Category: self-help

Small Acts of Self-Care

Starting to incorporate self-care into your routine can positively impact your outlook, productivity, self-perception, and interactions with others. But during busy seasons of life it may feel like a challenge to set aside time in your days to practice self-care. Luckily, there are many small ways to weave self-care into your schedule – some of which you may not have considered before!

#1: Read a Book

Turn off your phone, step away from your laptop, and crack a book you’ve been wanting to read for a while.

#2: Take Yourself to a Show

Whether you prefer live music, or you want to see the latest movie in theaters, take yourself out on the town. Work can always wait – and you’ll appreciate getting out of the house to decompress.

#3: Take a 5-Minute Break

Short on time? Try a 5-minute meditation break. Take deep breaths, clear your mind, and pull yourself out of stress and into the present moment.

#4: Eat Well

When you’re in a busy season of life, eating habits can slip. Try to prepare healthy snacks and meals for yourself ahead of time or at the beginning of the week. You deserve to eat healthy, filling food to fuel you through your day.

#5: Dance

Relaxed breaks can be calming, but the endorphins released during movement can be equally beneficial. Take a few minutes at the end of your day and sway to your favorite song.

Self-care doesn’t have to be the stereotyped examples you read about in magazines. You can find a system that works for you – whatever that looks like. Care for yourself in a way that brings joy and peace to your mind, body, and soul.


How to Unplug

In today’s world, we often get caught in a social media comparison trap. No matter how engaged we are with our own lives, or how content we are in our day-to-day, we see the highlight reel that friends and family share online and feel inadequate. This comparison can lead to increased anxiety, frustration, and overwhelming dissatisfaction.

Though social media can be beneficial when it comes to reconnecting with distant friends or family members and staying up-to-date, it can be beneficial to unplug.

“Unplugging” may be harder than it sounds. We tend to develop a reliance on technology, and our social media feeds are no exception. If it helps you, start small.

Start by leaving your phone in your bag or pocket while you go on a walk. Or turn it off before you go to bed – filling your pre-sleep time with book reading or listening to music instead of scrolling through Facebook.

As time goes on, challenge yourself to let go even more. Enjoy an event without taking photos to post online. Or take a weekend away – and send all social media apps to ‘the cloud’ for that weekend; to truly connect with your experiences. After the weekend you can download them from ‘the cloud’ as you wish.

Unplugging can be a healthy practice that has a colossal positive impact on your life. When you do choose to “plug in” you’ll be much more likely to enjoy social media the way it was intended – to appreciate and celebrate the highlights of life and to connect with those you love.  


Choose Your Best Self

Do you ever feel as if your life has come to a grinding halt, as if stuck in the mud with no idea how to get out?  Are you working a job you dislike but are afraid to leave, or in a dead end relationship? If the answer is yes, you are not alone.  Even in these modern times where choices abound, many of us are too fearful or complacent to bust a move, to take a risk.  The good news is you don’t have to stay stuck; by taking a few steps at a time you can begin living the life you envision.

First, get very clear what you want to let go of and what you want to take on.  Ignore listening to the nagging thoughts that say, “you can’t”. Simply write down all of your ideas regardless of obstacles that you perceive    Pauline Kael, a film critic who wrote for the New Yorker magazine once said, “If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it.  Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door to keep it open.”  In other words, don’t allow limiting thoughts to stop you from achieving, and moving forward.  Often the obstacles we imagine are simply self-imposed restrictions.

Start where you’re at, challenges and all.  If traveling is your goal, save money work a little extra, if it’s going back to college, start with perquisites online, if it’s a new job, make a new resume and send out five a week.  Invest in yourself, human beings are dynamic, our cells are in constant movement, we can create change and free ourselves from those habits and thoughts or behaviors that limit our life.  Take scissor and cut the cords that keep you stuck.  Perhaps that means letting go of perfectionism by allowing yourself to stop being afraid of making a mistake.  Mistakes can be our greatest teachers.

