Healthy Habit: Spit it out!

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“Cervical cancer. You’ll need chemotherapy and radiation.”

This was the way my dear friend was told she was sick.  No emotion at all in the delivery, flung from across the room.  Like a clean, crisp swipe of a sword through the wisp of hope reaching for a false alarm.

“Do you have any questions?”  So many.  But even I, sitting as support, and rarely at a loss for words, had a difficult time imagining which to ask first.  So, we said no.  And the doctor left the room.  So much for my role.

I was dumbfounded.  How could an oncologist share that diagnosis in such a cold way? I imagined him breaking the worst news to people day after day, and I wondered how he dealt with such a difficult task. Maybe he had to numb himself just to cope. Regardless of his reasons, I wanted him to acknowledge my friend’s feelings, to sit next to her while he shared the news, and exhibit some sense of empathy.

Instead, it felt like there was no room or time for emotion. There were labs to be drawn, paperwork to sign.  My friend never shed a tear until she was alone at home. What happens to our bodies when we don’t feel safe expressing emotions? I know from personal experience that what goes on in the privacy of our minds directly influences the way our bodies function.

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During my pregnancy with my second child, I had silently stressed about my very sensitive boy having some sort of toddler breakdown when a newborn stole the show. I did realize that first kids survive the arrival of a sibling all the time, so I chalked it up to pregnancy hormone-induced anxiety and kept my craziness to myself.

Once I went into labor, my body decided not to cooperate. Despite laboring actively for more time than it would have taken me to walk a marathon, really slowly, I was stuck. Not even halfway there. As the hospital staff readied an operating room for my cesarian section, my brilliant doula quietly asked me if there wasn’t anything I was worried about. That I should verbalize any concern I might have.  I let the cat out of the bag and told her I worried that my son might never forgive me for producing a sibling.

Well, guess what?  Instantaneously, I became violently ill; one of the delightful signs that birth is imminent.  Well, imminent, as in after an hour of pushing.  My doctor was floored.  Note to self: do NOT stuff feelings.  Ever.

So what does that mean for my friend, for health care professionals that deal with sad situations every day, for worried parents or children, or anyone who happens to feel feelings? According to social psychologist James W. Pennebaker, talking or writing about problems or worries helps improve health. In his book, “Opening Up,” Pennebaker reveals that individuals who experience the death of a loved one frequently develop health problems the year following the death if they choose not to talk about it.  Those who are able to express their emotions end up developing significantly fewer health problems during that time period than their silent counterparts.

Actually talking about how we feel also helps us process and resolve fears.  One UCLA study took a group of spider-phobes and exposed each to a spider. Out of four groups, only the one in which subjects expressed their feelings about the spider (“I’m terrified!”) were able to move closer to it at the end of the experiment. Even using language to disempower the spider (“that spider can’t hurt me”) had no effect on the subjects’ fear.

So? Feelings should be aired out. Talk about them. Maybe not with the  person standing next to you in line at the post office; choose someone you can trust, and who won’t judge, correct or fix you.  It doesn’t mean the situation that created those feelings will be resolved, of course, but it may prevent any further harm that harbored fear, sadness, or worry can cause.

Depressed girl gets counseling and comfort from a caring therapist.

If you’re not one to talk about your personal business, or your trusted, non-judgmental ear is unavailable at that moment, write about it instead.  You don’t need to show anyone else your writing, so if you’re not into sharing, this is the method for you. Take the time to put pen to paper when you are going through a tough time.  Write about the incident that upset you, or whatever you may be feeling, and don’t hold back.  Let those ugly, crazy, perhaps embarrassing, emotions spill out on paper, and if you want, destroy your writing when you finish.

It is so easy to shelve our feelings as we move through our days. For many, keeping busy creates a safe distance from those feelings, but the price of avoidance may be high.  For your own wellbeing, steel yourself and address even the hardest emotions at some point.  Sit with them, feel them, and express.  Moving them along and bringing light to them will make you happier and healthier.

