It’s Holiday Time! Are You Anxious?

Holly Wreath

It’s “beautiful December,” and if you are feeling anxious, you must know that you are not alone!

When the holidays roll around, so do emotions of every kind.  It is certainly a time when many feel nostalgic for the “old times.” Sometimes those memories are sweet or even bittersweet.  And even when those past experiences were disappointing or painful, remembering them brings up the same potent feelings.

Since most of us celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukah with family and friends, the quality and nature of those relationships color our emotions and the memories of the past.  If the relationships were loving and close, those memories warm us.  And if they weren’t, there is sometimes a sadness or bitterness that accompanies thoughts of the coming days.

For those whose primary focus is spiritual or religious, there is a deep connection with this season.  It becomes a time of reflection and meaning and awe.  Sharing it in community with family and others then is something to look forward to and to treasure.

Hardly anyone is immune to the secular pressures of the Christmas season in particular. After all, the stores were decorated before Halloween had passed, and the ads are running on every possible venue.  My mailbox is glutted with more catalogs every year, some from companies I have never heard of.  I wish they would put the recycle bin next to the mailbox, and save me from carting them off!  The few magazines I subscribe to are aglow with beautiful pictures of decorated living rooms, handmade ornaments and gifts galore.  Not to mention more menus and recipes than I could cook in a lifetime.

The comments that I am hearing from clients I work with are often that they feel anxious about the weeks ahead.  You may relate.

  • There is too much to do!  Activities to attend, entertaining to do, events to participate in or to attend.
  • Meeting the expectations of family and friends provokes tension.  Young adults who have their own families find it exhausting to get to every family gathering and worry about disappointing someone if they don’t.  Coping with fretful and overwhelmed children is a part of that.
  • Buying gifts while not wreaking havoc with the budget or the credit card balance is often a big problem.  Decisions made prior to Christmas may bring regret in January when the piper must be paid.
  • Perfectionism rears its ugly head!  Those images ranging from Normal Rockwell to Martha to toy ads on television are seared into our brains, and they are impossible to live up to. If we are hung up on needing to “do it right,” then we are doomed to be anxious.
  • Finding a balance between the spiritual, social and secular can be very difficult!

Of course there are degrees of anxiety that we may be experiencing. For some there are severe, truly unpleasant symptoms of panic.  If you would describe yourself as an anxious person in June or October, then the strength of your anxious symptoms is likely going to be cranked up.  Even if you wouldn’t categorize yourself as especially anxious the rest of the year, but are now, here are some tips for you:

  • Begin by deciding what you truly desire for the holiday.  It may be easier to clarify this by making a list first of what you DO NOT WANT.  For example you might list gaining ten pounds; or feeling exhausted and irritated; or spending more than X amount of money; or wrapping presents all night on Christmas Eve; or putting up the beat up hand-me-down artificial tree that your mother gave you after she couldn’t sell it at her yard sale ten years ago.
  • Go through this list, crossing off each item and beside it write a second list of what you DO DESIRE.  That list might include keeping your weight to no more than 5 pounds higher; getting to bed on time and taking time outs when you need them;  planning ahead and limiting gift buying to a specific amount;  wrapping gifts simply and ahead of time;  decorating in a way that pleases you.
  • Make sure that you choose and schedule activities that are really meaningful to you and your family.  Keep that list short.  It may include hearing music or attending a holiday program or performing a volunteer service or baking cookies together.
  • Be assertive with friends and family about your choices.  Most everyone will understand an “I statement” of what you are choosing.  For instance, “I have decided to host a potluck dinner (everyone brings a dish) instead of exchanging gifts this year. Would you like to come?”
  • If you find that your anxiety has reached a heated pitch, and you experience panic attacks, then help is at hand.  Click here for access to a terrific product that will certainly change your life in the New Year.

