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Hope is a Choice

If you know me you probably know that I believe everything we do, where we find ourselves in life, the people who are in our lives . . . all are the result of choices we made.  It took me a long time to accept this truth (because I’ve made some colossally unhealthy choices in my life) and now I “preach” it often. 

Our choices lead us to people, places and situations in life, and they are almost always choices we have consciously made.  Furthermore, we are responsible for choosing our responses to people, events and circumstances.  Accepting that our choices are ours alone, and taking responsibility for the harmful ones as well as the healthy ones, is vital to our growth.

Recently, I gave a talk to a group of women about choices – taking responsibility for them and making healthy ones.  A couple of days later God used my own words to snap me out of a very dark place I was [choosing to be] stuck in.  I had been going through a major season of struggle and felt like I was losing.  I finally came completely untethered in my prayer time one morning and was railing at God through my tears of hurt and anger, and yelled out to Him that I was tired of hoping and being disappointed, and “why should I bother to keep hoping anyway?!” And you know what He graciously said? 

God’s response: “Hope is a choice.”

That pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. 

I made the healthy choice.  The circumstances haven’t changed.  The answers haven’t come.  The waiting continues.  But choosing hope – sometimes multiple times a day – has made it easier to be where I am, in the uncertainty and the often uneasy stillness.  Choosing hope gives me the courage to dare to look forward to whatever God has in store for me and to rest in the knowledge that it will be good because He is good.

Of course, I can’t post something about choices or about hope without saying that we can also choose whether or not we respond to God’s call on our life, be it to salvation, a career, a geographical location, or whatever.  If you want to talk to me about that choice, and about the ultimate Source of hope, please message me and I’d be honored to talk to you about this.

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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.  😉

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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

 

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Let’s Talk Herb(s)!

Stress Management: Tool #2 – Herbal Aids

Before delving into the discussion and research concerning herbal aids for stress management, it is necessary to issue a word of caution: It is very important for you to check with your doctor and/or pharmacist to ensure there are no interactions between any herbs you are considering taking and any medical conditions you have and/or medications you take.  THIS BLOG POST IS INTENDED TO RELAY RESEARCH RESULTS AND IS NOT AN ATTEMPT TO GIVE MEDICAL ADVICE.

Research has found that herbal aids, when used responsibly, often help people manage stress and the symptoms of stress.  Recently, a study conducted in Europe using self-reported ratings on the PSS-10 scale (Perceived Stress Scale-10) concluded that “the short-term use of herbal remedies seems … effective in reducing perceived stress” (Gasparini, et al., 2016, p. 465).  The study revealed approximately a 50% decrease in perceived stress after consuming certain herbal aids, including hops, valerian and melissa.

Depression.  Studies show a correlation between stress and depression (Clinton and Langberg 2011); therefore, considering herbal aids used to relieve depression may serve to aid in stress reduction.  Depression is often a response to, or effect of, both acute and prolonged stress.  A 2008 Harvard study reported that persons suffering with mild depression found the use of various herbal supplements to be beneficial in helping to relieve their depression (Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Depression, 2008).  The findings of the study include benefit from folic acid, which helps the brain to produce serotonin, which can improve mood, and in many patients, stimulated their response to their prescribed antidepressant medication.  The study reported that similar benefits were produced through supplementation with SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine). As with folic acid, SAMe is reported to help the brain produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, and can bring the brain’s levels of these neurotransmitters to a normal level in patients with a deficiency thereof (Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Depression, 2008).  This report stated that “eight studies compared SAMe to a tricyclic antidepressant; six concluded that SAMe was equivalent to the drug (p. 4).”  Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Depression (2008) reported that St. John’s Wort and Omega-3 fatty acids also have been found beneficial in helping to minimize depression in patients.

Anxiety.  Similarly, Lakhan and Vieria (2010) state that in other research passionflower, kava, St. John’s wort, lysine and magnesium have been effective in the treatment of anxiety.  Clinton, et al. (2005) add that melatonin may be useful in aiding sleep, which may help break the cycle of sleeplessness leading to stress, and stress leading to sleeplessness.

Clearly, many studies have shown that, when used responsibly, herbal aids can often help diminish and control the perception and effects of stress.

