Better Solutions Through Awareness

How does your stress manifest? Maybe it’s not so much “stress” as it is mental or emotional clutter that elicits a physical response from you. How do you work through that? Do you even realize that you are responding to what’s happening internally? In other words, are you aware?

Here’s an example. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful new opportunities and possibilities this month…to the point that I was starting to feel overwhelmed. So many thoughts swirling around in my head and the realization that some things are out of my control for now. My internal clutter manifested in the need to clean. For almost 7 hours on Saturday, I wiped down cabinets, washed light fixtures, and scrubbed floors. I was very aware that my physical response matched my mental need…the need to organize my (head) space. Who knew vacuuming could be therapeutic?!

At the end of the day, I was tired, but having my outside space clean and organized left me free to organize my inside space. And somewhere between swishing toilets and washing rugs, my thoughts pulled together and I realized I do have a strategy for how to proceed and that I’m not overwhelmed. Now this is a long story to say, had I chosen to just say “I’m stressed out” and have a couple of drinks, it is highly unlikely that I would have dealt with my mental clutter. Instead, I was aware that my physical act of cleaning was making room for my mental cleaning as well.

Now I’m not going to tell you how you “should” respond, but I think awareness is such an interesting topic and one that could improve your life. I know, that seems like a big statement, but here’s another example. Do you know someone (or maybe it’s you) who’s an emotional eater? Does eating solve the problem? No…and it usually adds to the original problem because afterward the person regrets what or how much was eaten. Being aware of what’s going on internally can help you choose a more productive external or physical response. In this example, if the person is aware that he/she is so bored or frustrated with work, then he/she could choose to go for a walk and get a change of scenery. And maybe while on that walk think about if this is momentary boredom or frustration or if it’s time to talk to the boss about a new role.

While choosing healthier coping mechanisms is great, being aware is more about solving the problem. (But if you’re also healthier, BONUS!) The point is that being aware of what’s going on internally can help you choose a response that empowers you to deal with the root cause rather than cover it up or numb it. Finding better solutions through awareness starts with two basic questions: What am I feeling? Why? If the answers aren’t clear right away, try talking it out with a friend or journaling.

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Are YOU on Your List This Holiday Season? Two simple self-care tips

A week into December already! If it’s not yet, I bet your December calendar is filling up fast. If you’re like me, you have a variety of lists started…the Christmas card list, the presents list, the Christmas cookie list, the grocery list of what to buy in order to make the Christmas cookies on that list, etc. But let me ask you this: Are YOU on your list?

I know, I know. So many things you have to do. So many people to take care of. Enough already! Stop being a martyr about the holidays and include you on your list. How? I’m glad you asked. I have two simple tips for you:

  1. Review your “have to” items, and
  2. Schedule some “me time.”

Tip #1, Review your “have to” items, actually has two steps. First, review all of the things on your to do lists and determine if they are “have to” items or “want to” items. If they are “want to” items, keep them. Be realistic though. If you want to go to 5 tree trimmings, 4 Christmas parades, 3 cookie exchanges, 2 different Christmas Eve services, and drive to Pittsburgh for a par-tee, then you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, make sure your “want to” list contains the items that make the holidays special to you; the things that if you don’t do them you’ll be feeling really regretful on January 2.

The second part of Tip #1 is to get rid of your “have to” items. Hear me out. I think part of our self-imposed holiday stress comes from telling ourselves we have to do certain things. Telling yourself you have to do something just makes it unpleasant and creates a negative mindset. Instead, what if you changed all of those items to “want to” items? Here’s an example: You are currently telling yourself and probably others you talk to that you have to go to your office holiday party, at least make an appearance. Why did this make your “have to” list in the first place? Is it because it could be beneficial to your success with the company? Isn’t being a success with your company something you want? Or maybe you at least want to socialize a little with some of your close peers or people you appreciate working with all year long? So now that you’ve identified some “want to” in that item, start telling yourself and others that you want to go to your office holiday party. Now you are creating a positive mindset and looking forward to some part of that party which creates less stress. Apply to an item on your own list. Repeat until you have a list of “want to” items.

Tip #2, Schedule some “me time,” is self-explanatory. Stop being a holiday martyr. Yes, your friends and family are thrilled to be the beneficiaries of your labor, but not when they know you’re killing yourself all month to do it. They don’t love you for your cookies; they want to spend time celebrating with you! That won’t happen if you’re so tired by Christmas Eve that you’re curled up in a little ball sleeping in some corner while they are all full of energy and celebrating.