Post positive encouragement around you, make “I can do this” sticky notes and put them everywhere.  We all need positive feedback, but when there’s no one there to give it, seek it out for yourself.  Listen to guided meditations and read articles that inspire you. And most important, protect yourself from naysayers.  Family and friends can unintentionally sabotage our desires by expressing their own fears and judgements, but they have nothing to do with you. Find like-minded folks who have made the trek from fear to freedom.  Share your doubts and ask for advice, not that you have to take it, but useful insight is fantastic for it can fuel you when you’re feeling low or depleted.

Even if you take baby steps, they are steps towards changing your life.  Do an inquiry on yourself, ask why is it difficult to take risks, what in your life taught you to play it safe?  Once we become aware of the source of patterns, we can begin to revise the script.  Put the old tapes in the garage and see yourselves as the writer, doctor, mother, that you want to be.  Dare to dream, and make your dreams come true.  Face the fear head on, shake hands with it and bid it on its way.  When fear sneaks back at your mind’s doorstep, remind yourself that you no longer have to let it in.  Acknowledge it, then dismiss it.

Live your way into life, sitting around thinking about change doesn’t bring it on action does, whether it’s about exercise, eating healthy, or finding a new career.  You deserve to be the person that you are meant to be.  Everyone has gifts to share and once you acknowledge yours, put pursuing your dreams on top of your priority list.


The Positive Psychological Effects of Exercise

Exercise, or simply movement, has a wide range of positive effects. Physically, moving your body throughout the day, rather than sitting sedentary, can help you tremendously. Movement increases blood flow, improves breathing, supplements heart health, and more. But what about the psychological effects of exercise?

Studies have shown that exercise, or low-impact movement, can improve your mental health as well as your physical. Exercise can be used to supplement treatment of mild to moderate depression. It can be used to counteract anxiety, and it can greatly reduce stress.

Additionally, regular movement can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD and PTSD. Even if your life isn’t greatly impacted by any of these things, exercise can still result in stronger emotional resilience, sharper memory, higher self-worth, a better night’s sleep, and more energy throughout your day.

I don’t want you to think that I’m advocating that you set out to run a marathon tomorrow! If you’re just getting started incorporating exercise into your life – start small. Twenty to thirty minutes of movement a day is often enough to reap the physical benefits of exercise and release the endorphins that help you sleep better, overcome feelings of anxiety or depression, build emotional resilience, and more.

Most importantly, I encourage you to find a form of movement that brings you joy. The easiest way to incorporate movement into your life is to look forward to the activity. Schedule time out of your busy day for a bike ride to the park, or walk to work in the morning and enjoy the sunrise. If you enjoy cardio work, try signing up for a 5k that benefits a charity that’s near and dear to your heart. If you prefer low-impact exercise, consider yoga or tai chi.

The exercise you choose needs to speak to you and fill you with a sense of accomplishment and joy. Your options are endless, so don’t be afraid to try new things. Take a class, practice a new form of exercise in your home, or simply have a dance in your kitchen while you cook yourself dinner. You never know when you’ll stumble upon a form of movement that positively impacts your life and your mental health! Embrace the experience!


Don’t Hide Your Feelings

Fake it till you make it. We’ve all heard this advice at some point in our lives. While there’s a time and a place for putting on a positive outlook to muscle through a situation – or until you genuinely feel better – it’s not healthy to do all the time.

I advocate being honest in your relationships and with yourself about how you’re feeling. Acknowledging your emotional state is the first step to improving it, and accepting yourself where you are does your mental health a world of good. While feigning positivity until you begin to stabilize your emotional state can be a useful tool, living your life while constantly denying your feelings is emotionally harmful.

If you’ve been masquerading as content, or pretending that you feel wonderful to hide feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, or resentment for too long – you have the potential to truly do yourself a disservice.

Being honest with yourself when you’re experiencing depression, grief, anxiety, anger, or resentment isn’t easy. Any unpleasant emotion can be difficult to face, especially if you’re doing it on your own. It may feel easier to hide, or to pretend that you’re happy. But you deserve true happiness – whatever that looks like for you. Acknowledging what you’re going through and how you’re feeling can help you move past those unpleasant feelings or to find ways of managing them.

