self-care

How to be as Kind to Yourself as You are to Others

Guess what? Being kind to yourself isn’t selfish! In fact, letting yourself off the hook every now and then can give you the freedom to be more authentic in your relationships. And contrary, to popular belief, compassion is actually more motivating than criticism. Think of the most caring mentor you have had in your life. Now contrast that with the hostile, angry, yelling coach who always left you in tears. Which one gives you strength and confidence? 

Have you ever considered why it’s so easy for us to be kind, compassionate and loving to others, but not ourselves? Dr. Kristin Neff provides an excellent intro into the benefits of loving yourself, flaws and all, and how the daily practice of self-compassion actually allows you to better care for others as well. She also distinguishes between self-compassion and self-indulgence. Compassion tells us to be kind to ourselves while also holding ourselves accountable.

Hungry for more? Check our recommended reading list for more books on self-compassion!

The Upside to Downtime

How many times have you hear yourself respond to a simple "How have you been?" with something along the lines of "Busy, but good!" There's an element of pride to this constant state of busyness, mixed with a desire to seem productive, sought after, the opposite of lazy. There's the need to reassure oneself and others that our time is not idle, that we are making the most of each day. The irony is that the act of maintaining a constant state of busy can get in the way of living in the moment and slowing down to appreciate the here and now.

High schools in particular champion the busy mindset, and lead us to think that downtime is wasted time. We push ourselves and our teens to do more, achieve more and stay constantly on the go.  After-school activities, sports, clubs, committees and more can take up precious evening hours after school. While our interests and hobbies are worth pursuing, and of value, the key to maintaining one's sanity through all the busyness is balance. 

Balance is the act of placing as much value on unhurried, unscheduled free time as we place on the various tasks at hand. Balance means letting ourselves off the hook when we decide not to take on one more commitment, choosing to stay home on a Saturday night with a good movie instead of going out. Balance looks different to everyone, but the essence of it remains universal. That we strive to value all facets our time and make room in our lives for the decidedly un-busy act of slowing down and letting go.

As with most things in life, the balancing act is a practice and a journey, not a final destination. Each day we learn new ways to let go of busy and embrace idle.  How will you find the upside to downtime?

Practicing Peace Amidst Chaos

Photo by  Liana Mikah  on  Unsplash

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Change can feel generative, restorative, and exciting; while at the same time feeling terrifying, unpredictable, and like you’ve lost control. With the changing of life seasons, relationships, or jobs it can feel like you’re on a boat in the middle of a tumultuous sea, being tossed about and clinging for dear life. Not having a say in a major life change leaves us feeling powerless, and at times grieving and hopeless. So how can we stay calm when we feel we’ve lost our power? Here’s a few small yet practical steps that have proven successful for myself and my clients.

  1. Reflect on what you can control and what you can’t - A thought exercise I frequently do with clients is to have them draw out two concentric circles (one inside of the other). In the outer circle list all of the things that you have no control over- such as the weather, other people’s words and actions, illness, job markets, etc. Then on the inside circle list the things that you do have control over- such as your actions, what you say, what you eat, how you react to someone else, and what you think. So often we are focused on the things in the outer circle, and desperately want power over things that are just frankly impossible to control. This leaves us stuck spinning our wheels feeling frustrated and burnt out. By shifting our focus to what we do have control over, we can start to remember that we do in fact have power over many aspects of our lives.

  2. Create a routine, and stick to it (as much as you can) - When things seem upended and unhinged it’s important to establish at least one or two consistent things in our day to day life to keep us grounded. A routine can be as simple as making your bed and walking your dog every morning, despite the chaos of what the rest of the day may bring. It could look like carving out 30 minutes every evening to talk and connect with your partner before bed. Make sure it’s realistic, and try to stick to it as much as possible, while also giving yourself permission to miss a day or two.

  3. Ask for help - You are one person, and even though you may not realize it, you do in fact have a capacity for how much you can handle on your own. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I urge you to reach out and ask for help. Ask for help watching your kids, proof reading a resume, taking care of errands, or just having a loved one spend time with you and offer a listening ear. Asking for help takes a lot of courage, and it is worth it. And when someone offers help- accept it! People find joy and meaning through supporting people they care about, so remember that you are not a burden.