 

 

Another New Beginning

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 
H. Jackson Brown Jr.~

 Every year the last days of December prompt at least a superficial evaluation of what happened during the previous year.  We can find magazine issues devoted to the most influential people of the year or history shaping events such as a national election.  And certainly our minds drift to the major news events, as well as the more personal events that mark both positive and negative milestones of our lives.

It might be the birth of a new family member, or a marriage or a divorce or death of someone important to you.  Or a graduation, promotion or retirement that has occurred and that will be life changing on some level.  And then, of course, we may revisit the resolutions that we considered or even committed to at the end of last year.  Did you forget about what you desired after a few weeks or months?  Or are you feeling proud of progress that you made?

I just read an amusing tweet from someone who said she was debating about whether to form her new year’s resolutions or take a nap. Someone replied that she should make a resolution to take more naps.  Which might not be a bad idea when you think about it.  For those who find themselves living on a treadmill of responsibilities at home and more of the same at work, taking breaks can be a big boon to mental and physical health.

It seems that whether the resolution is for changing a bad habit or working harder on something, or improving some element of personal development, most people give up pretty quickly on making changes.  Probably the biggest reasons for this are two-fold:  a lack of clarity for what is motivating this change, (in other words, WHY they are willing to make the change); and making a realistic plan for HOW to achieve the change.

If you don’t stay connected with what is motivating you, and your reasons are not compelling enough to overcome your human, natural resistance to change, then your efforts will likely fizzle out.  Who hasn’t found the weather too cold, your energy level too low, or another “great reason” to put off until tomorrow whatever you have resolved to begin today?  Probably everyone.

There are tips and tools that can shore up your resolve as well as help pave the way to change.  One of the best that I use and recommend is one that you can access at The Tapping Solution, which is a program of EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique.  If you check out the site, you will see an icon that you can click to download a free e-book that nicely explains EFT and how you can apply it in your life.  You will also see a reasonably priced DVD that you can order which is an interesting film of a retreat in which participants from various life situations meet and learn to use the techniques.  My personal favorite is the membership site which has a wealth of products and lessons you can follow, made available by some of the foremost EFT coaches in the world.

It’s easy to be cynical about making substantial changes in your life, and maybe you have felt discouraged by your lack of progress in the past.  However, I would urge you not to give up on living a satisfying and meaningful life.  Support and help is all around you if you open yourself to seeing the possibilities.  Don’t stay stuck in the safety zone of what is comfortable and familiar to you.  You really do deserve to have, be and do better.  Get some support and determine to be in a place you really desire at the end of the coming year!

 

Tuning In Turning Off


Recently I was reminded of a stress reduction technique that Dr. Andrew Weil recommended in his book 8 Days to Optimal Health.  I was bringing a client back to my office from the waiting room, and as she rose from her chair, she tossed the news magazine she was reading back on the end table. “I guess I’m addicted to reading this stuff.  Before I start, I know I’m going to be aggravated by one thing or another!”

She had come to me for help with her anger and some decision making, and she appeared to be stressed and, well, angry.  Many of us experience what I call “normalized stress,” which is a state we come to accept as somehow unavoidable and inevitable.  But I’m here to say that stress is no laughing matter, and we certainly can reduce it and avoid the triggers that cause it.

Even though stress is as common as dirt, and I sometimes suspect is a point of pride for those who push themselves, fill up their schedules with busy-ness and working over time, it has a bad effect on our health, our sense of well-being and on our relationships. In short, stress is a problem worth tackling.

The suggestion that Dr.Weil made was to go for a week without listening to, watching or reading the news. A radical notion that I passed on to my client.  She had no interest in doing that, even though she predictably got angry every time she looked at the news.

If you live in the U.S. you are being bombarded by news leading up to the general election in November.  Regardless of your political affiliation, there are plenty of controversial, frequently mean-spirited and plainly factually incorrect messages being directed at you through any media you might tune into.

