Tag Archives: stress reduction

Slowing Down

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 9.11.17 AM.png

freeimages.com/wutd

Last week while I was organizing our closets in an effort to make a little extra room for baby items, I was struck very suddenly by an overwhelming, full-body exhaustion. I felt that if I didn’t immediately stop what I was doing to take a short nap, I would surely pass out right where I stood and fall into the kind of deep, comatose sleep usually reserved for Disney princesses and fairytale characters. I only needed about 20 minutes of rest to feel like myself again, but the whole experience left me a bit unsettled. The following day, I was out walking the dog when I was hit by a wave of dizziness that nearly knocked me off my feet. Everything around me started to blur and spin, and I had to stop and prop myself against a tree for a few minutes because I was genuinely worried that I was going to faint. Once I was sure I could move safely, we slowly made our way back home and eating a little food helped the feeling pass for the most part, but I felt uncomfortable and off for the rest of the day.

I have been moving at top speed for a couple of months now. I am trying to fit in as many massage appointments as I can physically stand while I can still physically stand. I have doctors appointments and birth classes filling up my otherwise free hours. There’s so much to organize and clean, and prepare for. That nesting instinct that everyone talks about is strong in me, and I feel an insatiable urge to get as much done as quickly as possible, while fully acknowledging that being woefully unprepared for a baby’s arrival is pretty much inevitable. I feel like I am forgetting things, so I’m constantly double checking all of my work, being sure I actually did reply to that email I meant to respond to, or that I went through with ordering a Christmas gift rather than just thinking about ordering it. Add holiday preparations to the top of the pile of all the other stuff I have going on, and well, it starts to make a bit more sense that I suddenly found myself running head-on into a wall of exhaustion.

I need to slow down a bit. Not only for my own health and sanity, but as practice for the months and years to come. In two months, there’s going to be a baby in my house and I know that while my husband and I may struggle to get through those early weeks and months, we’ll also want to savor them, to be more fully present for both each other and the tiny human that will rely on us for its most basic survival.

I am not the only one that needs to pump the brakes this time of year. So many of my clients are coming in complaining of high stress and lack of sleep. Everyone is trying to push through and finish off just a couple more tasks, or a few more assignments before they get a break for the holidays. There are things that need to be wrapped up by the end of the year. There are upcoming cross-country flights that they haven’t packed for yet. There are gifts to be purchased. Appointments to squeeze in. Activities and responsibilities that were designated as specifically 2016 concerns, and only a week left to tackle them. Everyone seems to be telling themselves the same things I keep repeating to myself: just make it through this week and then you can relax. Just finish off these one or two things, plus those two or three over there, and you can start the new year with nothing on your plate and all the free time in the world.

It’s time to take a step back and realize that not everything needs to be accomplished, at least not right at this moment. When you really evaluate your life, you’re likely to find that only a few things have very specific due dates, and that we tend to create a false sense of urgency for everything else. Take a moment to prioritize the items on your to-do list. Pick a few that really must get done by a certain date or time, and put your energy into those. Write the rest down so that you don’t forget about them permanently, and then put the list away and try to release those items from your mind. You’ll get to them in time. If they don’t require immediate action, they don’t need to be draining your mental and emotional energy right now.

Yesterday, I went over to a friend’s house and spent an hour and a half holding her three-week-old baby. As I drove home afterward, I realized that it was the first time in months that I’ve sat down for that length of time and done nothing without my mind churning and worrying about all the things I should have been doing instead. It was so relaxing just to sit there with this tiny bundle of a boy sleeping in my arms and know that the only thing I needed to do in that moment was be still and let that baby sleep.

As the year winds down and we dive deep into the holidays over the next week, give yourself the gift of stillness. Take a little time to pull back from all of your responsibilities and concerns, and just fully relax in a moment of quiet or leisure. It’s time to let this year go, and rest up for the next one.

Managing Holiday Stress & Moodiness

Screen Shot 2016-11-30 at 10.15.49 AM.png

freeimages.com/gustavobuesopadgett

With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the 34th St. holiday lights display up and running just a block down from my studio, it definitely feels like the holiday season is upon us (despite today’s unseasonably warm temperatures).

It’s always the case that my mood plummets a bit right after Thanksgiving. I feel tired and worn down from traveling, and getting back to my regular routine after being off for a while is more of a slog than a welcome return to normality. This year it seems like I am not the only one feeling a little dragged down by the weight of the holidays. Whether it’s the shorter days, the dreary weather that greeted us this week, or just general end-of-year malaise, it seems that everyone I encounter is feeling especially worn out and a bit down in the dumps this week. It’s as if we are all experiencing a little post-holiday letdown before the rest of the season really kicks into high gear.