That’s not to say that you’ll never experience unpleasant emotions. Our emotional changes are a part of our life, and that’s okay. They’re nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re feeling unpleasant emotions for any length of time, it’s best to be honest with yourself and others about them. If you experience these intense and unpleasant emotions for an extended period it’s even more critical that you reach out to somebody. A loved one or a trusted professional can assist you in seeking help. You are not alone, and you deserve to feel true contentedness.

 


Finding Light After Loss

The blog this week deals with devastation, loss, and ways to cope and recover.  After the horrific damage caused by this year’s hurricane season, many find their homes ravaged or completely destroyed, pets lost or knee deep in wreckage that may take years to repair. How do we cope with such loss?  How do we go on?   

Grief is inevitable with loss of any kind and it comes in hundreds of colors, shapes and sizes and looks different on everyone. One thing that may help is the concept of impermanence.  In Buddhism, (you don’t have to be Buddhist to embrace this), everything both happy and sad are malleable.  As a good friend of mine has said to me, “one thing we can count on is change.”  When going through bereavement, knowing that you won’t always feel this horrible, or helpless, does help…eventually.  It takes time to heal and it is important to your recovery to acknowledge your feelings.

Allow yourself time to collect your thoughts, try not to make any hasty decisions until after the fog has lifted.  When you are in the throes of emotions, you may feel like running away or starting over somewhere far away, unfortunately your feelings will follow you.  Wait to make life-changing decisions until you feel stronger and clear to exam the pros and cons. Give yourself permission to put things on the back burner and focus on what is essential in the moment.

Start slow and chunk out tasks.  If you have to start over from a natural disaster, you may begin to feel the light poking through as soon as essentials are dealt with. Don’t take on everything at once.  Prioritize, what you need first and foremost, then work from there.  In other words, don’t put all of your worries and concerns in the same basket, it will be way too heavy a burden.  Take care of your basic needs for shelter, food, safety first. Everything else can wait. Take help when it is offered, people often want to contribute in some way, be it bringing meals or watching your children.  Let them.

Know when you are incapable of dealing with the loss and ask for help.  If you find yourself unable to function or to get out of bed, reach out to a professional.  There is a huge difference between profound depression and grief.  The latter is temporary and may simply need time to fade the other requires treatment.  If you are prone to depression, a significant loss may trigger symptoms, reach out to those around you, tell them your true feelings and get help.

Understand though that in reality, you need to give grief time and space to dissipate. You may begin to notice less sadness in three months, but don’t be surprised if you’re still glum, at least some of the time, months after your loss. For most of us, it takes about a year before we have consistent grief free days.  

Let the light of laughter in when it shows up.  Although there may be a string of dismal days allow the curtains to open and set aside your worries.  Perhaps a laugh with friends over funny memories or a dinner you’ve been invited to.  It is okay to give your grief a time out, to find joy again.


Speaking Truth in Our Relationships

When I work with couples, I always advocate for one thing consistently – always stay honest with one another. Regardless of the problem you’re experiencing in your relationship, it can likely be traced back to a moment when you weren’t entirely truthful either with yourself or your partner. It’s easy to want to hide our truth sometimes. We may be afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of hurting our partner. We may be afraid that our truth is selfish, or negative in some way.

But the honest truth is that hiding how you feel or what you think from your partner does far more harm than good. If you hide your truth, you may experience feelings of resentment. And from their perspective, they may experience resentment, as well.

I believe that honesty is the best policy – whether that’s in your romantic relationship, with family, with friends, or with colleagues. Expressing how you feel and what you think helps to open up a productive dialogue. You may be surprised to find the listening party is incredibly receptive – maybe they’ve been feeling the same way or having similar thoughts. You may be equally surprised to find that they disagree with you – but are willing to openly discuss the disagreement.

The more open you are about your experience and your truth, the less likely negative interactions are. Your openness draws in openness. Your energy attracts similar energy. If you are open and honest and someone disagrees with you, there may be a moment of tension. But by accepting their honesty in kind, you move forward in productivity and understanding rather than in negativity and bitterness.

