How To Revolutionize Your Self Care...just in time for 2019!

It is that time of year again…..Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now 2019 is staring at us!  So much hustle and bustle and stress.  We are all bombarded by pressures to cook large meals, bake cookies, attend all the parties and holiday activities, decorate our homes, and purchase and give the perfect gift for everyone including donations to charities. Of course, we also are expected to maintain daily functioning of our lives such as working, caring for family, and the all too familiar paying the mounting bills.  If this all seems overwhelming, well, it is!  Our lives are busy during “normal” times of the year let alone a time of the year that has so many celebrated holidays in a 2-month time period. Please don’t get me wrong- I love all the festivities and excitement of this time of the year, but failure to set boundaries and limitations will lead to burnout and wishing the holidays would just be over instead of celebrating the joys of the season with our friends and loved ones.  

We cannot forget that this time of the year is also very hard and challenging for those who are not feeling the excitement of the season whether it is due to struggling with addiction, mental health symptoms, incarceration, financial strains, or grief and loss.  It is hard to be cheery when such sadness and stress is affecting us so deeply.  Often people will say “this is a wonderful time of the year, you should be happy”. True, it is a wonderful time of the year, but it also brings out much sadness and anxiety.  For those of us who are facing our first or umpteenth holiday without our loved ones for whatever reason, we are faced with the question, “how do I get through the holidays?”  Sadly, there is not an answer to that question.  Many people offer platitudes such as “your loved one would want you happy” or “they are in a better place”.  Be that as it may, it doesn’t change the fact of the sadness and loss facing us.  I have learned through the years that we honor those we’ve lost by continuing some traditions and creating new ones.  We still grieve and miss our loved ones, but we can also again enjoy the holidays. The holidays will never be the same, but we will learn to “survive” the holidays.

There is one major way to get through the holidays and every other day of our lives-good self-care!  Sounds simple, right?  If it was only as simple as it sounds, then we would all be “experts” at good self-care. What is good self-care?  That is the million dollar question.  I am sure many of us have some ideas about what good self-care is such as eating healthy and balanced meals and getting enough sleep. That certainly is a part of good self-care.  However, self-care encompasses several aspects of our lives including spiritual, physical, and emotional health.  Now this adds some depth to what good self-care is.  I know, I am repeating “good self-care” but perhaps if it is said enough, all of us, including myself, will pay more attention to it and focus on it more. We must have good self-care to live fulfilling lives and to be able to care for others. We must gain a better understanding of how to take care of ourselves.  Some suggestions include the following:

1.      Just say no: Yes, it sounds like the anti-drug commercials in the 1980’s ,but it is true.  It is ok to say no, and we should do so more often.  For example, it is Saturday evening and a friend calls and asks you to help them move on Sunday, I am sure many of us would want to help despite being tired or having other plans.  If we say yes, we face resentments and frustrations of having to change our plans at last minute.  To say no often leads to feelings of guilt.  Why do we feel guilty for saying no?  Good question and the answer is, there is no reason to feel guilty for saying no when that is what we want to say!  In case you forgot, we also wrote about saying no in this blog post.

2.      Stop comparing yourself to others:  Again, easier said than done!  We all have compared ourselves to others and have been groomed to do so in all areas of our lives….salary, education, relationship status, etc.  So instead of comparing ourselves with others, focus instead on our growth and positive changes that we have made within ourselves.

3.     Make good self-care activities a priority daily:  Practicing good self-care is not something you do once a week or once a month as a reward for hard work. Rather, it is a must to do daily. Some examples include taking a lunch break away from work, eat ing balanced meals, and getting enough fulfilling sleep each day.

I am challenging each and everyone of us to 14 days of self-care activities and I encourage you to continue to do them well past 14 days!  Some suggestions include:

Day 1:  Look in the mirror and say 10 things you like about yourself.  This may be challenging at first but keep practicing and it will become easier to do.

Day 2:  Go to the zoo.   Enjoy nature and seeing the awe of children.

Day 3:  Read a book or at least a chapter of a book.  Chicken Soup for the SoulBooks are great for those who do not like to read long books but prefer stories and as a bonus, they are very warming and motivating.

Day 4:  Stay off all social media…yes you can do it and I am sure you will enjoy it more than you realize.

Day 5:  Make a snow angel and if there isn’t snow, find a puddle and jump in it.  Let your inner child out.  

Day 6:  Call a friend that you haven’t talked to in a long time and I mean call, not text or email.  We have gotten too far away from direct contact.

Day 7:  Listen to soothing music. I love to listen to Orla Fallon or Chicago, but you will find what you like best.

Day 8:  Find and do a new hobby. Perhaps arranging flowers is something you will enjoy or maybe a game of flag football is more your style but the point is, just do it!

