Have You Hugged Yourself Today?

Living Self-Care: Our Hearts

Living a heart-healthy life means taking good care of our emotional health and relationships.  In short, it is loving ourselves and others unconditionally.

Heart-Healthy Habits:

1.      Prioritize Emotional Health: This involves making time for self-care but more important believing we deserve self-love.  It means saying “yes” to what makes our heart sing and “no” when it’s too much.

2.      Trust Inner Guidance: This is trusting what our “gut” is telling us.  While our inner voice isn’t 100% accurate, it’s often signaling questions or issues we need to consider.  Don’t drown it out with others’ need but listen to what’s coming up.

3.      Self-Acceptance:  One of the hardest habits is learning to love ourselves wholly with our strengths and limitations.  As Melissa Etheridge sings, “There’s no love from someone else if I can’t love myself.”  Practice unconditional self-love for optimal emotional and relationship health.

4.       Communicate Assertively:  Express both positive and negative feelings openly and directly.  Don’t  attack the other person or passively withdraw.  Address problems as they occur.  Be respectful and expect the same.  If the situation deteriorates, wait until later.

5.       Prioritize Relationships:  Nurture relationships with time, energy and attention.   How often do you stop when you’re busy doing what needs to get done to listen to your child or spouse?  Nothing is more important.  Relationships are flowers in the garden of life.  If you nourish them, they’ll bring much delight.  Neglected, they’ll whither.

The Sisterhood of Girlfriends

“Mom, you have friends?!”

It was my 5-year-old’s innocent response to me mentioning my girlfriends. Since having twins five years ago and then another son, I don’t get a chance to chat with, let alone see, my girlfriends as much as I would like. Yet, they still carry an important role in my life.

Girlfriends help each other carry their burdens, celebrate each others’ accomplishments and bring joy to each others’ lives. Girlfriends also have a keen sense of intuition. Despite miles of distance and months without communication, girlfriends are there when we need them most.

Take for example a dear friend who called me out of the blue as I was just beginning to miscarry my first pregnancy. Or another girlfriend who popped up on Google chat one day when I was having a terrible time coping with my son’s developmental delays. On two of the worst days of my life, these women
helped put everything into perspective.   I hope I’ve been there to do the same.

Mom Jessica

When the teeter-totter of life drops you square into a puddle of mud, it’s usually a girlfriend that climbs on the opposite seat and lifts you back up (then helps you shop for new pants). As women we naturally care for and nurture others, and through the sisterhood of girlfriends we give that nurturing back to ourselves.

Today’s author is Jessica Pupillo, freelance writer and editor of St. Louis Sprout & About (www.stlsprout.com).

You Can’t Give Away What You Don’t Possess

Regarding self-sacrifice as a badge of honor comes from our very best intentions. We’ve been told that when we put others’ needs first, we’ll feel so good about ourselves that our needs will diminish. While this is often true about our desires, it is dangerously incorrect about our needs.

Our primary need is for love. Conditioning taught us to look for others to meet this: parents, siblings, friends, lovers and even our children. This dynamic would often require our significant others to suppress their needs in favor of ours. This can’t be love. Furthermore, there is nobody who can love you
the way you need to be loved — with one exception: YOU!

Love is best demonstrated with time and attention. We must give ourselves all the time and attention we need, so that our soul is overflowing with love. We can’t contain it.  We must give it away!  Free from unmet needs, your loved ones will sense the pure joy you derive from the relationship. They’ll neither feel defensive about disappointing you, nor will they act out in order to get your attention.

Real Mom Laura Nash

Only you know what you need. Only you can provide it. Take the time to check-in with yourself.  Discern your wants from your needs.  Extend love to yourself through self-care and your soul will soar.

Today’s author Laura Nash is a consultant and Chopra-certified meditation instructor who teaches individuals and companies “peace of mind” skills.  Visit her an http://www.lauranash.com.

My George

When I was first in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, my therapist gave me an exercise: draw the anxiety. It ended up looking a little like E.T. but with a sour disposition. I named it, “George.”

The purpose of naming the anxiety wasn’t to adopt it permanently into my psyche; it was to have something that was NOT me to “blame” for anxious thoughts, feelings, etc. Though I don’t have panic attacks or much anxiety anymore, I still call George out when negative or illogical thoughts come to mind, causing me distress. This is a technique that I have shared with clients, most with success.

Here’s an example:

Jan works in an office with several other people. Because of her upbringing and low self-esteem, Jan believes that people don’t like her very much. In her quest to feel better about herself, Jan started therapy and named those ugly thoughts, “The Hulk,” because they feel angry and green.

