8 Steps Towards a Reduced Stress Holiday…

(because no holiday is stress free) Thanksgiving is in less than one week, which means the December holidays are around the corner. For some, the holidays can be an enjoyable time to see family, friends, and participate in traditions that they have grown to love year after year. For others, particularly if there has been a big change or loss in life, the holidays may feel confusing, empty, and stressful. Either way, one thing that does not get enough attention during the holiday season is focusing on you! Self-care is one of the first things to go during a busy holiday season, although if you can honor your self-care, you will reduced stress while celebrating your holidays. Here are 8 steps towards a reduced stress holiday.

What do you want to do? Many clients tell me they have never asked themselves this question! Have you? What do you want to do on the holidays or during the holiday season? Do you want to spend your Christmas driving to several relatives’ homes, sitting down for your second meal of the day when you are already thinking about how much time it takes you to get to your next destination? Do you want to spend your time baking for the school bake sale or waiting in lines at the stores for the perfect gift? This may come as a surprise, but you do not have to! You deserve to spend the holiday season however you would like.

Did you over-do it last year? (or the year before?) Do you find yourself drained after the holidays wondering how you agreed to so many commitments at once? Do you wonder every year how this happened again? People agree to several commitments throughout the holiday season (which thanks to retail starts much earlier) ranging from seeing family and friends, volunteering, bake sales, committees at work, potlucks, and I am sure you can name at least 5 more commitments here. Take a breath, return to the first question, and ask yourself how you want to spend your holiday season. The next step may be even harder, but you can do it!

Set a boundary! Once you identify how it is you want to spend your holidays and what you want to commit to or pass on, you will have to set a boundary. Often people shy away from boundary setting because even the word boundary has a bad rep. Maybe you do not want to hurt someone’s feelings or it is a hard decision to make and you have certain feelings about it. Although, you may anticipate the response to be much different (and often more negative) than the response actually is. Also, setting a boundary is a positive thing. It shows you know your limits and are taking care of yourself so that you are able to do all that other fun stuff. Plus, maybe you are inspiring others in your life to do the same.

Use clear communication! Some boundaries might be easier, but others might involve some prep time. If possible, speak in person or over the phone (Skip the texting)! Identify your intention as you are preparing to set a limit. Don’t get caught up in the story as often this loses your audience and can create misunderstandings. You want your message to be heard in the way you intend it to, so use “I statements.” Once you set your boundary, you may have to work on keeping the boundary. Remind yourself of what you want to do and your intention and stick to it!

Carve out time for yourself! After all this hard work in determining what you want and setting boundaries, you deserve some time for yourself! What do you like to do to entertain yourself? Do you have hobbies such as reading or writing? Do you like to meditate or go for a hike? Binge watching a new series on netflix? Making hot chocolate and watching the Polar Express? This is a short list, but there is always something you can do for yourself.

Get moving! Gobble Wobble, Turkey Trot, Jingle Bells – All of these 5Ks are advertised around the holiday not just because they have cute and catchy names. Exercise and moving your body is good for you! Figure out how you like to move your body and get your endorphins going. Maybe running or walking isn’t your thing, but how about yoga, zumba, or just a few quick body exercises at home? Exercise is proven to improve your mood and reduce stress, which we all need during the holiday season.

Slow it back down! Did you read my post last month on Mindfulness? Try to slow things down and be in the present to enjoy the holiday season. Some meaningful mindfulness exercises that can be enjoyable around the holidays are kindness, recognizing accomplishments, breathing, and connecting with others.

Re-set your expectations! Instead of having such high expectations of pleasing everyone throughout the holidays, recognize that this is not possible. Instead, if you notice yourself experiencing emotions such as guilt, sadness, or blame try to replace it with self-compassion. Try to understand a little bit more about where you are coming from. Validate your feelings and honor them. If you try to introduce self-compassion in your life and make it part of your self-care routine, you will notice reduced stress. As I said above, no holiday season is completely stress free, but you have the control to reduce the stress and enjoy the holiday season in the way that you want to!

