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Posts Tagged ‘stress’

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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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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Yesterday I took a meditation break.  Now I realize that’s not “breaking news”, but for me it’s become a necessity and I wanted to learn to do it better.

Lest you think I’m a newbie to meditation, let me disabuse you of that notion.  I learned Transcendental Meditation back in the early 70s (and still remember my mantra) and since then have used that and many other methods.  But the not-so-secret truth is that I have trouble sitting still to meditate.  My mind races.  I’ve even listened to guided meditations that have the opposite effect. rather than relaxing me, they can make me want to run screaming from the room (I exaggerate a bit.)

I’ve had quite a bit of success with CD meditations, and find that guided meditation works best for me.  I’ve even written and recorded myself in order to have a personalized meditation.

And then yesterday I shared this with friend Stephen Josephs and he led me through a brief (three minute) meditation. [And Stephen, don’t forget that you promised to record it for my IPod] that was refreshing and relaxing.  Stephen is something of an expert in meditation, and we discussed my needing to rebuild my meditation muscle, just a few minutes a day.

I’m guessing there are a lot more “achiever” types out there that share my challenge.  Do you meditate? What do you do to relax?

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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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