Try this. Why not combine some “me time” with some “want to” items? If you want to celebrate another year of friendship and be festive with your besties, go out somewhere low key for an evening. It’s low stress and you don’t have to cook or clean your house because you’re not hosting! Or, consider this: there are so many great deals on spa and fitness activities right now. It’s okay to snag yourself a spa gift card and get a massage or facial this month or to buy a yoga class package…whatever sounds like good “me time” to you.

The holidays are a special time and we want to pack in as much celebration and enjoyment as we possibly can in a month’s time. Just don’t do it at the expense of your sanity. Make sure you are also on your holiday list and practice keeping that positive mindset. Happy holidays!

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10 Tricks and Tips to Find Your Positive Groove

Whether you are generally a positive person who gets in the occasional negative funk or you are generally a negative person but you would like to experience the power of positivity, here are 10 of my favorite tricks and tips that can help you find your positive groove.

  1. Dress better than you feel. Do something with your hair. Put on a little makeup. This works for two reasons: You’re doing something for you and for the rest of the day when you see your reflection, you will see this better version of yourself.
  2. Exercise. Again, you’re doing something to take care of you, but exercise also creates feel good endorphins. Even a 10 minute walk can boost your mood.
  3. Get outdoors. Get some fresh air, clear your head, and can be combined with tip #2!
  4. Get enough sleep. The average recommended amount of sleep is 7-8 hours per night. You need that in order to repair and recharge from the day’s events.
  5. Practice gratitude. Once a day, find 5 things that you are grateful for.
  6. Make goals and accomplish them. Who doesn’t like to feel accomplished? Make a realistic to do list and feel the joy of crossing off each item as you complete it!
  7. Smile more. Others will smile back which makes you feel even more positive. 🙂
  8. Compliment someone. Brightening up someone else’s day is a win-win.
  9. Take actions on problems. If your negative funk is due to a problem that keeps plaguing your mind, take some action towards a solution. Staying in your head about it is a powerless place to be; taking action gives you your power back.
  10. Give hugs. Hug your family. Hug your friend. Hug your pet. It gets your feel good oxytocin flowing…for both you and your hug recipient!

Let me know what you think! Which tip works for you or maybe you can share a tip I don’t have on my ever-growing list yet. Thanks for reading and have a positively amazing day!

What If You Loved Yourself As You Are?

Have you seen Amy Schumer’s movie, I Feel Pretty, yet? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you haven’t, don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you here.

I will just tell you that I watched it last night and want to recommend it to the following people:

1. Anyone who ever looks in the mirror or photos of themselves and only focuses on the negatives, or

2. Anyone who ever compares themselves to others and feels “less than”

Awhile ago, it seemed like the question “What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?” was the big popular question. After watching this movie, I’m thinking “What would you do if you loved yourself exactly as you are in this moment?” Would you apply for the job you want instead of talking yourself out of it because you only meet 8 out of the 10 qualities listed? Would you throw on your bikini and be in the pictures with your friends and family instead of excluding yourself from those captured memories by always being the one taking the pictures? Would you take a class you’ve been interested in and have faith that you’re capable enough to do well in it instead of making excuses for why you can’t even try?

Here’s the thing…you can love yourself as you are in this moment AND keep challenging yourself to be an even better version of yourself each day. Challenge yourself because you love yourself and want to keep giving to yourself; not because you’re unhappy with yourself and want to completely change into someone else. For example, go to the gym because you love yourself and want to be healthy; don’t go to the gym because you hate everything about the way you look and want to punish yourself. See the difference? It’s really all in re-framing your thoughts…changing them into positive statements and objectives instead of negatives. Another example is to look in the mirror and focus on your favorite feature. Only focus on the favorites, not what you hate, want to change, or what “needs work.” Again, it’s a subtle change and definitely takes practice, but it’s a start!

Please ponder the thoughts above and consider watching I Feel Pretty. And then share your thoughts with me in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

In a Self-Care State of Mind

Self-care is so vital for both you and for all of the people you help take care of. How can you keep giving of yourself if you burn out and have nothing left to give? This concept of self-care can be difficult at first, (mom guilt, spouse guilt, worker guilt), but with a little practice and deliberate thinking, it can become a great habit.