Need more information on managing stress?  Contact Angela at AngelaGlickLifeCoach.com for one-on-one and group coaching for stress management.

References

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.

Clinton, T., & Langberg, D. (2011). The quick-reference guide to counseling women: 40 topics, spiritual insights and easy-to-use action steps. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Gasparini, M., Aurilia, C., Lubian, D., & Testa, M. (2016). Herbal remedies and the self-treatment of stress: An Italian survey. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 8(4), 465-470.

Herbal and Dietary Supplements for Depression. (2008). Harvard Mental Health Letter, 25(4), 4-5.

Lakhan, S. E., & Vieira, K. F. (2010). Nutritional and herbal supplements for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders: systematic review. Nutrition Journal, 942-55. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-9-42McNealus, K. (2018, February).  Let’s talk about stress. Exceptional Parent Magazine, 16-19. Retrieved from https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A530360703/HWRC?u=vic_liberty&sid=HWRC&xid=a6bef996

 

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Stress – Cause and Effect

So, this is a bit research-y, but bear with me, because that’s exactly what it is.  The result of some research I recently conducted to give me a feel for the real problem, so I could better guide my research for helping to cope with it.  I promise it’s the most research-y part of the series.  And trust me, it only scratches the surface!  It’s not long, and I do hope you learn something new…please post a comment to tell me if you do, and what it was!

The Problem: Stress

Stress is a pervasive disorder that discriminates against no one, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sex, or age.  What was originally designed for self-preservation and survival has, over time, become an illness of epidemic proportions.  In fact, McNealus (2018) reports that “Over 70% of American adults say that they experience stress or anxiety daily, and that it impacts their life” (p. 16).  Approximately twenty million Americans currently suffer from the physical, emotional and psychological effects of stress (Clinton, Hart and Ohlschlager, 2005).  However, that is not how God intended stress to function, or more specifically, to malfunction.

Stress Was Meant for Good

Stress for Spiritual Growth.  Although stress typically has a negative connotation due to its vast and varied adverse effects (see “EFFECT” below), it has benefits, as well.  Clinton and Langberg (2011) point out that God can use stress to reveal sin in a woman’s life.  Furthermore, Clinton, et al. (2005) teach that “God uses times of difficulty and adversity to stretch us and develop our character. This mechanism also keeps life exciting, enabling us to be creative and productive” (p. 163).  Additionally, Clinton and Hawkins (2009, “Stress”) point out that “stress is a normal part of life and can be positive, alerting us to a problem area needing attention and helping us respond to it” (n.p.).

Stress for Survival.  Clinton and Langberg (2011) write that “stress is the common term for general adaptation syndrome (GAS), or the fight or flight syndrome.  It is the body’s natural response to threatening situations…” (p. 300).[1]  When this fight or flight response is engaged, the body releases stress hormones, specifically adrenaline and cortisol.  According to the Mayo Clinic (2016), adrenaline serves to boost energy levels and cortisol serves to suppress those bodily functions that it deems non-essential to survival, such as digestion and functions of the reproductive system.  These responses are helpful if a person is in jeopardy, such as facing physical attack; after the threat has passed, these hormones return to normal levels and the body resumes normal functionality (Mayo Clinic, 2016).

When Stress Goes Bad

Unfortunately, when a person is under constant stress, the body begins to malfunction.  Chronic stress, or stress that is prolonged, turns into a disease known as “distress” (Clinton, et al., 2005, p. 163).  Some of the causes of distress include poor outlook, job stress, financial strain, juggling too many roles, and chronic illness.  For a more detailed list of causes of and contributors to stress (“stressors”), including those particular to women, see “CAUSE,” below.  Some of the adverse effects of long-term exposure to stress include headache, heart disease, substance abuse, and even diabetes.  For more on these adverse effects, see “EFFECT,” below.

CAUSE

Causes of and Contributors to Stress

A few factors unique to women that contribute to stress include trying to maintain multiple roles, such as managing a career while being a wife and mother (Clinton & Langberg, 2011).  However, some personalities lend themselves to stress more easily than others.  Blom, M., Georgiades, A., Janszky, I., Alinaghizadeh, H., Lindvall, B., & Ahnve, S. (2009) would add that “common stress behaviors include constant perceived time urgency, impatience, or easily aroused irritation, as well as hostility and competitiveness” (p. 227). Those who have extremely driven or perfectionistic personalities, or exhibit the aforementioned behaviors not only experience increased stress, but it is likely that these individuals contribute to increased levels of stress in those around them.

