Holiday check-up

Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights (Photo credit: ImageMD)

Who is ready for the holidays?!  If you just responded with an exasperated sigh or cringed as you read those words, this may be a good post for you.

This time is mentally and physically exhausting all by itself, so why not consider doing a quick mental health check-up before you find yourself wanting to call in sick to your next holiday event?

 

Here are some areas to consider:

1)      First, you may want to check your emotional temperature.  Are you running hot lately?  Noticing a tendency to respond in anger?  If so, ask yourself what is underlying the anger?  Maybe you’re sad, maybe you are feeling insecure about something, or maybe you are just overwhelmed.  Irritability can be an indicator of all sorts of things, both emotional and physical.  Spend a few minutes thinking about the last few things that have gotten you really upset.  Notice if there is a theme or common thread.  Then create a plan to unwind or unplug each day and create a space of calm.  If you are able to meditate (or what I sometimes do,  which is simply sit still for a few minutes)…it has been show to decrease feelings of irritability and anger greatly. It’s amazing how even 60 seconds of stillness positively impacts our emotional well-being.

2)      Second, how is your appetite?   Are you eating your feelings?  Have you been reaching for extra servings of carbs and sweets?  Think about what is it that you may be trying to compensate for.  Another thought is to really consider what makes you feel “full”.  Are you seeking out activities that inspire you and fill your heart with joy?  Think about something that you can set some time aside for that truly fills you up (without all the extra calories).

3)      How is your energy level?  Are you waking up only to wish for another hour of snooze time?  And more importantly, are you pushing through the day feeling like you slept on a bed of rocks?  Getting enough sleep impacts everything from our mental sharpness, our emotional responses, and ability to problem solve. Energy level is also impacted by what we put in our bodies and if we are not eating enough balanced nutrition and taking in enough water….our whole system suffers.  Also consider what kind of energy is surrounding you.  If you are rubbing elbows with negative people all day, that’s gonna run you down.  Sometimes you can’t escape a cranky co-worker, but maybe you can take extra steps to limit contact and be ready to respond with extra kindness and positivity.  It may be as simple as repeating a positive affirmation or even faking a smile until it feels real.  Yes, that does work.  Try it right now if you don’t believe me.

4)      Now, let’s talk about your flexibility.   Nope, this isn’t about being about to touch your toes (though it is important)!  It’s about being open to a new experiences and rolling with the flow.  Are you hearing yourself explain why you can’t do something, or why something automatically won’t work?  Rigid thinking leads us to experience higher level of stress and releases all those hormones that contribute to feeling fatigued, irritable, and generally uninspired.  Start stretching yourself.  Try to resist the impulse to immediately think why something won’t work and think about how you are willing to try.  If you are going through a lot of changes, give yourself permission to feel a bundle of emotions but work on identifying what type of support you need while you’re going through the change.  Do you need someone to hear you and validate you? Or maybe you just need to acknowledge that the change is scary as hell and you’re feeling scared or fearful.  It’s okay to feel all those things.  There is something powerful about acknowledging and owning feelings of vulnerability.  Again, this about increasing awareness.  There may not be a quick fix or solution…but a higher sense of awareness can serve you well.

5)      And finally, when’s the last time you checked your vision for yourself?  How far are you able to see in the future?  I’m not talking about a psychic hotline kind of stuff, I’m referring to feeling hopeful and goal-oriented.  Have you reviewed your goals for yourself lately  or even better, have you set some new ones?  Don’t wait until a new year’s resolution party….write down a couple of things that you would like to do now and create a plan of action to go along with it.  Include the people who you need support from and a timeline.  One of the most powerful ways to instill hope is to create a goal.  When you create goals, you acknowledge that something IS possible.  That is the crux of what hope is, believing in a possibility.  It doesn’t have to be an elaborate 5 year plan.  It can be something as simple as listing off the chores you want to accomplish by the end your weekend.  Next time someone asks you why you are writing out a ‘to do’ list, just tell them that you are engaging in an act of hope.

 

Yes, the holidays are coming whether we are ready or not.  So why not take a few minutes and think about your emotional health and where you are today before taking on a whole new set of worries, tasks, and responsibilities.   Who knows, maybe if you take the time to increase your awareness and possibly incorporate some strategies now; you may not end up screaming at your in-laws at the next family dinner or flipping out about the lack of adequate parking at the local shopping mall. Okay, maybe that last point was a stretch, but never underestimate the power of positive thinking.  🙂

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Summer vacation

va-ca-tion: Noun.  1: a respite or a time of respite from something: intermission. 2 a:  scheduled period during which activity (as of court or school) is suspended b:  a period of exemption from work granted to an employee 3: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation (Webster’s Dictionary).

