Eight Tips for a Low-Stress Holiday

This year more than last, at least in my opinion, people seem to be more up in arms about the use of the term “Merry Christmas” and other tidbits. I don’t really care what you say to me to wish me a good holiday, but these are the kinds of things that add such unwarranted stress to the season. Actually, most of the stresses of the season are self-imposed. If you’re looking to reduce the pressure this year, consider the following tips:

  • You don’t have to do any of it. If putting up decorations, baking, etc. is not your thing, then don’t do it. Most people who complain about “having” to do things are doing them out of obligation or pressures they put on themselves or because of societal influences. Of course, if you have young children, they may be counting on some traditional stuff, and that’s understandable. But if you find yourself dreading a seasonal activity and it’s really not important to you or your kids, then don’t do it. And stop feeling guilty about it! A friend of mine had a tough time getting around to taking down and packing up her tree and decorations last year. It turned out well because this year, everything was already out and ready for her to put the tree back up!
  • Consider only getting gifts for the kids. Some adults love to shop for that perfect gift. More power to them/you! But if your list is super-long, pare it down by suggesting that the adults not exchange gifts. You’d be surprised at how much relief you’ll get and give via this suggestion. I tossed that out a few years ago to my family and friends and all of them exhaled and said, “What a great idea!”
  • Online shopping is a wonderful, less-stressful way to find and buy the gifts you do need to get. If you’re not a fan of crowds, what could be better than sitting in your own home, “browsing the shelves?” Plus, you can find the most unique gifts online. Just make sure you buy from sites that start with “https:” as that indicates a secure site. Also, never use your debit card to buy online. Always use a credit card! If something does go wrong and your information falls into the wrong hands, dealing with a credit card company offers you a lot more protection than having to work with your personal bank.
  • Gift cards are not lame. They allow the recipient to buy what he/she really wants and almost every store in the country offers them! It is so much easier to buy a gift card than try to guess what someone wants.
  • Suggest that the people you do buy for create Wish Lists on Amazon.com. They can even add things from other stores! This is another way to make shopping quick, easy and effective.
  • Consider buying a heat-and-eat meal if you’re hosting a gathering. Randall’s and Luby’s are just two places that offer complete meals for around $50 – and they actually taste great!
  • Another party tip is to consider having it catered! Many restaurants offer reasonably-priced catering and some even come set everything up for you! Check with your favorite eatery to see if they offer this service.
  • Stay away from negative news, social media, etc. It only fuels your inner perfectionistic voice and/or adds negative energy to your soul.

Society tells us that everything must be homemade, lit up, wrapped in pretty bows and perfect. We all know that perfect doesn’t exist. If you decide to try some of these tips, just remember that you’re taking care of yourself, and that’s the best gift you can give to yourself, and by extension, to others! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Festivus and Happy Holidays!

Losing the Family Illusion and Finding Freedom

I just finished reading a most excellent memoir entitled Mother Daughter Me, by Katie Hafner. I was barely able to put it down, highlighting half of it using the nifty feature on my Kindle for iPad app. My own mother currently lives with my husband, my daughter, and me and I am resonating all over the place with Hafner’s tale.

Removing my loving husband from the equation, I am the meat in a multi-generational female sandwich. My mother would probably be sourdough, while my daughter would be some exotic bread that made your mouth explode with happiness. I think I am pretty much the bologna: tasty enough, but mostly a barrier between the condiments and the bread.

I was very anxious last year when the idea of my mother coming to reside with us was broached. As in any family, there was some history there that I wasn’t too sure what to do with. Yet, Mom was getting forgetful and falling down more often. Neither one of us was ready to consider the dreaded “assisted living” facilities that dot the city, yet it was obvious that she needed to not be alone.

The decision made, we converted our guest room into Mom’s bedroom, which made her my teenage daughter’s next door neighbor and new bathroom-mate. I already had visions of my kid and her friends keeping my mother awake all night or my mom leaving her dentures in the middle of my daughter’s makeup set. Fortunately, they have worked all that out on their own.

What I am now discovering is that my mother can work out things on her own. When she first moved in, I hovered constantly, “translating” what she said to my husband and daughter while they looked at me like I was a freak. I realized that I had the mother that I grew up with stuck in my head, not the pleasant, elderly woman that stood before me now. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

My “job” in my family growing up was to be the buffer – the peacemaker. My mother had undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder and dealt with her tumultuous feelings by dulling them with alcohol for many years. Even after she received the proper diagnosis and found a good medication regimen, there were times that she was just, well, bat-shit crazy. My father dealt with this mostly by going to work early in the morning and coming home after dark and attending to various “projects” on the weekends that kept him outside and busy.

While I know now that they both did the best they could with the resources they had at the time, as an only child, I more than once felt that I had been dealt a pretty bad hand. I learned how to finish an abandoned dinner after my mother had passed out. I even learned how to serve it on a plate to my father with a smile, like nothing was wrong. I learned how to listen to their separate rants and agree that the other was a complete jerk. I kept the peace. And so, I thought that would automatically be my role now that one of my parents was going to live with me.

