Don’t just get by – THRIVE! (How not to go postal this season)

During this time of the year I turn into something that would make the Grinch cringe (or at the very least take notes). The stress of getting everything done at home and at work so I can take the week off sits heavily on my shoulders.

I know I’m not the only one.

It’s the dreaded holiday season. It’s filled with shopping, crowds, parties, alcohol, social obligations, travel, too much food, not enough rest and the worry that your wallet is hemorrhaging money. Who wouldn’t be stressed out?

And if you’re like me, this happens every year.

Here are a few tips on not just surviving this season but THRIVING!

#1.  Get organized. Make a list of everything you need to do. Great or small. Then maybe do a little dance every time you check one off the list. You will feel a lot less overwhelmed when you don’t have tasks floating around in your head – worrying if you’ve forgotten something. Bring this list with you and refer to it often so you can tackle something on it whenever you have a moment. But when you don’t, set it aside.

#2.  Plan your schedule. Know when the next party is coming up. Know when you have a social obligation to fulfill. Let yourself be emotionally ready for the social interaction (looking at you, introverts!). Allow yourself to enjoy the moment with friends and family rather than being distracted by all the things you still have to do. Some things won’t get done. Plan for that. That way you don’t let it hang over your head.

#3.  Get some sleep. This is not the time to run yourself ragged. It’s cold. More people are getting sick. And it’s the last thing you need when there is so much to do. While you’re planning your schedule, put in for a little down time so you can get some rest and sleep in preparation for all the festivities.

#4.  Don’t skip the gym.* I know. Who has time for exercise? But more than ever your body needs exercise… When stress levels are high… When food consumption is out of control… When energy is low… Exercise will help bring everything back to the center, improve your focus and even boost your self-control. Very useful when you discover that there is a second plate of brownies.

*There is a caveat to this. You should not sacrifice sleep or rest for the sake of exercise. Don’t put more stress on your immune system – especially if you aren’t getting enough rest. Studies have shown that people who sleep more, eat less. It will balance itself out. Relax.

#5.  Eat well when you can. I can’t resist a bowl of chips and salsa and will eat it all. It happens. But between get-togethers I eat well. When I am at home, I eat the normal healthy things that I eat. I don’t lament over the excessive amount of cheese I consumed over the weekend. I don’t starve myself during the week. I get back to my normal healthy eating habits. And I drink a helluva lot of water!

#6.  Avoid the mall. I know. It’s so un-American of me to suggest this but there are so many alternatives to the mall like buying locally at a small business, buying online, making your own gifts or give the gift that keeps on giving – CASH! Just the idea of going to the mall makes me hyperventilate. People are not at their best in the mall during Christmas shopping. We turn into less civilized versions of ourselves so don’t do it! But if a trip can’t be avoided, go during off-peak hours.

#7.  Listen to holiday music. It’s a mood booster. Trust me. The cheesier the better. Or even try some holiday-themed movies like Love Actually. Personally, I could listen to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You over and over and over again. It is impossible not to get carried away with all the wonderful and beautiful holiday music. It is also a good reminder of why we drive ourselves crazy this time every year. It is all worth it in the end.

Now sit back on your couch, put your feet up and wrap your fingers around a nice cup of hot chocolate… With whipped cream, please!

Keep Calm & Carry On Coffee Mug

Do you have any additional tips on surviving the holidays that you’d like to share? Leave them here!

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When pride is a good thing…

A few days ago I went surfing for the first time in my life.

I love the ocean… From afar, that is. Getting into the water without the protection of a boat or inflated arm floaties is something I never do. I have always been very afraid of submerging my head under water. Be it in a pool, the ocean or a river, I absolutely hate the sensation of water up my nose and not being able to breathe. In fact, I still pinch my nose and squeeze my eyes shut when dunking my head to get my hair wet.