Clinton, et al. (2005) Give a partial summary of causes for stress: “External Stressors include adverse physical conditions such as pain, illness, extreme temperatures, noise, foul air, hurried schedule; or stressful psychological environments such as work demands, abusive or conflictual relationships, the environment and unpredictable events” (p. 163).  Clinton, et al. continue,

Internal stressors can also be physical such as infections, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, poor health habits; or psychological such as intense worry about finances, work, family and relationship problems, worrying about a harmful event that may or may not occur, an emptiness, negative attitude and feelings, personality traits such as perfectionism, trying to do too much, change and loss. (p. 163).

EFFECT

Adverse Effects and Symptoms of Stress

Stress frequently leads to physical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual dysfunction and illness, ranging from seemingly minor effects, such as forgetfulness (Bosse-Smith, 2010) and weight gain (Mayo Clinic, 2016), to life-threatening results.  “Women are more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress [than men]” (Clinton & Langberg, 2011, p. 300).  Some of these physical symptoms include “headaches, an upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and difficulty sleeping.  Stress can also affect a woman’s relationships adversely as well as her body, mind, and spirit” (Clinton & Langberg, 2011, p. 301).  Chronic stress, or distress, can also diminish the body’s natural ability to ward of disease (King, 2013).  King (2013) goes on to note that there is a correlation between chronic stress and diseases such as heart disease and cancer.  In people with pre-existing heart conditions, acute stress can lead to a heart attack or stroke (Aldwin, 2007).  Furthermore, McNealus (2018) cites stress as a possible cause of inflammation, which Aldwin (2007) reports, if left unchecked, can lead to autoimmune disease.

Adverse Effects and Symptoms of Stress During Childhood Development

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study, conducted between 1995 and 1997, uncovered a correlation between toxic stress during childhood and future health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and substance abuse.  ACEs include divorce of parents, domestic violence and parental alcoholism (Gunnar, n.d.).  Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., and Marks, J. S., conclude their results of the ACE study thus: “We found a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults” (p. 245). Further, in response to the ACE study, Edwards, V. J., Holden, G. W., Felitti, V. J., and Anda, R. F. (2013) found that “The interaction of an emotionally abusive family environment with the various maltreatment types had a significant effect on mental health scores” (p. 1453).  In other words, childhood stress has lasting, harmful physical and emotional effects on a woman well into adulthood.

Stress, Childhood Development, and Future Outcomes

Gunnar (n.d.) reports that too much stress, for too long a period of time, can have “devastating consequences for developing brains.”  Gunnar refers to such conditions as “toxic stress,” and teaches that toxic stress is “a severe, prolonged release of stress chemicals . . . often caused when a child lacks supportive and nurturing adults.” This type of toxic stress is capable of causing brain damage, killing and/or prohibiting the development of brain cells.  Adults can often be the source of childhood stress (e.g., physical, emotional, verbal and/or sexual abuse inflicted by adults on children); this means the child actually must approach and even depend on the very person who is causing their severe stress.  Complicating matters is that children have no innate coping skills for handling stress.

Closing Thoughts

Stress can be good, if we listen to our body and spirit.  When we ignore them, we endanger ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.  But there is hope!  Stay tuned for some reasonable, realistic management techniques to keep your unhealthy stress levels down, and to cope with “negative stress” when it inevitably arrives on your doorstep.

Resources

Aldwin, C. M. (2007). Stress, coping, and development: An integrative perspective. New York, NY: Guilford Press. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu

Blom, M., Georgiades, A., Janszky, I., Alinaghizadeh, H., Lindvall, B., & Ahnve, S. (2009). Daily stress and social support among women with CAD: Results from a 1-year randomized controlled stress management intervention study. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 16(3), 227-235. doi: 10.1007/s12529-009-9031-y

Bosse-Smith, L. (2010). I want my life back!: Life management for busy women. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016).  About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study. Violence Prevention.  Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/about.html

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.

