Coping With Holiday Stress: An Attitude of Gratitude

For many people, the holidays are times of emotional unrest. After a most unsettling experience with a family member several years ago, I let go of my remaining expectations of holiday bliss and decided to let in whatever happened, ups and downs, sorrows and joys, pleasant and unpleasant experiences. The  season in all its splendor and NOT, like people bumping into you at the mall and grimacing when you look at them. Holiday spirit for sure!

Here’s a poem from Rumi, one of my favorite poets, about accepting life as it comes. A holiday gift to each of you to hold in your heart when holiday stress gets the best of you. It’s a reminder to always have an attitude of gratitude. Hope you enjoy it too.

“The Guest House” by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

The subject of death has popped up once again this holiday season. My husband’s aunt is very ill and is not expected to make it much longer. His grandmother passed away a few years ago in December. My good friend’s mother passed away ON Christmas Day several years ago. It seems like LOTS of people in my orbit have lost loved ones during the holidays, and it tends to put a wet blanket on this time of good cheer.

I was so curious about what seems like a trend, I looked up some statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the highest death rates in the US occur in the months of December, January and March. Common sense and a bit of research tells me that suicide rates are higher during the winter months and people do tend to come down with illnesses more frequently because we are all inside together to keep warm. Because of this, bacteria and viruses spread easily (which is why it is important to wash your hands frequently). And if someone is already ill with a disease such as cancer, opportunistic infections are more easily caught because that person is exposed to more people who may be sick (and not even know it yet).

Even if your lost loved one didn’t pass away during the holidays, the season can be tough because that person is simply no longer in your life. This is especially hard if you have lost a close family member or friend who would have normally celebrated the season with you. His or her absence can seem to fill the room.

It’s human to miss those we’ve lost. However, we don’t have to let our grief ruin the joy of the present. If you’re feeling down or depressed thinking about someone you’ve lost, try some of these techniques/coping tools:

  • Vividly imagine a good moment with the person you’ve lost. Notice the sights, smells, temperature, and good feelings of that past moment. When you’re filled with those good feelings, bring your attention back to the present and bring those positive emotions with you. I’d guess that your loved one would want you to feel good this season!
  • Honor the life of your lost loved one in some way. Make an ornament in his/her honor to hang on your tree. Write a card to that person, telling him/her what positive things they brought to your life and how you continue to value those things. Light a candle in celebration of him/her. Create a shrine to his/her life and write down the wonderful things about that person. Write a message to him/her, put it in a helium balloon and let it fly to the heavens.
  • Connect with the person you have lost in meditation. You don’t have to believe in “spirits” to do this. Sit quietly and breathe for a while until you are focused on your breath and it is slow and deep. Picture your loved one’s face in detail. Picture your face near your loved one’s face. Tell him/her that you miss him. Tell her that you are grateful for having had her in your life. Then listen. Let your loved one tell you wonderful things about yourself. You’d be surprised how well this works!
  • If you’re feeling depressed, go out amongst people. Isolating yourself will not help you feel better.
  • If you are feeling suicidal, get help immediately! Go to the nearest emergency room if you have a real plan or contact a professional for help if you are not planning to do anything immediately or if you have suicidal thoughts with no plan.

Death is a natural part of life. Depending on your beliefs, the end of suffering for your loved one may bring you comfort. Or if the death was a result of a tragedy, perhaps remembering that your loved one is most likely in a peaceful place may help. The holidays call for a celebration of life – both for the living and the passed. May your holidays be peaceful and may you feel your lost loved ones smiling down on you, adding to your joy.

Healthy Living at the Holidays: The Gift of Attention

I got so busy this past week, I forgot that an interview I’d done weeks ago was coming out in a St.Louis magazine, Town and Style. Today when I opened my e-mail, I had a link to a post about “Killing Off Supermom,” and how women are still striving and killing themselves to “have and be it all.” Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Often, when my own attention becomes scattered that I’m not thinking about what I may need to consider, the universe sends me a message (usually multiple ones) to alert me that I’ve strayed. Yes, it happens to all of us even with a daily mediation practice. No woman is exempt. Ever.