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What if I have to eat lunch alone?

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Day two.  The calm, quiet of a mostly empty (my teen son won’t get out of bed for a while still) house soothes my tired mama soul.  Two kids back, one to go. The week leading up to the new school year worked me over a bit.  I’m restoring energy to prepare for the next first day.

Why is it that no one tells you that once you’re a parent, your children’s anxieties flutter even more frantically in your own gut, even as you comfort and feign confidence that all will be well? What if I can’t make any friends?  What if I’m not smart enough for third grade math?  Will my teacher be nice?  What if I’m the slowest running the mile in my P.E. class?  What should I do if my old friends no longer speak to me?  What if I say something stupid in class?  And for the grand finale of worries from out of the blue, Mom, what if you die before I learn how to drive?

It will all work out.  You will have friends.  You might be the slowest, but that would be okay.  You jam on the guitar. Remember?  If your old friends vanish, new ones will fill their places.  You are strong, and always becoming stronger.  You are smart.  You are beautiful, inside and out.  You will succeed. You are loved and supported.  I will eat my greens and exercise regularly.  And, I will drive carefully.

We shape teen brows.  We buy fun shoes.  We draw, we walk and talk, and we make up outrageous responses to hypothetical jerky remarks and questions. We cry. We sing silly songs, and blurt out private part names while in the car. Hilarity ensues. We hope and we worry.  We talk about practicing yoga together and meditating.

And I haven’t even started with my rising high school junior, switching schools for the first time since kindergarten.

How I wish I could install like software the wisdom I have gathered after surviving the downfall of friendships, falling down a flight of stairs as the cool kids sat on the sides laughing, the heartbreaks, being shoved into the lily pond, the mistakes.  It all passes.  It hurts for a bit, and fades away, leaving us more resilient, better able to discern who and what to make important in our lives.  To focus on each beautiful moment and let the ugly ones teach us and then, wash away.

We parents must be warriors of love.  Ready to face the ugliest, scariest, saddest scenes, and administer warm, soft, gushy love that will fill in the cracks left by worry, fear, and hurt.  We must remember to refill our own supply by loving ourselves just as ferociously.  Making space for quiet connection, dancing away the anxieties, running off the frustration, walking in nature, and dosing ourselves with whatever it is that provides the most joy.

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Perhaps, watching us plug into our own ever-flowing source of wellness will inspire our littles to do the same.  Eating lunch alone is actually not so bad.

Hey! Let’s go Jolly Catching! 7 Ways to Boost Your Mood.

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Am I wrong in thinking this is what we most need right now?  Really, there’s been a lot to digest over the past week or so.  I’m not going to rehash it all, because we have continuous news stations that will provide examples at any given moment.  What I could use, and I’m guessing, you too, is a big old dose of the JOLLIES!

Guffawing, warmth, peace, hugs, ooey-gooey love, all up and over our everything.  I found myself happily mesmerized by a video of a cat in a shark suit riding a vacuum cleaner this morning.  And, truly, I am a committed dog person.  This signaled to me the need for a spirit cleanse.  STAT.

So, here are the best places I can think of to go on a Sunshine-for-the-Soul Safari.  I have no doubt that you have many other ideas, and I would LOVE to hear them.  Really, there will never be too many sources of jolly for this world.

1.  Your Friends.

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Let me qualify this suggestion, because not all people we consider friends will work here.  I’m talking about the friends who are your true-blues.  The ones who leave you feeling like you’re smart, gorgeous, kind, and loved.  There may be one or two of these precious people in your life.  If you have more, you should be buying lottery tickets regularly.  It may also be that this friend happens to be a dog, a cat, or a bird.  Frenemies, drama-seekers, and energy vacuums need not apply to the Soul-Sunshine Safari.

Once you identify and contact a friend of this rare and precious nature, combine with one of the following options, or just hang out for a talk.  Better yet, have a talk while feeding your body some sort of delicious and healthy food.  A double dose of yummy is always helpful.