I will never forget  a conversation with a boss about vacations.  I was experiencing a particularly stressful time at work with some of the most mentally taxing cases that I had encountered and the idea of ‘burn-out’ seemed like a step up from where I was in that moment.  Feeling full of despair, I remarked that I desperately needed a vacation.  His response was “You have to realize that vacation will not solve your problems of how you are feeling.  Escaping only provides temporary relief.  The real issue is for you to find a way to achieve peace and inner calm without having to physically leave and go somewhere.”  Granted, I know he had positive intent when he provided me that insight but all I heard was “blah, blah, blah, buck up and keep going.”  Needless to say, I didn’t receive the wisdom very well and rationalized his advice as ‘fluff’ that can only come from people who get 6 weeks of vacation a year.  Therefore, I rejected his advice and the equally insightful guidance that followed and proceeded to wallow in self-pity instead of figuring out how to navigate the enormity of my emotional and physical state of exhaustion.

Eventually, I managed to explore some options and restore my spirit, and now I can truly appreciate what he was getting at with his statements.  Here’s the deal.  We have a right to enjoy vacations, but it can’t be the answer to life’s complex and exhausting challenges.  It can provide us with relaxation, adventure, and a pause of our daily chores, but if we look at it with great expectations of erasing stress and wiping our memories of pain, heartache, and turmoil; we will only set ourselves up for deeper disappointment when we return to the reality of our everyday lives.

There is something magical that can happen on a vacation; we tend to notice nature more, not be in such a hurry, be more open to love and hope, and generally allow ourselves to take good care.  And the most amazing phenomenon that happens (sometimes), is that we realize everything we need is within us no matter where we go.

Vacations can help us reconnect with our spirits but we don’t have to travel a great distance to achieve an inner state of calm. I mean, it’s not like we become different people on vacation.  We are always there.  We convince ourselves into thinking that vacation helps us be calmer, happier, and more content. But let’s get real, we don’t turn into ideal human beings just because we don’t have to worry about laundry for a few days or sit in bumper to bumper traffic.  The core of who we are is always present, unfortunately we are just too dang busy to notice while we are working all day, managing our personal life, and keeping up with endless tasks that create our ‘daily grind’.

I wish we all were guaranteed weeks of vacation every year to the destination of our choice, but the reality is that most of us simply don’t have that type of luxury. However, nobody says we can’t take a mini-vacation of our own without ever having to pack a bag.  Here are some ideas that can give us an ‘intermission’ from the daily grind and encourage us to take in some of the awesome things that surround us each day.

  1. Lose yourself in a good book for a couple of hours
  2. Take a class in something you have always wanted to try
  3. Visit a museum
  4. Explore a park or take a walk outside
  5. Drive a totally different way to work one day or drive in silence for a while
  6. Prepare a dinner that you have never eaten before (or go to a brand new restaurant)
  7. Get up and watch the sun rise tomorrow (or watch the sun set tonight)
  8. Lay out and watch the stars for an hour ( I hear there will be awesome meteor showers in mid August!   http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors )
  9. Give yourself permission to do absolutely no household chores for a few days
  10. Go to bed early or sleep in late

Yes, summer vacation can be a magical time, but so can today.  We just have to decide if we want to use our senses to take in the beauty and awe that exists in abundance everywhere or simply ‘save’ it for those elusive vacation days.

My suggestion is to embrace today.  Listen to your spirit.  Hear what it needs and explore your options to appease it.  Then, just maybe, the idea of vacation (in any season) will take on a whole new meaning. 🙂

vacation pic

An exercise worth trying during any season

As the summer rolls on and time seems to pass at a quicker pace than I like to admit, I realize how important it is for me to remain as present as possible and cherish these days.  We talk about ‘being present’ all the time but I think this concept is as unique for each person as their own experiences.

For me, ‘being present’ is about recognizing an experience, acknowledging my energy, and appreciating my emotional response without getting caught up in interpreting the event or worry about what is going to happen next.  I know this sounds pretty direct but the truth is that it’s not always easy.  However, one of my favorite ways to embrace any moment (even the frustrating ones) is to smile and take a deep breath.

Try it out.  Pause, put a smile on your face, then take a deep breath in.  As you try this, you will become more aware of your body, your emotion, and tension that may be present. If you continue to smile and breathe for a few minutes you will notice that if tension is present, it starts to ease a bit and if you are feeling good to begin with, the smile only enhances your experience to its full capacity.

If you want to see the true magic of this simple exercise, try it during a challenging moment.  For instance; when someone has just said something offensive or hurtful or when something doesn’t go the way you would like.  The beautiful thing about smiling is that even if you don’t ‘mean’ the smile or you feel like you are forcing it, your body and mind respond just as if it is genuine.

So practice this exercise out this summer and remember that being present isn’t just about embracing amazing and beautiful moments; it’s about taking an active part in our own realities and remembering that we are wonderfully complex and thoughtful beings that are full of love, hope, and compassion.

Being present doesn’t have to take a lot of energy or even a lot of thought.  It just takes a moment to be totally real with ourselves and open to an experience.  The more we engage in this exercise, the better our hearts and minds will be to practice love and compassion for ourselves and for those around us.

Even though smiling may not be an exercise that helps you tone up your physical self;  it targets the most important part of our bodies….our heart and souls.   So go get your smile on and be present.  🙂