On her way out to lunch, Jan passed her co-worker in the hall. Jan smiled, but the co-worker’s face did not change from one that looked a bit angry. “Oh no!” Jan thought. “Sheila is mad at me! What did I do?” Recognizing the angry, green feeling of her “Hulk,” Jan started questioning her thought.

“Have I had any interactions with Sheila that would cause anger on her part? No. I haven’t even spoken to her in a few days. Could there be another explanation for Sheila’s mood? Of course! She could be irritated or frustrated with a number of things that have nothing to do with me.”

As Jan focused on these questions, her “Hulk” turned back into mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who is way more manageable than his alter ego.

If you deal with anxiety, depression or just negative thinking, what does your “George” look like? What color, shape and texture is it? What is its name? By having a third party to “blame” for these thoughts, you are living healthier – for you are NOT your thoughts. And your thoughts do not have to direct your behavior. I have taken away George’s power to control me, and I’m much healthier for it!

Namaste’

 

Summer: A Time of Wonder

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Summer is a wonderful time to reflect on the magnificence of being alive. Enjoy reading Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” below. This week, see what you can discover in the magic of a summer day and savor each moment. If you need a little help, the hummingbird picture above can be the focus of your contemplation.

Hummingbird photo from Maggie.

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

~~Mary Oliver

Namaste.

 

Rough Seas Ahead

I have been working with a certain client for a few years now. For simplicity, let’s call her Sarah (not her real name). Sarah is debating a common issue: what to do with a loveless marriage. Since divorce is no longer taboo these days, more women are considering it as an option than ever before. There are still women like Sarah, who believe that marriage is for “forever,” but at what cost?

I have to say something straight-up: I am not an advocate for divorce. Many couples still have a strong foundation that the rest can be supported upon and fixed. In my practice, it is always my intention to help two people salvage their marriage if both are willing to work at it. That being said, I am also not an advocate for the stagnation and lack of self-care that can come about when two people really don’t need to be together.

Sarah has only recently included divorce as an option for herself. She’s been married almost 20 years and has two children with her husband, Bryan (not his real name). She has cited history, children, not wanting to “fail” and not wanting to hurt “anyone” as her reasons for staying. She has not really loved Bryan for 2 or 3 years now, and they have grown apart, each focused on paths that don’t intersect any longer. Bryan is a good man; he is not abusive or adulterous. He is also not present in the relationship until Sarah brings up her discontent (usually after Bryan asks for sex). Then, he may focus more on the marriage for a week or two. But Sarah always ends up in the same place: alone, despite another person being there.

Bryan and Sarah have gone to couples counseling a few times and their therapist tells me that she doesn’t see much of a foundation there. Because I agree, I have been questioning Sarah about what her life would look like if she could wave a magic wand. Her magical world doesn’t involve Bryan.

This issue all boils down, as most issues do, to Self-Care. We all know that life is short, so why would we stay in an unhappy situation for one minute longer than we have to? Because we think we “have to!” Should Sarah decide to separate from Bryan, there will be some rough times. If she stays focused on her own needs and doesn’t try to own Bryan’s or the kids’ reactions, she will come through it in a healthy manner, being honest and open with her family.

Because women are raised in a society that teaches us to nurture at the expense of ourselves, the notion of doing what is best for us sometimes is very scary! But as Sarah and Bryan’s couples therapist said, “She needs to put on her big girl panties and do the ethical – and honest – thing for herself.”

What are some things in your life that you’re maintaining the status quo with because you can’t imagine another option? Are there really no other choices or are the other choices just things that you can’t imagine doing? If you don’t change your situation, how do you think this will affect you in the next year, 5 years, 10 years?

Sometimes, we have to weather the storm to get to calm, peaceful seas. Namaste.

at sea

An Unstoppable Spirit: Paula Sims Turns 55 in Prison

By Diane Sanford, PhD

This post is in honor of my friend, Paula Sims, who’s been incarcerated for the past 20+ years following the deaths of her two daughters due to postpartum psychosis. In spite of serving so much time in prison and countless denials of her appeal for clemency, her spirit remains strong and resilient. She inspires me to be a better person because she continues to rise above her circumstances every day of her life. What follows is part of a letter I received from her this past week.

“Yesterday was Summer Solstice, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. In many cultures, it is a day of celebration. So, a few of my friends and I celebrated the radiance of summer by giving extra thanks for the sun and its life giving warmth of our planet. Plus, we honored the beauty of creation by enjoying it by going outside to the “Yard,” walked in the grass and simply sat in the sun at a picnic table and socialized. Also, I enjoyed the fresh air, basking in the warmth of the sun, and marveling at the beauty of the day. We always revel in the bounty of creation and are thankful for all our blessings.