  4. Prioritize your time and energy - There is only so much time in the day, and when we have a lot on our plate to deal with we frequently find ourselves left with no energy and no time left to take care of ourselves. Make it a point to figure out what is most important to right now in this season and focus on that. Make time to take care of yourself- sleeping and eating are essential. Ask yourself “what people in my life help me feel valued, rejuvenated, or understood?” and invest your time with those people. Remember that it is okay- and healthy in fact!- to say no to someone. If you don’t have enough time or emotional energy, make that clear and prioritize yourself and what’s important to you.

  5. Cultivate a mantra/ positive affirmation/ mindfulness practice - When we’ve got a lot on our minds, it’s way too easy to go through the day without connecting to our breath or quieting our brains. Mindfulness doesn’t need to look like an hour long meditation or full yoga flow. It can look like taking a deep breath first thing in the morning and trying to think of at least one thing that you’re thankful for. Keep it simple, and realistic. Having some kind of positive mantra can be a big help in times of change, because it can keep you connected to what you value. See the poem below for an example of a mantra that helps keep me grounded.

I hope that by taking care of yourself, you begin to feel a little more anchored in the middle of a sea of chaos. You may not be able to stop the waves of change, but you can control how you react to them. I want to leave you with a prayer/meditation/poem that helps me to remain grounded and open handed when it comes to change. When I read this I like to sit with actual open hands, palms facing up and symbolizing a release of the ways I fight against things I have no control over, and rest in the things that I can control- my thoughts and my actions. The Welcoming Prayer is by Father Thomas Keating, and although it has been used traditionally in spiritual settings, I invite you to adapt it to fit whatever best helps bring you into a place of peace. Swap the word God for anything that resonates meaningfully with you- nature, the universe, your own inner strength, peace, a loved one, etc.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.

I welcome everything that comes to me today

because I know it's for my healing.

I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,

situations, and conditions.

I let go of my desire for power and control.

I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,

approval and pleasure.

I let go of my desire for survival and security.

I let go of my desire to change any situation,

condition, person or myself.

I open to the love and presence of God* (or nature, the universe, your own inner strength, peace, a loved one, etc.)

It's Pride Month... Celebrate YOU!

Pride month is in full swing and celebrations are kicking off all around the world.  What a fantastic month for us members of the LGBTQIA++ community! This is a month in which we remember those who fought so tirelessly for our rights and paved the path for future generations.  It is through these efforts that we’re able to more fully embrace who we are as individuals and who we are as a community. While pride and joy do absolutely abound for many of us this month, June can also be a source of tremendously painful self-reflection, regrets, and “if only’s”.  For many of us, the wounds from our pasts can be closely tied to our own coming out processes resulting in this month feeling like a double-edged sword of joy and pain.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend and colleague about our thoughts and feelings on Pride month.  He shared that, although he does feel a tremendous amount of joy and happiness in seeing the ‘younger generation’ embracing their identities earlier in life, he wrestles with feelings of jealousy, resentment, and regret. He went on to share his coming out story in saying that he didn’t ‘come out’ until his mid-thirties – six years into his relationship with his current husband.  “Back then, it wasn’t safe to tell people that you were gay so I had to keep my secret.” We both bonded in our shared experiences and started down the path of ‘if only I was born later, I wouldn’t have had to hide myself from the world’. As I chewed on this, I found myself thinking about the vast amount of other individuals who have had similar experiences and how this life of secrecy has impacted all of us.  

Even though the social acceptance and support of non-heterosexual identities have tremendously improved over the years, I still find myself shocked when I hear stories of the blatant phobias that abounds in this day and age.  Today’s teens are caught in a very interesting time. They’ve heard the support from the community and are finding comfort in embracing their identities at younger and younger ages yet there are still sects of the community that continue to try and push them down and force them back into the closet.  In sessions, I hear clients tell me that they’re encouraged to ‘be who they are’ yet receive notices and threats that they can and will be ousted from: school, sporting events, church groups, their own homes, etc. if it is learned that they are ‘out’. What terribly confusing messages these young people are hearing today!  It’s pretty fascinating to me that the sentiments experienced today have so many similarities to the overt sentiments experienced by older generations - “go ahead and be who you are, just do it within these specified parameters and spaces.”

