Posts Tagged With: Stress

De-Icing

ice formations in winter streamIt’s that time of year again, the holidays. As with each year since I started blogging I will post holiday-related topics for the next few weeks. Last week was Thanksgiving for those of us here in the States. Generally I have enjoyed my Thanksgiving holiday but not so this year. There were some highlights: gathering together with most of my children and grandchildren, seeing siblings, nieces, nephews, a few cousins, my mother-in-law and my mom. It was a chaotic experience with many people I did not know and that was not enjoyable. Sometimes I am in the mood for conversations with strangers but this year, not so much. This year, I just wanted to be with family. I definitely felt my dad’s absence and that was part of my sadness.

I experienced the strangling of disappointment and anger taking over inside of me. It sucked me down into a  familiar hole. I stayed there for several days. I was less patient with those around me, especially strangers in cars who received eye rolls and shouts of frustration. All of which I’m sure went unnoticed. It felt safer to yell at them. They can’t yell back (or at least I won’t hear them if they do). You know those times when you only want to have one-sided conversations because you are pretty certain a two-way conversation won’t go well? I felt gloomy, eyore-ish, and it’s been hard to get out of it.

I stopped to take stock of the why. My self-care was nearly non-existent while I was away for the week of Thanksgiving. I had been expecting myself to survive on the basics alone and that is not enough for me. On my last day away, I grabbed my husband and our puppy and went on a walk. I griped along the way, getting all that life-sucking poison out. I requested that we leave early (a looming snowstorm sealed that deal for me!) to put an end to this misery. Along the way, we stopped on a pedestrian bridge that overlooked the Roaring Fork River (sounds big but it’s just a stream really, especially in the winter). The clear frigid waters lolly gagged and splashed around huge boulders and scattered tree limbs. Patches of ice formed on the rocks on the downstream side of the bridge while the upstream side, in full sun, remained ice free. Something about that caught my attention. Maybe my heart was like the river. When I am on the downstream side, away from my source for internal warmth, I ice over. It’s harder for me to stay grounded. When I move toward the warmth of my source (in my case, God), the hardness and ice inside of me begin to melt.

But it doesn’t stop there. Ice builds inside of me when I am not getting out on walks, feeling fresh air and sunshine on my skin. I desperately need to soak in nature, do yoga, and spend time in solitude with my thoughts and prayers. Those are my biggies, the most important pieces of my self-care that must be regular ingredients in my life. I had a profound experience of what happens to me when I starve myself. I am working on stabilizing again, turning toward the sun, feeling the ice crystals softening and chunks of ice peeling away from soul. I feel warmth growing again and with it, hope that I will be ok.

Categories: Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, holidays, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Relationships, self care, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Freaked-Out? Sad? Angry?

human_mindNot happy about current circumstances and want to navigate well? You don’t have to just wallow in your misery, you can do something productive. First, clearly identify what you are feeling (anger, sadness, fear…) and the thoughts that are dictating the emotions. Emotions don’t just show up all on their own. They are linked to cognitive thought: you have a thought and an emotion will follow. We sometimes notice the emotion and not the dictating thought so it’s super important to get back to, “Where did this feeling come from?” The reason? If the thought isn’t based in reality, it’s not worth entertaining and neither is the accompanying the emotion. We often feel these not-based-in-reality emotions anyway and develop incredibly unhealthy neural pathways that become ingrained in our brain and feel like a reflex when in fact they are an unhealthy learned behavior that we keep feeding.

For instance: “With this new President-elect, our country is going down the tubes, freedom will be lost, this is horrible!” What is true at this moment that you know for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt? We have a new President-elect. That’s it. We don’t actually know what he will do. We know what he said he will do, but nothing has actually been done yet. Breathe. Remind yourself of what you know for sure. Let go of all the places your mind is going with the “what ifs”. They are crazy-making and completely unhelpful. You can mourn the loss of your candidate if you did not vote for Trump. You can celebrate that your candidate won if you voted for Trump. That’s it. Nothing more. Don’t get too puffed up about all that is going to happen or too depressed about all that is going to happen because–none of it has happened yet. Stay with the here and now and breathe deeply and slowly.

Next, after feeling the emotions based in reality, take a deep breath, splash some water on your face and ask yourself, “Where do I have control? Is there anything I can do about the situation that is healthy, legal and wise?” At the very least, we always have the ability to choose how we are going to react, what kind of attitude we are going to have, if we want to smile and find the joy in our life. Always! Viktor Frankl learned this in a Nazi-run concentration camp during World War II. If he learned this concept in the very worst of circumstances then we can surely do this in our circumstances. I know, if you are reading this, you already have way more freedom and more to find joy in than a concentration camp prisoner.

Now, move on. Surely you have something you need to be doing or could be doing that is productive. Maybe it’s time for a good dose of self-care (something you can do that fills you up in a good way–healthy, legal and wise!). Go for a walk, pet your dog/cat, talk to a friend, listen to music, feel the sun/fresh air, read a book, knit, play piano, write…the list could go on and on. Be good to your body and your mind. Fill up and restore so you can reset. You will deal with whatever happens when it happens and until then, you can take care of yourself, anchor to the present and bring joy into this world in your own unique way 🙂

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Who is in Your Cage?

