Image

Give Yourself a Break!

After just finishing up a challenging semester in grad school (and aren’t they all challenging, really?), I’m giving myself this week off!  I worked really hard to make time for some much-needed rest and relaxation, and this time I’m really, really going to do it.  Stop laughing, I’m serious!

See, usually, I *say* I’m going to take the week off and then I book every single day with as much as I can fit in.  I call it the “funnel effect,” and I’m betting you’re familiar with it.  It happens when I have so many things on my “to do” list that I can’t possibly get them done in a day, so they accumulate until I can’t get them done in a week, and on it goes (until I “declutter” my “to do” list, but I’ve already blogged about that).

So when I stop to take a break from school, all the miscellaneous stuff that hasn’t gotten done over the semester funnels right into the space I’ve created in my schedule, until I’m completely overwhelmed again!  So, maybe it’s household stuff, and sure, that needs to get done.  Maybe it’s time with friends, and absolutely, I love spending time with my friends!  Maybe it’s working on my blog, which I enjoy, or tending to some marketing matters for my small business(es) I’d like to grow, and that’s legitimate and helpful to our household.  I’m betting you can relate to the funnel effect, am I right?

But wait . . .

If all that stuff has waited for the last sixteen or seventeen weeks, I’m left wondering . . . why do I try to squeeze it all into the time off that I’ve worked so hard to carve out?!  Maybe it’s important, but it’s obviously not urgent or it would probably not still be on my “to do” list, right?  Some things have been put off during the school term BECAUSE THEY CAN BE PUT OFF.  So that means they don’t all have to get done on my break, either.

I’ve capped off the funnel this time!  I set a small amount of time aside to visit with a couple of friends, I have a work-related project I really do want to accomplish this week, and I’m going to dust our apartment and clean one particular window that’s driving me nuts.  Otherwise, I have a novel I’ve been trying to read for over a year (did I mention that I’m in grad school?) and I *will* finish it on my break, on our balcony, with a cup of tea, possibly in my bathrobe.

I will spend precious time in my studio making beautiful things – some for sale, but much will be for our home and for gifting – because that makes my heart happy, and because engaging the creative part of my brain is an excellent way to de-stress (studies prove it!).  I’ll practice yoga, spend some extra time in prayer and meditation, and do whatever else rejuvenates me, but I’m *not* adding anything new to my calendar or my “to do” list.  In fact, I intentionally scheduled one day with absolutely NOTHING on the calendar or the to-do list, and I may turn it into a prayer and meditation day (super rejuvenating!)

I’m determined to feel like I took a break.  I can do it.  But since I already know this, the reason I’m posting it publicly is to remind you that you can, too!  Someone recently mentioned that every weekend leaves her feeling like she needs another weekend to recover from it.  We’ve all said that, probably.

Busyness is largely a choice, and often is a symptom of weak boundaries.  I know, I know, that sounds harsh.  And it hurts when I have to say it to myself, too.  But it’s the raw truth.  So, go ahead and give yourself a break – all the cool kids are doing it!

So to that end, my faithful followers, I am wrapping up this post and I’m going to head to the studio!  Shalom!

If you need help with life strategies such as stress management, spiritual development, and women’s concerns including painting a victorious new future after overcoming emotional, sexual and physical abuse, please contact me!  We can set something up for next week.  😉

Image

Stress Management Tool #3 – Meditation

Stop rolling your eyes!  Any healthy conversation about holistic stress management has to turn to meditation sooner or later – and you can do it!  Come on, then, and let’s talk a little about meditation, and hopefully demystify it and make it more accessible…

What Exactly is Meditation?  Chrisman and Blackwell (2018) define meditation as “a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth” (p. 2256).  The recommended focus varies among cultures and religions; however, Clinton, et al. (2005) teach that Christian meditation includes meditating on God’s Word and on Christ.

Benefits of Meditation.  The National Institutes of Health (2016) reports a finding that scientific evidence supports that meditation reduces the symptoms of stress, to include depression and anxiety.  In fact, one study found that meditation is among the top-recommended methods of coping with a wide range of stress-related maladies, both physical and emotional (Chrisman & Blackwell, 2018).  Bergland (2013) writes that “any type of meditation will reduce anxiety” and lower the levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone; Bergland goes on to recommend taking several deep, slow breaths at the first signs of stress.