Every year I am struck by how stressed out everyone feels at a time that is supposed to be all merry and bright. Whether it’s the melancholy and introspection that inevitably accompany the transition to a new year, or simply the weight of expectation that the holiday season brings, it’s a time of mixed emotions, high demands, and all too often is rimmed with a sense of disappointment and sadness.

If  you tend to struggle during the holidays and can’t muster up the appropriate level of good tidings and cheer, first off don’t beat yourself up for that. You’re not alone. The holiday season is rough for a lot of people, and no matter what time of year it is, you’re not required to feel or act any particular way. It’s okay to be a grinch. I think that poor guy was misunderstood and unfairly maligned. You don’t owe anyone joy or cheeriness just because holiday songs and obnoxious commercials tell you it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But you do owe it to yourself to try to make it out of this season without too much damage to your physical, mental and emotional health. Here are a few suggestions for how to reduce your holiday stress and celebrate in a healthy, manageable way.

Avoid holiday overload.

This weekend hosts the lighted boat parade and Fells Point Christmas festival, the Mayor’s Christmas Parade, a bunch of holiday craft markets, and I’m sure a ton of other stuff that doesn’t hit my radar. It’s only the first weekend in December. Between parties, shopping, and festive gatherings of all kinds, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the holiday spirit before the season even has a chance to get cranking. It’s important to remember that with the holidays, as with all things in life, you cannot see and do everything. It’s okay to skip out on some events, or RSVP no to a few party invitations. Pick a couple of key holiday happenings that you’d like to attend, and let the rest fade into the background of tinsel and lights. If you miss something that you really wish you could have gone to, just remember that you’ll have another chance in the years to come. Christmas comes back again each year, no matter how hard Starbucks tries to kill it off with its solid red Satan cups.

Create some solo traditions.

Maybe it’s just me, but one of the hardest things about the holiday season is the forced merriment with large groups of other people. I need my alone time and feel quickly overwhelmed by too much holiday socializing. That doesn’t mean I prefer bah-humbugging it up from my couch and pretending it’s June; I just need some of my holiday happenings to be solo time that let me get into the festive spirit without the necessity of small talk.

I like to make time each week leading up to Christmas Day watching movies that feature, but don’t necessarily focus on, the holiday season. My choices are always movies (or tv episodes) I’ve seen a dozen times, so that I can do other things while watching, like fold laundry, bake, or desperately try to catch up on my end of year filing and finances for my business. It’s a simple nod to the holiday season that allows me to celebrate quietly and peacefully on my own, leaving me recharged and ready for more daunting social celebrations.

Do not listen to Christmas music until at least one week before Christmas.

Why must the radio and every shop you step into have Christmas music blaring away weeks in advance of Christmas? If you find that you are feeling really agitated and ornery, it may be because you’ve just heard Sleigh Ride for the 9 thousandth time. One thing that seems to be sorely missing during the holiday season is blissful silence. Seek out quiet spaces and try to reduce your exposure to the overstimulation of lights and carols, and bells ringing incessantly.

Intentionally do something that has nothing to do with the holidays.

I saw Christmas decorations in stores back in early October. It made me want to scream. The holiday season really does seem to get longer and longer every year. Try setting a specific date for when you wish to acknowledge the holidays and begin celebrating, so that you limit the season to a more manageable, digestible timeline. Or take a break from all the chaos by intentionally ignoring it and focus instead on maintaining activities and routines that you do all year long. Be intentional and mindful in your practice of your regular life to keep the holiday spirit from encroaching upon every part of your daily existence. There’s no rule that says you have to celebrate all month long, or that you have to celebrate at all. Be strong and continually bring your attention back to those activities that help you feel grounded and centered.

Remind yourself that this is only temporary.

The holidays can be really genuinely hard for many people. We are often reminded of people we have lost, find ourselves feeling isolated and lonely, or are forced into difficult family situations that try our patience and zap our emotional energy. Oftentimes, these hardships cannot be ignored and just need to be endured. Give yourself permission to feel sad, frustrated, annoyed. Give yourself permission to experience the season in whatever way is needed for you at this time, and know that you don’t have to make excuses for the benefit of others. “The holidays are hard for me,” is a perfectly valid statement that should require no additional explanation. You don’t have to be cheery for fear of dampening other people’s spirits. Your lack of celebration isn’t keeping anyone else from embracing the season in whatever way works best for them. Remind yourself repeatedly that before long it will be January and the holidays will be behind us. Time actually moves quite quickly, even when we’re feeling trapped and stuck in place. Hang in there, and take care yourself.