Day 9:  Sit still, even for 15 minutes and focus on nothing but breathing in and out. 

Day 10:  Laugh!  Whatever you need to do to get a good laugh, do it. Laughter is so very therapeutic!

Day 11:  Cuddle with your pet. Ok, some of us do this daily which is great, so for those of us who do this routinely, add an additional 30 minutes of doing so.  Nothing quite as calming as that of a purr of a cat, at least to me that is.

Day 12:  Do some volunteer work. Helping others in need and seeing their joy is one of the most rewarding things in life.

Day 13:  Dress up to just dress up and to feel good.  

Day 14:  Take time for a long soothing shower or bath.  It alleviates aches and is quiet time.  Sing in the shower if you choose, but just do it!

What are some of your self-care activities?  We would love to hear your ideas and experiences.

An Easy Way To Practice Gratitude Daily

In honor of Thanksgiving later this week, I’d like to address the topic of gratitude by reminding you of a previous blog post. This blog post from earlier this year addresses the idea of keeping a daily gratitude journal as a way to help you stay focused on what is going well in your life. This is a technique I often mention to my clients, because it can help shift your thinking. It’s just so easy and powerful, it’s worth revisiting, especially since it’s Thanksgiving time. If you’ve been keeping a gratitude journal since I first mentioned it, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you. If you have never heard of this idea before and want to learn more, read on!

Click here to read the blog.

And, to put this into practice……please comment to share with us one thing you grateful for this Thanksgiving.

4 Tips To Be A More Assertive Communicator

Do you feel like you overcommit to doing things?  Do you feel like you are always giving to others but are worn out by it?  Do you feel like others take advantage of you and your kindness? 

If you said yes to any of these questions, you might struggle with assertive communication. Oftentimes, we think we should help out anyone who asks, and say “yes” to doing anything asked of us.  We might feel guilty if we don’t help out. But, if we don’t have good self care and balance, though, this overcommitting can wear us down. 

Being assertive means standing up for yourself, your needs and your wants.  It means possibly setting limits with others-outlining for them how they can (and can’t) treat you or what they can (and can’t) expect of you.   

Even if you aren’t naturally assertive, you can learn some skills! Here are some 4 suggestions of things to think about and try to be a more assertive communicator: 

  1. How do you feel? : Paying attention to how you feel is the first step of all of these suggestions.  Do you feel stressed?  Overwhelmed?  Do you feel others really care for you and show you concern?  Journaling is a great tool to help you to recognize your feelings, and patterns with how you feel in certain situations or with certain people.  

  2. Communicate : After you know how you feel, you can express those feelings to others.  Clearly state how you feel, and/or what you need from the other person, especially when you are feeling upset.  Saying “I feel you aren’t listening to me” is a better option than walking away, feeling as if what you say doesn’t matter to your partner or friend.  Repressing your feelings is the tendency to not share your feelings, and this can harm you in the long run.  Saying something is usually better than holding those feelings inside. 

  3. Say “no” : Practice saying no, starting in situations where you don’t feel obligated to help.  Things like your child’s preschool asking for a volunteer on a day where you already have a doctor’s appointment, or participating in the neighborhood yard sale might be situations where it may be easier to say “no”.  Notice how you feel after you say “no”.  There might be feelings of guilt or disappointment, but there also might be feelings of relief and pride.  After you have had practice saying “no” in a variety of situations, then challenge yourself to say “no” to things you don’t REALLY want to do.  Remind yourself it is not your responsibility to help out everyone all the time, even if they try to make you feel like it is. 

  4. Ask for help : Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance yourself.  Let those in your life know if you need help getting both kids to their sports practices at the same time on the same night, or if you are working late, ask your partner to start dinner.  Being able to admit that you could use some help to lighten your load is a key in being an assertive communicator. 

Hopefully these tips can get you started in thinking through the things you commit to doing, and why, and will help you to be more assertive in the long run.  If you’ve tried these suggestions, let us know how it is going for you! 

How Physical Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health

Are you experiencing…

-Headaches?

-Tense muscles?

- Depression?

- Weight gain and decreased metabolism?

- Blood pressure problems?

- Hair loss?

-Being sick a lot?

-Stomach aches?

-Trouble sleeping?

-Lowered sex drive?

-Jaw pain?

Stress is a part of everyday life. There are many ways to cope with stress, but exercise is an important part of coping. Besides improving your overall health, exercise helps us have more energy, improve alertness and the ability to concentrate, and increase our thought processing. These things can be very helpful when stress has made it difficult to concentrate, or zapped your energy. It has been found that regular exercise will decrease levels of stress, help to increase mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.

Exercise produces hormones called endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, and also help with sleep, which can in turn, reduce stress. Exercise also decreases stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.

