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Archive for the ‘stress’ Category

DonnaIt’s important to know what you want from the holidays!  That may seem obvious, however I see so many people who are continually disappointed by the holidays because they have fantasy expectations of what they will be like…ones that are never met.

If instead, they would only take a few moments to know exactly what they wanted….dinners with friends, a spiritual connection, less work….then they could focus on their priorities and make them happen.

  As an example, I normally love to cook for a crowd, so the holidays mean lots of family and friends around my table…and me in the kitchen at the center of it all.  It also means lots of cleaning…the part I don’t love. 😉  This year, I’ve been traveling and working a lot, so the thought of all that cleaning made having them all over less appealing.  I recognized that what I really wanted was to just be with them and enjoy us all being together.  So this year…we’re headed into NYC to watch the Thanksgiving parade live and have dinner at a restaurant where we can all just relax and enjoy each other.

And for December, I’ll define my own priorities in terms of:

  • Business: do I ramp it down and take some additional time off for the month, or ramp up in time for January?
  • Personal: do I entertain, say yes to all invitations or be more selective, diet or throw caution to the winds, bake or buy, and more…
  • Physical surroundings:  do I decorate inside and out, avoid malls, travel or stay home?
  • Financial:  how much do I want to spend on gifts, entertaining and dining out?  Are there free or inexpensive options to entertainment (and in my neck of the woods there actually are wonderful concerts and decorated communities to enjoy); how much charitable giving of my money or time do I want to give?

It’s also important this time of year (every time of year actually) to make sure your boundaries are in place.  I know that I’m asked to bake or donate items for charities, pick from the giving tree, give time, money and food to so many worthy causes.  And I’d love to do it all, but I can’t…and neither can you.  So know in advance what you will give to causes, and what you will say to your network when they ask you to support their cause, or attend their $100 a person charity dinner, or pick something up for a friend, shop for a family member, or any requests that are more than you want to do.   For the rest, a polite “no, but thank you for asking” should suffice.

You want to give out of joy, not out of obligation!  I usually donate food and time to a local food bank or neighborhood kitchen.  I have my two favorite organizations that have holiday events, and if they fit into my schedule I go, otherwise I send a donation.  And beyond that I know exactly what “spare time” and money I have left for spur of the moment giving.

Give Thanks!  It’s actually been show that being grateful can enhance emotional well-being, and lead to better mental, physical and spiritual health.  You can consider a gratitude journal or an online site like http://www.gratitudelog.com.

And finally, slow down — take time to breathe, smell the pine cones and burning logs, sing songs, and savor good food.  Laugh with your friends, hug your loved ones, and set the intention for a season filled with peace, joy and health.

I wish you all of that and more.

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I find myself saying one thing over and over to people:  “don’t beat yourself up.”  Why is is that people are so determined to blame themselves for every little perceived failing?  We beat ourselves up when we deviate from our diet, forget to call someone, or don’t do something perfectly.

It’s counterproductive.  When you lay blame at your own doorstep, it’s de-motivating.  It’s what causes dieters to self-sabotage and end their healthy eating just because they had a donut, or a bad day.  It makes people stop pursuing a goal, just because they didn’t get it right the first time.  It leads to stress, unhappiness and a pandemic of low self-esteem.

So I am asking you, right now, to stop doing it.  Stop beating yourself up.

The very next time you find yourself in blame mode, stop and notice that’s what you’re doing.  Notice the voice speaking to you.  Is it your voice?  A voice from the past telling you you’re no good?  Recognize that whatever voice is it, it’s just not true.  It’s an old tape playing in your head, and you are due for a new one.

Instead of bemoaning that donut you shouldn’t have had, and chastising yourself for not having self-control, recognize how many GOOD choices you have made and congratulate yourself for that.  The one donut or the day of making less than stellar choices were a choice you made, and now you can start where you are and move forward making good choices.  And take the opportunity to learn what you need to do differently the next time.

Learn to accept yourself as you are.  If you begin by loving yourself exactly as you are this moment, you can move forward from there to achieiving the vision you set for yourself.  And when you hear that voice starting to berate you, recognize it as a voice from the past that no longer serves you, and tell it to “hush up.”

One of the things that can help is keeping an acknowledgement journal.  Each day, write down 3-5 things you appreciated about yourself today.  Some days it may be harder to come up with them, but even if you have to write “I got out of bed this morning when I didn’t want to” three times, do it.  Acknowledge yourself for actions, feelings, new thought patterns, breaking habits, good choices, everything you can think of.  If you don’t want to keep a journal, acknowledge yourself out loud instead. Tell yourself what a good job you just did, how nice you were to that colleague, or what a great choice you just made.  Keep doing it so it becomes a habit.

