Thanks for checking in.
Our world is changing every day. There is a ton of uncertainty and we have no information about when it's going to end. Stating the obvious, but as a result, many people are experiencing anxiety. Due to the uncertainty, there are likely days when that stress hormone cortisol is high all day long, with muscles feeling rigid and tense, causing exhaustion. Even though that exhausted feeling hasn't left all day, your head hits the pillow and you cannot sleep...sound familiar?
Take a few minutes here - and just pause - and I completely realize how challenging that is right now; but just take a few breaths and just be aware of any body sensations. Tightness in your shoulders or neck, headache, uneasy feeling in your belly, maybe it's even hard to take a deep breath because your muscles are so tight. Just be aware of that. Maybe you can feel a temperature change in your face or hands; maybe your jaw is clenched, or your hands are tight when anxiety is present. But just because we accept it, doesn't mean the anxiety takes over, on the contrary, awareness and acceptance means we are in a better position to decide how we are going to respond, instead of reacting to anxiety.
When anxiety ramps us up, we get these physical sensations going and we may even experience an anxiety attack. Being aware and accepting that this is anxiety allows us the opportunity to breathe and interrupt this cycle. Try to find something that calms you - maybe it's a photo, or having your cat or dog with you, maybe it's being in your room, or listening to a certain song. When you feel these physical body sensations coming, find your calm and really focus and maybe give yourself an encouraging message too, and breathe slow, deep breaths while closing your eyes to help you focus. When we can respond differently to anxiety once, we gain a feeling of control. This also means we don't have to go through the long recovery afterwards that takes so much of our energy. When we can stay calmer that means our brain doesn't go into fight - flight - freeze mode constantly as well.
With acceptance and acknowledgement, we can start thinking about responding to anxiety; not reacting and being aware of those body sensations means we can start to relax our bodies and breathe. This may be new for many of you - and it's likely going to feel strange not giving in to allow anxiety to take you down that exhausting path. Be willing to try, you may not get it perfect but it will come with practice. Don't give up.
I was doing yoga with my daughter and the online instructor was continuing to talk about the importance of the breath and that we need to relax because, "we can't be on fire all the time". So true, and right now, I think many of us feel like we are on fire, our bodies and our brains are in overdrive. We don't know what tomorrow will hold, but giving your body and your brain a break from the stress is essential. Breathe and be well.
Here is a link to Yoga for Bedtime with Adriene
“Peace - It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” (unknown)
This time of year brings with it extra social gatherings and situations where we will see family and friends. Your job may require additional hours, or overtime, as quarter-end and year-end reports are due. Emotions can get ramped up at this time of year as well. Anxiety, and what I like to call our “inner critic”, can often feed us negative messages; especially around the holidays. The “inner critic” will see that something we are doing should have been done better…and these negative messages we tell ourselves can feel like they spring from a bottomless well.
When we think of peace and calmness we think of our best calm space, wherever that may be. It is often away from daily routines and responsibilities, but in reality, the solution is finding peace as we move through our regular days; which means slowing ourselves down a little. That may seem counterproductive when we have extra tasks to get through and we are feeling stressed, but hitting the pause button is a good thing. In the end, we are going to feel less frayed and frazzled, and will authentically feel peaceful, instead of feeling like a volcano about to erupt.
What does slowing-down look like? Well, instead of making a quick decision, remember that it’s okay to pause even for 30 seconds. Often pausing also gives us the opportunity to recognize our feelings and the ability to reframe something so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. The other great thing about pausing is that we have a chance to breathe too. This helps us stay present and it’s like a little mini recharge so we can keep going and feel like we are in control and not like we are just checking things off our list on autopilot.
This holiday season, I encourage you to set the list aside from time to time to connect with yourself and others, and find some calmness within, and in between daily activities. I enjoyed decorating cookies with my daughter last weekend and I am not a great decorator. We laughed until we literally cried at some of our creations. This calming diversion reminded me of what’s important during the holidays and left me recharged.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. In this Thanksgiving post, I would like to encourage and explore how we can be thankful and grateful for ourselves with two Brené Brown quotes.
“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love” (Brené Brown). When we are alone with our thoughts, we could tell ourselves how we nailed that presentation or how awesome it was trying something new. Instead, we often focus on negative thoughts that whatever we were doing wasn’t perfect, so there is not even a shred of it that matters. We worry about how others will judge us and then we also judge ourselves. The spiral pulls us into the swirling vortex of criticizing which is exhausting.
Sometimes we need to be our own best friend and use the comforting tone and encouragement we would so generously give to a friend. This can be difficult because we may not feel deserving of a friend. Somewhere during the years of growing into adults we learned that being hard on ourselves is going to help push us to do better next time. In fact, being so hard on ourselves can erode self-confidence. Having self compassion allows a softer view that we are not perfect and we are going to make mistakes – part of this wonderful human journey called life.
