Hope for the Holidays

Are You Feeling Stressed Out?

The stress of these times is unprecedented for just about everyone I know, including me! You too?

Nine months so far and still going strong, the Coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc all over the place for most people. Our individual and family lives, our rhythms and routines within our communities and beyond, and the world all around us have all been up-ended. Whatever we were dealing with before the pandemic seems even harder now. And on top of it all, here come the holidays.

“We practice social distancing so that when we return to the table, no one is missing.” 

The summer months made it easier to visit with our friends and families. But now, the added isolation of winter is looming. As long as we cannot gather safely, how shall we handle the holidays? Feelings can often cloud good decision-making. 

Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong.

Feelings are hard-wired into our brains to give us information. If you boil down the countless words we use to describe them, they’re really pretty basic: happy, sad, mad, scared. Once you simplify what you’re feeling, it becomes a little easier to know what you need. But to do that, you have to take a moment to slow down, settle down, and just breathe. 

Don’t just do something, stand there.

We are trained from an early age to DO rather than to BE. And while there is nothing wrong with doing, the truth is that we will be more effective with whatever course of action we choose if we act from a place of clarity. All that’s called for is some inner calm. And to get there, all that’s required is the breath.

Just breathe.

Try this: stop whatever you’re doing right now and imagine a balloon, uninflated, lying flat upon your table. Pretend, for just a moment, that you are the balloon, Now, fill it up with air (by breathing in slowly through your nose). When it’s full, hold your breath momentarily. And then, let all the air out of it (by breathing out slowly through your mouth). Squeeze all of the air out of the balloon. And then do it again once or twice.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Naht Hanh 

As you do this, allow thoughts and feelings to pass through your mind. Resist the temptation to follow them and instead keep returning your focus to your breath, to the rhythm and the sensation of it, just as it is, with no need and no effort to change it. After a moment or two, see if you notice a shift in your state of mind. 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

As you soften your resistance to difficult feelings, see if you can notice a tiny bit of inner spaciousness that wasn’t there before.  From this place, consider your options for creatively navigating the holidays. Expand your sense of possibilities for connecting and celebrating with loved ones near and far. Remind yourself that you can walk through this season one breath, one step, and one day at a time. Remember that better days lie ahead.

Achieving emotional wellbeing feels even more out of reach than ever. But there is a way to do it, even in these times. If you’d like to learn how, I’d like to help you.

Click here for information about my newest offering. Feel free to reach out of you have any questions!

How Do You Cope with Covid-19? One Day at a Time.

Are You feeling a little crazy right now? Me too. And we are not alone.

People all over the world are feeling gripped with fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and a hundred and one different varieties of loss. In short, with grief. People tend to think of death when we use the word “grief,” but the truth is that any kind of loss and change can trigger grief and everything that can go along with it. Grief is what we’re all feeling right now as we worry and wait for the next piece of news, all the while trying to go about living with some semblance of normalcy which, for most of us, is taking place almost entirely within the four walls of wherever we call home.

Life as we knew it, indefinitely disrupted.

While each person’s situation and circumstances are unique, everybody’s lives are disrupted. And everyone is grieving the loss of any semblance of daily life as they knew it until so recently.

As a clinician in a college counseling center (we’re all working remotely now), I’m hearing a lot of students say they feel like they’re in shock. And in a way, they are. As are we all. It can help to remember that the Covid-19 crisis is still very new. None of us have had any real time to assimilate anything they’re feeling, never mind what’s going on in the world. It has all happened (and is still happening) fast.  

Teens and twenty-somethings, many of whom are still in school, are suffering their own version of these experiences as they, like the rest of us, begin reckoning with the sudden disconnection from the people, communities, and routines they have lived and loved until just a few weeks ago.

The New Plan A: a secret superpower for how to cope in these uncertain times.

It’s all about how to create and sustain your emotional wellbeing in hard times, whatever they are. We are mind-body-spirit creatures, which just means that what we think, what we do, and how we feel are connected. Each one affects the other ones. So the secret superpower of reclaiming and maintaining emotional wellbeing, no matter what is going on outside of us, is all about harnessing the power of a few simple self-care practices. Not just understanding them conceptually or abstractly, but actually doing them. Over and over again.

Start with the mind. Begin raising your awareness of what’s going on in your head. Get more familiar with your typical thoughts, especially the ones that recur, and most especially if they’re negative. If you find yourself gripped by negative thoughts, consider making up an affirmation to the contrary and practicing saying it to yourself over and over again: things like, “I am safe. I can trust myself to know what to do. This too shall pass.”

The reason affirmations are important is that we tend to believe the things we tell ourselves, especially when we tell them to ourselves over and over again. Even f they’re not actually, factually true, we start to think that they are. And if what we’re telling ourselves is relentlessly negative or even just colored by our fears and anxieties, we can’t help not feeling increasingly bad.