I continue to keep real busy with my ADA (service dogs) attendant job, Toastmasters, etc. I had a great 55th birthday a month ago, and my room-mates and several friends down the hall showered me with cards, gifts and sang “Happy Birthday” to me:). On the unit, my room-mates and friends had a party with good food and fellowship. My brother, Aunt and Uncle, were able to visit for 4 hours. We had a super time and they’re fine. They plan to visit again around my brother’s birthday in August.

I’ve got more “great news.” On June 10th, I completed my goal of doing 10 speeches in Toastmaster’s which I’d been working on since April 2, 2013. My 10th speech, “Don’t Give Up” based on a story about how the great Russian writer, Alexander Solzenheitzen, overcame his prison experience, led to my winning “Best Speaker of the Night.” This story has inspired me for years. I hoped it would inspire my audience and I believe it did. Also, I shared one of my many dreams as a young girl, to become an artist. At the end of my speech, I showed a few of my drawings.

Drawing by Paula Sims
Drawing by Paula Sims

Now, that I’m a certified public speaker on Toastmaster’s International website, I hoped to get some speaking engagements to share my story about my daughters and my postpartum psychosis, bringing more awareness to PPD/PPP, and helping to save lives. But until that happens, I’ll keep working on being and advanced speaker at our weekly meetings! I’ll keep you posted. Okay?”

Paula concludes her letter by asking me to send a birthday to Andrea Yates who turned 50 recently.

I believe that we can all learn from Paula, her strength, her generosity and her gratitude for the gift of life. Happy birthday, friend.

Namaste.

I Cannot Be This Person

In honor of National PTSD Awareness Day, please read this brave Marine’s story below:

***NOT FOR RESALE OR DISTRIBUTION*** Laura Hendrixson, 29, a former marine that was raped in the military and suffers from PTSD, alone at home and with her husband Craig, 30, in San Diego, Ca. on July 20, 2013. Laura was a US Marine, stationed South Carolina (or somewhere in the south) when she was sexually assaulted by "friend" – someone in whom she had recently confided some deeply personal information.  This was traumatic enough but the way the military handled it compounded the problem.  She was confined to barracks - to the same barracks as her attacker.  She was told to wear baggy sweats so as not to attract men.  She had to continue working with her attacker.  She was denied promotions and labeled a trouble maker for having reported the incident.  She became a pariah.   The result was that she left the military deeply afraid of the world, unable to do much – she rarely went out, was afraid to sleep with the light on, or take a shower, etc.  Therapy has helped her a lot.  She is still pretty timid but she now holds a job and is working toward a college degree.  She is married and has a Chihuahua.  She is getting better at doing the little things.   Shooting her will be a bit tough.  She doesn’t do a whole lot.  She doesn’t want us to shoot her at work.  I’m thinking that we’ll shoot a lot of details of her home – the showerhead dripping, lights on the ceiling, etc. to represent the stuff she could not do.  We’ll also shoot her studying and may go with her to San Diego State University where she is a student.Finding it hard to be home alone or feel comfortable in public places, Marine and MST survivor Laura Hendrixon is determined to get better for her family.

Laura Hendrixon had always thought PTSD came only after combat exposure–until it happened to her. “After being in the Marines for a year and a half, I was sexually assaulted by another Marine who was also a co-worker and a friend of mine,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to talk about, but I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to be stronger.”

The trauma affected her so much that she was afraid to take a shower when she was home alone. “…I would basically be in panic mode the whole time,” she said. “I would think…”Oh my gosh, I want to get a shower, but I can’t get a shower because I’m home by myself, and if I’m in the shower, I’m not going to be able to hear if somebody comes in the house.” I would get scared to the point that I wouldn’t close my eyes when I’m taking a shower.”

Laura was diagnosed with PTSD. Her doctor at VA suggested she get into treatment. “I finally had a doctor point out to me that, you know, it would be really good if I went through this treatment,” she recalled. “I knew I needed to do it because I can’t wait to have kids, and I was like, “I cannot be this person with kids. I’m going to, like, wrap them up in bubble wrap.”

Laura’s treatment at VA was a form of talk therapy called Prolonged Exposure (PE). In PE, the goal is for the patient to have less fear about her memories. It is based on the idea that people learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event. By talking about her trauma repeatedly in a safe environment with a therapist, the patient learns to get control of her thoughts and feelings about the trauma. She learns that she does not have to be afraid of her memories.

“I made a list of things I needed to be able to do: make left-hand turns, ride in an elevator, go somewhere by myself, get showers. It’s like, I need to learn how to deal with this stuff, now,” she explained. “It was very difficult at first. I had to go back to that moment and, you know, describe exactly how I felt, and emotions and fears, and everything about the moment. It did get easier. You actually record yourself, and then you listen to it, so in some way it tricks your brain into accepting that this did happen to me and, you know, I’m going to be OK, and it’s going to get better.”

