Surviving the Holidays in a Stressful year

So Thanksgiving is now behind us, and the holidays have officially begun.  For many, the last several months have felt an exceptionally stressful time, no matter what side of the political aisle you may find yourself on. With the holidays now upon us, it may be a  specially good time to take extra special care of ourselves and our loved ones, making sure this season reflects the best of our values and what we hold meaningful. With that in mind, I thought to share some ideas on how to make this season reflective of what may be most important to us, and those we care about, no matter what’s swirling in the world around us.  Whatever your political opinions, this is a time to come together, and share our lives with those we care about.

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Take care this holiday season…

The current mood in this country has caused many of us to take a step back and re-examine what is important to us, the values we want to live by.  I think the answer of what to do and how to give will be unique to each of us.  As time goes on, what I enjoy most about the holidays are the spirit in the air, and memories of good times with those close to me.  Let your most important values guide your actions and you can’t go wrong.  A few ideas to consider:

  • Send out cards.  Yes, good old-fashioned hand-written cards.  Add a note to let someone know how you feel about them.  Both of you will benefit.
  • Give the gift of experiences.  Research shows that experiences bring people more happiness than material possessions. Tickets to a play, a concert, or a favorite team’s game create lasting memories long after the event is over.
  • Create some new memories or traditions.  A holiday hike, ice skating on Christmas day, or a Christmas eve movie by the fire – whatever brings you together with those you love works.
  • A spa day or afternoon can be a great gift to someone special or a wonderful way to spend time together.
  • Give the gift of learning.  Gourmet  cooking, art classes, music or horseback riding lessons, yoga or dance classes – whatever you think might delight the receiver.  A subscription to an app like Headspace.com or Calm might open the door to the stress-relieving benefits of meditation.  Anything that is personalized to the one you’re giving to is always appreciated.
  • Surprise someone who’s been especially anxious with a self-care basket.  Include lotions, bath salts, essential oils, a diffuser, luxe soaps, pajamas and cozy slippers, a beautiful journal and pen to write with.  The list is endless, and you can tailor it especially to the person you’re gifting.
  • Don’t forget yourself!  It can be as simple as an afternoon or evening home to unwind in the midst of the season, but be sure to include your own self-care in the mix at this busy time of year.
  • Don’t forget those less fortunate.  Adopting a family in need, or stopping by an elderly neighbor’s with a basket of Christmas cookies can remind us of the true spirit of the holiday.  At a time when people may be feeling more apprehension, look for the good you can bring, what you can give.   The world needs it.

I hope you find something in these words that sparks you to find peace, meaning and joy this holiday season.  I would love to hear any additional thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment below– I’ll be sure to respond.

With warm wishes for the best of the season!

The Power in Relationship

What’s one of the best ways to get healthy, stay healthy and live longer? Cope with stress?   Reach a cherished goal?  Accelerate performance?  And just plain be happier?

There’s a ready resource right at your fingertips – just look around you. I’m talking about the power of a personal support network.  Research shows that making the effort to build a social support network is of benefit in countless ways – mental, emotional, and physical – for you and those around you.

When we’re going through a tough time, dealing with illness, or other stressors, having the support of those around you – family and close friends – can offer relief, wisdom and perspective when we are struggling to access these things for ourselves.  A personal support network is made up of those people you know you can depend upon, and who can depend upon you.  It’s also about sharing in the positives – the joys and successes that come our way.

One of the early pioneers in positive psychology, Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., made it a point in every talk he gave to say this:  “Other people matter.”  It became his mantra, and has always stuck with me.  Other people matter and we – you and I – matter to other people.

There’s a reason why addiction recovery groups emphasize the importance of building a support system – it’s a crucial component of gaining and maintaining freedom from their addiction.  Developing and maintaining close connections to others who understand can make all the difference in maintaining sobriety.  Having people who truly care about you and your wellbeing – and are walking the same path – can be a huge advantage when one is attempting to create a new lifestyle.

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Many of us have been brought up with the cultural notion of “not depending on anyone,” or “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” The fact is that no one gets through this life alone.  Who hasn’t benefitted at some time from the listening ear of a friend at just the right time?  A teacher or mentor?  That parent or parent figure that accepts you no matter what?  A colleague who put in a good word for you?  Relationships like this are part of the fabric of life.

Something I heard years ago has always stuck with me:  “Asking for help when you need it isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s what makes you stronger.”   And it works both ways – helping others by being available to them during challenging times strengthens our own sense of character and self-confidence.

You may already have a strong network of family and friends or not.  Here are some ways to strengthen what you already have and grow your base.