Stop living in the past.  Often, the self-blame relates to past mistakes…divorce, job issues, relationship issues.  Recognize that the past is over.  You can’t continue to dwell there.  Learn from the past, and forgive yourself.  Learn from little children…they make mistakes, fall down, pick themselves up and try again.  That’s how they learn.  They don’t blame themselves for not being perfect.

So the very next time you begin to slip, stop.  Tell yourself that you did the best you could under the circumstances (whatever they were) and decide to do better.  You are human. You’re not perfect.  You will do better the next time. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

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In Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Notes email this morning he quotes Dan Millman from Everyday Enlightenment:

“The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.”

Not surprisingly, I totally agree.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t have any actual problems…illness, financial problems, relationship problems are all very real.  What it does mean, is how we think about those problems, how we respond or react to them, will make all the difference in how happy or stressed we are and what actions we choose to take.

If we are open to the opportunities presented by life, we begin to view circumstances as neither positive nor negative, but as opportunities for change, learning and choice.  If we choose to embrace life’s occurrences rather than resist or move into a place of fear, we allow ourselves to “go with the flow” of life, thereby reducing stress, and gaining what Millman calls “everyday enlightenment.”

Case in point:  I had a client who called me one day to tell me that she’d just returned from a business trip to find that her home had just had a major fire.  Her family was fine, but the home was in an unlivable condition.  In that instant she had a choice…to bemoan her fate, or to embrace the opportunity that it presented.  And there was a very clear opportunity for her…she could move into her weekend home and arrange to telecommute to her job part of the time.  While the opportunity or learning from every situation is not always as immediately clear, the choice to embrace each one with a positive outlook is.

Often it’s not even situations that we resist, but change of any kind, whether positive or negative.  We resist change because not only does it upset the the status quo, it also plunges us into the scary unknown.  When faced with change (like your pediatrician retiring to open a toy store in Taos, NM) our first response is to think of how that will negatively impact us (oh no, I have to find or get used to a new doctor, will they be as good, are they taking new patients, will they accept my insurance, will my child like them?)  or how that change may add an extra layer of to-dos (I have to research good pediatricians, ask for people’s experiences with them, make appointments, interview them, get the records moved…)

If instead of resisting, we seek the opportunity and possibilities in each situation, we often find that not only is it far less stressful than resistance, but there is even a benefit (the new doctor’s office is closer, they are more up-to-date, etc.) to looking at things differently.

As with everything, you need to create a new habit to replace an old one.  To create the new habit of not resisting change, start by deliberately embracing change in small ways.  Change the route you take to work, change the way you deal with emails and call someone to respond to a question rather than emailing, hold your phone in your other hand, change the order you do things in the evening.  Once you’ve mastered the art of small changes, you’ll begin to find it easier to weigh your options when situations occur.  And you’re well on your way to “everyday enlightenment.”

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MSN, in conjunction with Stress Awareness Month, is offering people free and healthy tips and tools on how to help manage and reduce their stress levels.  In their press release they quote an American Psychological Association report “Stress in America,”  which indicates that ‘ “nearly half of Americans report that their stress level has increased over the past year, with as many as 30 percent rating their average stress level as extreme.* Specifically, eight out of 10 Americans listed money and the economy — 81 percent and 80 percent, respectively — as the main source of their stress.’  http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2009/apr09/04-06StressAwarenessPR.mspx?rss_fdn=Press%20Releases

If you find it difficult to manage your stress effectively it’s almost 100% certain, that you’re not putting yourself at the top of your to-do list nor grounded in the present.  Whether you’re worried about the state of the world or the worry is closer to home and you’re worried about every day life, here are some simple steps to maintaining your balance and your sanity.

  1. Get your biggest stressors out of the way.  If there are things on your plate that are creating stress, the tendency is to avoid them.  Instead, face them head on, and get them over with.  That will open the flood gates of productivity and get you moving, while at the same time freeing you from what you were tolerating.
  2. Don’t hold it in.  Often when we share what’s bothering us with others, whether it’s to vent, share the lighter side of it, or just to get a different point of view, we can shift our framework around what is causing the stress, and thereby eliminate it or at least minimize it.  I encourage my clients to call me when they need a three minute vent.  You may not have a coach, but it’s likely that you have a willing family member or friend who will be happy to listen to a brief vent.  (Just don’t let the vent go on too long, or you’ll be programming yourself for dissatisfaction rather than releasing it.)
  3. Surround yourself with supportive and interesting people.  It’s important to have people in your life that are positive, interesting, nonjudgmental, and there for you. Why interesting?  Because when you have interesting people in your life, you’re less likely to feel stuck and bored, and less likely to dwell on negative thoughts as well.  