So where does that leave us?  I know this is really going to date me, but I’ve got Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” running through my head - ‘secret secret, I’ve got a secret...’.  As far as we’ve come as a community and as a society, we’re still being taught to keep secrets. We are told to embrace who we are yet are expected to hide our very truths.  We’re encouraged to find our happiness yet only act on that happiness as long as it falls in line with others’ ideologies. The message from decades ago of “you chose this lifestyle so just accept the consequences that came with your decision” is still being regurgitated today. So continues the cycle of shame, guilt, secrecy, and the search for pseudo-happiness.  I don’t know about you, but this leaves me feeling all kinds of yuck!

As an empowerment and relational therapist, I can’t help but say this has GOT TO stop.  We all are beautiful individuals with amazing stories, gifts, and attributes. Yes, we’ve all experienced the ‘yuck’, pain, and shame that accompanied our own identity journeys but these wounds don’t have to define us, rather, they can reinforce us.  The word ‘celebration’ often accompanies Pride month and, prior to my conversation with my friend and colleague, I interpreted that word as one of:  happiness, joy, partying, and cutting loose. Somewhere inside me though, there was a shift and I now hear that word as a signal to celebrate the challenges, struggles, and yuck that we’ve gone through. These experiences have helped to shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a community.  The ideas of joy and pain do not have to take the shape of a double-edged sword, rather these two ideas can come together as a two-armed hug – embracing and celebrating who you are, all that you’ve waded through, and all that you have yet to live. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it, love yourself for you’re the most important person in your own life!!!  Happy Pride month everyone!!

Approaching Life with a Beginner's Mind

Photo by  Max Andrey  on  Unsplash

Photo by Max Andrey on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself making assumptions about the way your next history exam will go, how a conversation with a parent will transpire, or how you will perform in your next soccer tournament? Often times we cultivate expectations of ourselves, others, or situations in general based on past experiences. While this is a natural and adaptive aspect of human nature, it can also inhibit us from being open to the potential of experiencing something new and different. Furthermore, assumptions based on our experiences sometimes take us away from the present moment and transport us backward into the past or forward into the future. Again, while not entirely unhelpful to reflect on past experiences or consider our futures, living in the past or the future can bring up unhelpful emotions. It can also inhibit our ability to experience the here and now and furthermore to be effective in the here and now. Today I offer you the concept of “Beginner’s Mind” as a means of cultivating the opportunity for new experiences and practicing mindfulness of the present moment.

What is a beginner’s mind? It is what it sounds like! Remember the first time you made a new friend, got an A on your exam, went on a rollercoaster? During any of these “firsts” you approach the experience with an unknowing and open mind because you have not yet had that experience. Beginner’s mind is a way of approaching an experience that, while it be familiar in many aspects, has the potential for a new and different outcome. Perhaps you have had several conversations with a parent on earning privileges back that have not gone in your favor. These experiences build on each other and cultivate an assumption that this type of conversation will always transpire in the same fashion and have the same end result. This assumptive mindset, while seemingly accurate, inhibits us from being creative and experimenting with a different approach and outcome. It can feel hopeless, defeating, and other unhelpful emotions when we get into our assumptive mindsets. If we are to shift our perspective to utilizing a “Beginner’s Mind”, we might consider approaching this conversation in a different manner with an open mind about the result looking different. In doing so, we allow for the possibility of change and new experiences. Cultivating the opportunity for a new experience may foster emotions such as hope and optimism.

Now what we know what Beginner’s Mind is, how do we achieve beginner’s mind? First, we must acknowledge that there is a part of our past experience that informs our current experience. For example, that last conversation with my mom did not go well. We might draw attention to the areas in which we felt this conversation was ineffective and tweak those areas to open the opportunity for a new outcome. We must then let go of that past experience with our tweaks in mind. Rehashing the past in unhelpful to our current situation. Similarly, we might envision what could happen in the future; however, we must acknowledge that we are not fortune tellers and therefor we cannot predict the exact outcome. In this scenario, make peace with the fact that we cannot with certainty predict the result of our conversation. Once we have made peace with our past experiences and our assumptions about the future we allow ourselves to come back to the present moment and furthermore be effective in this current experience.