The other day at dance class I was lost with the relatively simple combination we were doing – oops, time for improv! But I was so thankful for my feet – yeah, I know, sounds weird, but they are flexible and strong. I am certainly not the best dancer in my class, but I am glad I can dance, it brings me so much joy. And that’s the other piece of this, “There is no joy without gratitude” (Brené Brown). When we get pulled into the negative judging frame of mind, we miss opportunities to feel that joy. If we are afraid of trying because it’s not going to be perfect, we can miss out on an experience that could be amazing.
Be grateful for all your imperfections, embrace them and celebrate them, when we can be grateful, we may find joy that we didn’t even know was there.
Hello and thank you for joining us for the final post on this topic of carving out time for yourself, setting boundaries and reducing the guilt. For this final post, I want to dig into busy schedules and how that can keep us feeling stuck and spinning, and also how staying present with a bit of mindfulness can help us maintain healthy coping.
For anyone who has another schedule to consider besides their own, life is busy; sometimes much busier than we would prefer. In my prior post I talked about taking inventory of your schedule and making a solid, thoughtful decision about whether you can commit to adding something additional to your schedule. This process works well when you are fully aware of all obligations...but sometimes children can surprise you with things like tomorrow is a bake sale, or Monday is bring your parent to school day. We have all been there, scrambling and sometimes wondering how we are going to squeeze another unexpected activity into the day on short notice.
Breathe. Release the anxiety, frustration and any judgement you are anticipating. I know it's hard sometimes to say "no", as outlined in my prior post; we can all get caught up in that. However, when we talk about being busy, sometimes I have found myself pulled into the swirling vortex of chatter with other parents about how busy we all are, and it is true. My challenge here is figuring out how we can still maintain busy schedules, but not feel like we are just being pushed all the way and don't have a choice or chance to breathe. Sound crazy? Yep. However, let's give it a try.
We all have a need for some sense of control, and when our lives get so busy that we feel that we are no longer in control, that is when anxiety and feeling stressed can feel overwhelming. My routine in the morning is to do my workout first thing - this not only checks exercise off my list, but there are also a multitude of benefits that cascade through my day; endorphins afterwards which can help my mood, decrease stress, and aid sleep. Finally, a few minutes of mindfulness can also help us focus on the present. Sounds silly, but when things get really hectic, and we practice mindfulness, we don't leap into hyperspace and we can look at what is ahead and calmly make decisions. Mindfulness doesn't mean meditating for hours at a time, even starting with 3-5 minutes per day can have a huge impact.
Prioritize instead of procrastinate. Sometimes we create the stress ourselves by leaving something until the 11th hour....sound familiar?; we have all done it. There is often something more fun or interesting for us to spend our time doing. Prioritize your day or your week so this doesn't happen to you. Easier said than done; well, something I often look at is what is the cost of me leaving something for later compared to the benefit of doing it now. Doing a Cost-Benefit Analysis can be great, but you also need to be honest with yourself about what is a priority. With this process comes the ability to be mindful of the choices you are making and then being present and focused instead of feeling pushed or rushed.
What does it feel like for you to think about being more in control of your day? Still busy, but feeling like you made choices on how to spend your time? I know sometimes things spin out of control and we need to just hang on for the ride; those days happen, but when they happen every day, it’s really stressful and hard to manage. If you are finding that happening frequently, stop and take a look at what is a priority and what could shift so you and everyone else can feel a deeper sense of calm.
Sometimes we have become so accustomed to that pace that we just continue to do it to ourselves, it's not a right of passage to be stressed all the time; but would it feel strange to admit that to other people - that you are not stressed? Conquering your schedule and feeling like you can be present with whatever you are doing may seem like a distant goal, but with just a few steps you can get there and feel so much more control. And as always, I am going to point out that when your kids see you feeling in control they will also feel more in control.
One of my favourite mindfulness books is Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel; it is a book for children, but many of the exercises are great for adults too. Remember to breathe, and remember everything doesn't have to be perfect. The other morning during one of my workouts the trainer said focus on progress and not perfection, and that is exactly what we need to do with our lives. Be kind to yourself, have compassion for your busy life and celebrate all that you have accomplished.
Thanks everyone - stay tuned for a new topic coming soon!
Hello, and thank you for joining us for the third post in this series on taking time for yourself, planning to making it happen, and today’s topic is all about boundaries and clearing away the guilt.
The first part of being able to do something for ourselves without the cloud of guilt hanging over us is the need to feel deserving of that time, that it is ours to spend. It’s hard to maintain healthy boundaries when we are not feeling deserving or entitled to have some “me” time. Many of us have a hard time setting boundaries and more importantly, saying “no”. Have you ever said “yes” to something, but inside you were thinking and feeling like saying “no”? As I mentioned in last week’s post, we often find ourselves in the predicament where we have volunteered for the school craft sale for example, but are really wishing to be at the lecture with the author we find so inspiring. As a result, we can find that we are not present and fully participating and enjoying what we are doing; instead we are resentful or distracted.