2.  Mother.  Mother Nature, that is.

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Get outside and breathe some fresh air.  Contemplate clouds.  Listen to water running.  Look at a body of water, the bigger the better.  Climb a hill.  Sit under a big tree.  Watch grass blow in the breeze.  Let raindrops serenade you.  Dive into the ocean.  Let the sun caress your skin.  Pick ripe fruit and take a big old bite.  Harvest vegetables from a garden and  eat them with a meal.  Lie on the grass.  Walk on the grass barefoot.  Nature is a reliable source of peace and comfort.  I’m not saying you’ll be giggling wildly as you sit in a forest.  I’m pretty sure you’ll feel comforted, though.  You are an important and lovely part of a very big picture.

3.  Work it Out

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The power of exercise to lift a mood is well established.  That doesn’t mean you should go out for a long run if running isn’t your thing.  Or take a Pilates class if it makes you feel uncoordinated and you watch the clock the whole time.  Move joyfully.  What feels like play to you? Do that!  Even better, combine your happy workout of choice with one of the preceding suggestions and your results will be even better.

A good dance class taken with friends works wonders for me, and is my fallback.  I once practiced yoga in the middle of a majestic redwood forest, chanting and all, and felt completely renewed.  I might mention that this was with a group, all clothed, and in Mendocino County, where such an activity is totally acceptable and expected.

If an all-out sprint down the beach or around a track is cathartic to you, do that!  If you need some cheer, get up off the couch and move around.

4.  Laugh!  A Lot!

Hang out with those people who inspire laughter.  With whom you can let go and see the humor in everyday situations.  My favorite is to hang out with friends and start laughing so hard, our laughter becomes a  silent clucking, tears sliding down our cheeks, stomach muscles in a bind.  That kind of laughter must be like medicine for our souls.  Watch funny movies over dramas.  Go out and sing karaoke with your people.  Play Cards Against Humanity.  But, only with people who already love you no matter what comes out of your mouth, please.  This is a game that will get you rolling.

Alone and in need of a chuckle?  Turn on your computer and search the word “funny”.  Look through Netflix and Hulu for movies that make you laugh, or TV shows to make you smile.  My kids and I keep a good supply of Ellen Degeneres on DVR for light comic relief.  Whatever it is that takes you away from your worries for a bit should be kept at your fingertips for easy access.  Important stuff.

5.  Be Positive about Yourself

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You are amazing!  Own it!  Live it!  Self-depracation can be too much, really.  I’m not saying you should go out and have a parade in honor of yourself, but make an effort to gracefully accept compliments and appreciation.  When someone tells you how good you look in a certain color, or that your efforts have really paid off, say, “thank you.”  Let it sink in and swish around until you are a little bit taller with a little more color in your cheeks.  Save a little in your pocket for use at some later date.  If no one is around to notice the excellent action you’ve taken, don’t be afraid to give yourself a little “nicely done!” and a smile.

Also, when you look in the mirror in the morning and your eyes immediately zero in on a percolating pimple, take your focus to your shiny teeth, to the definition in your shoulder, or to your sparkling eyes.  See the good.  There’s so much there.

Are the voices of doom chanting at you as you head off to give a talk or interview for a new job?  Thank them for their concern, but remind them that you are a capable individual ready to succeed, but able to survive a fail.  No need to scare yourself out of reaching farther or trying new things.  Each day is an opportunity to step out a little farther from our limiting comfort zones.

6.  Be Positive about Others Too

Gossip is another joy-kill.  Eliminate any put-downs or criticism for a week and see how it affects you!  I bet you’ll feel better about life.  Remember that none of us are perfect, and we all do the best we are capable of doing at any given time.  Appreciate that you may be having an easier day or life than that person who gunned it to beat you to a coveted parking space.  It can’t be easy going around all day worried that there’s not enough.  Wish that individual happiness and abundance.  Lift others up whenever possible.  Make karma your bestie and not that other “b” word.

