Create a More Meaningful Christmas with
“The 5 Gifts of Meaning”
As I was writing this post yesterday I got news that a friend of mine had suddenly died. A young, loving, wife, talented hairdresser, and adoring mother of two, one minute she was doing what she loved—coaching high school cheer—and the next, she had collapsed. I’m no stranger to death; still, to be once again reminded of the fragility of life has made an enormous impact on me. I was already writing about how to bring the meaning back to Christmas*, but after hearing this news, my message feels even more essential. This one’s in memory of you, Tanya.
The Paradox of the Holiday Season
Why is this time of year so fraught with tense and varying emotions? It is, you know. We all feel it. It’s a paradoxical, magical, lovely, joy-filled, troubled time of year. I recently asked on my FB page, “How are you feeling about the holidays, in three words or less?” There were several replies like: “Peaceful family fun” and “Prepared, joyful, giving”. But there were more replies like: “Happy, full, busy,” “Is it over?” “Slow down, enjoy!” or even “Stressed,” “Melancholy,” “Weary, depressed”. From joy to love to stress to worry to wishing things were different, this is certainly an emotionally-charged time of year.
Top 5 Reasons the Season’s Emotionally Rough
So what leads to the intense emotions of the holidays? I have a few ideas. Not only have I personally experienced this emotional intensity over the years, but my psychology practice is always bare in December (everyone’s too busy), only to have my phone ringing off the hook in January with one common theme: “December really pushed me over an edge!” I’ve come to see that several factors play in to the emotional roller-coaster of this season, the top 5 of which include:
1) Losses and the Past: It seems each year we’re immediately drawn back to every other Christmas we’ve had, and if our past is filled with ghosts, it can be difficult to overcome. Old losses and grief easily resurface, painful past holiday experiences are remembered. Add to this the sense that we’re supposed “feel joyful” this time of year, and it can be especially difficult for those who simply don’t.
2) Holiday Heart Aches: With relationships, tensions are usually high and so are expectations, and that can lead to hurt feelings and heartache for couples, families, and even friends.
3) Lack of Time: If you felt “busy” before the holidays, you’re no doubt feeling it tenfold now—you’ve suddenly added shopping, decorating, cooking, events, and who knows what else to the mix! Even if you want to, it can feel impossible to really slow down and enjoy what matters most.
4) Financial Stress: We all know this is one of the most financially-demanding times of year. Not only are there the usual expenses, but there are year-end taxes and bills to pay, and now we’re buying loads of gifts!
5) The Desire for Meaning: Bottom line, I believe, is that we’re all searching for more meaning. I hear it over and again, “How can I create a more meaningful holiday experience?” Deep down, we don’t care about all the presents and hoopla—what we really want are the dazzling little family moments filled with joy, peace, and love.
The 5 Gifts of Meaning
So, if we what really want for Christmas is more meaning, then why not give ourselves and our family the gift we really want? We can overcome our past, strengthen our relationships, have more time, and save money as we create a more meaningful Christmas by giving and receiving the following “5 Gifts of Meaning”!:
1) The Gift of Remembering: Remembering the good times with family and friends is a wonderful gift. Create a scrapbook, photo album, movie, or written account of a favorite past-time. Remember those you have lost by establishing a tradition in their honor or creating a memento. I remember the year I had my husband sketch a portrait of my youngest sister, McLean, who had died 5 years before. We wrapped it up and gave it to my mother and father. There wasn’t a dry eye when that gift was opened. Remembering can turn a painful holiday into a time of meaningful reminiscence.
2) The Gift of your Heart: Really, the best gift is YOU. Slow down and listen to your heart. What needs to be said? What needs to be done? Is your heart open to giving and receiving love? Hug and love more. Listen more. Reach out in compassion. Take the time to ask, “How do I feel about this person?” Then, put it into writing, a phone call, or a visit. Share your heart and express gratitude for those you love; then, open yourself up to receiving greater love from them too.
3) The Gift of Time: Choose to fill your time with less decorating, shopping, and activities so you can create more “space” in your days. Then, share these spaces with those you care about. Help a neighbor, listen to a friend, read Christmas stories with your kids, or simply sit down and enjoy a meal together. Time is short and precious, so don’t waste it; give it freely and wisely to those who matter most to you.