Clinton, T. and Hawkins, R. (2009). The quick-reference guide to biblical counseling. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Clinton, T., & Langberg, D. (2011). The quick-reference guide to counseling women: 40 topics, spiritual insights and easy-to-use action steps. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Edwards, V. J., Holden, G. W., Felitti, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (2003, August). Relationship between multiple forms of childhood maltreatment and adult mental health in community respondents: results from the adverse childhood experiences study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(8), 1453-60. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.8.1453

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998).  Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.

Gunnar, M. (n.d.).  Child development core story, part 3: Stress.  Project for Babies.  Retrieved from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/project-for-babies/

King, L.A. (2013). Experience psychology (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

McNealus, K. (2018, February).  Let’s talk about stress. Exceptional Parent Magazine, 16-19. Retrieved from https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A530360703/HWRC?u=vic_liberty&sid=HWRC&xid=a6bef996

Mayo Clinic. (2016). Stress management. Healthy Lifestyle. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[1] The concept of GAS was founded by Hans Selye in 1950.

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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…

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Just Say “No.” Really.

Let’s talk about a short little sentence: “No.”  You really can say it, really can mean it, and really can deny responsibility for how others receive it.  Understand this:  it is absolutely imperative that we learn to say “no” if we want to be emotionally healthy and have healthy relationships.  Let’s take these one at a time…

An Emotionally Healthy You

If I don’t say “no” to something I don’t want to do, someplace I don’t want to go, something I don’t want to eat, etc., I pay the price in regret, bitterness and resentment.  When it comes to doing something, or going somewhere I don’t want to, I also experience S-T-R-E-S-S.  For me it tends to start about two weeks before the Big Event, and it escalates daily until about 3 days beforehand, when it escalates hourly.  Let’s add guilt to the list, because at the end of the day, saying “yes” when I mean to say “no” is dishonest.  And being dishonest is damaging to my peace and happiness, as well as my relationship with God.  Are you beginning to see how important this is?

Having Healthy Relationships

If I say “yes” to someone when they ask me to attend or participate in an event, project, assignment, etc., and it’s something I really want to decline, guess what?  Those same feelings of regret, bitterness, anxiety, resentment and guilt come into play – but now they’re not just in my pretty little head. They build and feed on themselves and by the time the event arrives I’m in a particularly crappy mood, and everyone knows it.  Now I’m dealing with all those same nasty effects as before and, if I haven’t inconvenienced and disappointed everyone by bailing out at the last minute, I’m messing up other people’s good time!  Wow!  And you know what happens then? Later on, they may be reluctant to ask me to do something, and it might be something I really want to do!  More importantly, this scenario all too often taints the relationship for a period of time at best and causes serious damage at worst.

The Price Tag

There is a price to pay for saying “no,” so be prepared.  When you say “no” to people, even spouses and friends, they aren’t always going to like it.  (Do you always like it when someone tells you “no”?)  In fact, sometimes they’ll dislike it a LOT.  But stand your ground and exercise those healthy boundaries.  They’ll get used to it over time (and you will, too), and eventually the ones who really matter will begin to appreciate it when you respectfully decline their requests and invitations.

People Appreciate Being Told “No”

Now, you may be thinking, ‘What?!  They’ll begin to appreciate it when I say ‘no’?! No way!’  Way.  Really.  Here’s why:  they don’t like it when you’re cranky, and they don’t like it when you back out.  And in time, they will begin to appreciate it even more when you say “yes,” because they can depend on you, and they know you’ll bring your best to whatever it is.  They will likely even start to see a pattern for the things you’re likely to invest yourself in versus the things you habitually say “no” to, and tailor their invitations accordingly.

I have learned to respect, value, and even encourage people to say “no” to me.  I would much rather know that they are all in when they say “yes,” that they’ll be happy about their choice, and that they’ll help spread positivity about the idea/event/whatever.  Also, when I give someone space to say “no,” and I receive their “no” with respect, I build trust with that person.