Laura also credits her husband for much of the progress she has made. “My husband is a lifesaver,” she said. “We’re going to counseling together, and they’re helping us talk through some of the daily struggles that I have with PTSD. He’s so good for me; he encourages me to do things I’m not comfortable with. I definitely plan to keep moving forward with it. I’m always thinking, like, “Just do it!” I can do all kinds of stuff.”

You can see the entire AboutFace video profile of Laura Hendrixon on YouTube.

For more information on PTSD and ways to raise awareness of this mental health problem during June and throughout the year, professionals and members of the public can visit our PTSD Awareness page.

I’m Free! Free Falling!

Well, I must say I am going back and forth with my Self-care at the moment. I have a lot of work coming in and coming due, which is a good problem to have! I found a great app called 30/30 that lets me set blocks of time for work and breaks. And then there’s the day I went skydiving.

Yep. You heard me. I faced my long-standing fear and jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 feet, falling at 125mph breakneck toward the ground. And, as most things we fear, the anticipation and “what if” thoughts were WAY worse than the thing itself!

Phil, my tandem instructor, and me
Phil, my tandem instructor, and me

I thought I would go when I turned 40, almost 3 years ago. Nope. Chickened out. So, when a friend of mine got accepted into the Police Academy (with a full ride scholarship), something she’s wanted her whole life, I told her to pick something to do…my treat. I knew she didn’t drink or like to go to clubs, so I figured maybe a nice movie or dinner at a nicer place. Nope. Wrong again! SKYDIVING, she said.

Suited up!
Suited up!

I panicked at first, but then thought that there was no better time to do this – she had been a few times already and liked the place that we went. I got brave and said, “JUST DO IT!”

And I’m so glad I did! I was terrified at the open door of the plane, looking out, but Phil, who was tightly strapped to me, wasn’t going to let me stand in the way of my goal. He pushed forward and I was falling! I only had that yucky-stomach falling feeling for 2 or 3 seconds, then it was like I was on top of a giant fan! After we pulled the canopy, all of Nature’s beauty was sprawled out in front of us to enjoy. The fall only took about 60 seconds, but it seemed longer because I was so in the moment.

logo100I highly recommend this activity, as long as the place you go has qualified, knowledgeable instructors and and outstanding safety record. We visited Westside Skydivers in Sealy, TX, which is about an hour’s drive. There were closer places, but my friend had experience with Westside, so I didn’t mind the drive. My instructors, Bob and Phil, and my cameraman, Nate, were all wonderful and knew how to put me at ease! Thanks, guys! And yes, I’m going again!!

PTSD: It’s NOT a Shame

As Diane has mentioned, June is PTSD Awareness Month.  In 2010, Congress named June 27th PTSD Awareness Day (S. Res. 455). Since then, during the month of June, The National Center for PTSD asks that the issue of PTSD be discussed openly and without judgment, in the hopes of reducing stigma.

Anyone who has dealt with mental illness either directly or indirectly knows that, indeed, not all wounds are visible…or measurable, for that matter. No, there’s no blood test to measure levels of depression, anxiety or trauma. Many people look “just fine” on the outside, while they are suffering greatly on the inside.

Trauma is not the same for everyone. Many people think of Veterans when they hear the term PTSD. While Vets surely are a group that’s at greater risk, anyone can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And what traumatizes one person may not affect another. In fact, traumatic events don’t have to be “catastrophic” to cause this reaction! Losing a pet, having your child get off at the wrong bus stop, car accidents and other “everyday” events can cause traumatic reactions in some people.

On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike came through my neck of the woods. Since it was “only” a Category 2 storm, we decided to ride it out. I took a sleeping pill that night and had no clue if it was scary or not – I was asleep! However, the next day, I fell apart as we drove around looking at the damage the storm left in its wake. We lost our back fence – we were lucky that it wasn’t worse. But until recently, any time the power went out at my house, I would instantly panic. So, it wasn’t the catastrophic hurricane that caused the traumatic reaction – it was the loss of electricity that became my trigger!

PTSD symptoms – anxiety, panic, sudden anger, nightmares, flashbacks – can be caused by just about anything and is the brain’s natural response to protect your psyche from pain. They are also signals that you need to process the event, no matter how “small” you perceive it to be!

PTSD is NOT a shame…it’s an opportunity to get help and come out on the other side a healthier, happier and more resilient person! To find therapists who specialize in PTSD in your area, visit psychologytoday.com‘s therapist list. For more information on PTSD, visit The National Center for PTSD.