4) The Gift of New Memories: Take a trip or vacation together instead of buying presents. Give a “coupon” for a future lunch date, concert, sporting event, or pedicure. Or, give a “free” memory—a long bike ride, a hike, a picnic at sunset. I love to give memories. I still remember my best friend and I laughing ‘til we hurt the year we got massages together, and my kids, husband, and I running like mad after setting off New Year’s fireworks on the beach in Rockypoint last year (yes, they’re illegal in Mexico—who knew?)! Really—who doesn’t love the gift of a lovely new memory?
5) The Gift of Service: At the heart of all of these gifts is serving others, for service is the surest way to a more meaningful Christmas. Do a “service exchange” with family members instead of gifts, or, instead of a holiday party, get your friends together and donate your time to a worthy cause. One of our favorite traditions is creating a Christmas for an “adopted” family in need. But our very favorite tradition is “The Christmas Jar”. Each year, we set out our “Christmas Jar” and drop in our dollars and coins all season long. On Christmas Eve, we place the collected monies into a gift bag with a note that says, “Merry Christmas. From, Your Friends.” We then pile in the car, say a prayer, and drive the streets until we feel we’ve found the person most in need of our gift. The kids jump out and deliver the gift with a “Merry Christmas,” and then we drive around the block where we can secretly watch for a while (we can’t help ourselves!). The look on our new friend’s face has become our favorite gift of each season. Yes, serving others is the surest way to a more meaningful Christmas and a more meaningful life.
Weather the Storms Together:
4 ways to Strengthen Families Through Times of Stress
Family life is not easy. Sure, there may be some “calm” days, but most families face plenty of “stormy” days (or weeks, or months, or years) too. Whether through illness, divorce, death, job loss, struggling children, or just plain “life,” storms roll in–sudden and uninvited–and present families with challenges that are overwhelming and may feel impossible to overcome.
My family is no stranger to storms. In fact, we were created out of a “storm” when my sister and brother-in-law died and we inherited our two nephews right as I gave birth to our 4th baby. The boys are now adopted and, almost five years later, we have safely weathered those storms. But last week, on a family vacation, we were faced with a literal storm that shook us all up and reminded me just how important it is to weather life’s storms together.
Weathering the Storm
Our first family trip on a houseboat at Lake Powell–on our second night there, we were finishing our BBQ rib dinner when the wind started gusting and, before we knew it, yanked out one of our anchors. Our older boys ran to the shore to rescue the anchor, I ran to the top deck to loosen the winches holding the anchored ropes to the boat, and my husband started up the engines in an effort to save us from breaking completely free or crashing on the shore.
Then the wind picked up even more and we lost a second anchor. When the anchor flew, the boat jerked and the thick ropes I’d been holding flew out of my hands—literally melting the skin on one of my fingers, and tangling in both the engines. My middle son ran to get me ice packs while I helped my husband as he dove under the boat in the wavy, dark water, again and again, with a knife in his teeth to cut the ropes free. My older sons rescued any of our supplies that were on the beach, and my frightened daughters obeyed as I explained they needed to get life jackets on, stay inside, and find a way to comfort one another.
Finally free from the ropes, we steered the houseboat away from shore, into the small open bay, trying to hold it steady and away from land. But, in the chaos, our two oldest sons ended up stranded on the shore, along with our ski boat. Now dark, we couldn’t even see them, as the wind and rain persisted. I gathered our family together, we said a prayer, and then we sent a distress call to a friend whose boat had been anchored nearby. But things were worse off than we knew—not only had most of the other boats in the area become loosened, but in the confusion of it all, a man on another houseboat (our friend’s friend) had slipped overboard and was nowhere to be found.
The search and rescue team and helicopters came, looking for the man, and eventually a couple of nearby ski boats rode out to us see if they could help; one of them, gratefully, rescued our sons, and the other actually turned out to be an old friend of mine! They were able to safely lead us to more open waters. For us, it ended up a 7-hour ordeal of navigating in the pitch black and eventually being “rescued” by the Park Service team (at 2 am), who helped us get anchored in for the night. Our friend’s friend, however, was not recovered.
4 Ways to Strengthen Families Through Times of Storm & Stress
Storms—literal or symbolic—are challenging. And everyone comes out affected in some way. Yet, when weathered together, these storms can strengthen family ties. Allow me to share four strategies that have helped my family weather our storms. I hope they will help your family too!