  • Make time for the people that are important to you.  We all have busy lives and it can sometimes seem difficult to get together, but the old adage – “To have a friend, be a friend” – still stands.  It’s easier than ever these days to keep in touch by phone, text or email – even a short note or call lets someone know you are thinking about them.  One of my dearest friends has not lived on the same continent, let alone city or state, for over 20 years and we still email, message and call via Skype every month or two.  As a result, we’ve maintained a strong bond that continues to today.
  • Remember special occasions – birthdays, holidays and the like.  If someone’s going through a tough time, send a thoughtful card or call them to see how they’re doing. We let people know they are important to us by our actions.
  • I grew up as an only child without the benefit of a family network close by.  Something I learned to do early on was reach out to others who I wanted to make part of my life. As a result, many years later, many of those relationships have become family to me.  We’ve shared holidays, special occasions, births and deaths, graduations – you name it – and I truly do consider them family.
  • Be trustworthy. Trust and loyalty are basic to friendship.  Be dependable, keep confidences, and keep your word.
  • On the other hand, you want to bring people into your sphere that add to your life, not detract from it.  You may want to examine your relationships with people who are chronically negative or complaining.  Everyone has a bad day – or week – here and there but you might want to limit your time with a friend or relative who is consistently difficult to be around.
  • Finally, make an effort to show appreciation and gratitude to those who are there for you.  When someone goes out of their way for you, it’s important to say thank you, to let them know both they and their efforts are valued.

We’ll talk specifically about business networking next time.  In the meantime, if you feel like it, please leave a comment below.  I love to read your thoughts and I’ll be sure to respond.

Saying No, Simplified

Do you sometimes struggle with saying no to requests or invitations?  Or feel guilty if you do?    Over-commit or take on tasks and then wish you hadn’t? Lots of people do. I know I have.

Most of us have multiple demands on our time.  At different life stages, we may be juggling family, work and community responsibilities, with competing requests for our time and attention.  Busy schedules can leave little left over for personal pursuits and downtime.  That’s where the art of saying no comes in.  Saying no takes practice and a certain amount of skill in communication, but it is essential to living a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.

I’ll be the first to admit that saying no has not always come easily to me.  I’ve had to work at it and I’ve learned a few things along the way as I’ve grown (not always gracefully!)  One of the most important things I’ve come to understand is that I simply cannot do everything.  One has to say no to some things in order to say yes to others.  If I am making spending time with my husband on a weekend a priority, I will have to say no to a lunch date with a friend.  It’s that simple.

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If you regularly find yourself doing things you don’t want to do and/or over-extending yourself, here are some ideas and actions that I’ve found useful to break the cycle.

  • Saying no to some things means saying yes to yourself and your true priorities.  For me those things include keeping my family, friendships, work responsibilities and healthy pursuits in balance. Your priorities might be different but what’s important is to treat them as such.  If you’ve committed to a Friday night date night every week and keep letting other things get in the way, your commitment will soon fall by the wayside.
  • A simple “Thank you so much, but I already have plans for that time,” is all that’s necessary.  Don’t make excuses or apologize needlessly.
  • Be appreciative.  If someone has taken the time to invite you to an occasion or feels you can make a valuable contribution to an event, that’s a compliment.  Accept it as such sincerely. Something along the lines of “I’m honored to be included but I have other plans that day,” works well if it rings true for you.
  • Get over the idea that saying no makes you selfish.  I realize that this is easier said than done. Something that I’ve found helpful is to remind myself that if I’m over-committed and stressed, I can’t be at my best for anyone.  Prioritizing my own needs for sleep, exercise, and relaxation is essential to well-being and helps me to be fully present for the activities and people that are important to me.
  • If you are certain that you need to decline a request or invitation, it’s best to say so directly.  Saying “Can I let you know?” or “Let me think about it,” if you don’t mean it, is just avoiding the inevitable and stringing the other person – and yourself – along.
  • Never say yes if it means you will compromise your integrity or values.  Listen to your gut instinct – it’s there for a reason. That inner voice is your guide to what’s right for you, pay attention.
  • You may feel concerned about losing a relationship if you have to say no. The truth is you will never lose a real friend if you have to decline an invitation or request.  That’s simply not the way real friends operate.  If you do lose a relationship because you aren’t available for a request, well, you already know what I’m going to say.

In the end, you are the only one who can decide what is right for you at any given time.    You are the one who knows what you need and how much you can comfortably take on, and have to decide what’s most important to you.  Sometimes a weekend day spent puttering without any plans, or sleeping in, is just what I need to take care of myself, and that isn’t selfish. When I take that time, I feel better, I’m less tired and more content, and that only benefits me and those I love.

Back to Basics, Part 2

So last time I revisited some of those foundational practices that allow us to live and perform at peak – exercise, nutritious clean food, mood and hydration.  Incorporating any of these into your daily routine will make a significant difference in how you feel, look and function.  Give attention to each of them and you are well on your way to living a healthful lifestyle that will pay you dividends now and in the future.