Beginner’s mind can be challenging, especially if you notice your mind often wanders to a different time and place. I offer you the following tips in practicing Beginner’s Mind and cultivating more experiences in the here and now:

  • Practice self-kindness, do not judge yourself on your ability to stay in the present. Rather, gently remind yourself to come back to the here and now when you notice you have wandered

  • Make peace with what you cannot change about the past and what you do not know for certain in the future

  • Practice Self-Care and grounding strategies to help you move through difficult emotions

  • Remember that Beginner’s Mind is challenging and requires practice! Resist the temptation to give up on your efforts!

Glow, Grow, Glow: Befriending Your Inner Critic

Photo by  Autumn Goodman  on  Unsplash

We are our own toughest critics” - This phrase is so widely used and understood, because we tend to be more judgmental of our own performance than others are of us. Whether or not this fact is true or the self-critique is accurate, it can feel true and accurate at times. The implications of self-criticism are unique to each individual... Perhaps self-criticism is a form of motivation or a preventative measure from becoming “lazy.” Perhaps self-criticism has become so much a part of our inner dialogue that it is automatically accepted as fact and prevents us from putting ourselves in seemingly anxiety-provoking situations. Maybe self-criticism falls somewhere in between (or outside) those areas. Whatever role your self-critic plays in your life, I invite you to draw attention to this part of your story and identify how it serves you.

Criticism is defined as the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. The word criticism inherently has a negative connotation, noting that “disapproval, faults, and mistakes” often define this word. Rather than criticizing ourselves, I encourage you to experiment with using the term “feedback.” Feedback, rather, is defined as information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement. Feedback is inherently more neutral/positive and implies that there is opportunity for growth. By simply changing the word we choose to apply when reflecting on our own performances, we may be mentally and emotionally opening ourselves to the opportunity for growth and change.

When offering feedback to ourselves or others, I often encourage the “glow, grow, glow” method that I learned in my yoga teacher training. A glow is something we feel proud of and are able to acknowledge that we did well. A grow is an area we are able to identify that can benefit from improvement. The “glow, grow, glow” sandwich encourages us to begin our feedback with a positive self-affirmation and end with a positive self-affirmation. This supports a reworking of our inner critic to appreciate our strengths rather than focusing on our perceived shortcomings.

For example, I may judge myself on my performance in a social setting as awkward, shy, or unapproachable on the basis of my perceived lack of connection with others in that setting. True or not, my inner critic may be screaming self-judgments in my head. If I am to apply feedback through a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich, I might tell myself - “I am a good listener” (glow), “I can practice engaging more in the conversation, particularly on topics I can relate to” (grow), “I care about my relationship with others” (glow). The example above cultivates drawing attention to our strengths while offering areas for change.

Here are some helpful tips when giving yourself feedback using a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich:

  • Start small, practice often, and apply feedback to multiple diverse areas in your life

  • Practice mindfulness of disqualifying the positive when acknowledging a “glow” (it’s only a true glow when you maintain the idea that this is something you feel proud of)

  • Practice mindfulness of the emotional weight you place into your “grow” (your grow might feel more significant than your glows and that is OK - manage the amount of energy you focus on your grow and take your attempts for change one step at a time)

  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-care. Your inner critic might pop back up from time to time, perhaps you can give your inner critic a feedback glow, grow, glow sandwich

LifeTip: How to Have an Enjoyable, Stress-Free Holiday

Photo by  Simple Co.  on  Unsplash

Photo by Simple Co. on Unsplash

The holidays are upon us! Think back to past years... What do you remember the most? Is it the family time? The food? The presents? The movies? The traditions? The crippling anxiety and stress? Yep, you read that last one right. Like anything in life, many people tend to forget the negative parts of such happy celebrations, and in turn, risk suffering the same feelings of anxiety and frustration year after year. Have you ever experienced the “holiday blues” or found yourself dizzy with nerves and exhaustion while on your quest to find the perfect gift or prepare the perfect party/event?

Consider the tips below to help you manage stress and truly enjoy the holidays this year, so those happy memories can be an accurate picture of your experience!

  1. Plan ahead. Whenever possible, give yourself plenty of time to buy presents, prepare a special meal, or decorate your house. If you are not feeling the pressure of the clock, you will have more opportunities to step back and enjoy the process.

  2. Make a to-do list! Yes, I know, we often have a mental checklist of what we need to complete, but having a tangible list can help you organize your time, celebrate the tasks you have accomplished, and allow you to delegate specific jobs when you need an extra hand.