1) Turn toward each other. During our vacation storm, it would have been easy for us to fearfully retreat inside, isolate, ride it out, and assess the damage later. But, that’s not what families are for. We’re here to help each other, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to encourage our families to stick together. Plus, the damage from “riding out” storms alone can be far too great. Instead, keep family members engaged with one another in times of stress. Help children understand the situation, talking openly about what’s going on in words they can understand. Make time together as a family and spend it wisely. It’s not easy, I know. But the effort of keeping your family turned toward each other is well worth the pay off.
2) Be the Leader. As parents we have to lead our families. I know how hard it can be to feel overcome by grief, pain, or sadness, but I also know that the stakes are too high. Though we certainly need time to catch our own breath and process our own experiences, we also need to “suck it up” in order to be there for our kids. Be the example in helping your children heal; lead them through the storm. Make space for your own healing (in therapy, with a friend, or with your partner), then remind yourself that you are the parent and get out there and lead your family.
3) Give each family member a task. Help children understand what they can do and what they cannot do. Children want to help, but without direction, they may take on responsibilities they simply cannot, or should not, handle (like taking on the parent role). Tell your child what s/he can do to help the family through the storm. Giving my children tasks through our lake storm allowed each to feel empowered and it really helped my husband and me too. Just make sure that you are in the parent role and the children are in the child role. Reassure them that you are doing your part and help them understand and do their part too.
4) Talk. It can be challenging to keep conversation open when hard times hit; many of us want to keep things quiet or we may feel that it’s not “healthy” for our children to talk about what’s going on. But that’s simply not the case. During our lake storm, conversation was key–in working together, in helping each family member do their part, and in leading the family through. Conversation was also the key to reassuring my children, to helping them understand what was happening, and also helping me feel reassured that they were ok.
So, talk. I know from personal experience (having grown up in a family with many tragedies and deaths and very little open conversation), that it hurts our kids more to keep quiet than it does to talk openly. Discuss what’s going on. Let them ask questions. Answer as honestly as you can in language they can understand. Couples—talk to one another. Don’t shut each other out. One of the biggest keys to a strong family is open conversation. Make time to talk. You can take breaks as needed. But, keep the conversation going.
Our little family vacation turned into a life-altering event—not only for those on the boat with the “man overboard,” but for all of us. The morning after, our hearts were bursting with love for one another and gratitude that we were all safe–even our supplies had somehow been saved (The photo above right is of the morning after and our kayak that was miraculously beached on the shore nearby!).
And the life “storms” my family has weathered together have had the same effect: We’re stronger. We know we can make it through. We are humbled in a way that makes us teachable and more loving. And we are grateful. For, if there’s one lesson we have gained from our storms it’s that each moment together as a family is a gift, and to never take that gift for granted.
Talk to Me: What storms has your family had to weather? What has gotten you through the “stormy times?” Have you ever felt “stuck” in the storm? Leave me a comment or a question so we can help each other weather the storms together:).
Thanks to my good friend, Julie Hanks, LCSW, I’ve been able to do a couple of guest posts for her Private Practice Toolbox series on www.PsychCentral.com. The first was my article, “Sharing Office Space With Your Spouse”. This was followed up by a Video Tour of the practice my husband (a dentist) and I share in Flagstaff, AZ. It’s an unusual setup, to be sure, but it certainly works for us! I hope you will check it out and let me know what you think!
Hello everyone! I am so happy to announce that I am now a regular contributor for 30SecondMom!
30 Second Mom is a fabulous website and smartphone mobile app that gives tips to moms in 30 seconds or less. All you have to do is visit the site, set up your login, select the topics and contributors you’d like to follow, and voila! Tips appear on your “stream,” tailored just for you! So, if you’re a mom-on-the-go, take a moment and visit www.30SecondMom.com. This just might be the “tip” you need to make your full life just a little smoother!
Check out a couple of my tips:
Summer Survival: Helping Your Kids Set Summer Goals (watch the 30 second YouTube video of this tip)
7 Strategies for Summer Sanity
Summer is upon us once again with its longer days and warmer weather. Yet for we parents of school-aged children, summer break can be anything but relaxing. I admit, my past few summer breaks have started with a mental breakdown on my part. But this year is different. I have looked back, taken notes, and learned from my mistakes; with only four days of school left, my summer sanity plan is firmly in place. So, allow me to share my 7 strategies for summer sanity in hopes it will bring a little sanity your way this summer too!