Say “No,” and Say It Fast

When you need to say “no,” say it.  And say it fast.  I have waited and waffled and hedged until I have caused rifts in important relationships because I really cared about the person and didn’t want to say “no.”  I have thought maybe I’d feel more like saying “yes” down the road a bit, and I’ve thought that delaying wasn’t as hurtful as saying “no.”  The fallacies here are many, but here are two: 1) I’m still going to say “no,” but now they’ve hoped I’d say “yes” for too long and thus their disappointment is greater; and 2) I’ve stressed myself out unnecessarily, trying to talk myself into wanting to do “the thing.”  Another serious problem here is that I’m deceiving myself.  If you’re reasonably certain it’s not something you’re interested in, say “no.”  If you think it’s going to stress you out, say “no.”  If you get that sinking feeling in your stomach, say “no” BEFORE you justify it in your head.  You know what I’m talking about: ‘Oh, it’s my best friend and she’s always there for me – I really have to do this.’  No. You don’t.  Or, ‘Wow, he’s so hot!  If I say ‘no,’ he’ll never ask again.’  Good riddance.  Say “no” immediately and resolutely.

Don’t Make Excuses

“No” is a sentence.  (Don’t pick this apart, just roll with it.)  You don’t have to offer an explanation.  But if you do, make sure it’s rock solid and true…lies have a funny way of biting us in the behind!  This is the toughest part for me.  I don’t actually owe anyone an explanation.  I’m Southern and Christian, so I really feel like I must explain myself in the interest of being polite.  That’s a bunch of hooey.  It’s my business, and I have no obligation to soften my “no” by giving the other person a reason that validates my response.  It’s valid all by itself, and I don’t have to have a “good enough” reason for it!  And brace yourself, because the Bible has something to say here: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37, NKJV).

Don’t Be a Jerk

Just don’t.  Be firm and don’t leave room for doubts or to be wheedled into changing your mind.  But say “no” in a way you’d prefer to receive it yourself.

A Caveat

Sometimes – but only rarely – it is a good idea to say “yes” when you don’t want to.  Have I lost my mind, and all the precious time I’ve spent on this blog??  No.  There are rare occasions when we simply must do “the thing.”  A close friend or family member’s milestone celebration.  A retirement, special birthday, speaking engagement of special significance, and even – gasp! – the occasional wedding.  You have to go.  Suck it up, buttercup, and go.  Do some meditation, take your Xanax, whatever.

But I want to reiterate: this only happens rarely, and only on monumental occasions.  Baking 12 dozen chocolate lava cupcakes for the church fundraiser is NOT a monumental occasion.  Someone else would love to show off their mad baking skills, so step back and give them the chance to shine!

Go Forth and Say “No”

Saying “no” is very difficult; I think even more so for women, and for Christian women.  By and large, we want to do for people, and please people, and help people.  All are fine within healthy limits, for the right reasons.

So, go on out there and start practicing your respectfully delivered “no!”  I won’t take “no” for an answer!  😉  (Y’all saw that coming, right?)

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Victory or Regret: You Choose!

I’ve reached (or nearly reached) a few of milestones in my life recently, and it got me thinking about goals.  One of them is about my weight, but my weight is not really the point, so bear with me.

I eat pretty healthy foods, by and large, and I cleanse a couple of times a year.  But even healthy foods add up, and I hadn’t been very careful about how much I was eating.  And 1500 calories is 1500 calories, whether it’s ice cream or nuts.  “Good fat” is better than “bad fat,” but it’s still fat.  I had edged over the line into an “overweight” BMI and I wasn’t satisfied with that, for all the right reasons.  So, I set a goal of getting back into my healthy BMI.  I started counting calories again, said “no” to various treats – healthy and unhealthy, and I’ve reached my goal.

I spent a lot of years lamenting that I had not gotten my college degree.  So, I decided to go back to school, as a considerably older student.  I have struggled, and studied, and said “no” to a lot of activities that I would have really enjoyed participating in.  But I’m there.  In under four weeks, I will have earned my bachelor’s degree, inside of three and a half years.

