limbss, or teach skills in groups.  

Today, creating a prosthesis and leading groups is only a small sample of the variety of OT roles, however, now those roles tend to be separate and more specialized. This is why you may see an OT working with kids in schools, adults in nursing homes and rehabs, or mental health facilities like myself. My primary role, as an OT in mental health, involves more group leading.

Want to know what I believe is the hardest part of working with groups in mental health? 

Emotional intelligence. 

It’s like the challenge of public speaking plus the fact most people don’t want to be there. If you were dealing with an incredibly difficult time in your life, would you want to hang out with me?

Well maybe you would, or at least tell me that, but often that is not the case for people in the hospital.  It’s important as a mental health worker to be able to recognize my own emotions and manage myself tactfully in order to be effective at working with others having a difficult time with their mental health. It takes a delicate approach and equally important, practicing what I teach.  

What Topics Do I Teach? 

The primary categories my groups go into, include;  

It’s not simply the topics that define occupational therapy groups, it’s the way its taught. Again, occupational therapy is how we ‘occupy’ our time with meaningful and purposeful activity which makes up our routine. My job is to help create a healthy routine through meaningful tasks or activities. The challenge is people suffering from whatever is happening in their life, that led to visiting a mental health unit, often clouds their vision of recognizing anything as meaningful. What can be considered meaningful is also broad and abstract.  

How I Make Groups Meaningful

In some ways, it can be a shot in the dark to figure out what is meaningful for the people I work with. We have assessments, but not everyone is interested in answering questions or having a discussion. The same group done the same way can one day be loved and another day be hated. I was asked a difficult question about group topics once. The question was: 

Do you think some groups are more occupational than others?  

I have thougt a lot about that question. The short answer is no. This is because what is meaningful at 10am versus 2pm versus 4pm can be different and change from day to day or even hour to hour. 

Want to know something that might surprise you?  

Sometimes occupational therapy group can be playing Wii tennis. It can be often that Wii is the only alternative. I frequently change the plan immediately before starting a group if need be, or take multiple plans with me and decide what we’re going to do depending upon who shows up. 

Would you want to exercise right after lunch or listen to a lecture at the end of the day?  

How I Make Groups Interesting 

One of my biggest roles is adapting the right task for the right time and person. Adapting often means, making things interesting such as mindfulness. Mindful eating has been historically taught with raisins. Can someone say BORING! I use Lindt chocolates for this reason!  

It’s like any sales job to excite people about positive health changes. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned with mental health treatment techniques is, before they can be effectively taught, you have to believe in them yourself. First, I successfully implemented them in my life, then I learned how to teach them in a fun way.  


I said in my last post I was going to share what groups I lead, so I hope this peeks your interest in mental health topics. Want to know more about those topics? 

Are you interested in how you can make effective goals and actually implement them now so you don’t have to come to my groups later? 

Next I’m going to share about those specific group topics in individual posts.

If you missed my last post, click the link below!

The Best Job Ever – Occupational Therapy in Mental Health

If your a therapist interested in some ideas on how to make your therapy more engaging: START HERE.

The Best Job Ever: Occupational Therapy in Mental Health

Mental Health Occupational Therapy

Following Your Passion

First, I want you to think about a few mental health questions.

Who has ever dreamed of being an Olympic athlete?

How about a sports coach?

Personal trainer?

Or, if your like me, who of you would have been happy just being the towel or water boy?

What does this have to do with mental health? Well, the goal of this article is to share a brief picture of what occupational therapy looks like in mental health and what I do on an inpatient mental health unit. This is difficult to address without first addressing the “follow your passion” mantra. “Follow your passion” is a cultural belief common today; whether that is good or bad is another story, but the reality is, this belief exists.

It could be argued that most kids dream of being athletes and coaches because they imagine waking up for work doing what they love, which is generally sports. Similarly, it might be more common today that kids want to be video game designers and testers than athletes. Again, to wake up, go to work, and do what you love all day long.

Do you suppose if your job was to be an Olympic athlete, you would be in good shape and physically fit? Of course! If your job was to test video games, you would be great at video games too.

I played Junior Varsity basketball my Sophomore year of High School and was the only player who never scored. Sure, I was a bench warmer, but the other bench warmers still scored once in a while.

Olympic dreams crushed.