8 ways to bring mindfulness into your life today!

Life gets really busy. We hear things about how meditation, exercise, or mindfulness can improve our lives, but sometimes it’s tough to get started. In the past decade, there has been much more research on how mindfulness is used to treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic pain, and more. The act of mindfulness is being in the present moment, accepting your thoughts and feelings without judgment. You may engage your senses, learn to pay more attention to your body, your breath, and your environment. When engaging in mindfulness, we are able to release from worries about the past or future, many of which we have no control over. Instead, it is possible to engage in a state of peace or even relaxation in the middle of the stress life brings us.

Just like anything else you are working on, mindfulness takes practice. Here are 8 ways you can try to incorporate some mindfulness into your daily life:

Give yourself a soothing self-hug! We often think of going to others for comfort, but we also need to be able to comfort ourselves. I know this sounds strange, but wrap each of your hands around your chest and squeeze. It feels really good to give yourself this support and you are engaging your senses in the process!

Get outside! Pay attention to five new things outside that you have not noticed before. I did this today. I noticed I am fond of the red colored leaves changing on the trees and they are not just red or orange. There were several shades of red, which was beautiful and also amazing that I never stopped to notice this before!

Connect with someone! Make one meaningful connection today. If you read my previous posts, I would prefer it to be in person or over the phone, not text or email. I just spoke with someone in the elevator and turns out we had something in common. Human contact is fading away and is way undervalued!

Do the opposite! We all hate sitting at red lights. Even my two year old yells “GO!” when we are stopped. What if instead of feeling frustrated (accept the frustration, but don’t judge it) and instead use this as a time for yourself to appreciate something in your environment.

Recognize your accomplishments, even the small ones! As you sit down to dinner tonight, name something you felt good about today. It can be whatever comes to mind. Try not to judge what comes up for you. For me, I just scheduled a new client. I love speaking with people over the phone for the first time and being able to offer support. It takes a lot to make that first phone call!

Change your lens! Take a look at something today and imagine how a two year old child would look at it. Today I looked at the stairs and imagined how my son feels starting to walk up the stairs without my help. What an accomplishment for him! He is so proud of himself and experiences so much joy from traveling up the stairs, which many of us avoid! Imagine if all of the mundanity of life was so pleasant!

Act kind! Do something nice for someone else. Another traffic example, but after getting into a disagreement with my husband last week, I let someone pull out of a parking lot in front of me. I rarely do this, but it felt great! I honestly felt my aggravation decrease in doing something nice for someone else!

Just breathe! There are many different ways to breathe, but in yoga the other day, we did a sinus opening breath, which I felt expanded the depth of my breath. With flu season coming up, this might be helpful for all of you! It’s easy! You take your first two fingers on each hand and place them on each side of your nose by your cheekbone. Then pull out and inhale for a count of two and exhale for a count of two! I now do this daily. It may look a little strange, but feels great!

I challenge you to pick one from the list and give it a try! If you aren’t feeling whichever you choose, don’t give up. Move onto another one. It might take various tries and activities to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life, but you may notice you have more awareness into your life and feeling states, therefore decreasing anxieties and depression.

Texting is Not Clear Communication

I can’t tell you how much healthy communication comes up during therapy sessions. As cell phones have gotten more popular, people are making less phone calls and using texting,snapchat, and hang outs more and more. I have had clients come in telling me they had to set a clear boundary with a family member and that it did not go as planned. When we looked at how the message was communicated, I initially went to the original offenders, such as not using I statements, not using blaming words, or raising of the voice. None of these were the cause of the unclear communication. Instead, it was the raising of the cell phone. Unfortunately the communication piece and the texting/messages type of communication often get really entangled which can leave people feeling angry, frustrated, anxious, and a bunch of other emotions. Texting is not a form of clear communication. In fact, it is the easiest way to misinterpret peoples’ tone, words, meaning, and you are totally missing out on a huge cue, body language.