When choosing a self-care activity, decide what will give you an energy boost. (Remember, relaxing/taking care of yourself now will restore your energy reserves for upcoming days.) Your self-care does not have to be the same as your friends’ self-care. For example, your friends may swear by yoga, but if you find trying to sit still and think of nothing more stressful than relaxing, it’s probably not the best self-care activity for you.

Put some thought into what YOU want to do. Maybe you can remember things you used to enjoy doing before you got so busy. (A nap!) Or maybe you have something new that you might enjoy. (A new dance class?) You are scheduling some time for you, so make it something you’re excited to put on your calendar!

Whatever self-care activity you decide on does not necessarily have to do with the amount of time or money involved. The most important element is your mindset. Be mindful of your thoughts and that you are doing something for you. You could take a weeklong luxury vacation, but if the whole week you are thinking about what’s happening at work or trying to schedule every minute of your vacation with what other people have told you are “must see” and “must do” things on your trip, then you really haven’t gained much in the re-energizing department. You could take a 20 minute walk in a quiet park observing the sights and sounds of nature and thanking yourself for the timeout and feel more energized from that 20 minutes than from that weeklong vacation. And it’d be free!

Maybe pedicures are your thing. If you recharge from a $50 pedicure at the spa, that’s great. If you can recharge from taking 30 minutes at home to take care of your nails, that’s also great. It’s your mindset that is key. If you’re doing your own pedi and thinking to yourself, “I wish I could afford the spa” or “this is just a chore,” then that’s not really self-care. Change your mindset to focus on the time and care you’re taking for yourself. Think about how pretty your new polish looks and how good it feels to take care of yourself for those 30 minutes. Choose your thoughts to focus on what you DO have, not what you don’t have.

The point is, focus on the kind act of taking care of yourself (whether that’s physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally). The time and money you have is irrelevant as long as your mind is in the right place — thinking about how nurtured/pampered/energized your act of self-care makes you feel.

Beating the Vacation Blues

Since my last post was about the importance of scheduling a vacation, it seems appropriate that today I post about returning to “real life” after vacation.  Believe me when I say I really did not want to return to work after a week at the beach.  REALLY. DID. NOT.  However, I did return to work this fine Monday and had an absolutely lovely day…because I decided to have an absolutely lovely day and took steps to make it so. Reflecting on how I went from pouting like a toddler driving away from the beach on Saturday to being a smiling, productive grown up today, I have some ideas to share that might help you when returning to your “real life” after a vacation, a weekend, or any other time away.

First, find the next thing to look forward to.  If you’re like me, you spent a lot of time planning and anticipating your time away.  You enjoyed it so much and you try to hold onto that, but you also have a little empty spot because it’s over.  Bummer.  So what’s next?  Hey, I have a brunch and a dinner date coming up next week.  And the next family getaway is only like 5 months away. That takes a little bit of the sting of vacation being over away.

Next, get organized.  In my experience, getting organized requires my brain to take over, which helps me get over the vacation blues, Sunday blues, or whatever other blues I may have.  Getting organized allows you to take action and therefore take control of an emotional situation.  Whether it’s sadness that the vacation is over or feeling overwhelmed at jumping back into your daily life (that pile of laundry waiting on you, the 100+ work emails in your inbox…) just take action.  So where to start?

My suggestion is to start with what must be done first.  For example, if you have no clean underwear and almost no food in the house, throw in a load of laundry and make your grocery list.  (Side note, laundry is my favorite chore because it does its thing in the background while I am actively working on something else.  So at the end of the day I can feel super productive!)

After completing what must be done, I suggest doing what is bugging you.  Do the thing that you’re going to keep thinking about even though it’s not the most important thing, because otherwise you keep thinking about it and you’re wasting precious mental energy.  For me yesterday, it was paying bills and getting our financial “stuff” in order.  By the end of the day yesterday (first day after vacation) I was feeling pretty accomplished, but still a little sad.  Maybe you’d consider this an optional tip or maybe a mandatory one, but I decided to indulge in a little “self care” to get over my vacation blues by continuing my vacation so to speak.  I grabbed a drink and sat out on the deck reading for an hour…just like I’d done for the past week at the beach.