I was lugging around anger resulting from unforgiveness, and it was causing some spiritual “clogging up” so that I wasn’t connecting with God the way I often do, and that most precious relationship was suffering, along with others.  I didn’t want that anymore.  An opportunity came up to rid myself of that unforgiveness, and I took it.  I had to let go of some beliefs that had become comfortable to me even though they were hurting me.  I had to make myself vulnerable.  I had to admit some hurtful truths.  And I had to forgive.  All of it.  Everyone.  Even myself.  But I did it.  It will be a work that will continue in my life, and I imagine there will be more in the immediate future, as God calls it to mind.  I pray that it becomes a habit to forgive immediately.  For now, I am at peace again, and the spiritual clog has been removed.

Here’s the point:  All of these goals were met only through painful sacrifice.  I had to give something up – food, time, unforgiveness, activities I enjoy, and more in order to reach these goals.  I fear that in our postmodern society many of us (myself included, at times) expect to get something for nothing.  We lament that we don’t have the body we want, the job we want, the freedom we crave, the relationships we desire, the mate we long for, the spiritual life we yearn for, and on and on it goes.  But we are not willing to set the goals, make the sacrifices and do the hard, hard work it takes to reach them.

I have suffered from this very poison myself.  The poison of lethargy.  The poison of entitlement.  Poison I mixed up and ingested all on my own, with no one else to blame.  And then I stopped.  I did a life detox.  I started hanging around motivated, strong women who inspire, encourage and support me.  I wanted “the thing” and so I did “the stuff.”

So can you.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s work.  Yes, it requires sacrifice.  But sister (or brother), let me tell you, it is absolutely, undoubtedly, unquestionably worth it!

Give that regret you’re holding onto a name.  Find out what it takes to get rid of it.  Set a goal.  Get your mind right, get a healthy support system, and get rid of people who would rather keep you down so they feel better or so they have company in their own pool of regret.  And then do “the stuff.”

You’ll thank yourself when you get to the other side of that goal, and then you get to celebrate your victory and help encourage someone else to cross their finish line!

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Accept Your Perfectly Messy Self

Welcome to the well!

If you don’t know me, I’m a non-traditional (forty-something) full-time college student.  I’m also a wife, an entrepreneur, a ministry leader, chronic pain survivor, self-care advocate, and recovering perfectionist.

So, I want to talk about self-acceptance for a minute.  Can we do that?

See, I haven’t done this college thing perfectly.  I mean, it started the way every new challenge does –  with enthusiasm, determination, energy and a freshness of mind that had me feeling invincible and unstoppable.

I’m neither, as it turns out.

Along the way I’ve been short with people I love, canceled plans I intended to keep, vented to my husband using language that would make a sailor blush, and otherwise stumbled and fumbled.  I have at times forgotten to take care of my mind (it needs rest, too), my body (I spent precious little time on my yoga mat for far too long), and my spirit (realizing it had been far too since my last full day of prayer and meditation, a practice I treasure).  I’ve whined and complained.

But I’ve also been mindful to celebrate when I get a good grade or make the dean’s list, to mark the end of a term with a special day in the Finger Lakes with my hubby, and to take breaks when my body/mind/spirit start to nudge me – or scream at me – for not paying attention to them.  I’ve worked hard.  Really. Really. Hard.

I tell myself that I haven’t done it perfectly.  And then I graciously remind myself that no one does anything perfectly all the time.

And then I tell myself with great love and insight that there is no “perfect” way to do anything.

And then the truth settles on me:  I have done this perfectly.  I have been perfectly me.  Perfectly broken, perfectly messy, perfectly joyful/scared/frustrated, perfectly tired, perfectly playful, perfectly intentional.

And I embrace myself perfectly right where I am.  Nearing the end of my bachelor’s program, which I will have completed in three and a half years.  Tired.  In need of a vacation (which my husband and I plan to take).  Surrounded by people who love me and accept me, support me and love me every step of the way, no matter where the journey leads.

I hope and pray that those of you who occasionally get stuck in a rut of unmet self-expectation can read these words and embrace where you are today.  Life is messy.  Have some fun with it and stop being so hard on yourself.

You can’t do everything, all the time, for everyone, and do it with a smile on your face 24/7.  So how about we stop imposing that kind of thinking on ourselves?

Have a good cry if you need it.  Create something with your hands (even if it’s just a paper airplane).  Sit on the porch and do nothing for five minutes.  Breathe.  Accept yourself today.  Your perfectly imperfect self.

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