By Diane Sanford, PhD
I took a break last week from posting. I needed it. The holiday weekend had me “holidayed” out. I didn’t do much but I felt like it after weeks of too much doing and not enough being.
Instead, I spent the afternoon relaxing in the thirty dollar wading pool (for adults), my daughter and I got at Sam’s Club earlier this season. I was so happy sunning and doing nothing. It reminded me (once again) that I need to stop more often and experience life with “ease and joy” as one of my mindfulness teachers says. Likewise, it doesn’t take a “special” situation or circumstance for this to occur. In mindfulness we call this as “informal” practice. Simply, paying attention to what you’re doing.
This week, I encourage you to take 5 minutes a few times each day to pause and become fully engaged in the moment you’re in. Then take 15-20 minutes once or twice during the week to intentionally choose an activity that eases stress and brings you joy. Your to-do list will still be there when you’re done but it may not seem as urgent or oppressive. A little “time-out” can go a long way.
By Diane Sanford, PhD
A month ago, one of my colleagues mentioned that her daughter had an article which was about to run in a very important publication. She said she couldn’t tell me where yet, but sent me a link just before Memorial Day to her daughter, Madeline’s piece with the other co-editor of their high school paper, Eva, which was published in The New York Times.
If you haven’t seen this already, click on this link-http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/opinion/depressed-but-not-ashamed.html?ref=opinion&_r=0. Until more of us speak up about our personal experiences and encourage our family and friends to do the same, we support the conspiracy of silence which contributes to people of all ages and stages of life with “mental illness” including depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, addictions and eating disorders feeling alone, isolated and flawed. The word alone makes you feel bad
As I tell my clients, no family is untouched by “mental illness.” Everyone has emotional health vulnerabilities inherited from their gene pool, and under the right circumstances, they develop into clinical conditions. In my family, several generations have experienced clinical depression and anxiety, and I experienced some mild depression following the birth of my first child.
In fact, women often experience clinical episode during times of hormonal and major life changes-puberty, pregnancy, postpartum and menopause. To encourage childbearing women to say something and not “suffer in silence, ” when experiencing postpartum depression, New Jersey created their “Speak Up When You’re Down” campaign. For more info on this program, click on this link-http://www.state.nj.us/health/fhs/postpartumdepression/pdf/PPD-brochure.pdf. Or, visit Katherine Stone at Postpartum Progress and find a Climb to help support your recovery.
To hear more about Madeline and Eva’s editorial and the story behind the editorial, listen to their NPR interview by clicking here- http://www.npr.org/2014/05/24/315445104/students-struggle-with-depression-and-with-telling-the-story
And, let your voice be heard. Namaste
In honor of my “sick day,” I am re-posting an oldie but goodie! Enjoy! – Stacey
Have you noticed that we live in an achievement-oriented society (at least those of us in the U.S.)? Many people feel like they are wasting time if they are not producing, attaining or completing something. It can get exhausting at times! Sometimes the only occasion we give ourselves a break is on vacation – and many times even those are meticulously planned out to the minute, leaving little real relaxation time.
When is the last time that you aspired to “underachieve?” I’m talking about taking a day off to do “nothing” like watching TV, movies, reading a book, staying in your pajamas, eating ice cream? Have a day to turn off your phone and computer, to not do any errands or chores, take a nap or go within? When is the last time you were able to take a whole day to “play it by ear?” I hope your answer involves some time recently, but if it doesn’t, why not try “underachievement” soon? When you give yourself permission to not do anything productive, there’s no reason to feel guilty. You may, however, feel a little pampered – and that’s generally a pretty good feeling!
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.
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.
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.
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!