My, how wrong I was! Not only was it unnecessary for me to keep the peace, I learned that it was essential for me to get out of the way and let my mother forge her own relationships with my husband and daughter. The drunken, unreasonable, embarrassing mother was nowhere to be found! She’s still a little bat-shit crazy, but who am I to judge since I obviously got half of my genes from her? I’m sure my daughter calls me similar things, because – I admit it – I can be quite insane sometimes. Whether it’s giggling hysterically at a fart joke, being irrational or communicating ineffectively, there’s a lot of “crazy” in me, too. I think we all have a little bit of that je ne sais quoi brand of nuts in us; that makes us human.

There’s a quote in Hafner’s memoir that really struck a chord with me:

“What stands between me and the person I would like to be is this illusion of perfect love between my mother and me. It is a lie I can no longer afford.” – Nancy Friday, from My Mother/ My Self.

That’s what I am slowly stepping away from – the illusion. Not only the thought that my mother and I could have a perfect love, because human love is never perfect; but from the illusion that she is still today who she was back then. And with this understanding, I realize that I don’t have to be bologna anymore.

Little Girls, Get up! Get Up and Eat!

I’m reposting this wonderful prose from Momastery. View the original article HERE. — Stacey

family-happy-1

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because the world needs more people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I went to school for Tish’s conference this morning. All is well enough. She’s doing fine- especially in her own estimation. As we were waiting in the hall, I saw [some] art work on the wall. Tish explained that the assignment was to write about their biggest, boldest dream.

You guys- I only had time to get three pictures, but over and over- again and again and again- I read: “My dream is for my family to be happy.”

Tish’s  poster wasn’t done yet. I asked what her dream was and she said: “To be Taylor Swift and for my mommy to be happy.” Oh, I said. Then she added: “Everyone at my table wrote ‘I want my mommy to be happy!’” Oh, I said again.

You guys. They want us to be happy.

They’re not saying: My dream is for my mom to be perfect. Or my dream is for my mom to be thinner or better looking. Or cooler. Or have more friends. Or have better things. Or to have had a prettier past. Or have a cleaner, bigger, nicer house. Or be richer. Or be divorced or reunited. Or work less or more or outside the home or inside the home or part time or what-have-you. None of that.

Just: My dream is for my family and my mommy to be happy.

Holy crap, you guys. We’ve got to get our joy back. We think it’s love to allow our roles –mother, wife, volunteer, career woman – to consume us like a fire until we can’t even be seen anymore – but that’s not love. I think our kids want to really see us. They want us to leave a part of ourselves unconsumed so they can see us. I think our kids want to see us come alive sometimes. Our kids never asked for martyrs.  It is not love to allow yourself – your spirit – to be buried and then fade away.

At first- these thoughts stressed me out this morning because I am passionate and I am kind and sometimes I’m ecstatic and I can usually find gratitude but I’m not “happy.” I’m intense and up and down and I get depressed and anxious and my anxiety makes me hard to be around sometimes. Because I’m impatient and snappy. I snap at people I love all the time and that makes me feel bad about myself. I want to be zen. I am so not zen. Whatever zen is- I’m the opposite of it.

But you know what- none of those papers said that, “My dream is for my mom to stop snapping.” None said, “I wish my mom would stop being so anxious and just relax and be more like Jesus or Buddha.” Their dreams were less about us in relationship to THEM and more about what they really want for US. As PEOPLE. They want us to be happy. Because they love US. And because they know, likely, that they are supposed to learn how to be happy during this beautiful life from us. And so if we’re slugging our way through life without joy- they are probably thinking- deep down– if she can’t pull some joy out of life- how will I?

And so those posters served as some SMELLING SALTS for me this morning. They woke me up. And I thought: WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY? What is one thing that I could do today that has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ROLES I PLAY and just FEEDS MY SOUL?

Because that’s important. It is important to feed my body, mind and soul every day. If we are going to ask for our daily bread- we’ve got to take the time to receive it and eat it. God provides –but we’ve got to slow down long enough to TASTE AND SEE. And we cannot say that our list of things to do is too long to slow down and feed ourselves. Because there are URGENT things and there are IMPORTANT things – and no matter how much URGENT there is – we must fit a few TRULY IMPORTANT things into our day or the URGENT things will consume us every day forever and ever ’till we die. We feed ourselves or we die. It’s inconvenient- especially in a culture that worships productivity and efficiency and busyness for busyness’ sake- but it’s THE TRUTH. We eat or we die.

WHAT MAKES YOU COME ALIVE? WHO ARE YOU BENEATH ALL OF YOUR ROLES? HOW DO YOU FEED YOURSELF?