This time it’s the holidays! While I haven’t been baking cookies or putting up decorations, I’m still the one who sends out cards, buys gifts, keeps the pantry stocked, makes plans, etc. Although I don’t “feel busy,” I realize I must be and that I’ve grown so accustomed to over-doing, I hardly notice. I’m not complaining, I’ve put myself here and I’m the only one who can get myself out.

Then, the universe reminds me again that the real present of life is our presence. To show up and pay attention to your life in this moment is a priceless gift to yourself and your loved ones. Thomas Moore, a psychologist and spiritual teacher said, “In the twenty-first century, attention will be the new aphrodisiac.”

This season, turn off your to-do list, your worries, your cell phone, your tablet and “be here now.”  Each moment is precious. Your attention is the best gift of all.

Happy Holidays!

Give the Gift of Self-Compassion

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At the holidays, we often get caught up in what to buy our family and friends. Sometimes, we even sneak a little something in for ourselves. What we frequently overlook though is being kind, patient and loving towards ourselves as we weather the ups and downs the season and many of our family gatherings bring.

Last week in Psychology Today online, a group of 25 women bloggers posted about how they practice self-compassion in their lives, and had some great advice which we wanted to share with you here today. Here’s what a few of them had to say. For the complete article, click here.

Drop Self-Judgment

For me it means dropping self-judgment every time I notice it—from eating too much chocolate last night to procrastinating writing my novel this morning to being envious of a friend this afternoon. It is the act of dropping my story that I am bad, wrong, less than, not spiritual, not progressing.

–Jennifer Louden

Put Self-Care First

My greatest challenge and learning from this practice is that self-care and compassion has to come first—not after I’ve taken care of others, or done my work for the day, but as my first priority.

–Sandi Amorim

compassionShow Up for Yourself

The most intimate relationship we will have in our entire lifetime is with ourselves. No one hears our   hearts the way we do. No one knows our hurts the way we do. We are the sages of our soft spots and our   edges. Self-compassion is showing up to that relationship with honesty and with love.

–Jamie Ridler

Let Yourself Fail

Self-compassion means not having to be right all the time. Letting myself off the hook if I’ve tried my best and things didn’t come out like I wanted. A lot of it is forgiveness. I get to be a mortal. I don’t have to be better or stronger than other people. I get to just be a fallible, wonderful, person like everyone else. It means I’m not special, but in a good way.

–Laura Simms

Forgive Yourself

Oh, and how do I practice self compassion? Easy. I am constantly forgiving myself. Forgiving myself when I judge another to be wrong, when I judge myself as less than… and judge the world for what I see as “bad”. Practicing self-compassion is saying “I forgive myself, for I know not what I see/do.” over and over again.

Kerilyn Russo

Give yourself the gift of self-compassion this holiday season. You’ll be glad you did!

A Gift Resides in Every Moment

Whether we are experiencing joy or adversity, each moment affords us an opportunity for growth if we are willing to learn from it. In life, our most challenging moments are often the ones we learn the most from.

When I was in my third year of graduate school, I failed my qualifying exams for my Ph.D. miserably, flunking 5 of the 8 questions. Returning to school the next semester, I didn’t know if I’d be staying or leaving after the completion of my Masters. After much deliberation, I’d resolved to do what I could to stay in graduate school even though I had panic attacks each time I walked up the stairs to our second floor classrooms. I felt totally lost and alone.

But like many of us, my story doesn’t end there. When I went back to school, I learned what I needed to know to make things different. Even more, I discovered an inner strength and resilience I hadn’t fully realized until then. An unexpected and most welcome gift.

In Stacey’s last post, she talked about mindfulness and how that’s helped her weather life’s ups and downs. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement. In mindfulness practice which includes meditation, we learn to value each moment for what it brings us. Whether joyful or challenging, it always provides the opportunity for us to grow into the fullest potential of who we are.