Although I mention this to clients over and over, I am not immune to the texting communication phenomena. For example, I feel like I disappoint my sister a lot. One of my previous indicators of knowing I disappointed her is when she responds to my texts with only the words “ok.” At that time, I never bothered to use such a great communication skill, clarification, to find out if my belief was true. One time I was in the car and due to another great tech invention, my texts go through bluetooth so when the audio read her text it sounded like an exciting, happy version of Ok! This was a lightbulb moment for me that my sister’s texts of ok were not meant to be negative and confirm for me that I disappointed her again. This further led me to wonder if my thought behind them was also inaccurate. Since then, I did clarify with my sister and found out that the reason she texts ok instead of okay or anything else along with it is it is quicker. It is two letters instead of four…. imagine that! I spent all this time reading into her texts messages, which activated my internal thoughts that I was disappointing her and she disproved this in one quick conversation (not a text message). Now when I get her texts that say ok, I smile and remember what I put myself through. We all do this. The point is remember that cell phones are good for many things, but can also interfere in our communication and connection with others. Take a chance and if you have something you need to say to someone try to put the phone down and say it verbally. You may find it easier to express your needs and wants and your message may be better received. Ok!

Any risk takers out there?

Take a risk. Try something new. Go for it! We hear these messages throughout our life from people we care about, but no one really mentions how scary and vulnerable it can feel to try something new. So, full disclosure, this is me taking a risk and putting myself out there. My very first blog post. When I was first setting up my website I removed the option for the blog because I was scared. As many experience when first approaching a new venture, skill, or challenge, I was plagued with automatic negative thoughts. What if people hate my posts? What if I am not a good writer? If people think I am a bad writer, will they think I am a bad therapist too? What if the topics I come up with are only interesting to me? What if people click off my post after 2.5 seconds or whatever Google’s formula is for a successful hit on the web? And the biggest question, what if all of these automatic negative thoughts are true, what does that say about me as a person, as a therapist, as a wife, as a mother? If we are inside our head too much, it can feel overwhelming and immobilizing. The blog never would be written and I could be missing out on an opportunity to learn, grow, and change.

Then I thought about it some more. Here I am, developing a website to provide information about me and my private therapy practice. Beginning therapy is probably up there with one of the biggest risks someone can take. It can be totally scary to share your story with a stranger, even though they are a professional trained to provide support. Just because OB-GYNs do pap smears all day does not make it any more enjoyable as the patient. Therapy can be a vulnerable place. People have shared what makes attending therapy so difficult. For some it is uncomfortable to feel raw and exposed and not know what might come up for them, what they might learn about themselves, and whether or not this is truly going to be a place without judgment. The other piece is it takes time to build trust to share the heavier stuff and sometimes people feel worse before getting to where they want to be. People who have come in and stuck with therapy really do benefit. Clients have shared they are able to understand reasons for their behaviors, learn to be present with strong emotions, even the ones that do not feel so good. My clients learn to set healthier boundaries with others they care about, as well as themselves. Many clients have become empowered to make positive changes in their lives, whether that be a new job, new relationship, or start doing things to address their needs and wants. People learn to live healthier lives and have more confidence. Clients have also learned how to make meaning out of death, losses, trauma, and the really difficult things in life.  I would not have witnessed these transformations with all of my clients if they had not taken the initial risk to come in to therapy. So, I am putting myself out there along with my current and future clients and taking a risk. Small goals are the most attainable and give me a sense of accomplishment, therefore, I am going to commit to blog at least monthly for now. I may try post articles I find that are interesting and relative to the work I am doing with clients. Or, some posts may be on topics that come up about therapy like grief, relationships, trauma, or communication. Either way, it is true. After taking the risk it feels good and I am empowered to explore this new art of blogging. Just no judging. Remember, it is the first one.