The other layer to this is that we then may even beat ourselves up, wishing we could have spoke up and said “no” instead of always agreeing. Take it easy on yourself, we have all been in that situation before. Ask yourself what prevented you from saying “no”. Did you feel you needed to make up a big excuse, or that other parents would expect that you would volunteer – because you always do? It is okay to say “no”, and you don’t have to make excuses - period. Being aware of why you find it challenging to maintain that boundary is helpful. Give it a try sometime. Take a pause, or better yet when you are asked to take on something additional that you feel you just cannot do, tell the person you will think about it and get back to them. Don’t feel pressured if you are caught off guard at 5:29 doing the last-minute daycare pickup before running to soccer practice. Boundaries: they are essential. When you can take time to think about it, you can be realistic and recognize how easy or difficult it will be to fit in the request of your time, and what it will mean to your schedule. When you make a decision, it is solid, and not rushed or feeling pressured.
Once you have set the boundary – enjoy yourself! Really dig in and absorb your activity; whether it’s coffee with your friend from high school or just being able to watch your child’s hockey game without interruptions from your phone. Be there. Breathe. It’s okay not to be multi-tasking. Guilt sets in when we feel we should be doing something else, and sometimes it’s attached to productivity. When we feel we said “no” to one request, it seems to ramp up our need to shift gears regardless of whatever we were intending to do, and be extra productive. Quiet time is important too, instead of just going on that hamster wheel all day long. Remind yourself you are deserving, and it is critical that we take time for ourselves to re-charge. As I mentioned last week, remember your children are watching you and learning the behaviour you are modelling. Teaching your kids that it’s okay to say “no” is a vital skill, as well as taking a break for yourself, which is something you want them to see you doing so they can feel deserving of it when they get older.
Thanks for joining us again. For me, I have learned that being on the hamster wheel all the time is no fun and I take time to consider what it will really mean if I say “yes”.
Join us next week as we continue this series and look at the proud badge of being busy and how some mindfulness can help slow us down.
Welcome and thanks for joining us as we continue this series.
Part of the process of flushing out the guilt is knowing yourself and setting yourself up for success.
Step 1 – Review your schedule. Take a look at your schedule and be realistic. When could you potentially do your meditation, yoga workout, or a walk to get coffee with the dog? There is a theme here about personal time connected to exercise, because it’s often something that quickly falls off the radar when we get busy. Be realistic though, can you really squeeze in a trip to the gym and groceries in 1 ½ hours.
Step 2 – Communicate and Plan. As I mentioned in my post last week, communication is vital with your partner; you need to let them know, because if they are going out of town it might mean you are running on the spot in the family room with the kids hanging off you instead of heading to the gym. When you talk with your partner, express your desire and be curious; maybe they have something they want to do as well, and maybe you can inspire each other! Really feel deserving of this time to yourself.
Step 3 – Set some Boundaries. Here is where it can be a little challenging with guilt. For instance, you have decided that you are going to make it to the hot yoga class for 4:30 straight from work, you need to be home by 6:00 to eat and get the kids organized for swimming. But at 3:00 you see the potential to push through a project you have been procrastinating on instead of heading to yoga. Remember not to disappoint yourself if you find yourself in this scenario – you deserve time away from work. I always wonder why it’s so easy for us to say no to ourselves. When you make a plan, stick to it.
Step 4 – Don’t sabotage. Once you have reviewed and planned and set some boundaries, follow though. Many of us who balance kids and activities along with some form of work often find it easier not to spend time on ourselves. For example, we stay up late and then sleep through the 6:00 am alarm and then beat ourselves up all day for not sticking to the plan. Set a bedtime routine and follow it.
Step 5 – Stay Focused. When I go to my dance class, it’s 75 minutes of focus and not thinking about anything else. Sometimes when guilt creeps up on us, we feel like we should have been doing something else, instead of what we are presently doing. And as a result, we are not focused or present. And in the end, we cannot really enjoy what we are doing, because we are not really there. Sometimes that means releasing the worry that you won’t be tucking the kids in, or see them straight after school. Take a breath, it’s okay to let your partner or a grandparent or neighbour take over and know they will be just fine without you.
Being the best version of you is important. When you have time to focus on doing something for yourself, you will be in a better space to nurture everyone around you. If you have children, you are modelling this behaviour for them. You may not think they are paying attention, but they are and for them to see you take time for yourself is fantastic.
Thanks for reading our blog. For me personally, I like to get things off my list first thing in the morning.
Is the guilt still lingering? – Join us next week for more tips on setting boundaries and saying no.