Four Little Words That Will Help You Stay Sane

People love to offer their opinions and advice. That’s basically what this entire blog is. My unsolicited opinions offered up as advice that you can take if it suits you. Advice can be good and useful. Other people’s opinions are often helpful, and are generally offered with an intention of kindness and support. That doesn’t keep unsolicited advice from becoming a bit tedious after a while, though. I have found that pregnancy certainly triggers an onslaught of outsider opinions and shared stories, but it’s not the only life change that is met by a wave of sometimes useful, but more often completely worthless, words of wisdom. A  career decision, a big move, college or high school graduation, wedding planning, a home or car purchase, pretty much anything having to do finances in any way: all of these trigger a need in people to share their own experiences and offer some guidance for how you should manage these events. Again, people are ultimately just trying to be helpful, but with so many conflicting opinions, and occasional anxiety-producing horror stories, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the persistent buzz of other people’s helpful chatter.

I have received an awful lot of advice and opinions since becoming pregnant. Things I should do. Things I shouldn’t do. Comments about my appearance. Probing questions about my pregnancy and birth-related decisions. Overly detailed stories about people’s own experiences without any prompting or questioning on my part. It would be very easy to feel frustrated and exhausted by this deluge of information and ideas, but I have discovered a handy little trick for responding to comments and opinions that I not only don’t find helpful, but that are even hurtful at times.

“You may be right.”

These four little words allow you to close the door on conversations that do not serve your needs. It’s a perfectly polite way to acknowledge someone’s opinion (which again, is usually offered with the best intentions), without having to engage with it in a way that would feel harmful or overwhelming to you. Allow me to offer a few examples from my own experience over the past few months.

Someone: Wow, you’re so big already. No way you make it to your due date.

Me: You may be right.

I don’t need to justify or explain my size and appearance to anyone, and I don’t need to entertain notions of early labor and any anxiety that may accompany that kind of thinking. I have acknowledged the comment without having to engage with it any further, allowing the conversation to move on to other topics if I choose to direct it that way.

Someone: I think women who go in expecting an unmedicated birth are just setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Me: You may be right.

People really want to know how you are planning to labor and the motivations behind those choices, and it seems that almost everybody, whether they’ve given birth or not, has very strong opinions on the best way to do it. These opinions are worthless and they should not be offered unless you specifically ask for someone’s advice or birth experience. I find it’s better to just acknowledge other people’s opinions on this topic and to not offer your opinion in return.

“You may be right” has become a bubble that sits between me and everyone else, and allows the advice and comments that I’m not interested in hearing to bounce off and away from me. It’s been remarkably helpful in keeping me centered and emotionally well throughout my pregnancy so far.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re inundated with unsolicited opinions, or contradictory advice, try creating a You May Be Right bubble as a way to cut through the noise and focus only on the comments that help you feel stronger and supported in your own decision making.

 

 

 

Peaceful Places

I like to eat breakfast while sitting at my kitchen island, with one foot propped up on the unused stool beside me. It’s so peaceful in there in the mornings: quiet and warm with soft light coming through the side door. My husband usually leaves for work before I even wake up, so I have my mornings all to myself and I enjoy soaking in the stillness of my surroundings before my day really starts. It is the most still in the kitchen, in the very spot where I sit and quietly eat, or sip a cup of coffee. I don’t think about anything in particular. I don’t check my email, or catch up on the morning news, or scroll through my Instagram feed. I just take in the quiet and slowly ease my way into the day. It’s perfect. It’s my favorite peaceful place.

FullSizeRender (8)

Here are a few other peaceful spots that stand out in my mind, and make me feel calm and content just thinking about them.

My garden, where our flowers are blooming wildly and I can disappear from sight when I sit down in the dirt to pull weeds. I love the sound of big, lazy bumble bees buzzing around me. And I like looking out from between the plants and seeing my dog relaxing happily in the shade of our big pine tree.

IMG_1806

A beach, at sunrise. I am not an early riser by nature, but sometimes the struggle to wake up is worth it to enjoy a view like this. The sand is cool and soft in the early morning, and walking along the beach as the sun creeps into the sky is such a serene and relaxing experience. This photo is from Lanikai Beach in Kailua on Oahu.