Listen. This is a thing. We are going to figure this out together. If joy is so far out of reach that you don’t even remember what the word means- let’s talk about getting to a doctor. That’s step one. If you can’t remember how to feed yourself but you remember what joy is: BE STILL. YOU HAVE TO GET STILL BEFORE YOU CAN REALLY GET UP. GOD MADE EVERYTHING WONDERFUL AND CREATIVE AND BEAUTIFUL OUT OF NOTHINGNESS- STILLNESS AND GOD STILL DOES. So find some quiet. 10 – 5 minutes a day. Try this- Travis sent it to us last night:

1) Prepare to pray the Psalm in 5 consecutively diminishing sentences.
2) Either aloud or quietly to yourself, say the words, “Be still and know that I am God”
3) After a couple deep breaths, pray, “Be still and know that I am.”
4) After a couple deep breaths, pray “Be still and know.”
5) After a couple deep breaths, pray, “Be still.”
6) After a couple deep breaths, pray, “Be.”
7) When ready, pray, “Amen.”

AH! 12 years old. That’s when it happens. That’s when we start looking to find our joy in other’s expectations and boys and magazines and cigarettes and food and we start getting buried. Go back. Before you were 12. What did you love?

MY FRIEND: YOU ARE NOT DEAD. YOU ARE JUST ASLEEP. YOU JUST NEED TO GET UP AND EAT.

LITTLE GIRL, GET UP!

GET UP AND EAT!!!!

How to Control What You Can and Let Go of the Rest

Here’s my latest Examiner.com article. You can see the original post HERE.

Everyday stressors, such as broken appliances, leaving a bag of groceries at the store, and even stubbing a toe can build up into a big bundle of stress if we let them. Each thing in itself may be just a minor inconvenience, but when several things happen in a short period of time, it leaves one wondering if this chain of events is some type of punishment from Beyond.

Spiritual beliefs aside, it is very important to deal with each stressor as it happens. Even if there is nothing you can do about the situation at the moment, you can make sure that you perceive it in a healthy way, which will minimize the stress hormones in your body. That, in turn, will help you feel calmer, and over the long run, will give you the benefits of better physical and mental health.

As an example, let me tell you about what’s been going on in my life lately. Two weeks ago, one of our beloved dogs passed away. A week later, my daughter’s pet hamster died. The next weekend, I found out that an old friend of mine had passed away from a motorcycle accident. “I wonder what’s going to die next,” I remember thinking. The next day, my washing machine died.

Had one thing happened with lots of time in between the next, I would have had proper time to process the situation and moved toward acceptance of the loss. However, the day I started feeling a little better about losing our dog, the hamster died. He was an old, spoiled hamster, and his death wasn’t totally unexpected, but when added to the grief I still had to process about the dog, the rodent’s passing was all of a sudden very tragic to me. Not two days later, I heard about my friend. When the washer conked out, I had to laugh at the answer to my question about what would die next!

Believe me, laughing at the washer was a choice. There are four people that live in my home, along with a small zoo of furry friends, so an inoperable washer is a huge inconvenience. When I figured out that it was really broken, I thought about the question I had posed to the Beyond. I could have gotten frustrated or enraged or depressed. But I thought that I’d much rather have an appliance “die” than another person or pet. So, in a way, the fact that the machine broke was a blessing.

Don’t get me wrong: I did have a few really bad days. One day, I had a hard time getting out of bed because of the crushing grief. I was able to sit with the feelings and write about them. I accepted them as they came and remembered that they would pass. While I still have moments of sadness that seemingly strike from out of nowhere, I allow myself to feel them and cry if I need to. There is no “proper” time period for grief.

The broken washer gave me an opportunity to be pro-active. I couldn’t control the fact that my pets and friend were gone, but I did have some control over the appliance situation. I found a wonderful website called justanswer.com, which has hundreds of experts in many different fields on hand to answer questions about various things. They hooked me up with appliance expert Chas, and he helped me order the proper part, sent me a video that showed how to install it and helped me troubleshoot the machine after the part was installed. Now, the machine is functional, and I feel accomplished and proud, which are great counter-feelings to grief.

Next time you’re having “one of those days (or weeks or months),” make sure to carve out time just for yourself so that you can process each thing individually. If the situation is beyond your control, as most situations are, it’s healthiest to just accept it. That sounds easy, but it’s not. If you need some questions to ask yourself so that you can objectively prove that acceptance is the “proper” thing, feel free to use these:

  • How does this situation make me feel?
  • Am I OK with feeling this way for a while? (If the answer is yes, then you’ve already gotten to acceptance.)
  • Will these feelings hurt me in the long run (e.g. put stress on me)?
  • Is there anything that I can do to fix this situation? (If the answer is yes, then take the steps you need to in order to get things “right” again, like I did with researching my washer.)
  • If there’s nothing I can do about this, who is being hurt the most by my feelings?
  • Have I been able to sit and experience my feelings without running away from them?
  • How can I look at this situation differently so that I feel healthier feelings?

Moving through stressful, unhealthy feelings toward acceptance takes practice, as many of our stress-producing thoughts are very automatic. However, it is possible to find the “silver lining” or “lesson” in every situation, given enough time. Just remember that the one thing that stays the same in life is change. This too shall pass, my friend.