7.  Sleep

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I don’t know about you, but when I get less than my 7 hours of sleep, every issue of potential concern becomes a hairy monster breathing down my neck.  I also tend to find everything exceedingly irritating.  My behavior, I’m sure, is charming at these moments (ha!).

Sometimes, sleep is elusive when the world feels hostile or unsafe.  In times like this, I love going to a guided meditation recording (thank you, Deepak and Oprah), or just listening to soothing music.  Don’t forget to practice your slow, deep breaths.  Read a happy book.  Take a few minutes to rest with your legs up the wall before going to bed.   End your screen time an hour before going to sleep.  Make your room dark, and try to keep it cool.

Getting adequate sleep will make the previously discussed Soul Safari steps more accessible for you, and will lighten your load.  What do you do to make your days happier?

 

 

 

 

Pushing my Buttons

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If you asked my friends about me, they’d tell you I was a smart ass.  A dancer.  Sassy-silly.  A little hippy-dippy. Loyal.  Reliable.  And positive.  I really try to look for the good in all situations.  For instance, a year ago, I was in a head-on collision on a highway when an elderly driver suffered a heart attack (which he fortunately survived) and careened across the median strip into my lane.  I was shocked, shaky, and delighted to walk away from an accident that left the front end of my tank of a car crumpled like paper.  I took that incident as a sign that I absolutely had to redirect my life.  Go for the career that secretly intrigued me, as frilly as it might be, spend the savings on a summer trip to Paris, and make time to nurture myself and be excited about life.  Really.

I am a happier person today after deciding not to waste time hanging out with people who don’t appreciate me or make me smile.  It’s not that I shun anyone else; I just choose to learn from them, and go back to my homies.  This is huge.  I grew up hiding my opinions for fear they would be silly, and regularly verged on practicing doormatism.  Learning how to assert my own needs without anger or aggression has been amazing.

Well, this new system was working beautifully for me until two weeks ago.  Guess what?!  A new opportunity for growth emerged!  Hallelujah!(?)  I was paired on a project with someone who triggers me like no one I’ve ever met.  I’ll just say we operate with opposite styles. This person takes control and anxiety to what I consider an art form, and needs to plan each detail of the project meticulously, finding my “go with the flow” attitude distressing and risky instead of charming and amusing.  (I am Hawaii born and raised, after all).  I know that I get my stuff done, and have always prided myself on remaining calm and measured, even in literally life-or-death situations.  Now my “lax” affect clearly signaled incompetence to my partner.

When I say this person pushed my buttons, I mean I was really, really bugged by her mistrust of me.  When daydreams of publicly shaming my partner danced through my mind, I knew urgent action was required.  (Did I mention that I’m a positive person?) I tried to step away from the situation to look at it more clearly.  I took slow, deep breaths.  I went to yoga.  I discussed my feelings with a dear friend who conveniently just happens to be a therapist.  And then, I let go of trying to control the situation.  I didn’t need to fix anyone’s anxiety or conform my methods to match someone else’s.  I excused my bruised ego from taking the wheel, and let compassion take over.  Who knows what this person has experienced in the past?  Not me. Her story might be much more difficult that I could imagine.  I allowed myself to release my defensive response and focus on doing my best work. So. Damn. Freeing.

My lesson?  I have no control over, or business worrying about another person’s opinions about me.  I know in my soul who I am and what I am about, and my best tactic is to remain anchored by that knowledge.  It’s so much easier to do when I care for myself, body and spirit.  It makes me believe that people would be so much happier and more at peace with each other if they felt a strong sense of self and remembered that each of us is on our own journey.  You know deep down what you are about, regardless of anyone else’s beliefs.  So, go do your thing the best way you know how.  When someone pushes your buttons, do what feeds your soul, reconnect with who you know yourself to be, and return to sharing your gifts with the world.