If you don’t have that in your life now, or you don’t have an abundance of supportive and interesting relationships, set about creating a community that supports you. Reach out or deepen those relationships that nourish you and allow you to grow. Raise your standards and let go of those relationships that drain you or harm you. Surround yourself with people that nourish you in mind and spirit.
  4. Create rituals.  Whether it’s a glass of wine before dinner, a cup of chamomile tea while watching your favorite reality TV show, or riding your bike to your favorite park at the same time each day, a consistent ritual has a calming effect.
  5. Learn to say “no”. Learning to say “no” to tasks, requests or social obligations will go a long way towards making life more stress free.  Even go so far as to consider unburdening yourself from things you have already committed to that don’t serve you personally or professionally.  It’s okay to change your mind.  And “no” is a complete sentence…don’t feel the need to explain.  

Don’t create unrealistic demands on yourself. What can you start saying, “no” to in your life?  Saying “no” is a skill that can be developed. You have the power to choose so start taking a proactive approach to your life.
  6. Try Yoga breathing when you feel stress taking its toll.  Deep breathing provides extra oxygen to the blood and causes the body to release endorphins.  Sit comfortably in your chair. Start by taking a few deep breaths, and then stop. Let your hands just rest on your lap. Inhale slowly and deeply for six seconds. Don’t breathe out immediately; instead hold the breath for four seconds. Exhale slowly for six seconds. Repeat several times.
  7. Be present to the now.  When you’re engaged in an activity, don’t be thinking about all the other things you should be doing.  When you’re with people you love, really be there with them – not 80% there and 20% back at work!  Plan something you can look forward to every evening with your partner or friends and be totally present for it – and that means something more than wolfing down your dinner and positioning yourself in front of the TV!

Of course there are many other stress alleviators…listening to music, exercising, being in nature, making love.  The point is that you have to take action, rather than allowing yourself to be stuck in your head.  So what are you waiting for…go do something about it.

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Over on Transformational Girlfriends, Susan wrote a post about surviving the holiday season with great suggestions on how to decrease the stress.

I find that for so many folks I work with, the pressure of the holidays (ho ho, oh no) is often about trying to create a fantasy holiday that no lesser human than Martha Stewart could pull off.  I gave that all up years ago.

I think there are just a few things you need to survive the holiday season (which nowadays starts two weeks before Halloween.)

First,  I think is vitally important is to get in touch with what you really want.   Is sending out 100 holiday cards soul-nurturing, or would you really be happier sending a hand written note to a dozen people who really mean something to you? Do you truly enjoy making handmade napkin rings, intricate holiday party invitations, and a five-course sit down dinner for twelve, or would you get more pleasure out of a casual “bring a dish” to brunch gathering? [And there’s no harm in making food that’s “almost homemade” or even pre-cooked. Seriously!]

It’s also important to note that you don’t have to attend every party you are invited to.  You will not be judged by the number of latkes you fry or cookies you bake (Susan, did you really cover an entire extended table with cookies?), nor by the hand-stamped, personalized gift-wrap you use.  If it’s fun….do it.  If it’s not…don’t.

The holidays should be about enjoyment.  Enjoying the music, the friends, the memories you’re creating with your children.  Every time you begin to feel that tightness in your chest, or the throbbing in your head — STOP!!  Look at what you’re doing, and ask yourself why??  And what you could do instead.  Come up with new traditions when the old ones no longer serve you.  Simpler ones.  Communal ones.

Don’t give up on things you value and priorities because “it’s the holidays.”  Too often I see people throw the budget out the window (and deeply regret it in January) because they have to buy expensive gifts (who said?); or they stop doing things that are important to them because of holiday obligations. Doesn’t make much sense.

Above all, keep your sense of humor.  In a season that’s supposed to be about the “ho ho ho”, I’m already seeing a lot of “bah humbug”.  When you come right down to it, what the holidays are all about are family, friends and good feelings.  If you can stay focused on those as your priorities, you’ll arrive at the New Year with your sanity intact.

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