  3. Stressful family? Have an ally! Before attending (or hosting) a dinner, gathering or an event with friends or family, where you know there may be contentious conversations brewing, talk with a friend, spouse or family member about how you want to approach those situations. Knowing you have a game plan and someone who will help you carry out that plan, should you need it, will allow you to attend the social event with more confidence, and less apprehension and anxiety.  

  4. Be prepared when you shop. Make a list of items that you want to buy. Compare prices (Amazon’s “scan” feature makes this super easy to price-compare items in the store to online options), use cash (whenever possible) to avoid going over budget, and have a back-up plan for any “tough to find” items. Keep in mind that one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to be fully engaged and present with them. While that gift doesn’t cost anything, it can sometimes be tricky to do if you are hyper-focused on giving them the perfect physical gift and hoping that their reaction matches the effort you had to put in. Ease the gift buying process and enjoy some of the “untangibles” of the season by starting to shop early, create (and stick with!) a budget, and find time to connect with the recipient, whether that is in-person while they open the gift or afterwards over the phone.

  5. Engage in gratitude! Research shows that gratitude can help you maintain a positive outlook, and has benefits for your overall well-being. Throughout the season take moments to stop, take in your environment, and, with intention, consider the things you are most thankful for, in that moment. Also, write thank you notes! This not only showers other people with appreciation, but it gives you a few moments to reflect on the people and the details that make the season so special.

  6. Consider your closet! One of the most unexpected stressors of the holidays can be finding appropriate outfits for holiday parties, luncheons, tacky sweater contests, and family pictures. If you have a few “go to” pieces, that you know you look and feel good in, you will spend less time agonizing over what you are going to wear, and more time looking forward to the event itself. Don’t have anything in your closet? Choose an “off time” to hit the mall/store, such as later in the evening (an hour or two before stores close) or first thing on a Saturday or Sunday. With fewer people in the store, you will feel like you have more time and space to clearly choose something that suits your taste and budget.

  7. Nourish yourself. By all means, enjoy the festive food and drinks of the season, however, be sure to replenish your system with healthy options, whenever possible. Not only will this help you avoid the stress and anxiety associated with holiday weight gain (can you say anxiety in January, when your clothes no longer fit?), but can also help prevent you from exhibiting food-induced symptoms that mimic anxiety (low blood sugar, dehydration, etc). Instead of forgoing the cookies, try to mix up what you are eating by throwing in a few vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, that are rich in magnesium and probiotics.

  8. Practice Mindfulness! Using an app such as “Headspace” or “MINDBODY” can help calm your nerves, and allow you to remain present and in the moment. These apps make it really easy to choose a time length (some as short as 2-5 minutes) and follow a guided meditation. Don’t have time to stop and fully engage in a mindfulness script? Take a moment to practice 5-2-7 breathing. In order to do this, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2 seconds, and release the air completely for 7 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times. Focusing on your breathing can be done anywhere (can you say Black Friday shopping lines?), and is a quick and easy way to de-escalate in times of stress and anxiety.

  9. Talk to someone. While we are often surrounded by people during the holiday season, it can be difficult to talk about feelings of anxiety or stress, for fear of “bringing down someone else’s cheery mood.” Keep in mind that many people struggle at this time of year, so you are not alone! If you don’t have a family or friend that you feel like you can talk to, or your anxiety and stress has become overwhelming, consider calling a professional.

While the holiday season can present challenges that can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, keep in mind that it is a temporary time. By the 2nd week in January, your “regular” life will resume, and all you will have left is the memories of the season. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to manage your stress and anxiety levels so that the memories you are creating are ones worth repeating!

LifeTip: Who Has Your Power?

Power Stick.jpeg

Many of the folks that come into counseling, tell me that they’re feeling sad, depressed, anxious, defeated, or have lost their self-confidence and want to know why.  “Am I crazy?  Have I lost it? Am I too broken to be fixed?”  No, no, and NO!  There has been a theft and the thing that’s been stolen is power.