We often suggest meditation as a way to cope with anxiety and depression. Meditation is the practice of focusing on one thought or movement and clearing your mind to an emotional state of calmness. This allows you to free your mind of all negative thoughts and stressors in the past and future, and only focus on the present thought or movement. Exercise acts as meditation in movement, as you focus on your body movements. When you exercise, you focus on your movements, your breath, and how your body feels. Your attention is taken away from the stressful events of the day, and focused on the present moment. You are able to detach from the negative thoughts or events of that day. Learning how to focus on a single task, added to the energy that exercise gives you, may help you remain calm in everything that you do. Even 5 minutes can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. You don’t have to be an athlete or in top shape, to add a little bit of exercise to your daily routine.

Along with an improved self-image and self-esteem, exercise will improve your physical health. All of these things will improve your overall mental health and happiness. 

There are many excuses one can make to not start an exercise program. When I had my son, I knew I wanted to get back into exercise as soon as I could, but it was hard to find the time and energy. I felt like I did not have enough time to take care of myself, because I had a newborn to take care of that took up all my time and energy. Once I was able to commit to exercise when he was napping, or after he went to bed at night, or while a family member watched him, I was able to care for him better because I was not as stressed and my mood was elevated. 

5 Tips On Beginning An Exercise Program:

1. Decide to make an important change in your life. Don’t be afraid!

2. Consult with your doctor, if there are any health concerns or if it has been a long time since you have been physical

3. Walk before you run- start your program slowly if you are new to it, to prevent yourself from injury

4. Do what you love-it is important to find an activity that you enjoy. Some examples are running, walking, swimming, playing a sport, yoga, weightlifting, boxing. Try new things!

5. Set achievable goals and put it in your calendar- set measurable goals that you can achieve, and pencil it in your calendar so you make sure you have time to fit it in that week. Even if you have to break up 30 minutes of walking into 3 10-minute walks, still do it! Find a friend or a trainer if this helps you to stay motivated and accountable.

Anybody have experience with exercise benefiting their mental health and overall happiness? Anyone have struggles that they overcame to stick with an exercise program? Please share your stories! 

 

Guest Blog Post by:

Stacy Martinez, LCSW

Certified Personal Trainer

Certified Health coach

Field Hockey coach

 

Sources:

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469

https://blog.spire.io/2018/03/19/how-does-exercise-reduce-stress/

https://www.activebeat.com/your-health/10-ways-stress-can-affect-physical-health/10/

How to Deal with Difficult Family Members

It's time for a quick pep talk! 

You are in charge of who you let into your life.  Just because someone is a blood relative does not give them the right to be in your life.  They must EARN the right to be in your life, to have access to you.  Do they inspire, support, encourage, and uplift you?  Or, do they just make you feel badly about yourself, physically hurt you, put you down, or yell at you often?  Are they harsh, judgmental, and critical? 

Evaluating if someone is an asset to your life, or a detriment, is hard to do.  There are specific behaviors that are easier to identify as toxic, such as physical or verbal abuse.  Insidious behaviors like always trying to one-up you, put you down, or calling you names can be just as harmful if you hear these messages long enough.  I encourage you to ask yourself if you feel better or worse after spending time with someone.  If you find you feel worse on a consistent basis, I would suggest setting limits with those difficult family members.  Limit your time with them or limit their access to you as a way to begin to stand up for yourself.  Limits could be anything from:  

-not talking on the phone for more than 10 minutes at a time, or only in person with a trusted friend present 

-designating certain topics (such as your partner, education, or job) as off limits for discussions 

-only seeing them in public.   

Let your family member know that these are your limits and if they don't respect them, that you will not continue to have contact with them.  For example, if you've decided your job is an off-limits topic for your aunt to talk to you about, then when she begins to lecture you about it, perhaps you get up and leave the room.  WARNING: Setting limits with anyone will take consistent effort to enforce.  Those close to you who are used to saying whatever hurtful or harmful thing they want will be confused by your new limits.  They will think you are joking or won't really follow through.  They will test you to see if you are serious.  So, just setting limits is not the solution.  You MUST FOLLOW THROUGH WITH WHATEVER YOU DECIDE!  Make sure you can follow through and do what you say if you are going to set limits.  Perhaps start small, with things you know you can be successful. 

It is your responsibility to look out for and advocate for yourself, because, as an adult, no one else will do that for you. Ask yourself: “Has this person earned the right to be in my life?" 

The positive side of this is that you can create a "family" of loving people surrounding you, regardless of if they are biologically related to you or not.  Surround yourself with those who you trust, who care for you, and who want the best for you.  Having cheerleaders around you can be inspiring and encouraging, especially when setting and enforcing limits with difficult people.  

If you feel comfortable sharing, I'd love to hear if you have successfully set boundaries with difficult family members.