And so it was with a lot of trepidation that I approached my first ever surfing class. Heart racing. Palms sweaty. Eyes dilated in sheer panic. But I knew I had to do it. It was not a question of whether I would try it but whether I would make it. I am happy to report that the only damages incurred were one lost contact lens, a huge intake of salt water and a bruised right hip.

Floaties

When I tell people about my surfing experience, their instant reaction is to say how impressed and proud they are of me. I would modestly smile and brush it off. But for whatever reason, when my friend, Rachel, told me she was proud of me, something clicked. It occurred to me that though I was hearing people saying this, I had not said it to myself. I had not acknowledged my own good work.

When she drove away, I took a moment and said to myself, “I am proud of me.” And this warm feeling started in my heart, spread out to my arms and legs all the way out to the top of my head and I felt giddy! “Holy crap! I am awesome!” I practically skipped up my driveway!

I had overcome this super scary thing – way out of my comfort zone… When in the past I had let my fears dictate my decisions. I needed to recognize that I am this person who pushes up against her very edges. So I deserved a pat on the back – not from others but from myself. I don’t tell myself enough how proud I am of me. I don’t always make big courageous decisions but I make brave choices all the time. Whether it’s trying a new dish, learning to do something or going up to a complete stranger. I take the harder road when easier ones are available. I continue on when many might have given up.

When I talk about pride, I am not talking about switching teams. I am talking about more than just accepting compliments from others but recognizing all the good things within ourselves and projecting it out to the world. We are good whether or not others see us and shower us with accolades. It is most important that we recognize within ourselves the work we have accomplished, the work we continue to do and the work we WILL accomplish.

So be proud of yourself and let your freak flag fly!

How have you celebrated yourself today?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Board Shanty.

Resisting change

I am a creature of habit. I find a lot of comfort in routine. I try to sit in the same place in my yoga classes. I like to order the same dishes in my favorite restaurants. Every night, I change into my PJs, take my vitamins then take out my contact lenses. In that order. Every time.

I also drive the same route to and from work everyday. It is a short cut through back roads that shaves about five minutes off of my commute. But on Friday, I noticed a few new signs on my way home. Access during rush hour has been restricted on the roads I was using! I could no longer drive that way to work. I would have to use the already heavily congested main roads!

AND I SAW RED!!!!!

Do Not Enter Sign

“What the hell? Why would they do that? So that a few of the more affluent people in the neighborhood could walk their precious ugly little dogs in peace? We live in a CITY. If you want quiet suburban roads, then move out! You don’t get to choose who does and doesn’t use your streets. I pay taxes in this county, too!” (Pepper it with a few choice expletives and you come pretty close to what I really said).

AND IT JUST GOT UNDER MY SKIN… That night I couldn’t focus, couldn’t relax into my weekend, couldn’t stop talking about it… I slept poorly… In fact, I slept poorly all weekend! Every time I thought about it, I got upset all over again. Who the hell did these people think they were?!? Evil thoughts were running through my head like egging houses in that neighborhood. Or hoping they all got robbed. This feeling sat like a brick in the bottom of my heart and it weighed me down.

This morning, I headed to work and took a different route. It was as annoying as I thought it would be. But I got to work and got a sweet parking space. There was no apocalypse. Dead puppies and unicorns didn’t litter the streets. Nothing had changed for anyone else. And I got to work just fine. A little later but just fine.

I tortured myself all weekend over this thing that wasn’t personal. And over something that I could not change. Something I could simply adapt to. But I resisted it as hard as I could… to my detriment and to no one’s benefit. And I paid the price… I needlessly suffered instead of adapting to the change.

So the next time you run up against something that is or will disrupt your life, ask yourself and answer the following questions:

1. What is it about this change that bothers me?

2. Can I do something about it? (Like write my representative?)

3. How can I integrate this change into my life?

Then take a deeeeeeep breath and play Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy.”

The more quickly you go through the process by answering these questions, doing what can be done and accepting the change, the more quickly things can become smooth again. I am not suggesting you turn yourself into a doormat but some suffering stems from resisting change that we cannot do anything about. And there is no purpose to that kind of suffering.