We all come into this world with our own power; something that is ours and only ours.  This power is a valuable resource and something that everyone wants more of.  As we grow up, we’re taught how to add and multiply, recite the pledge of allegiance, ride a bike, and tie our shoes, but we’re never taught the lesson of how to protect our power.  Being a visual person, I like to think of power as a stick (wand, sword, lightsaber, you choose the form…) that we each hold.  Every day, someone is vying for that stick, trying to break off pieces to add to their own.  Often, we are unaware that the theft is even happening.  Phrases like:  “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never be good enough for that”, “You’re wasting your time”, “Hopefully you’ll grow out of your ugly phase”, etc., all take a chunk out of our power stick.  Without the tools to fight this, we’re eventually left with a tiny little nub of a stick leaving us feeling defeated, self-conscious, depressed, and expecting failure out of life.  But this doesn’t have to continue.  We can take back our power stick and start to expect success – more importantly, we can begin to truly love who we are and recognize the phenomenal power that we possess.

So now what?  Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks, Justin, you’ve been able to point out that I’m feeling pretty low, but what in the heck do I do now?”  Let me first ask you to sit there and truly embrace the feelings that you’re experiencing.  Put a name to it.  What color is it?  Where in your body are you feeling it?  Is your stomach in knots?  Is your heart beating fast?  Are you feeling hot in the face?  Recognize those feelings and say to yourself, “enough is enough!”  This is your body, your mind, and your power.  It’s time for you to take that power back!!

Society teaches us the importance of being kind to others and treat others with compassion and love, but we rarely hear about the importance of loving ourselves.  If anything, we learn that loving ourselves equates to selfishness and self-centeredness.  I want you to hear me say that this is wrong!!!  You are worthy.  You are special.  You do deserve to be loved.  You do deserve respect.  You are strong.  You are powerful.  The time is now to rebuild that power stick and fall back in love with yourself.

Navigating through these feelings and emotions can be tricky and feel super uncomfortable.  The discomfort can often cause us to shut back up that door to our authenticity room thereby protecting us from having any more power taken away.  This is where therapy comes in.  Your therapist’s goal is to support you as you rebuild your power stick and re-ignite that internal fire.  Yes, you can do this.  Even though you may feel defeated as the world has tried to put out your flame, you do have the power to stoke back up that fire and let that light shine bright!

Your new journey is waiting.  Let’s get on the road and take back that power that was once stolen!

LifeTip: Time, Is There Ever Enough?

Pocket watch.jpg

Time – that never-ending beast that we seem to fight against each and every day.  Between work, grocery shopping, walking the dog, and getting that overdue oil change done, we seem to find ourselves in this strange game of time manipulation.  As tough is the game can be, we always seem to find a way to make it all work out and get our relegated tasks complete.  Often, though, we tend to leave out one of the most important tasks.  We find ourselves grumpy and tense wondering “what is it that I forgot to do?”  The checklists are complete, the laundry has been folded, dry cleaning has been picked up, and the gas tank is filled…what could possibly be left unfinished?  Well, that unfinished task is you.  Take two seconds and ask yourself, “when was the last time I spent quality time with myself?”

If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little bit of anxiety just thinking about trying to fit one more thing into your day.  What happens to us, though, if we don’t take that extra time for ourselves?  Perhaps we start to feel cranky, unappreciated, overwhelmed, tired, burnt out, complacent, and edgy.  That fire that used to burn brightly within us has started to die out and the excitement that we used to have has morphed into resentment.  We all keep doing our own version of the hokey pokey, but is this really what it’s all about?

The answer is no.  Life is meant to be lived and not merely survived.  We tend to spend so much time and energy in taking care of other people and other things, that we neglect the most important person that we know – ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to re-ignite that passion and zest for life and not feel so bogged down by the daily grind?  That fire can be re-lit and the person holding that matchstick is you.  You are the person that needs the attention, compassion, and nurturing.  It is through this continued act of self-love and self-care that we can refuel our gas tanks and regain that passion.