Recently my beloved local public radio station changed its format from classical music with periodic news, to a constant news and commentary format.  I still am a fan of NPR which comes the closest to a balanced presentation, in my opinion.  But I sure as heck do not want to listen to people analyzing and talking about what is going on in the country and in the world all day!  Frankly, I find it stressful.

Years ago after reading 8 Days to Optimal Health, I did a news fast.  And after that time I stopped watching network news, which I am certain has been good for my health.  The problem with it is that it comes in sound bites, designed to be alarming and provocative, with little or no real exploration or explanation. And there is no action to take.

I have noticed that even the weather is frequently presented as if we are all in the utmost danger…maybe.  So when it’s all strung together, you see something alarming that you can’t do a thing about, interrupted by commercials, often for drugs that are designed to calm you down or lift your dampened spirits.  What’s wrong with this picture?

So if you are finding yourself stressed and angry or even irritated by what is being dished out as news, I invite you to give yourself a week to turn it off.  Create some space to maybe listen to some music, or an audio book that is entertaining or pleasurable. If you are up for something really radical, try listening to the silence interrupted only by your own breathing.

 

Good Grief!

Baby Boomers are increasingly finding themselves in the role of care giver for aging parents, spouses and sometimes other relatives and friends.  While the tasks of this role may vary, depending on the situation, there are some elements in common.  One is to understand and to cope with grief.

When a death occurs we expect that we will grieve.  We may even be familiar with the stages of grief, which were originally outlined in the pioneering work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross.  Those stages are Shock and Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance.  There are some variations of these basic five which since have been added by therapists working with death and dying.

Individuals go through these stages in their own way and time, sometimes returning to a stage they have experienced earlier, sometimes not.  As you might guess there are no hard and fast rules to the process.

Last night in the wee small hours of the morning, when I was lying awake (don’t you just hate when that happens?  I sure do!) it occurred to me that the thing that makes this even more complicated for care givers is that there are two parallel but separate grief processes going on.

The person who is in declining health or circumstances, feeling ill or exhausted, is losing independence, as well as possibly their home and familiar surroundings and routines.  In addition they may have a loss of career or income which adds to their anxiety.  They will be grieving these losses, and possibly facing the end of life.

The care giver has their own stresses of providing support and help while juggling the ongoing demands of their own life.  Most Baby Boomers are employed or running businesses, maintaining family relationships, sometimes still supporting older children and often helping to care for grandchildren.  And personality differences and old relationship issues inevitably get amplified by the stress that both are experiencing.

To complicate things further, the caregiver will at some point begin his or her own grief process.  After all you may be facing the loss of someone dear to you. And it is emotionally distressing to see them suffer. Being aware of it helps of course, but often that’s not the case.  Caught up in daily demands, you might not realize that grief is playing a part in what is going on. 

The care giver may be in denial, or bargaining.  She may be feeling angry and not seeing that the source of it may be her grief.  Depression may be passed off as a result of all the stress.  And the demands of providing care may make it more difficult to get to Acceptance.  Of course the folks involved in this are not likely going through the stages at the same time.

Here are some suggestions for those who find themselves in such a situation.

  • Carve out a little quiet time.  Even 10 minutes helps. Unplug from all your electronic devices including cell phone and the computer. Sit in a comfortable place, take 5 deep breaths and relax your body.  Just sit and soak up the silence.
  • Listen to your thoughts and dreams.  Take 20 minutes in the morning to do some unedited speed writing in your journal.
  • At the end of the day write a list of what you are grateful for and don’t forget to include some appreciation of yourself.
  • Do a little reading about grief and see if you can identify where you are in the process.
  • Find a listening ear and share your feelings and express your needs if you are aware of them.
  • Arrange for respite care for the person you are providing care for.  There are lots of options for this depending on the situation.  It may entail asking other relatives or friends to fill in for you so that you can get a break.  Or if there are medical concerns the doctor’s office or Area Agency on Aging may point you in the right direction for some support.
  • Make a point to take good care of your nutritional needs.  Drink lots of water, go for a walk and arrange for the best sleeping conditions you can. Take the TV out of your bedroom.  Go to bed on time.
  • This might be a great time to get a massage, see an acupuncturist or learn to meditate.  Meditation in particular is amazingly helpful.  Keep it simple and you can do it.
  • Make use of EFT or Meridian Tapping to discharge the tension that comes up with difficult emotions. It is very helpful in clearing the way for effective decision making.
  • Remember that this might be a marathon and not a sprint.  Treat yourself accordingly.