Now, it’s your turn: How do YOU adapt to change?

Beach umbrella at sunset - Antigua, Mar 2010

Why you need a mental health day

What if you had a whole day to yourself? What would you do?

With no errands, appointments, obligations or responsibilities… Just a whole day beautifully looming before you?

What if you had a car and perfect weather to go along with your day?

What would you do? Where would you go?

………………And why haven’t you done it?

We all deserve a mental health day. WAIT! Screw deserve… We NEED a mental health day. A day to get away from life… Our life. I don’t care how awesome it is.

Taking the time to step away from your day-to-day allows you a different perspective on where you are and where you are going. From a changed vantage point you can more easily avoid pitfalls, take detours and correct your direction as necessary. Maybe even find opportunities you may have missed in all the hustle and bustle. You might even hear the quiet voice in your heart telling you what you need.

I always know I am due for one when weeks fly by and I know I have been busy and yet still feel like I haven’t done anything. My energy dips. My crankiness increases (it’s possible and it’s scary). I’m listless and though there is nothing wrong, nothing feels quite right either. I inexplicably cry happy tears and sad tears almost in the same moment. And anything that requires more than staring into space is a huge effort. In short, I am a total zombie.

Last week, out of nowhere I found myself getting emotional over a Nike ad about young girls finding their voices. Then I was perfectly fine after. But a few moments later I was teary eyed over the delicious dinner my husband had made. Huh? What the hell just happened there?

So tomorrow I am taking a day off… from work, from yoga and from my life. I am going to the beach. I am bringing my favorite hat, a notebook, some knitting, comfortable walking shoes and music. I don’t have a plan. Just a destination.

When I return, I might make some changes. Or I may find that I have been on the right path all along. But I know my smile will be a little less forced. My heart will be a little more calm and I will be better able to share my love.

So plan your next mental health day. Yours may not look like mine. Mine doesn’t even look the same every time. And, hey, sometimes you only need a few hours and other times you may need a few days. The plans could be an elaborate spa day filled with pampering and luxury or a quiet day relaxing at home and catching up on your reading. Maybe it’s a retreat you’ve been meaning to go on.

Don’t feel guilty. Go ahead. I’ll cover for you.

If you need ideas or encouragement, let me know.

Remember: Our voices are at its clearest during the quiet moments.

Beach umbrella at sunset - Antigua, Mar 2010

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Ed Yourdon.

The perils of watching the clock

While exchanging emails with fellow gym instructor, Curtis, I was lamenting how quickly the summer was passing me by. His response was:

“I try not to mourn the passing of summer until September…”

It both shamed and inspired me.

You see, I constantly fail at enjoying the present because I am already dreading the end. For example, when I visit my family, I feel sad about the inevitable goodbye. And I have actually thought to myself that if I don’t see them at all I won’t have to say goodbye! Problem solved! (Stupid, huh?)

I am most guilty during the warm months. It is my favorite time of the year. I am fearless when the sun is darkening my skin and I have a tasty Margarita in hand. I eagerly anticipate this awakening… I talk magnanimously about all the wonderful things I am going to do with my friends… Then the days and months pass by in a blur. Before I know it, it is time to don a jacket again and face shorter days with less sunlight. I am left unfulfilled, incomplete and a little depressed… Great. Just great. Year after year the best season seems to catch me unprepared.

After all, time flies when you are having fun, yes? But the real injury is that I am missing out on fully enjoying the present. On love. On life. On unadulterated joy. I am not allowing myself to completely experience moments so that I can learn from them and be refreshed!  Life is passing me by!

I know I can’t enjoy the present when I am living too far into the future. And I have to stop myself every time from looking at my watch and thinking “oh it will be time to go again soon.” (Unless I’m in a meeting then staring at the clock is a MUST).