The fact is that building strong personal health habits is the most important thing you can do to improve energy, stave off sickness, and increase overall wellbeing.  Each of us is responsible for taking care of ourselves and living a lifestyle that supports us in that.  As we make healthier choices for ourselves, we build behaviors and skills that build on and support each other.  It’s all connected!

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You may think to yourself, “But I don’t have time to exercise, shop, cook healthy meals, sleep 8 hours, etc.  Taking 30 minutes to exercise out of your day might seem like a chore, or just another item to add to your “to-do” list.  I’m not denying that we all have busy lives with multiple demands on our time – I have them, too!  What I know, though, is that incorporating healthy habits, making the time to get outdoors for exercise and fresh air, and getting a good night’s rest, helps make the rest of my day better, helps me to live better.  And, in the end, I’m more efficient, productive and able to meet any challenges that come my way.

Here are the rest of my essentials:

Sleep – We can’t be at our best if we are not getting adequate sleep.  Period. Our bodies and brains suffer when we are sleep deprived.  Cognitive ability is decreased, and our emotional states are adversely affected.  (Ever been cranky because of lack of sleep?)  There is all sorts of new research these days about what sleep deprivation can cause – overeating and weight issues, weakened immune response, accidents, even heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer.  Not to mention that dragging yourself through the day is not a whole lot of fun. 7-9 hours a night is the usual recommendation.  Decide what you need to feel your best and make it a priority.

Stress Management and Self Care – Did you know that over 60% of all doctor visits in the United States are stress related?  Burnout and depression are epidemic in this country and elsewhere, and the number 1 cause of work disability in the world.  Self-care is NOT self-indulgent.  Time out is essential for wellbeing and can take many forms – there’s a reason why meditation and mindfulness have become so popular in recent years.  Classes are everywhere. Find a practice that works for you and build it into your life regularly.  Other proven stress relievers are journaling, and activities such as gardening or photography.  Find something that you love that re-charges your batteries.

Community – Did you know that having a strong social support network has important health benefits?  Supportive relationships – whether family, friends, colleagues, or members of the community – have been shown to contribute to psychological and physical health, as well as longevity, and can be a tremendous resource in times of stress.  And it works both ways – giving and receiving support are of equal benefit. Make it your mission to develop and build a community around you.

Meaning – Meaning and purpose are essential to inspiring wellbeing.  Going about your life with a sense of meaning, of knowing that who you are and what you do matters, provides proven health benefits and can impact longevity.  A study led by Patrick McKnight, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University, found that having a sense of purpose can promote healthier living in general.  It doesn’t have to be about doing “big” things.  If it’s something meaningful and motivating to you, that’s all that matters.  What do you love, what do you care about deeply, what gets you out of bed in the morning?  There you go.

What about you?  Is there something you can do to develop more community around you?  Can you begin to make sleep a priority and notice the difference in how you feel and perform?  What do you want more of in your life, what lights you up?  What recharges you?  If you feel like it, please leave a comment.  I’ll be sure to respond.

And – If you’re ready to prioritize a healthier lifestyle, I’m now offering my Evergreen Wellness Workshop to private clients, with the option of 2, 3 or 6 private 30 minute coaching sessions.  In 6 weeks, you not only get great info on sleep, food, mood and exercise backed by the latest research – you’ll get activities and action steps you can start right away to see results in how you feel and look. This program will not only help you get on track, it will teach you how to stay on track and be successful.  Plus, it’s filled with fun short videos, great info, and lots of cool health-boosting activities!  Email me at Suzanne@evergreenlifeandwellness.com and we’ll set up a time to talk about whether this program is right for you!

Civility?

I was having a conversation with a good friend not too long ago about some distressing comments I had read online in response to a posted article.  Frankly, they were ugly and I chose not to continue reading.   My friend’s observation: “Society has lost its sense of civility.”

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation since.  I took a look at the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, which is: 1. an act or utterance that is a customary show of good manners; 2. speech or behavior that is a sign of good breeding.

Civility isn’t complicated.  It’s manners, politeness, showing courtesy and kindness to others. It’s being respectful, to both yourself and others.  It’s maintaining composure in difficult circumstances or with difficult people.  It’s being willing to hear others’ perspectives and opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.  One does not have to go too far these days to find examples of the lack of it.

I thought about how I might draw some food for thought from the science of positive psychology about how this atmosphere of disaffection and discord impacts wellbeing.

Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, discussed his theory of wellbeing, and what promotes human flourishing.  The acronym he gave it, PERMA, stands for:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Positive Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

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I’m struck by how incompatible those ideas are with the lack of civility in our society today. If positive emotion and engagement might encourage and reinforce civility, what does the lack of it do to us as individuals, as a culture?  What does it do to our wellbeing, our happiness, our sense of flourishing?