1) Evaluate & adjust expectations. This is a biggie. As I’ve written before, “All frustration comes from expectations” (Dr. John Lund); expecting your schedule to remain the same in the summer is simply not possible and your sanity will pay the price if you don’t make some changes. For example, I’ve learned that I need to cut back on my own “projects” during the summer. The less I expect to get done, the less interrupted and frustrated I feel. Instead, I now try to read, relax, and play a little more in the summer, reminding myself that, even though I’m not getting much of my “to do list” done, I am doing some very important things (like strengthening my relationships and resting up for the fall). Expecting a little less in the summer can bring a whole lot more peace of mind. (For tips on altering expectations, read this).
2) Set up summer rules. What are your policies for summer sleepovers, playdates, chauffeur services, and chores? Call a family meeting, discuss, and write them down; then, post them in plain sight. Having written “rules” takes the guess work out of summer days, providing structure and helping children (and parents) know what to expect. One of our rules involves “Summer Kitchen Hours”. These hours are posted next to the other rules, telling the kids when the kitchen is “open” and when it is not. This helps prevent constant grazing and entices my hungry teens out of bed a little earlier, but mostly it helps me feel like I’m not constantly cooking and cleaning. What policies might help your summer run a little more smoothly?
3) Don’t over- or under- schedule. While it certainly helps to have some scheduled activities each week, resist the temptation to sign up for too many. Let’s face it—we live in an overscheduled world, and overscheduling wears parents and kids out. Instead, let summer be a time to slow down from the hustle and bustle of the school year. Planning one activity a day is plenty; and it’s ok to have days with nothing planned at all. It’s actually good for kids to have “nothing to do” sometimes—it allows them to hear their own thoughts and invokes creativity; it also helps them appreciate all they get to do at other times. When my kids start in with “I’m bored,” I tell them, “Great! I’m happy you’re bored—it’s good for you! Go sit and be bored for a while!” This gets plenty of eye-rolling, of course, but usually does the trick. (If they continue complaining, I say, “Oh, good! I need someone to help me get this work done”–they sure run away quickly after that one!). So, be careful with your scheduling–keeping kids (and you) entertained but not drained is a fine line to walk!
4) Do activities that you enjoy. Hiking? Reading? Drawing? Gardening?—whatever you love, look for opportunities to share it with your children; it’s a great way to teach them about the things you love. I love travelling, and now that I no longer have babies in tow taking my kids on trips is something I adore. I also love music, so writing songs and playing instruments together is another great activity for us. The point is to find what you love and do it—you’ll be so much more engaged in what you’re doing, and your kids will be so much the better for it!
5) Set up some summer help. To avoid breaking down you need some breaks, and summer camps, babysitters, family, or friends can be a big help. You might set up a childcare co-op and swap “free time” with a friend; you might enlist grandparents to take the kids for a while; or, you might ask your partner or spouse to take over for a night or day each week. Whatever your situation, look for opportunities to get some help and then take them! Your sanity will thank you for it, I guarantee.
6) Create daily quiet time. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, a work-at-home parent, a work-at work parent (oh, let’s face it—we’re all working parents!), you need some time and space that is just for you. Being “on” all the time is a sure way to burn out. To prevent burn out, set up daily “quiet time”. In our home we have 1 hour of “quiet time” each afternoon. I help the little ones settle down with books, a movie, or coloring, put a sign on my door (“Mom’s Quiet Time—Please Do Not Enter”) and hit my bed for reading, a nap, and usually some dark chocolate. The older kids entertain themselves and they all know not to interrupt or else “mean mom” might make an appearance. It’s good for everyone to have a break from activities and from each other. What can you do to establish some quiet time each day?
7) Be flexible. All this being said, summer really is a test of flexibility. Just because you have a summer “plan” doesn’t mean it won’t change–it will. Just count on it. Remembering strategy #1, if you can expect things to change, you will handle those changes much more smoothly. Just roll with it—that’s what summer is all about. (For more on flexibility, read here).
So, here’s to the summer of sanity! My hope is that, by using these 7 strategies, your summer will not only be more a little more sane, but perhaps even a little (or a lot) more satisfying too!
What are your summer survival tips? What gets you frustrated? What have you found to make things easier? Help us all out by leaving a comment below!
Your Postpartum Emotions:
The Baby Blues & You
Up to 80% of all new mothers will experience what is called “The Baby Blues.” If you are aware of this fact then lucky you because many families have no idea what is in store emotionally after the baby is finally here.