Most of all, good grief requires us to pay attention to our inner life and nurture ourselves.  This is a challenge when the outer life is especially demanding, as it is for care givers.  Know that it will pay off in sustaining yourself, keeping you energized and eventually helping you move to acceptance and then recovery.

Help for the Caregivers

Last evening I was listening to a friend who is feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted by the increasing demands on her time and attention in caring for her father.  He is still living in his home and is experiencing increasing problems due to a long-term chronic lung condition.  My friend is an only child and now that her step-mother is deceased, is really the only living relative to care for her dad.

She has a routine schedule for visiting him and doing the household tasks that he is no longer able to do.  Grocery shopping, cleaning, meal preparation and laundry are taking up more of her time, as well as driving him to medical appointments.  Recently she has noticed that he is bathing and changing his clothes less often because of his breathing problems.

Some friends have invited her to an annual trip to the beach, but she is doubtful that she should go out of concern for her dad.  Will he be safe on his own?  Would he be able to get help if he had an attack?  His mind is clear, but he has been unwilling to ask for help or accept help from anyone other than his daughter.  He has always been a proud, independent man and he has objected to her suggestions that he hire a housekeeper for instance.

After some brain storming with a group of friends, this is what we came up with:

  • Contact the Area Agency on Aging, a federally funded program that serves the needs of the elderly, the disabled and their caregivers  assisting them to age in place, or stay in their own homes as long as possible.  With an intake, my friend and her father can get a list of services he qualifies for, information about approved agencies and what any costs may be.
  • Since my friend has medical and legal power of attorney, and permission to speak with her dad’s physician, she will make an appointment to discuss her concerns about his increasing difficulties as he does activities of daily living, and see what the doctor recommends and might authorize as medical support through Medicare.
  • Get an electronic alert device for her dad to wear so that he can press a button and get immediate help in case he falls or has a breathing crisis when he is alone.  The agency that provides service for the device will check to see if an ambulance needs to be called, and will also call his daughter.
  • Talk with her dad and explain that getting help with the household will not only benefit him, but her as well.  If he is reluctant to have someone come in to clean and do laundry, he will likely accept it more readily in order to help her out.  She thinks that he may accept more help if it means that he can stay in his own house, which is very important to him.  She will need to be very assertive and direct about her own exhaustion and need for relief from the workload of maintaining her household as well as his, and maintain her work at her job.  Hopefully the doctor will support her in laying out the options for her dad.
  • My friend needs to schedule regular time off for herself.  She agreed to take advantage of a yoga class that she can access with her gym membership.  Getting exercise, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation will give her some stress relief and help her maintain her own health.  After all, if she collapses and gets sick, both of them will be in trouble.  She also admitted that she is like her father in being the stalwart martyr and not asking for help and support when she needs it.  She made a pact with her circle of friends to call them when she wants company or needs to vent or have an afternoon doing something fun.  I have a feeling that they are going to hold her to it.

I was thinking of the frequently used quote by Hillary Clinton, who said that it takes a village to raise a child.  Often it is also true that caring for the elderly takes a village, and that establishing that village is a life saver for the caregivers.

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What We Pay Attention to Gets Bigger

“Let the beauty of what we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
~Rumi~

 

When I was inspired to write this blog post, I have to confess to feeling a tad irritated.  It is a topic that has been popping up in my awareness with increasing frequency, so I must say that it has certainly gotten my attention and I am ready for it to quit taking up so much space in my head.