Make no mistake, happiness and wellbeing are important business.  Research shows that happy people are healthier, live longer, have better relationships, make more money and contribute more to society.   I don’t know about you, but when I hear and read some public dialogue these days, I don’t feel a sense of positive emotion, of wellbeing.  I feel ill.

In case you think I’m referring to any particular brand of politics, I’m not (despite the current political climate.)  At time, students – and parents – show disrespect to teachers and faculty, even though they may have a legitimate disagreement. Parents go into tirades at coaches and school-age players at sporting events.  The internet provides a space for all sorts of bullying, harassment and name calling.

What has happened to respecting others’ opinions, even if they differ from your own?  What role models do younger generations have to look up to, if what they have to emulate are adults behaving badly? Speaking of adults, if our homes and families are where we get our foundation what, exactly, are we passing on? What has happened to basics such as kindness, character, dignity, and acting like a grownup (assuming you are one.)

Going back to Seligman’s PERMA, I can’t help but wonder how this type of behavior impacts our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.  One definition of flourishing is:  “to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.”  It’s our responsibility to create that favorable environment, for ourselves and others.  As someone wise once said, “We carry our own weather with us.”

The good news is that so much of this is under our control.  We have the tools we need to create positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.  Research shows that approximately 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by our circumstances (married, single, living conditions) and 40% by behavior.  We get to choose who we will be and how we will relate to the world around us.  We decide what kind of meaning our lives will have.  Making a conscious effort to practice kindness, hope and optimism, gratitude, connection – all of these contribute to impacting the world around us.  So does courtesy, respect and good manners.  And those start at home, with us, and with what we teach our children.

George Washington said it well:  “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

What about you?  What’s your take on the topic of civility?  Please feel free to post a comment on my blog or share it with me in an email.

I’m taking the month of August off from writing this newsletter, for vacation and family time. Enjoy the rest of summer and I’ll see you after Labor Day!

Summer Bucket List

I don’t know about where you are, but summer in Colorado is short and seems to fly by faster each year.  At the beginning of the season, I usually have lots of plans, ideas, and to-do’s – what I want the summer to look like – most of which probably don’t ever get off the ground.  I’m ok with that, though, because some of them do – and they add to the memories of summer that will last long after Labor Day.

In his book, Flourish, Dr. Martin Seligman enumerates the benefits of happiness or well-being in our lives.  They include more meaning, love, gratitude, positive accomplishment, growth and better relationships.  Seen in this light, putting a premium on enjoyment of life is part of the picture of having a full, successful life.  The whole goal of positive psychology is, in fact, to increase flourishing in our life, according to Seligman.  I, for one, don’t want to pass up on having a flourishing life.  So, with that in mind, here is my summer season list, so that I can be, as Montagu said, seized by those moments of happiness and flourish.

  • A trip to the coast of Oregon – something I’ve been wanting to do for years!
  • Try standup paddleboarding – I have no excuse not to, my son rents them out at our local lake.
  • Let go of anything I don’t need or want anymore – make space for more life, less stuff. (The key here is to be sure that more flows out than in.)
  • Go horseback riding at least once. I live in Colorado, for Pete’s sake.
  • Practice listening more than talking.
  • Take more walks with my husband. Spend time with my precious son, before he goes back to school.  And, of course, our dogs.
  • Spend more time at home – puttering, reading, de-cluttering (my new favorite thing) or – what a concept – just enjoy being.
  • Eat outside whenever possible – whether at home on the deck, or at a restaurant.
  • Pick wildflowers from the yard and bring a bouquet inside.
  • Finally, for all of you who wrote the kindest emails on the passing of our beloved Ben, thank you so much! And – May I take this opportunity to introduce our new family member, Princeton.  I had absolutely no intention of adopting another dog so soon, however, Princeton needed a home and one thing, as they say, led to another.  He is a perfect fit for our family and we are so happy to have him.  I plan on spending lots of time with Princeton and Charlie this summer – hiking, walking at the lake and playing.   A simple summer pleasure and, for me, one of the best.

Speaking of wellbeing (and dogs), do you know that there are actual health benefits to having a pet?  Research shows that owning a pet can improve quality of life in several ways.   Emotionally, having a pet has been shown to decrease depression, stress and anxiety.    Pets also can help lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. Then there’s all that unconditional love and loyalty that pets can provide.

Introducing Princeton!

Introducing Princeton!

I’m sharing my seasonal bucket list with you in the hope that you might be inspired to create one for yourself, as you become more intentional about what you want your summer season to look like.   I invite you to craft one for yourself and, if you feel like it, share it on my blog or my Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/Evergreen-Life-and-Wellness-204475386293524/

Here’s to summer!