Postpartum Emotions for Moms & Dads
Too many families are never told that 4 out of 5 moms will feel sad, frustrated, tearful, anxious, and/or overwhelmed, what many women describe as “an emotional roller-coaster,” in the first days or weeks postpartum. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that your emotions might be a little out of whack after pregnancy and childbirth, considering all your body and mind have been through. The abrupt changes in hormones, sleep deprivation, and the psychological adjustment to becoming a parent, not to mention the exhaustion of labor and delivery, can easily trigger fluctuations in emotions.[/two_third]
And those first few days are not just tough on moms either. A dad can also have the Baby Blues and is more likely to have symptoms if his partner has symptoms too. It’s sadly ironic that just when we parents desire to be at our very best, we are often physically and emotionally at a disadvantage.
The Good News
The good news is that The Baby Blues are temporary. Neither a “diagnosis” nor a “disorder,” The Baby Blues is a normal reaction to the stress surrounding childbirth, and symptoms should improve within two weeks or so. Knowing this helps normalize the craziness we feel those first few days and relieves the layers of stress we add when we start to fear we are not “normal.” Feeling emotionally abnormal at this time is, in its own way, normal. And telling ourselves we’re “normal” can be just the relief we need even if we are the only ones saying so.
What Can We Do?
So here are a few things couples can do to safely navigate the baby blues:
1) Education: Learning all you can about postpartum emotional adjustment can help normalize your symptoms and also tell you if or when it may be time to get some outside help.
2) Practical Support: Letting others help with housework, childcare, and other basic duties can give you the space you need to let yourself (and your emotions) settle in and heal. It can also give you a chance to catch up on that much-needed sleep that’s likely wreaking havoc on your emotional state!
3) Emotional Support: Having a trusted friend, partner, or family member you can talk to can make all the difference. It’s ok to feel what you’re feeling and having someone who is ok to let you feel it may be just what you need.
4) Partner Support: My best advice for couples is to be patient and kind with one another. Realize this time for what it is–a temporary adjustment period when a tiny baby has all the power and the helpless adults are simply trying to keep up!
Beyond The Baby Blues
The Baby Blues can feel very permanent but they really should only last for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. If your “blues” are hanging on longer than two weeks or if your symptoms seem to be getting worse you may be experiencing a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder. Seeking counsel from an expert in perinatal mental health can help determine what your emotions are really up to and give you the tools you need to overcome them. (For resource options, click here).
Hang In There!
Your emotions may feel out-of-whack but that’s just part of having a baby. Eventually your body and emotions will resume a more “normal” routine. In the meantime, hang in there. It really does get easier over time, and it really is ok to just give in a little bit and go along for the ride.
Questions about the “Baby Blues”? Leave a comment and let me know!
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Kick the Complaining Habit!
No body likes a whiner. Even my four year-old, Sydney, came home the other day from her babysitter and, after asking her how her day was, she said, “Pretty good, mom, ‘cept one thing was bad—Tyler* was whining all day!” (Tyler is her three-year old “boyfriend” she is always trying to kiss, to be like her older siblings, and yes, *his name has been changed to protect his innocence). As I said, no one likes a whiner.
I have to admit, I’ve been known to complain or even “whine” on occasion too. It seems that the more stressed and tired I am, the more verbal I become until I lose my filter and every little thought becomes public notice! I don’t even like being around myself when I act like this. So why is complaining such a draw for so many of us?
There are definitely those who complain simply out of personality style or habit. Circumstances like stress and fatigue can certainly influence our tendency to complain too. But I believe complaining usually starts with purer motives: Most of us simply want to be heard and understood. We want someone to know our frustrations, pain, or upset. We want to know we are not alone. No matter what lies beneath it, however, complaining is a habit worth kicking before it fills us with so much negative energy that we drive those we love away! And even more importantly, complaining is a habit we can kick.
So, what can we do? Some may think the advice, “Keep your thoughts to yourself,” is the way to go. But even though painting on a fake smile, keeping quiet, and always being “fine” may seem like a good idea, it’s bound to eventually lead to either an explosion, an implosion, or at least some really good meat for therapy later in life.
The trick is to be able to talk about how we feel without delving into the pool of indulgent complaints. Here are a few tips to help us strike this healthy balance:
1) Write down complaints. We complain because we have a pile of emotion inside that needs to come out, and writing is a great alternative to saying it out loud. There is something therapeutic about getting things out with a pen and paper (or computer keyboard). It can also help to see our complaints; it can validate those times when things really are crazy and help us let go of the times when they’re not as bad as we think, all without dumping on those we love.