Of course, there are ways to ineffectively communicate your truth. You may be feeling negative emotions – like anger or sadness. These may lead to you lashing out and being brutally honest in a way that’s intended to hurt or offend your partner. It’s important to understand that speaking your truth comes from a place of self-respect and of respecting others – not from a place of anger, fear, or desire to be hurtful. If your words are rooted in good intentions, they will likely be received as such.

Communicating honestly and openly by speaking your truth can lead to great things within your relationship. You will find yourself being more open to hearing the truth of your partner. You will find that your partner truly hears you and empathizes with your experience. Most importantly, you will no longer feel a masked bitterness within your relationship that results from you (and your partner) not being honest with one another (or yourselves) when resolving conflict.


The Danger of Social Media Comparison

Social media is a part of our lives in today’s day and age, for better or worse. There are many parts of social media that are very good. It’s wonderful to connect with new friends and reconnect with old friends. It’s fantastic to be able to stay in touch with loved ones from across states, countries, and continents – all by logging in to our Facebook or Twitter. There’s a plethora of information available to us as a result of social media, as well. It’s easier to stay informed – not just about personal things, but about world events and breaking news. More than that, though, the driving need to post positive aspects of our lives on social media forces us to notice and capture what is good about our lives. As a result, we might push ourselves to be better, or we might feel more consistently content.

However, social media also has a dangerous side – the side of comparison. Being able to see all of the happy, shining moments of our friends’, families’, and colleagues’ lives can make us doubt the positivity of our own life. This is dangerous because, of course, it puts us in an unhealthy cycle of self doubt. It’s also dangerous because the “moments” we see that other people post about aren’t their whole reality. Everyone has ups and downs, and just as many moments of mundane day-to-day activity. But when we believe that everyone around us is only experiencing the utmost joy and happiness, it’s easy to wonder why we aren’t experiencing those things, too?

These thoughts can be dangerous – we end up spending too much time comparing. We spend too much of our time taking careful notice of the negative emotions in life. We are lacking balance.

This is unhealthy. And it leads to profound anxiety, and an inability to be mindful or to live in the moment. That is why it’s very important for people to be aware of social media’s negative impact on our lives. When we catch ourselves falling into the trap of comparison. When we find that the addiction to this comparison is becoming overwhelming, it’s critical that we unplug. This is so much more than turning off our phones, or leaving them in the other room (although that’s a start!).

It’s healthy to take social media sabbaticals from time to time. It’s also healthy to schedule meetings with our loved ones outside of social media – meeting for a cup of coffee, for example. When we take a trip, it’s healthy to wait until we return to post our photos or gush over our experiences with friends. Taking more time to focus on what we experience in the moment, and fully immersing ourselves in those connections, sometimes means turning away from being “connected” on social media. It’s okay to not constantly be accessible, or constantly be connected. Taking care of ourselves and our emotional, social, and mental well-being is always more important than being accessible and connected.


Dealing with Loss

Well, everyone can master a grief, but he who has one. – William Shakespeare

We have all been there, a loss of one kind or another; the death of a friend or family member, the passing of a beloved pet, an unexpected tragedy such as a flood or hurricane  that alters our journey forever.  You may be experiencing a divorce or the end of a long term relationship.   Whatever the loss, it can be downright torturous to get on with living.  Most of us veer towards the familiar and when you experience a demise, change crashes in on your life uninvited.  But there are tools that can help you navigate through the painful terrain of grieving and dealing with loss.

First and foremost, don’t deny your feelings, otherwise they will end up somewhere in your body and wreak havoc.  It is normal to feel a profound sadness, to cry or wail, and to experience a sense of hopelessness. You don’t have to make excuses for your emotions, they are uniquely yours and everyone copes with loss differently.  You may feel utterly overwhelmed, angry or unequivocally fearful. When a person or family pet or companion passes it can flood you with memories and the void can feel physical.  Or the ending of a marriage or partnership can produce tremendous grief.  Acknowledge the surge of emotions with the same empathy you would give others who have experienced loss.  This is not the time to be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip.

