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).

For Lillian As You Leave

Lillian Michalsky is an extra-ordinary person and someone I’ve been privileged to know if only for a short time. I met her over a month ago at a women’s retreat at Feathered Pipe Ranch. Although she was not teaching the class, her wisdom and insight made an impression as she sat in her lounge chair in our circle, living with pancreatic cancer. Her life is a legacy for the strength of human spirit which I know will continue in the hearts and souls of those she’s touched long after she dies.

In truth, I don’t know much about Lillian’s past. I know that when she was in her early 20’s she came out to Montana on a mission trip, got “adopted” by one of the Native American tribes who live there, and became a medicine woman because of their trust in her. Until then, this tribe’s language had only been spoken, and they were afraid of losing their stories which they wanted to impart to their children and others. Together, she helped them develop a written alphabet and translate their stories so they could be preserved. Remarkable indeed.

I was fortunate enough to be in a prayer circle she led at Feathered Pipe at the conclusion of our retreat. As we shared our prayers with Lillian and India and prayed for each other, we created a sacred space which lovingly held our souls. It was the most meaningful, spirit-filled ceremony I’ve ever been in and a beautiful way to end our time together. For this, I am forever grateful. I am likewise grateful for the generosity and compassion of all my sister goddesses in the circle.

Saturday, I learned that her physical strength is dwindling and her time here may be drawing to a close. In celebration of Lillian, I am asking that this week each of you meditate on a song which is one of her favorites, “Give Yourself to Love” by Kate Wolf. It is a good reminder for all us. Here are some of the lyrics:

“Kind friends all gathered ’round, there’s something I would say:
That what brings us together here has blessed us all today.
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside;
Where strangers are as family, loneliness can’t hide.

You must give yourself to love if love is what you’re after;

Open up your hearts to the tears and laughter,
And give yourself to love, give yourself to love.”

You can listen to the song  by clicking here.

With much love, Lillian. Namaste.

Mind, Body and Spirit Comfort to Ease Perinatal Loss

Losing someone you love is always challenging but losing a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal loss often feels unbearable. When a baby dies during pregnancy, delivery or early postpartum, there are multiple losses which include the loss of the hopes and dreams you had for this child, hopes and dreams for you as their parent, and postpartum hormonal and birth-related changes without a baby to hold in your arms to feel that it’s  still worthwhile.

Here are some suggestions to help ease your mind, body and spirit. Remember, none of these tips will take away your grief but perhaps allow you to have a little more physical energy, mental ability, and spiritual comfort to deal with your loss.

  1. Try to eat at regular intervals to keep your body fueled. Substitute more frequent snacking if that’s all you feel like and choose whatever sounds good. Stay well-hydrated. Take a multi-vitamin. Let others bring you food or pick up ready-made healthy meals.
  2. Take breaks which allow your body and mind to rest. Don’t push yourself to resume your “normal” schedule if you have the flexibility to slow down. Strike a balance between distracting yourself and always having something to do. Grief takes a toll on us body, mind and spirit, and it takes time to heal.
  3. Nourish yourself with pleasant experiences and sensations. Go for a walk in nature. Listen to soothing music. Light a candle. Take a warm bath or shower. Do some gentle exercise or yoga. If you have other children, play or spend time with them. You are not betraying your baby by choosing to participate in life.
  4. Be-friend yourself. Imagine what you would say to a good friend or loved one whose baby died. Would you judge them for their feelings? Would you tell them to stop having a tough time or be done with their grieving? Chances are “no.” Don’t treat yourself that way either.
  5. Don’t tell yourself that because your partner isn’t grieving in the same way you are, they don’t care. Men and women grieve differently. Women are generally more open with their feelings and men seem less emotional. Again, don’t judge or be critical. Acknowledge that grief is expressed by each person in his/her own way.
  6. When other people make comments which seem uncaring, don’t take it personally. Our culture is fairly unskilled at dealing with death. Often. we think we need to say something to make the grieving person feel better instead of listening. Comments like “it’s probably for the best or now they’re with God” may provoke anger when intended to be comforting.
  7. Seek out people who do understand and bring you comfort. Although friends and family my worry about you and want to stop by to talk, it is up to you who you want to see and when. Steer clear of people who aren’t helpful and trigger bad feelings. Also, you may not want to see pregnant relatives and friends or participate in baby-related activities (showers, first birthdays, etc). Give yourself a break and don’t go.
  8. Be grateful. This is especially challenging after losing your child. However, if we let ourselves, we may find something in the midst of our sorrow which helps us feel supported and loved. Although you may feel alone in the darkness, the light of a new day will dawn. It is the nature of life.