2) Set a “complaining” appointment. It may sound a little bizarre, but setting an appointment for complaining can help too. A time limit will keep it focused. For instance, “I can’t complain at all until 3:30 pm, at which time I will tell all my complaints to my husband with a time limit of 10 minutes”. (It helps to tell the person we’re complaining to ahead of time that we are simply “venting” and don’t need anything more than a listening ear). Not only does this give us a guaranteed chance to air our complaints, it channels our complaints and stops us from needlessly dragging them on. And, most of the time, we’ll probably find that our “complaining appointment” is not even worth keeping.
3) Solve what can be solved, then let it go. The previous tips can help us sort out complaints and give us the voice we desire. But ultimately our complaints need to either be solved or let go. If there is something we can do to handle our complaints, then we do it. If not, then we vent it out and let it go. We will be so much happier and so will those around us.
Kick the Complaints!
So, try these tips and start kicking your complaining habit today! Or try the advice I recently heard from a speaker whose mother taught her that if she added a “Dear Heavenly Father” to the beginning of each complaint and an “Amen” to the end, it’s no longer a complaint, but rather, communication with God. What a concept! He is, after all, probably the only one who really wants to hear our complaints, and the only one (besides us) who can do anything about them.
What do you think about complainers? Are you one? What makes it such a hard habit to kick? Have you found any strategies that work for you? Leave us a comment and share your wisdom!
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Getting Good at “The Let-Go’s”
Welcome to my new series, “Parenting Practice”. I may have learned a lot about parenting in my psychology practice, but my true expertise has come through the practice of raising my own family. In order to survive as a mom of 6, I’ve had to learn a few tricks. In this series I will share some of my best tips and tricks with you in hopes that “practice” really does “make perfect” (or at least “better”)!
Today we explore one of my favorite (and most used) tips–getting good at “the let-go’s”. “The let-go’s” is my name for the many things I must let go of each day in order to ensure a greater measure of sanity for myself and my family.
For example, most days I let go of my need for a clean house. I let go of tidying up while the kids are at school in exchange for using my limited time more constructively, which also allows the kids the chance to help with chores when they get home. Matching socks and ironing are easy let-go’s for me, along with sheet folding and using fancy dinnerware. I let go of having all the beds made (though I do make my own) in lieu of letting us all get a few more minutes of much-needed sleep in the morning. Not only do I benefit from my let-go’s; you can see the great benefits I’m giving my family—opportunities to learn the value of hard work, to sleep more, and to iron their own clothes (yea for that)!
I’ve also learned to let go of my wants in order to get more of what I need. Most of the time I let go of my want for more sleep in order to meet my need for an “hour of power” each morning, but sometimes I let go of my want for an “hour of power” in favor of getting a little more sleep. I let go of my want for high expectations in my work when I’m home with my kids all day in favor of my need for less frustration when they interrupt me. It’s gotten easier not to run every time I hear someone arguing or someone starting to cry in order to fill my need (and theirs) of teaching them how to handle things on their own. During preschool time this morning, I let go of my want to write, answer phone calls, and return emails, opting instead for a much-needed nap in the couple of hours of while my kids were all (miraculously) away!
And there are so many other “let-go’s” that come each and every day. Today, in between driving kids to and from doctor’s appointments, scouts, music, sports, picking up prescriptions and such, I had to let go. For one, I had to let go of being on time to everything.;I was 5 minutes late for music class, 10 minutes early for boy scouts, and 15 minutes late for pick ups! I let go of my 11 year-old actually wearing his scout shirt to scouts, for one, because we couldn’t find it, and two, because I’ve yet to sew on any of the patches he’s earned. I let go of giving my freshman and sophomore sons a ride home from sports, allowing them the opportunity to enjoy the warm day and melting snow instead. I let go of a healthy dinner in exchange for a “fun” and quick trip to Sonic for Chili Cheese Coneys and tots. I let go of working on my 8 year-old’s school project, opting to use the vanishing night time to cuddle her and my 4 year-old and read to them instead. I did give everyone hugs and kisses goodnight after we said our family prayers; some things are too important to let go.
I’m not always good at the let-go’s; it’s something I have to practice every single day. But I do know that the more I practice, the more I am able to let go, and the more I let go, the greater the peace for my family and me. So get out there and practice getting good at “the let-go’s”. It may be tough at first, but believe me, you will quickly become amazed at just how many things you can “let-go” of each and every day!
What are some of your let-go’s? Leave a comment below and share with us!