I’m stealing a post from another therapist, Dr Henry Cloud.  I’ve posted before about the importance of sharing our lives with other people.  Well, here’s some scientific evidence of the positive effects of this from our friends, the monkeys.  As I have walked the path of my daughter’s lung transplant, this need has become so apparent.  I am more calm, in part because of the support system I have.  This past week I was concerned about how she was doing.  We have learned that one of her medication levels was too high which was a contributor to her nausea.  No big problems, just little ones.  It was a friend who helped me put my concerns in perspective which brought a calming effect.  Left to myself, in isolation, I can percolate on problems and turn them into seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Ah, the gift of companions!

Dr. Cloud says, “One of my favorite studies was done years ago with monkeys, measuring the effects of relationships on cortisol levels in the brain. (Cortisol is a hormone associated with high levels of stress.) In this particular experiment, a monkey was put in a cage and exposed to a high level of psychological stress, including loud noises and flashing lights. They pretty much scared him to death. 

When the monkey was totally terrified, the scientists took a baseline measure of stress hormone levels in the monkey’s brain as it was exposed to these stressors.

Next, the researchers introduced one change into the experiment: they opened the door and put a buddy, another monkey, into the cage. That was it. They exposed the monkeys to the same loud noises and flashing lights, and then took another measure of stress hormones. The Result? The level of stress hormones in the brain had dropped in half. The lone monkey was only half as good at handling stress as the pair was together.

So my question for you guys… who’s your monkey?!”

I got a kick out of one person’s comment to this.  She said there are certain monkeys she has to remove from her cage.  They don’t help her at all.  She is choosy about the monkeys she lets in.  Good advice for all of us!

Categories: Boundaries, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care

I’m starting out with a bit of an apology for my infrequent posts.  I mentioned last summer that I am taking classes until the end of this month (the end is near!!!).  The classes are an addition to an already full life.  I realized after starting my blog that it was going to have to go on the back burner. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to post at all during this time.  I have gotten a few in.  I am one of those people who like to be busy but not THAT busy.  As a therapist, I frequently remind my clients to do something good for themselves each week.  I’m a self-care pusher.  If I mean what I say, than I better be doing it.  I have to take time to fill up on a nearly daily basis in order to be effective with the time I have.  I didn’t intend for this particular blog to be about self care, but here we go again.

Maybe during the holidays it’s helpful to be reminded of our deep need to care for ourselves.  No one else is going to do it for us, nor can they.  Back to square one, the definition.  Self care is anything that you do that feeds your soul, your body, or your mind.  It has to be something you connect with, not something someone else connects with.  I love getting a massage.  You might not like being touched.  A massage is simply not going to be self care for you.  I like walking, especially outside.  You might find that boring or too slow.  Walking is not your thing.  I like reading the Bible and understanding who God is.  You might not care at all about who God is.  Reading the Bible isn’t self care for you.  Have I made my point?  If it’s not something that you enjoy or is meaningful to you, it is not self care.

There are some actions you may have overlooked that count as self care.  Things like eating (healthy food that your body needs to function), bathing, sleeping, and exercise.  If you read that and realized that you aren’t even doing the basic self-care, we need to talk!   If you are just trying to get a handle on self-care, start with the basics.  Make sure each day that you set aside time or create a system that allows you to eat healthy food.  I believe fast food is better than the chocolate bar you count as lunch.  Fast food is not ideal, but we have to be real.  A salad with grilled chicken is going to nourish your body better than that chocolate bar.  It’s possible that a chocolate bar is part of your self-care because you savor the treat, not because it is a regular part of your diet.

When you shower or take a bath to get clean, comment to yourself that this is a way that you care for your body.  As you go to sleep or upon waking, congratulate yourself for making sleep a priority.  The benefits are far reaching.  Our brain desperately needs REM sleep to process the happenings of the previous day.  Studies have shown (and we can all attest) that under-rested people tend to misinterpret the emotions of ourselves and others.  We have a harder time dealing with emotion and we tend to be grouchy.  I know that first-hand.  Under-rested people tend to make more mistakes than those who are well rested.  Exercise is well-known to enhance our mood.  Those awesome endorphins that our bodies produce when we exercise help us feel better.  Exercised bodies are generally healthier bodies.  Although it might feel grueling at times, we are helping ourselves to have more energy.

If you have mastered the basics, start adding something extra to your daily or weekly routine.  Think about the things you really enjoy.  Is it sitting at Starbucks with a friend, relaxing and catching up?  Is it curled up under a blanket watching your favorite holiday movie?  Do you savor soaking in knowledge? Do you get pumped up watching a sporting event?  Maybe for you it’s creating something: in the kitchen, the garage, a studio?  If it’s something that takes a bit of time, it might have to be a once a week or twice a month event.  Make sure you get at least an hour of self-care, above the basics, each week.

It’s especially important to get self care in our schedule when life gets busy, like right now.  It helps us be more balanced.  It increases healthy perspective and clarity.  We are more effective in the way we live life when we are caring for ourselves versus when we are not.  I know this is true.  I have experienced times in my life when I have been horrible at self-care.  “There just isn’t time!”  “This is a ridiculous expectation!”  I experience internal chaos when I am low on self-care.  I cannot think as clearly, I am more likely to get defensive; I throw my skills out the wind and say, “Screw it!”  All hell seems to break loose eventually.  The times when I have been the unhealthiest emotionally are the times when I have not taken very good care of me.  When a few days go by and I haven’t done much to care for myself, I stop and tell myself I’m headed for a train wreck.  Do I want that? No!  I find inspiration to take care of myself when I realize the consequences of ignoring my needs are tragic.  Self-care is a need…not a luxury.

Categories: Boundaries, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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