Below are a few easy yet effective ways of giving back to yourself:

  • Go for a walk
  • Make yourself a nice meal
  • Take yourself to the movies
  • Enjoy a nice latte at your favorite coffee shop
  • Set aside your phone, iPad, computer, etc. and pick up your favorite book
  • Journal – take 10 minutes every day and just write.  Put pen to paper and just let your thoughts flow.
  • Open up that sketch pad and let your creativity fly.
  • Put on your favorite music, snuggle up on the couch in your coziest blanket, and just take in the serenity.
  • Go in the backyard and play fetch with Fido.
  • Take in a yoga class
  • Treat yourself to a relaxing mani/pedi
  • Find a relaxing spot in the park, sit down, close your eyes, and just breathe

No matter how simple or mundane you may think the activity is, it is essential that you take that time for yourself.  Self-care is kind of like the airplane emergency concept.  We’ve got to make sure that the oxygen mask is secured on ourselves before we can try to take care of anyone else.  The concept of time doesn’t have to be a beast to be conquered.  If we can work our own self-care into our daily schedules we can quickly find that life is truly meant to be lived and not just survived.

Love yourself.  You are the most important person that you know.

 

A Hard Hit

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This post goes out to the parents of littles, but take note that much of what you read can easily be adapted to fit your own needs or the needs of an older child. Do not underestimate the importance of self-care and self-compassion during a hard time. Even if you have not had a “direct hit” by Hurricane Harvey (i.e. your house may not have flooded, you didn’t have to evacuate, you only had a power outage), seeing friends and family suffer, even seeing strangers suffer, can be downright difficult and exhausting. There’s so much information to digest about how to help, what to do and what not to do that it can be overwhelming. There’s enough information download and processing happening, so let’s stick to some really important fundamentals. Please feel free to pass this along, as our connection with one another is more important than ever!

When something scary and unreal hits, like what Texas has experienced with Hurricane Harvey, our children need support in making some sense of it. Parents and adults can help children in adapting healthy coping strategies. Here are some simple first steps:

1. Attunement: Time is precious right now. There may be a lot going on with you and around you. As a parent, taking some time to connect with your child will have many positive effects on them and on you. This might be the time when you actually need to schedule, yes schedule, special time with your child. Go ahead and do it - carve out about 10 minutes for play time, extra cuddles, fun reading and good ‘ole fashioned one on one time. Perhaps make this a part of your new routine before bed, but slipping it in between phone calls is fine too. Just make sure that you have given yourself a chance to transition to a place of calm and focus before engaging with your child. Providing special connection time for your child during chaos will remind them of the fact that they are loved and safe. It will also give them an opportunity to be just as they need to be - a child without worry and fear.

2. Response: This might be a time when you, as a parent or caregiver, get a lot of questions. “Where will we sleep tonight?” “Why did this happen?” “When can I go back home?” “Why did my friend have to leave her house?” My go-to suggestion for parents overwhelmed by questions and feeling like they need to answer them all and answer them well is this: Pause and Breathe. Make space for you to clear out anxiety, stress and worry. Your child will not think twice if you don’t immediately answer their questions. Next step is to think: Is this an answer now or answer later question? If it is an answer now question, keep your response simple and age appropriate. The information you give doesn’t need to have a lot of detail. You can give a little bit at a time and check to see if that answers your child’s question. If you think this could be an answer later question, that’s okay too. Generally, those are for the real tough ones or when we don’t know what to say at all. Give the question the space it deserves. Respond with, “Wow, that’s a really good question. Mommy needs to think about that one. I’m not sure right now. I’m going to think about it and then answer you later.” Then, actually do think about it and answer it later. You can also ask your child what they think and how they feel about it.

3. Feelings: There are a lot of them right now. And they might not all make sense or seem totally logical. For instance, the feeling of anxiety may come up but bring into question 'why' because your family maybe hasn’t been directly affected or experienced significant hardship. Any feeling is fine right now. If you notice some behaviors or signs from your child that seem unusual to you, do you best to help them put words to their emotions. As Dan Siegel, MD, says, “Name it to Tame it.” It really does help to say the feeling or feelings out loud in order for them to be soothed and attended to. As a therapist, I love to suggest the following phrase, “I wonder if…” “I wonder if you are feeling scared. There are some scary things happening right now.” “I wonder if you are feeling tired right now. I see that you are rubbing your eyes.” “I wonder if you might be feeling lonely. It’s been a few days since you were able to play with your friends.”

Remember, in a time of crisis, much of how we cope is based on the need to survive. If you are seeing some concerning behavior in your child, DO reach out to a mental health provider to learn more about how to best address what you see and ensure that your child is being well taken care of during this time. The first priorities are providing safety, nourishment, shelter and love.