The other day in a restaurant I was seated across the aisle from a young mother and her daughter. From the time they sat down until they had finished their meal and left, the woman was talking on her cell phone. Her conversation with whoever was on the other end was only interrupted periodically by orders given to her daughter to eat or not to spill her food and to sit still.  I don’t know how she could have been aware of her own meal, and she certainly missed an opportunity to have a conversation with her daughter.  I wondered what unintentional messages that girl was getting from her mother regarding her own importance or lack of it.

We are so bombarded by stimulation from the myriad of our electronic devices that we are not fully aware of how distracted and stressed we become.  Our conversations are so frequently interrupted by the beeps of incoming calls or texts or tweets that it is rare to enjoy the full attention and interactions with others.  The constant interruptions bring on a sort of imposed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) that disrupts continuity and harmony and function.

If you notice, there are television cell phone ads now making a joke of this.  If it weren’t so irritating it would be funny.  A man and woman are having a romantic dinner, while he keeps surreptitiously looking at his phone.  She asks if he is watching a game while she’s talking to him, which he denies.  Then he gives himself away by cheering when his team makes a goal.  The voiceover says something like “22 seconds faster.”  So much for that romance!

Worst of all, this so-called electronic “connection” keeps us from being truly connected with our own thoughts, emotions, and spirits.  All our endeavors become disjointed and ineffective as we lose more and more contact with our deeper self.  How can we possibly do purposeful work, be inspired or enjoy the presence of another human being with all interruptions that our electronic connections bring?

I am not naive in thinking that our devices are going anywhere.  They are amazing, entertaining, and useful in the blitz of zippy information they provide.  My life wouldn’t be the same without them.  As a culture we are addicted to them and will stand in line for hours to get the latest versions.  What I am suggesting is that we use them mindfully.  And that every day we turn them off and put them away for awhile.  (I can hear people hyperventilating.  Grab a paper bag to breathe into).

At a time when we are routinely stressed by bad news, too much to do and worries about whether we are meeting the demands of the day, it is very easy to get focused on what is wrong in life.  In order to stay sane, healthy or even to heal, we need a break.  What we are focused on gets bigger, no doubt about it.  You may have gotten used to talking and consuming the latest drama or bad news of the day.  It is essential to open yourself to wonder, which essentially means allowing for some silence and mindfulness.

Being quiet and observant opens a crack of daylight in your awareness.  Going for a walk without your ear buds will allow for hearing a crow cawing or the wind in the tree.  You may notice that one grass has a deeper color or different texture than its neighbor. There may be some wonder in the feather that lies on your path.

If you notice, you begin to experience wonder and joy.  It is a beautiful world we live in and a beautiful life when we care to pay attention.

 

Need Clarity? Put Your Hands To Work

“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect
has struggled with in vain.”   ~Carl Jung~

A good friend of mine is known for what she calls “shoving furniture.”  When she is feeling overwhelmed by a situation she can’t resolve, or angry, or trying to figure something out, she turns to cleaning house.  Deep into the corners, as my mom would say.  Complete with rearranging the furniture.

This can be an effective way to see something more clearly that sitting and thinking will not uncover.  Maybe it is the movement of the body or focusing on a task at hand that quiets the mind chatter and calms the spirit.  Weeding the garden, or stacking fire wood  would do it for me.

After a bit, I would stop thinking about what I had been so concerned about.  My irritation or anger or aungst would seem to dissipate, and often suddenly something would pop into mind that would be at least the beginning of a way to see what my next step could be.  Maybe the work freed up the right side of my brain (the more creative side) to come up with a solution.

It’s easy to get caught up in the tangle of frustration and fear or anger, trying to think your way to an answer.  Next time you find yourself there, find a physical task that needs to be done, and get to work.  You may find some inspiration and clarity at the end of it.