It didn’t help I never made it to 6-foot-tall, like the doctors always said I would on that little curvy graph they showed me every childhood checkup. They lied.

So maybe that’s why I gave up my Olympic athlete dreams. But was that really so bad?

A Mental Health Athlete

Now let me ask you another question: How’s your mental health doing?

When was the last time you dreamed of being a mental health athlete?

Or as that might translate better, do you find yourself wishing you were happy?

How many of you would simply like to have the energy to wake up, show up at work, or simply make it to work without hating yourself?

Well, imagine your job was to practice mental health techniques with people like an Olympic coach teaches exercise. That is just what I do and I believe all of us should value mental health like physical fitness. Coaches are not always in perfect shape, and neither am I. But I do practice what I teach. I “take my own medicine” if you will. In the same way, practicing mental health is not only for therapists like exercise is not just for Olympians.

You see, I’m an occupational therapist (OT) working in a locked, inpatient, mental health unit. This unit is focused specifically on helping young adults, which are ages 18-24ish. The primary cause for arriving to my unit is being a danger to self or others, generally from attempted suicide, suicidal ideation, self-harm, manic episodes of bipolar disorder, and active or new onset episodes of schizophrenia. Nearly everyone is a mix of these challenges and more to top it off.

Crazy right? Not so much, it turns out, one thing you would learn quickly if you spent time on an inpatient mental health unit, is the people that end up there are like you and I; students, workers, daughters, fathers, dreamers, and world travelers all the same. It’s quiet unlike One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Shutter Island.

What’s My Role as an Occupational Therapist?

I asked you a question earlier about how your mental health was doing?

If your mental health is not doing well, then like I mentioned, you might think of the difficulty getting out of bed in the morning or getting to work, feeling fatigue and despair which makes it harder to do the things you love. Or, what you might be thinking of is more basic, the things you do on a day-to-day basis like showering or going to the store to shop for groceries.

All those “day-to-day” activities is what my profession calls “occupations” hence, occupational therapy.

By the time people end up on my unit, their “day-to-day” activities are severally disrupted by mental health that is not doing well.

If you were on the inpatient mental health unit, the most stereotypical step of the day is that staff do their best to wake you up and get you to come take your medications. Which is given with incredible effort by staff to be respectful of patients’ personal wishes and boundaries.

Then comes breakfast.

After that, comes the first of two “community meetings” in which everyone is encouraged to attend. Here staff share the schedule for the day and expectations of respect for others. I do my best to attend the majority of these morning community meetings to share what I call, my “OT schpeel.”

Which goes similar to this…

“Hi everyone, my name is Grant, I’m an occupational therapist and I lead a variety of groups here. Occupational therapy is dealing with how we ‘occupy’ time with our ‘routine’. Wake up, shower, get dressed, eat, work, talk with friends, journal or read; that’s healthy living. When mental health stops that routine, I focus on strategies to practice that routine for healthy living. If dealing with depression, coping strategies might be needed, or groups with physical activity. It might be focusing on an craft project, or simply manage the anxiety of being around others. These day-to-day activities is occupation and practicing is the therapy.”

…End of Mental Health focused OT schpeel.

Now, you may or may not have seen OT in multiple settings. Understanding the value of healthy routines to OT may make more sense when looking at OT in different settings. A school OT is addressing the school aspect of a child’s routine, the nursing home OT is helping your Grandma continuing to “do” the routine gardening she always loved while in a wheelchair.

While occupation is commonly synonymous with “vocation”, work can be apart of your routine and therefore can be something an OT would address if you had an injury or mental health challenge. However, patients on the inpatient mental health unit where I provide OT, are far more focused on getting through the day than work or school. That is why we are not addressing purely job skills. Yet, at the same time it’s important to recognize that coping skills is very much need in the work place too.


If you had asked me where I wanted to work, I would have never thought it was going to be mental health. Mental health was not my passion. Yet, since I’ve begun practicing all the mental health strategies and exercises I help facilitate on the unit I work, I have begun to value both OT and mental health in a new way.

In this way, I bring my positive mental health from home to work, and my skills and practice from work to home. That is why I want to share this with you.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about OT in mental health. More so, I hope you are encouraged to value your mental health and not feel pressure to ignore mental health as only for the ill.

Are you interested in WHAT kinds of things we practice in OT group treatment sessions? Read my next post found at the link below:

What I Teach for Mental Health


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