12347586_10206962719220269_7382820954575899741_n

A mountain lake. It’s the freshest, most cleansing air I’ve ever breathed. This photo is from Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is high up in the mountains, so the air temperature was cool and pleasant, but the sun was warm and it felt so nice to sit on the heated rocks and watch as the clouds began to drift down over the lake. Again, we had to get up early and set out in the dark in order to be sure we made it back down the mountain before storms rolled in, but it was worth the early start to experience this view.

1240330_10201327972435121_2091196799_n

 

What are your favorite peaceful places?

 

Guided Meditation App

As I’ve mentioned before, prolonged, self-directed meditation is not really my thing. I have tried it in the past and it just doesn’t work for my personality and mindset. But lately I have been getting increasingly into short guided meditations as a way to reduce my stress and bring a bit of energy to my body and spirit on draining (far too hot) summer days. In the past I have used Youtube to find guided meditation videos, but I recently started using the Stop, Breathe & Think App. It’s a quick and easy way to take a step back from the stress and grind of your daily life and make time for quiet moments of reflection and release.

IMG_1773

The app has a good selection of guided meditations that mostly range from 3-10 minutes in length.

IMG_1771

Each meditation lists the length and the general purpose of the meditation, so that you can choose one that best suits your needs in the moment.

IMG_1774

I like that they are short little practices, because I can fit them in between my appointments when I need to settle my mind, or at the start of my day if I need a bridge between waking up and moving into my daily routine. I have not tried the Falling Asleep meditation yet, but I look forward to testing it out the next time I am struggling to quiet my mind at bedtime.

The app is free to download and offers a lot of information on how meditation and mindfulness work, how best to practice, and what benefits you can expect to experience by incorporating meditation into your regular routine.

IMG_1772

The Stop, Breathe & Think app is available for iPhone and Android devices, and can also be used online instead of via smartphone.

 

(This is not a sponsored post. More Well is in no way affiliated with Stop, Breathe & Think.)

 

Declaring Independence From Your Clutter

While my dog spent his holiday weekend cowering in fear at the sound of fireworks popping and cracking throughout the neighborhood, the humans in my household enjoyed a long, lazy weekend of backyard barbeques and television binge watching. In the middle of all that languid relaxation, we did manage to tackle some much overdue spring cleaning.

While we worked our way through episodes of the most recent season of Orange Is The New Black yesterday, I pulled piles and piles of stuff out of our closets and drawers and we slowly went through the mess, throwing out junk and a heaping pile of dried up pens, and organizing what remained into a storage system that would make the things we needed easier to find. We went from feeling like we had absolutely zero closet space available, to having lots of room to spare. It is a great feeling to open my downstairs closet and know exactly where everything is. I feel a sense of relief just thinking about it.

I prefer to clean in overzealous bursts, taking on large scale organization projects all at once and knocking them out over the course of a couple of hours. I go for big change–cleaning that feels cathartic and restorative, and sets up the satisfying visual of going from massive mess to idyllic cleanliness. Not everyone prefers this method, and for some people, physical or mental health limitations might make large scale cleaning impossible.

If you find yourself needing to get your house in order, but need some motivation or a cleaning method that is a little less demanding than my particular all at once style, you should check out UfYH (aka, Unfuck Your Habitat. Be warned it employs regular and repeated use of swearing). There are helpful tips and tricks for a variety of cleaning tasks and situations (laundry tips, cleaning when moving, recommended cleaning products), as well as cleaning challenges and advice on how to use cleaning/break time systems to help you move through your cleaning tasks without burning yourself out, or becoming distracted by other obligations. The UfYH methods can be applied not only to cleaning, but to studying, job searching, and a variety of other often tedious chores that you may need a little extra motivation to push through.

Check it out if you feel the need to clean up your habitat, but you don’t know where or how to get started. There are daily prompts, photos of people’s before and after cleaning success, and lots more tips and answers for how to clean pretty much everything on the UfYH Tumblr page.

Managing Wedding Planning Stress

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 3.46.27 PM.png

Last Wednesday, I celebrated my 8 year wedding anniversary. Since Memorial Day Weekend seems to mark the start of wedding season, I thought I would take the occasion to offer a little advice to newly engaged couples who find themselves in the thick of wedding planning. Now that I’m 8 years removed from the experience of planning a wedding, I can look back on it with some fondness, but boy did it feel stressful at the time. I have both planned a wedding (with some significant budget concerns), been a maid of honor, a bridesmaid, and a guest at many a wedding at this point, so please trust that these insights have been well researched.