Methods of Meditation.  Meditation can seem a bit “mystical” and “mysterious” to those who have not practiced it, but it is a valid stress intervention that is readily available to everyone, and it’s more down-to-earth than you may think (i.e., it doesn’t have to be all “woo-woo” – a technical term).  In fact, Christians may be surprised to learn that meditation is a practice supported by Scripture (see Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 104:34).

Bergland (2013) offers this encouragement:

“You can meditate anytime and any place. There don’t have to be strict boundaries to when and how you do it. Mindfulness and meditation is a powerful de-stressor and cortisol reducer that is always in your toolbox and at your fingertips. You can squeeze in a few minutes of meditation on the subway, in a waiting room, on a coffee break . . .”

Bergland goes on to write that setting aside as little as ten minutes for meditation can calm the mind and body.

So now that you know what meditation is and how beneficial it can be, you may be wondering how to do it yourself.  Need specific tips to start your own meditation practice to help relieve stress in your life?  Contact me and I’ll be delighted to help you develop your own meditation practice!

 References

Bergland, C. (2013). Cortisol: Why the “stress hormone” is public enemy no. 1: 5 simple ways to lower your cortisol levels without drugs. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

Chrisman, L., & Blackwell, A. H. (2018). Meditation. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health (4th ed., Vol. 4, pp. 2256-2260). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. Retrieved from https://link-galegroup-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/apps/doc/CX3662600722/HWRC?u=vic_liberty&sid=HWRC&xid=23ec990f

Clinton, T., Hart, A. and Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring for people God’s way: Personal and emotional issues, addictions, grief and trauma.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

National Institutes of Health. (2016, January). Mind and body approaches for stress: What the science says. NCCIH Clinical Digest for health professionals. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/mind-body-stress-science

 

Image

Fear demands courage. Courage requires fear.

Fear demands courage.  Courage requires fear.

They can’t live without each other.  If you’ve ever been afraid and you’re still here, it’s because of courage.  Courage to pray. Courage to put one foot in front of the other. Courage to stand strong, courage to get back on your feet when you fall.

And we wouldn’t need courage if there was no fear. 

Fear is a training ground for courage.  How would we know how strong we truly are, or understand our potential, or begin to grasp God’s greatness if we never experienced fear?

I don’t think it’s fair to tell a person not to be afraid.  Yes, the Bible instructs us not to fear, and purportedly it does so 365 times.  I’ve heard it, and I believe it.  But I don’t think it means to deny our fear.  Denial of our emotions is the beginning of disaster. Denial of our emotions can, and almost certainly will, over time, cause or contribute to potentially severe health issues (high blood pressure, heart attacks, severe and ongoing headaches, diabetes, autoimmune issues and so much more).  Denial of our emotions can, and often does, take a severe and sometimes irreversible toll on our mental health (nervous breakdowns, depression, anxiety, and even suicide).  And then there’s our spiritual life.  Denying our emotions can dramatically strain our relationship with God, our sense of purpose, and the wellness in our soul that comes from being able to live in a place of hope.  Finally, our relational life takes a beating when we deny our emotions (divorce, infidelity, alienation of family and friends and on and on).

Some folks label emotions as “good” and “bad.”  I’ve done it myself, in the interest of brevity and simplicity.  But I think it’s tricky and dangerous to call fear a “bad” emotion.  It’s perfectly valid.  It must be, because it is God-given.  It serves a healthy purpose, to warn us off from taking harmful actions or engaging in detrimental behaviors.  What I think the Scriptures are saying is not to never experience fear, but rather not to unpack and camp out in a place of fear; not to let it take over our emotional, physical, spiritual and relational wellbeing; not to let it drive or control our hearts, minds or actions.

Feel the fear.  Confess the fear.  Pray about the fear.  Find a trusted confidant and talk about/cry about/rail against/scream about the fear.  But let it be like an afternoon thundershower.  When it’s over, see the light of hope.  Feel the freshness of grace on your skin.  Sense the renewal on the horizon.  And then look closer.  Look inside.  Look for him.  Can you see him?  There he is, reaching out to you.  Take his hand.  Let Jesus help you up, and even lean on him.  It’s one of the reasons he’s here.  Allow him to introduce you to the Victor in you (1 Cor. 6:19).  Allow the fear, accept the help, and dig deep for the courage that is in you.  Lift your chin a little higher and march on, wiser and stronger for your inevitable encounter with fear.

Image

Dealing with Insecurities

Let’s face it. We all struggle with insecurity. I mean, I don’t think I know a single person  who doesn’t struggle with insecurity in some form at some time.