Lessons Learned From Solitude
This morning I will pack up my laptop and flip-flops, swing by the best donut shop in the world for a dozen to surprise my kids, and make the 7 ½ hour drive back to my home in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ll be returning from a week-long stay in my mother-in-law’s beach house in Encinitas, CA, all alone. (Ah, alone—it’s one of my favorite words).
At this point you may be thinking how extravagant it is that I’ve had a full week alone by the beach. It’s ok if you are; I’ve thought it too—no one could be more disapproving of my week of solitude than my inner critic! But this week I’ve gotten really good at reminding her, “Look, you know as well as I do that I’ve come here because I have to rewrite my first book and need clarity and time to do it. But even more importantly, I have six kids, a husband, and a career at home and this is the first time I’ve taken an entire week away in 16 years! So back off!” My inner critic has been pretty quiet the past few days—I think I scared her away. (I hope I did).
It makes me wonder why we women, and especially mothers, have such a hard time allowing ourselves to recharge. Why is it so hard for us to accept that we need time that is ours alone, that we need a long, deep breath if we are to exhale all we’ve got onto those we love. And we do love them, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s why we spend so much time giving, exhaling. But without sacred space, time, and solitude we end up like a frozen computer—everybody’s typing away but nothing is getting through! That’s why we need time recharge–to unplug and reboot.
Whether it’s a week, a day, or an hour alone, doing something we love or doing nothing at all, or even if it’s only 15 minutes at the start, end, or in the middle of a hectic day, taking time to recharge is vital to emotional well-being and to our relationships. How can we give our best to our children, partners, families when we have nothing left to give?
I’ve had to work at it, but I’ve gotten much better at forcing myself to take a break; and I do have to force most of the time. I’m almost always flooded with nervous energy and pressure the moment I begin—first, because I’m suddenly 100% alone, a state I envy yet seldom experience, and second, because I immediately feel just how little time I actually have. Be it minutes, hours, or days, I know the time will fly by and I’ll be overcome with the needs of others again all too soon. So I find myself standing, staring, and saying, “Hmm. Well, here I am. Now…where do I begin?”
It will probably be difficult at first for you too. But give it a few moments or hours and, trust me, you will settle into your solitude like a warm bath. Anne Morrow Lindgergh said it beautifully: “Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I shall be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually lose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round—more whole, even, than before, when the other people had pieces of one” (Gift From The Sea, p. 37).
And as I lounged on my beach chair yesterday and penned this post (with an actual pen!) at sunset, that’s exactly what I found. It was no longer the quiet that captured my attention; it was the sound of children laughing, the sight of a mother snuggling her young child, and the adoration on the faces of a couple walking hand in hand along the beach that made my heart soar. And it made me want to laugh, snuggle, and adore my dear family once again. After all, they are what make my week of solitude the beautiful gift that it has been. Without them I would simply be another lonely soul seeking solace from the ocean, but remembering them, I happily return today carrying with me the calm power of the waves, the dazzling sparkle of the sun on the horizon, and the clarity and peace of the time I’ve had to remember who I am. This is what will recharge me once I am home, just like the memories from home recharge me as I am here.
We all need time to recharge. It helps us appreciate the good in our lives. It helps us walk more slowly, breathe more deeply, and settle into a calmer rhythm fueled, not by schedules and the needs of others, but by nature and the call that comes from within. It doesn’t have to be a week. It doesn’t even have to be a day. But make time and space to recharge yourself. You can take the lessons learned from solitude with you wherever you go. They will make you whole, and open your eyes even wider to the beauty that is and has always been all around you.
How do you recharge? Is it easy for you or a struggle? Share your thoughts on “recharging” by leaving a comment!
Emotional Tool Box Basics
If you’re going to build or grow anything you’ll need tools. If it’s a house you’ll need a hammer and nails. If it’s a garden you’ll need a spade and seeds. And if you want to build or grow yourself, your relationships, or your family you’ll need a solid emotional tool box.
Any good tool box starts with the basics. Basic “coping tools” should likewise form the foundation of your emotional tool box. We all know that life can take a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll. It’s hard to build much of anything if you’re having a hard time just coping with what life brings. It’s therefore essential that you gather the physical, emotional, and spiritual tools you need to replenish your energy and increase your capacity to cope.