Monday morning arrived, and here’s possibly my number one tip: I opened my eyes, smiled, and took a couple minutes to be grateful.  I was grateful for another day, grateful that I have a job with flexibility, grateful that I have clean clothes and food in the pantry, grateful for my health and my family.  Next tip…be kind to yourself, treat yourself, and ease back into work.  For me that meant a quick workout and then picking up a yummy caramel coffee drink after dropping my son off at an early morning practice.  You can make the decision to roll back into work happy or crabby, but either way you’re going back to work, so you might as well be happy!  I smiled and said “have a good day” to everyone I encountered this morning. It made me feel good and hopefully it even brightened up someone else’s day as well.  (Maybe your treat is not food/drink related, and it could be as simple as playing your favorite playlist while driving to work and belting out the lyrics. Just do something that makes you happy to start your day.)

Now, facing work for the first day back is not so sad or overwhelming because you’re in a happy mental space.  You can face whatever the day has in store for you.  You don’t have to get all caught up in the first ten minutes.  You can apply the same strategy to work as described earlier.  Do what must be done (maybe an urgent matter for your boss), then do what is bugging you and wasting your mental energy (sorting emails to find which ones really need action and which ones you were copied on but were already taken care of while you were out.)  Decide the top 2-3 tasks you need to complete by the end of the day that will make you feel accomplished.  Keep a to do list that you can add to as more tasks pop into your mind. (Again, reserve your mental energy by writing them down and not playing them on a constant loop in your brain.)  Anything you can cross off your to do list in addition to the 2-3 tasks you want to complete by the end of the day is bonus!

I hope one or more of these suggestions will help you when returning to “real life” after some time away as well.  If you have other tips that help you beat the vacation blues, I’d love to hear them.  Otherwise, there’s still some daylight left here; I’m grabbing a drink and my book and heading out to the deck…keep this “vacation” going!

Why You Need to Schedule a Vacation Before You Know You Need a Vacation

As you may have guessed, I am currently on vacation and have had an epiphany about vacations. I am a very goal-oriented, motivated person who rarely takes “down time.” I like to go to bed at night thinking about how productive I was that day. I would not say I live a highly stressful life, but I am always thinking, always working on something, always trying to meet some goal I’ve set for myself. I am also very much a planner and I love to travel. I booked this beach vacation 7 months ago. It gives the whole family something to look forward to all winter and spring. But between booking the vacation and being on vacation were 7 months worth of to do lists. Seven months of paying bills, volunteer events, school functions, work responsibilities, soccer practices, homework, graduate studies, swim lessons, workouts, meal planning, and much, much more. And I really enjoy all of it, well most of it. I enjoy knowing I get things done; I meet goals.

So a very unsettling thing happened the first night of this vacation. I didn’t go to bed thinking about what I’d accomplished that day. Instead I went to bed thinking about the unhealthy carbs and sugar I’d eaten that day and worrying that I was undoing all of the healthy eating and working out I’d done the past few months. I was almost anxious thinking about our favorite pizza place here on the island and the certainty that we would go there the next day.

Day 2 of our vacation, another unsettling thing happened. After taking a long walk on the beach with the family and then buying groceries for the week, I decided to take a book and get some sun. After about 30 minutes, I had this anxious thought of being horribly unproductive. Hmmmm…what’s going on here?

Rather than continue to push down these anxiety-producing thoughts, I decided to face them. I asked myself what I was really worrying about and what the worst case scenario was if I ate whatever I wanted for a week or was not at all productive for a week. Turns out the worst case scenario for either was not that bad. That’s when it occurred to me that the time in between vacations is absolutely necessary to building the life you want; you do have to plan, take care of business, meet goals, and be productive. But it’s also the time you lose perspective.

I think vacations are like hydration. I’ve learned from running that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. If you haven’t planned ahead and brought water with you, you are going to have a rough road back. This is why I say schedule the vacation before you think you need the vacation. To continue my comparison, I was dehydrated and didn’t know it. Worrying about eating carbs and relaxing with a book were signs that I needed this vacation, needed to rehydrate. I needed to get perspective on the really important things that make life so awesome.

So after reading for awhile, I went and did a wine tasting, and then I hung out with my husband watching the US Open and World Cup soccer. I joined the family in devouring a large pizza and then I sat by the pool reading some more and listening to the kids play. And guess what? I went to bed blissfully happy with my “unproductive” day.