When you are ready, share your feelings, talk to friends and other family members who are good at listening.  What you don’t need is a list of things you ‘should’ do.  Open up to people who can actively listen, that means they’re not the ones talking. Stave off those who try to cram unwanted advice down your throat, although they may have your best interest at heart, they are not you, they have not walked your path.  Now is the time to be present with what you are experiencing.  Facing your feelings helps you to come to terms with them, to put them in perspective, to shake hands with them and realize they are part of the process and part of you.      

If we bottle up our feelings they fester and eventually, like bad wine, turn sour and are that much harder to swallow.  Open the door to your heart, let the contents spill out to those you feel emotionally safe confiding in. Get out of your thinking mind and into your feelings.  The mind tries to rationalize or distract you or even judge you, which will not help your progress towards wholeness.  Perhaps write how you’re feeling down or pen a letter to the deceased or journal your experience without censoring your words.  Let the paper absorb your sadness or resentment then either keep it or burn it, depending on what will honor your emotional well-being.

If there is no one that can help you unburden your emotions, seek out a support group or a counselor.  In fact, there is an array of bereavement groups that could help you with your specific loss and even those with a plethora of family and friends can benefit from the solidarity of those who have suffered similar experiences (although let me be clear every situation is different and don’t compare your grief response to another).  Find the right one for you, one you can feel comfortable in expressing yourself honestly and without judgement.

Keep some semblance of a routine. If you like to walk in the morning or evening, perhaps try to keep that healthy habit up.  Or maybe you love to water your flowers every morning or make coffee and read a book or listen to the news or watch the squirrels dart in the trees.  Whatever it is, by sticking to a few simple constants, you will create a sense of stability that not everything is lost, not everything has changed.

Try to eat as healthy as you can and stay rested.  If you have lost your appetite try eating smaller meals more frequently, foods that are easily digested.  Get a little exercise to help you sleep, ask a friend to walk with you or perhaps cycling helps clear your mind. If you have a yoga practice, this can be very soothing during times of duress.  Taking little measures to maintain your health, will help you cope with the loss. It is okay to step away from the sadness for a bit and indulge yourself in an activity that quiets the pain, if even temporarily. This is not the same as ignoring or escaping your feelings, it is rather an attempt to bring your life back to balance. Throughout the day we experience a gamut of emotions, allow yourself a reprieve from the painful ones.

Breathe, and give yourself time to grieve, be kind to yourself.  Try to not self-impose deadlines for when you should feel better.  Know that it is a process, just like learning how to be a parent or how to keep your relationship healthy, grieving a loss takes time. Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”  Allow the wounds of loss their proper healing time and eventually the pain will subside.


The Paradox of Pursuing Happiness

Many people spend a large portion of their lives actively pursuing happiness. Thousands of books have been written on the subject. Movies have been made. Countless articles and blog posts address thousands of different ways that you can be happy. But what these documents don’t account for is that happiness is a fleeting emotion – and so the pursuit of it will always feel equally fleeting and not very satisfying.

The thought propelling the pursuit of happiness is actually very positive. We all deserve to find moments of happiness in our lives – and those moments are wonderful to enjoy fully. However, if we focus our energy on always pursuing the euphoric feeling of happiness, we’ll often be left feeling quite the opposite – unhappy with the results. We run the risk of setting ourselves up for emotional negativity and let down.

Instead, it’s often more productive to focus ourselves on the practice of contentment. Feeling generally positive about our lives – or even feeling centered and calm – leaves us feeling much “happier” overall. Focusing on contentment means that we’re staying mindful and fully present in our day-to-day lives. If we focus on the pursuit of happiness instead, we’re often not in the moment: we’re focusing on a constant chase of an emotional state. By embracing contentedness, we’re developing a sense of peace and calm within ourselves.

Today, I suggest that you release the notion of actively pursuing happiness. Instead, focus yourself on staying content. Focus on staying in the moment. Focus on being mindful and remaining centered despite the ups and downs that will inevitably happen within our days. This is much more likely to lead to many more happy moments.