There is a public figure who’s circle I am peripherally a part of, and frankly I don’t give her much thought other than respecting who she is and the accomplishments that she has achieved. And I have never once had the thought in my head, ‘Wow! I really wish Suzie Q would send me a card’ … until I found out that I didn’t make the cut, but a number of other people received handwritten cards from her.  After that, I found little tiny whispers of thoughts creeping into my head: what do I have to do to make the grade next time? What do I have to do to be in this person‘s inner circle? When I realized what was happening, I was, of course, apalled.

At Christmas time, I put a note out in the public space of the apartment building where my husband and I live. It was a very kind note thanking my neighbors for being people I can trust, for being pleasant, for being the kinds of neighbors to help each other out, etc. I almost didn’t hang it. I mean, what if they thought it was a dork, or a jerk, or some kind of loser?

We all struggle with insecurity from time to time, and that’s alright. The important thing is to learn to recognize it for what it is.  It’s a lie. Don’t beat yourself up for having insecurities, but do try to learn to recognize when they are rearing their ugly heads. When they do, look them in the eye, and remind them that you were created to be perfectly you, and that’s exactly what you are.  Perfectly you. God made only one of you, and He made you exactly the way He wanted you. There is only one of you, and you are a blessing to this world.

Then straighten your crown and march on. 🙂

Image

Finding Majesty Amid the Chaos

If you know me at all, you probably know that I’m not a snow person.  I grew up in North Florida and lived in the South for more than half my life.  I’ve lived in the Midwest and the North and I’ve never developed an affection for the stuff.  The only kind of white Christmas I’ve ever found appealing was one near white sandy beaches.

But today I was driving in the countryside in Upstate New York after an early morning snowfall, on my way to an appointment.  I rounded a corner and honest to Pete, what I saw had tears rolling down my cheeks in seconds.  I crossed over a creek and it was one of the most perfect scenes I’ve ever witnessed.  All the trees had a coat of light, fluffy snow on them.  The rocks in the creek had a coat of snow on them, and the shoreline and the ground in the woods were covered in that same fluffy white snow.  The contrast of the nearly black creek made it all the more stunning.

I was overwhelmed.  I mean, truly humbled, awed and overcome by the beauty of that scene.  Only God can create such splendor.  And that’s what had me crying.  God’s majesty, God’s power, God’s glory, God’s complete rule and love are all around us, every minute of every day.  And He created something for everyone, didn’t He?  Some of us love summer, some of us dream of fall foliage, some love rain, some love snow, some are mountain people, some prefer flat desert lands, some thrive in tropical climes…  and isn’t it just like our great God to gift us with all of it?

I don’t love snow.  I’m a tropics-loving Southern gal.  But there is no denying that I had a momentary love for snow this morning.  I couldn’t safely stop for a photo, but I will try to hold onto that scene in my memory for a long time to come.  I’m glad I was paying attention, that I allowed myself to break out of my thoughts and my planning to really absorb what was before me.

It’s a busy time of year, when it’s easy to become overwhelmed with “to do” lists and stressed out over our schedules, finances, relationships, and all the “shoulds” in our heads.  But I urge you to take a moment and notice the beauty all around you.  Soak it in.  It may help you to remember that you are small, your problems are small, today is short (as is your life here on Earth).  Savor the scenes in the snow as you drive, the atmosphere of Christmas while you shop – the hustle and bustle, the music, the whole scene – and remember the reason for it all.  Jesus.

Now for a cup of hot chocolate…

Image

It’s a Wonderful Life

I am so very grateful for my little life right now. I know it is going to change – Andrew and I both feel it in the air, in our prayers, in our growing spiritual passions. And I look forward to that part of our journey, as well.
 
But for now, it is perfect just the way it is.
 
Today I enjoyed a nice hot shower after I walked downstairs on capable legs to go out and brush off my nice car that runs well, so that someone could plow the lot so I don’t have to shovel. I spent a long time in prayer, Scripture reading, and other stuff without being rushed. I have our Christmas lights on in our warm apartment in the middle of the day, which I rarely do (you’re welcome, National Grid). I have a cozy, purring, loving kitty draped over my shoulder. I have a full belly and I’m sipping hot cocoa. I have a husband and friends who love me and a chosen family I’m honored to be a part of. I have hope for the dreams God is giving me, and hope and peace through the assurance of His presence with me in this life and the next.
 