Take good care. Namaste.

Creating An Epic Life: “Careful the Tale You Tell”

When I was on retreat in June at Feathered Pipe Ranch with Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, we shared our stories of the different life passages we’d journeyed through and how these experiences shaped our growth and change. Since then, I’ve wanted to discuss how this relates to leading a mindful life but didn’t know what to say until now. The late Carl Sagan remarked in his series, Cosmos,“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

If you believe that we are spiritual beings having a human existence, then you may think that what we do in this lifetime matters, especially when human existence ( and that of all sentient beings and our planet) may not survive if we choose poorly. In one of my favorite stories, “Into the Woods” the witch warns the villagers, “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.” Although we may not consciously be aware of our “stories” and how they are affecting us, we can learn.

Mindfulness teaches us that “with awareness we can respond with choice” instead of “reacting on auto-pilot.” The starting point is to become aware of the automatic thoughts, feelings, and sensations which trigger our bodies and minds without us even knowing. After a month of tuning into her “automatic thoughts,” one of my clients “noticed” that she kept having negative thoughts about herself and when she did start to feel good, felt undeserving of it and resumed her self-criticism.

Recently the same client told me,”I was my worst critic. Now I know that I’m the only person who can change my life. I’m in charge of what I choose to tell myself and my destiny.” Because our habitual “stories” like my client’s “I’m no good” keep playing in our heads, they often happen outside our awareness. When we choose to “pay attention,” to our automatic thoughts and “stories,” we free ourselves to experience the moment we’re in, rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past.

This week, pay attention to your self-talk and your “stories.” Practice the mindfulness exercise which follows (yes, it’s here this week) to help “Stay in the Moment.” I you are in STL and want to learn more, I will be teaching my “Mindfulness in 5 Simple Steps: How to Stress Less and Live Better” at my practice, Midwest Mind Body Health Center on Saturday August 29 from 10-12:30 am. Click here to “Like” us on Facebook to find out more about this and upcoming events.

Have a good week. Namaste.

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.

 

Simply Self Care

By Diane Sanford, PhD
photo1I 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.

Namaste

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.

“Climb Out of Darkness” to Reduce Stigma of Mental Health

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Last week, I blogged about “Teens Tackle Depression Stigma,” and what two Michigan teens are doing to reduce stigma about what I call “emotional health” conditions (depression, anxiety, addiction, bi-polar, eating disorders, etc). Click here to view the post.

This week I want to mention two events that are occurring in June also aimed at reducing stigma. The first is “Climb Out of Darkness,” sponsored by Postpartum Progress.  This event, started by Katherine Stone, focusses on raising awareness and diminishing the stigma associated with “emotional health” conditions affecting pregnant and postpartum moms.

“Climb Out of the Darkness is the world’s largest event raising awareness of postpartum depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and pregnancy depression. The event was created by and benefits Postpartum Progress Inc., a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization that raises awareness and supports pregnant and new moms with these illnesses.” Click here to learn more about it, find a climb near you, and register.

The other event , “KNOCKOUT STIGMA,” offers St. Louisans a fun, interactive platform to raise awareness about mental illness, one of the most unrelenting human diseases. While raising awareness to combat the negative effect of STIGMA, this event will connect our community to the worthwhile work of Independence Center. Held at The Title Boxing Club in Rock Hill, participants will enjoy a fun one-hour workshop while benefitting a good cause. Click here for more info.

DID YOU KNOW? One in five people worldwide have a “mental” disorder at some point in their lives. Over 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.Treatment works, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a licensed professional. STIGMA, DISCRIMINATION and NEGLECT prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001)

While we’re making progress in reducing stigma, there’s still to do. Please help support these events, and those you know with “emotional health” conditions.

Namaste.