Physical tools are the most basic layer of your emotional tool box. They seem simple but are powerful, for they sustain the body and provide the energy needed to get you through. Years ago I read that whenever you’re in a bad mood it’s because you don’t have enough energy to match what you’re being asked to do. Think about it. Too little energy significantly affects mood. It is therefore critical that we keep our energy up using these basic physical tools:
- Sleep. We need sleep for energy, plain and simple. Sleep disturbance is one of the most common symptoms of distress, so if you’re not sleeping well or getting “enough” sleep each week, it’s time to get back to basics and make sleep a priority.
- Nutrition. If you’re malnourished you simply won’t be very effective. Learning to think of nutrition as the “gas” you put into your system can help. Would you put garbage into your car and expect it to run well? Hopefully not, so why would you do the same to your body? Nutrition should focus on what to eat as well as what not to eat. Eat for health and vibrance, putting into your body those foods that increase energy, clarity, even youth.
- Exercise. If number one and number two aren’t in place exercise will be more difficult, but exercise is very important. It’s not only another way to increase energy; regular exercise has countless health benefits, helps you sleep better at night, and usually motivates better nutrition. It’s also one of the best ways to clear your head, de-stress, and problem-solve. Whatever you love to do can count if you do it hard and long enough—gardening, walking, skating, cycling, hiking, snowboarding, even housecleaning (who loves that, right? I have a friend who does!). The point is to get your body moving. Your mind and spirit will thank you!
If the physical tools aren’t in place, it’s much harder to utilize the emotional tools. When energy is low and fatigue sets in, it’s simply harder to cope with emotions. But once you get the basics of physical tools, emotional tools are very effective, allowing your emotions to arise and be expressed in healthy ways. Basic emotional coping tools include:
- Feel emotions. Our natural tendency is too run from painful emotions. But when we run we never actually deal with the situation at hand. Making ourselves sit down, take a deep breath, and feel the emotions we fear can teach us that our emotions are less powerful than we tend to believe.
- Express emotions (TEARS). TEARS stands for Talking, Exercise or physical activity, Artistic expression, Recording and writing about emotions, and Sobbing, crying and just letting it out. I created this effective method to help us know what we can do with our grief, pain, and other tough emotions. Choose one and you’ll see how effective it can be to do something productive with the emotions that are begging to come out.
- Stop and alter your thinking. This is one of the best tools I’ve ever learned–how to hear my thoughts, challenge them, and choose to keep them or let them go. This method allows you to see the thoughts that are driving your emotions and gives you the power to change not only the way you think but also the way that you feel. (I’m sure I will be blogging about this in more detail soon. It’s one of my favorites!)
- Create the thoughts and emotions you desire. Beyond just dealing with thoughts and emotions that come your way, you can create the thoughts and emotions you desire. It takes focus and intention, but shifting your focusing from what you don’t want (unhealthy emotions) to what you do want (the sky’s the limit!) can make all the difference in creating the life that you desire.
It’s hard to feel spiritually connected when your body and mind are not well; on the other hand, it’s hard for your body and mind to be well if you are not spiritually connected. Being spiritually in tune may look different for each individual, but the common principle is the same: when we are spiritually in tune we receive greater peace, guidance, and love that can lead us through troubled times and remind us we are never alone. Seeking spiritual connection is an active pursuit that may include the following basics:
- Sacred Space: Finding space in this world of distraction is challenging, but not impossible. Where do you feel most at peace? Where can you ponder your life’s lessons? Where can you synthesize all you’ve learned and see the bigger picture? Seek your space each and every day.
- Prayer: Even scientific research shows that prayer works. Prayer connects you to those you care about, turns your thoughts to those in need, and reminds you to be grateful for all you have already been given. Even moreso, prayer allows you to submit to that Power greater than yourself, bringing a sense of peace and calm that every one of us needs.
- Meditation: Practicing meditation can be life-changing. Learning to still your body and mind, to breathe in the goodness and light around you, preparing yourself to receive divine partnership and counsel, can take you right out of your world of troubles and remind you of who you really are. In this busy life we must make the time to tune in to the things that matter most. Meditation is a way to help us do just that.
- Reading sacred texts: For many, reading scriptures and other sacred texts provides the framework for healing and hope. God’s voice can be heard in these divine books, providing answers, whispering of who we are and what we’re here to do, and reminding us that we are never alone.
Like any tool box, there are countless sizes and numbers of tools to be had. These are simply “the basics”. But also like any tool box, the tools are not helpful if they are not used. So pick up a tool today and get to work building your ideal emotional health. Who knows what kind of masterpiece lies in wait for you!
What tools do you use for emotional health? Which ones might you like more information on? Leave me a comment and let me know!