So, rather than complaining about this stupid snow (oops) or that this is our most frugal Christmas yet (I am NOT trying to garner sympathy – we knowingly chose vacation over December’s Christmas/anniversary/birthday treats and continue to affirm what a perfect choice it was!!), I am genuinely overjoyed and my heart is so full of love that it seems to want to keep leaking out of my eyes. Of the people on this planet, I am among the richest … in every way imaginable, and I just wanted to share that with you today.
Image

Monday Moment: How to Stop Obsessing!

Have you ever obsessed over an unpleasant situation in your life until it just about drove you insane?  Tell the truth!  Well, when we zoom in on our problems and continuously revisit them, we keep our focus on the problem, not allowing room for a solution to pop into our heads.  And it’s like picking at a sore.  It never heals, and it gets inflamed.

I’m a work in progress, but below are a few things I do to get my head out of that cycle of replaying painful conversations, or carrying on internal dialogue, or over-analyzing an unpleasant issue I must deal with.

Zooming Out

This is excellent for perspective and objectivity.  Here’s how it works for me:

I picture myself doing whatever I’m doing (sitting at the table typing on my laptop, for example) as though I were a different person standing in the room watching me.  And then I zoom out.  Maybe I picture myself as though I were standing on the roof of our home looking down into the room I’m sitting in.  Then I maybe picture my neighborhood in my head like I was looking at Google Earth.  Then perhaps I zoom out so it’s the whole city I see, and so on.  Eventually, if I haven’t gained perspective about my situation, or achieved some emotional distance from it, I can zoom all the way out so that I’m picturing the whole universe and I, and my problems, are so completely lost from view that I can really feel how small they are in the bigger picture.

This isn’t a transcendental out-of-body experience, and I don’t open my mind up to just whatever is out there.  It’s a focused and intentional visualization.  And I can often effectively remind myself through this exercise just how finite my problems are and gain perspective and objectivity, so that I can approach the issue later, less emotionally and more realistically.

Healthy, Happy Hobby-ing

Another thing I do is craft.  I make and sell greeting cards, and sometimes when I find myself obsessing over a problem I will hole up in my studio with some jazz and a candle burning, or essential oils in the diffuser, and design and create pretty things that require me to engage a different part of my brain and focus on the current project.  It’s best to go for a hobby that requires your full attention and being artistic or creative really does wonders for balance in the old noggin’.  I do not recommend reading unless it’s an intensely engaging book; it’s too easy to zone out and let the mind wander right back to the situation you’re trying to leave behind for a while.

I specify “healthy, happy hobby” because throwing darts at the picture of the person who is at the center of a conflict you’re obsessing over isn’t healthy and isn’t happy (though it may be gratifying); also, baking 4 pans of brownies may not be a great plan in case you are inclined to sit in the floor and eat them all in a fit of emotional bingeing!

Exercise

Yep.  I went there.  Though it’s not my favorite option, because it’s easy to zone out and get back on the crazy train heading right back to the den of turmoil you’re trying to vacate for a while (especially jogging, walking, riding the stationary bike, etc.).  That said, certain physical exercises, such as yoga, require concentration. When I’m on my yoga mat in a tricky posture, if I let my mind wander I’m likely to hurt myself, possibly seriously.  It’s the same with lifting weights.  I imagine martial arts and tai chi are similar, though I don’t practice them and can’t say for sure.

Volunteering

Serving others takes my mind off my problems, and afterward I invariably see my problems – even the really big ones – in their proper perspective.  Look for organizations that can help you find a place to serve in the community, or go directly to a soup kitchen, or something similar.  You may well fall for this this labor of love, and if you serve regularly, you’re less likely to lose perspective in your own life.

Do Not, Under Any Circumstances…

Lose yourself in television, binge eat, turn to alcohol, or indulge in any of your addictive behaviors.  Afterward you won’t have better perspective, and you’ll have to dig out from under guilt and self-loathing and start over in an even worse frame of mind.  Also, don’t run around and retell the story to everyone with a pulse.  Talking it over with multiple people is even more harmful than internal dialogue, because now you’re involving other people in your business, and probably someone else’s.  A counselor or a trusted friend or two – who will give you honest feedback or be a confidential sounding board – should be plenty.

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering why I’m not recommending prayer and meditation.  That’s because, depending on your level of discipline on a given day, that may well end in frustration as you spiral right back to the obsessive thinking.

The point is to create distance from the issue and break the obsessive thinking, not to run from problems or pretend they aren’t there and don’t need addressing.  This gives us the ability to rest our minds and approach the situation/person from a calmer, more balanced place.

Hope this helps!