1. Try not to get too caught up in details.

Weddings are memorable at the macro level. There’s an overall feeling of love and joy that is captured in a good wedding, and while the little details may help contribute to that feeling, they aren’t as important as they seem when you are in the process of choosing between all the little ways to make your wedding feel extra special. Don’t get too stressed out about choosing your color scheme, or flowers, or having the most delicious cake anyone has ever tasted. I have been to LOTS of weddings, and I promise you that I don’t remember what the flowers were at any of them. Not a single one. I can’t tell you who had large centerpieces and who had small ones. I don’t remember anyone’s bouquet, or if they had flowers decorating the ceremony. I went to two weddings last fall, which is not that long ago, and if you put a gun to my head I still wouldn’t be able to tell you what the flowers were at either of those events. Do you want to know what people will think about your wedding cake? That it tasted like cake. Have I ever eaten a chocolate wedding cake? I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t remember. All cake tastes like cake in a person’s memory. The only wedding cake I remember at all sticks in my mind because it had green frosting. But I still couldn’t tell you what the flavor was. If you need to cut cost, and save yourself some stress, do so by winnowing down these smaller items. If you are trying to choose between two different place settings, go with the cheaper one. Decision made.  No one will know the difference. No one will remember them at all. These little things all mesh together in people’s minds overtime and just become “wedding things” rather than specific elements of any one particular wedding. I have had people compliment me on how delicious the cake was at my wedding. That’s pretty weird, because I didn’t have a cake. Don’t sweat the details, they really don’t matter.

2. Focus on what makes your relationship special.

Your wedding is a celebration of your relationship, your union. Make it about you. By that I do not mean become completely obsessed with yourselves and make outrageous demands on your friends and family, but rather use your wedding as an opportunity for everyone to get to know you better as a couple. There may be a specific formula your ceremony has to follow, especially if you’re going with a more traditional, religious service, but try to find ways to incorporate private stories and little known anecdotes into the official proceedings. When I got married, our rabbi did not know either of us ahead of time. She asked each of us to write her a letter about the other person that she would then use when putting together the ceremony. We both wrote very personal letters that included stories about each other and our relationship that were not really widely public knowledge. She ended up reading each letter in its entirety during the ceremony. At first I was horrified, but I have to admit that it gave our ceremony a wonderfully personal quality, and made our wedding feeling deeply meaningful and poignant. Find small ways to open your relationship up to your guests and give everyone a peek at what you two mean to each other, without any reservations or sense of guarding. Be vulnerable and your wedding will feel more meaningful, and memorable. Those are the details that are worth spending your energy on, and coming up with them together will be a nice reminder of why you decided to get married in the first place.

3. Make time to talk about anything but the wedding.

Wedding planning can be very all consuming. Pick a week each month where you don’t do any planning. Take a break and just enjoy each other’s company as you did before you had to plan a major event with far too many moving parts. It’s important to step back from the wedding part of things and nurture the parts of your relationship that got you to this point. There are two things that are true of every wedding I’ve ever been a part of: no matter how well you plan, you’ll be rushing around to get things done on the weekend of the wedding, and it all will come together in the end. So don’t worry about taking some time away from your planning each month.

4. You can’t please everyone.

Some people are sure to gripe that the date you picked is inconvenient for them. Some people might not like where they are seated at your wedding, or complain that they couldn’t hear the ceremony. Others might be unimpressed by your food choices. Some people will piss and moan that the bartender won’t let them order shots. Some people just love to be sour about everything, and you’re never going to please them no matter how hard you try. Let it go. Most people will have a good time at your wedding because it’s a party and most people enjoy parties. If you have fun and feel happy, most of your guests will join you in that feeling. If you find out either in person or through the grapevine that one of your guests wasn’t especially pleased with the festivities, oh well. Thank them for coming and for the lovely new blender they got you, and then move on with your life.

5. Keep the comparisons to a minimum.

I was the first of my friends to get married, which was sort of a blessing and a curse. I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t have other weddings to look to for guidance, but I also didn’t have a bunch of other weddings to compare my planning to. There will be things you love from other people’s weddings. Incorporate those elements into yours if you want, or if you can, but don’t feel pressured to make your wedding live up to anyone else’s. It’s your event, your budget, your priorities. Do what makes the most sense for you, and remember, in the long run, no one will really remember all of the little differences between your wedding and all of the other ones they’ve been to anyway!