A picture of my watch

I need to change this behavior. And Curtis’s statement reminded me that I need to work harder to do so. I can’t keep worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. {Insert cliché on worrying HERE}

I don’t yet have a solid solution to my self-jeopardizing tendency but awareness of the behavior and knowing my penchant for doom and gloom will hopefully keep me in check. I am patiently training myself knowing that it will be a dance of two steps forward, one step back.

Have you kicked this habit? Do you have any advice to share? Or are you (like me) still in the throes of fighting it? I would love to hear about it.

What I learned from the D.C. storm power outage

On Friday, June 29th, a weather phenomenon called a Derecho, slammed into Washington, DC and left more than a million people without electricity. I was lucky enough to have been away for a few days and only had to suffer through the power outage from Sunday evening to Tuesday evening. But, boy, did those few days test my mettle! It left me cranky and sweaty but with some incredibly powerful lessons…

  1. Eat the ice cream. Right away. Don’t save it for an emergency. When there is ice cream in the fridge, every single day is an emergency.
  2. Hanging out in the outdoor patio furniture section of Target is totally acceptable.
  3. Trees are lovely things… Lovely, deadly things that like to take down power lines. You will never look at a tree the same way again.
  4. You will re-evaluate your friendships based on their location on the power grid.
  5. Complaining won’t get you anywhere, but it’s going to feel damn good.
  6. When you don’t have power, you will actually look forward to going into the office. It’s possible.
  7. You will invent new ways to stay cool – like naked brushing your teeth or naked sweeping the floor.

I know I sound like a Baz Luhrmann song telling you to wear sunscreen but if you take anything away from this post it’s that you should never let ice cream go to waste.

What did YOU learn from the power outage?

P.S. A HUGE thanks to the men and women who worked tirelessly in the blazing heat to get power back on as soon as possible.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Brittany Herbert.

Falling into emotional traps

When I step through my door at home I always feel like I’m taking a giant exhale from a long day of holding my breath in. It’s like switching from fancy pants to ones with an elastic band. Or swapping high heels for flip flops. Or simply wiping off makeup. It’s a slow unraveling of the day… Divesting a little bit at a time to a more recognizable me.

Then I sit on the couch and let my mind go blank. I don’t think about what happened earlier – what was said at work – something I did that I wasn’t proud of – not even conversations I had on Twitter or Facebook. Just a nice blank thoughtless few moments of peace… At this point my mind is healing from the ravages of the day – from the unpleasant thoughts that have come in and the worry cobwebbing various corners of the day. With a sweep of my mental broom I attempt to brush out the ugly things.

That is my usual after work mental routine…

But not yesterday…

Yesterday something happened at work in the early morning that really made me angry. Someone acted poorly and it pissed me off. I was upset but I did my best to let it go. I did eventually brush it off but it took a while.

When I came home later that day, I recounted the offense to my husband and found myself getting angry and worked up all over again. All the emotions that I felt that morning came rushing back. My heart was racing. My face was flushed. I was yelling. It felt like the incident just happened all over again.

After I was done “venting” I felt terrible, spent and empty. My anger turned inward. What the hell??? Why did I just do that to myself? I didn’t need to feel those emotions again. It wasn’t like my husband could have done anything to help me. I had already planned to talk with my supervisor the next day so what was the point? Was there some sort of masochistic satisfaction in repeating the story?

I ended up nursing a headache for the rest of the night.

I completely regretted re-living the emotions and even now I fail to see any reason for needing to. The smart move was to let go and move on. I definitely lost more than I gained. In fact, I didn’t gain anything – unless you consider a headache a gain. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying to yourself, “It’s okay. I’m done with that.”

I tell my students all the time that we can only be as strong as our ability to let things go. That when you free yourself of constraints your ability to expand is limitless. I forgot that yesterday but it was a lesson well re-learned.

Emotional traps are easy to fall into. But when you pay closer attention to your emotions, you will get better not only at not setting emotional traps but avoiding them as well.

How often do you do this to yourself? Are you able to recognize them? Do you make the conscious decision to avoid rehashing old negative feelings? What tricks do you use to get around emotional traps?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Billaday.