As Rafiki says to Simba in The Lion King, “Oh, yes. The past can hurt but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”

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What will you choose? Namaste.

This post was inspired by Day 6 of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge which we encourage you to join at https://chopracentermeditation.com/challenge.

Halloween: More trick than treat for those with mental illness?

I came across a thought-provoking post today and wanted to share it here. The original post came from Healthy Place.

Halloween: More Trick Than Treat for Those With Mental Illness?

Halloween and Dia De Muertos (The Day of the Dead) can be child’s play. Ghosts, goblins, superheroes, Disney princesses and more bring both smiles and horror. For those with a mental illness, PTSD or panic, Halloween can conjure up very intense negative responses.

Sometimes horror flickers on the TV screen or in the movie theater, sometimes horror is found behind a mask, sometimes it comes to visit wrapped in “Trick or Treat!” Potential triggers lurk everywhere: black cats, oversized spiders, masks, horror movies and even costumes that perpetuate mental health stigma, domestic violence and much more. Ahhh, the midnight hour.

I Hate Halloween

I admit it – I hate Halloween with a passion. My dislike for Halloween began innocently enough: my birthday is the week before Halloween. Instead of a cake of my choosing, I used to get the horrid orange and black Halloween birthday cakes. There is nothing more unappetizing than black frosting. Next up: My 4th grade Halloween party. My teacher decided that fun would be turning off all of the lights in the room and having us stick our hands into bowls of food that represented body parts: elbow noodles for brains, olives for eyes and chicken liver for…well, you get the idea. Fun? Not so much when 15 kids are vomiting. Fast forward to 2003: I was assaulted on Halloween. My assailant wore a Halloween mask. Yep, I hate Halloween.

Halloween is Scary for Adult Trauma Survivors

For the adult survivor of trauma, Halloween can hold all the makings of flashbacks, panic and terror. The macabre comes out to play in the form of costumes, props and decorations. Whether it be fake blood, severed body parts, all-out zombie attacks, masks from classic horror films such as Friday the 13th, It, Saw, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pin Head, Scream or witch costumes or the props (knives, needles or impalement, anyone?), Halloween brings out those who enjoy Halloween for shock value. The beauty of Halloween is that for at least one day, we can be anything we wish: the shy become bold pirates, the geek becomes the hunk or diva, those who would suppose him or herself to be weak chooses to be a superhero. That is also the beast of Halloween.

Facing Halloween Can Be Difficult

If Halloween is troublesome for you, here are a few things that may be helpful:

  • Avoid watching television during this time.
  • Don’t give out candy or if you choose to give out candy, don’t answer the door by yourself.
  • Spend the evening doing things completely unrelated to Halloween.
  • Listen to some soothing music to help lower the hyper vigilance.
  • Eat the candy yourself. No one said you have to share it.

Let There Be Light

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I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine, Chris Miles, founder of Global Exercise Group, a company offering a holistic approach to lower back pain, which he’s just launched. I called him because I needed his advice about a situation I’ve encountered where politics has led to good people being harmed. Knowing his business acumen and character, I thought he could help me sort this out. He did.

Chris left the corporate world last year after watching countless examples of good people being sacrificed to corporate politics while others became drones of the status quo. A world I’ve managed to avoid (mostly) by being self-employed for the last 20 years. In listening to him, I realized that unfortunately the situation I find myself in is much like he described.

Chris is one of the “lights” in my life, supporting me in doing the best I can as a business owner and person.  In The Four Agreements, one of my personal favorites, Don Miguel Ruiz’es Fourth Agreement is  “Always do your best,” and I believe as he does that each of us has a responsibility to do so.  What do we do then when we find ourselves in a situation where we are supposed to have the authority to make things better but aren’t allowed to due to politics? The solution I’m arriving at is to invest my energy instead in situations in which I can help create a positive outcome and let go of those I can’t.

Ah, the Serenity Prayer again. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, that’s my practice for this week. What about you?