Now, consider your body. All of the stress you’re feeling is neurochemically encoded. That means that it’s circulating throughout your body and affecting every system in your body. So you have to get up and move. The more you move, the more you release it. It’s like the difference between moving water and standing water. Moving water is cleaner and fresher and clearer. You don’t have to be an olympic athlete. You just have to move. Stand up, stretch, walk, do some yoga or tai chi; put on music that gets you going and dance, or sing, or both! Break a sweat. You will definitely feel a positive difference.

And the thing about spirit, how you feel, is that it pretty much follows from the other two, mind and body. So when you find yourself feeling down, or anxious, or angry, or any tumultuous combination of unpleasant feelings, take a look at what’s going on in your head. And if you’ve been sedentary for too long, get up and move.

The ABCs of The New Plan A are simple.

Just think ABC: Acceptance, deep and complete, one Breath at a time, with Compassion for yourself and for everyone else too. These practices are at the root of emotional wellbeing no matter what our current challenges are. Situations and circumstances may change, but the practices are always the same.

Click below to listen to the podcasts I made for you about how to cope in the time of Covid-19.

Episode Fifty: Coping with Covid-19.

Episode Fifty: Coping with Covid-19: Tips for Teens and Twenty-Somethings

Ho Ho Hell

Are the holidays hard for you? If so, you are not alone.

A lot of people struggle at this time of year. Surprisingly more than you might have thought.

If you’re someone who suffers while others are celebrating, you’re probably carrying an added burden of believing you’re “supposed to” feel some other way.

And that only reinforces your feelings of loneliness and adds to your misery.

What we’re really talking about is grief.

People tend to think of death when we use the word “grief,” but the truth is that any kind of loss can trigger grief and everything that can go along with it.

Your grief is as unique as a fingerprint.

Whether it was a bad break-up or a difficult divorce; an unexpected medical diagnosis or a chronic illness; the exhaustion of caregiving for an aging parent; or the myriad losses that go along with recovery from addiction or codependency, all kinds of losses can become amplified in this season where images of wholeness and expectations of happiness are projected, larger than life, just about everywhere you go.

The experience of grief is universal

There is a universality to the human experience of grief. Because everyone loves. And every person has had or will have the experience of losing what they have loved. Thus every person, at some time in their life, will grieve. Whether you’re grieving your own loss, or wanting to support someone else who is grieving, it’s all about how to “be there” for yourself, for another person, or both.

There are ways to deal with the holiday season, to cope with whatever comes up for you, to get through it all with less wear and tear on your spirit… and maybe even to enjoy yourself, even just a little bit.

You have a right to your sorrow. And, you deserve the joy of simple, present-tense pleasures.

During this holiday season, and the rest of the year too, remember to have the intention to balance your right to honor your feelings that aren’t so jolly with your right to experience a little here and now pleasantness despite your sadness, your anger or regret, your sorrow… in short, your grief.

Click below listen to the podcast I made for you about the challenge of getting through the holidays.

Can You Relate to This Caregiver’s Lament?

I recently took a walk with a friend whose mother is ninety-four years old.

While our dogs ran and played, she shared her recent experience of trying to purchase three roundtrip airline tickets: one for herself, one for her mother, and one for her brother. Her goal was to set up a series of family visits this coming summer. But the details of the arrangements were mind-boggling! And it struck me that the resulting crazy travelogue is symbolic of the tender dance her family is doing in this era of caring for her extremely aged mother.

The thing my friend most wanted to talk about was her struggle to reconcile past and present where her family relationships are concerned. 

She shared her awareness of a kind of higher moral consciousness she feels is guiding her choices and decisions now in spite of her ancient childhood hurts which, not surprisingly, are coming up again. She’s been going out of her way to try to improve the quality of her mother’s life even though it’s taking a huge toll on her own time, energy, and emotional wellbeing.

The worst thing for her is that she’s not feeling appreciated at all.

Her mother’s lack of acknowledgement of her efforts is triggering familiar hurts that date back to her childhood.

And even though she knows that her mother has never been forthcoming with expressions of appreciation or warmth, she’s lamenting it all over again, and even somehow more so, now.

The time has come for her to let go of her lifelong yearning for the mothering she knows she did not and will not receive in this lifetime.  

Amidst such heartache, how is she, or any of us, to accomplish this delicate, poignant task?

From the logistical to the emotional, caregiving is a daunting task which often puts our best coping skills to the test.

What then are we, poor souls caught between the rock of our present-moment demands and the hard place of our filial obligations, to do?

The dilemma is both existential and practical.

But if you are suffering the cumulative toll of caregiving and struggling for relief, healing, and restored wellbeing, the good news is that the practical question has a surprisingly simple answer.

Think ABC.

ABC stands for Acceptance, deep and complete, one Breath at a time, with Compassion for self and for others.

Acceptance, deep and complete” of everything and everyone as it is, as they are, right now, without judgment. Because the vast majority of the suffering we experience in these situations comes from non-acceptance.

One Breath at a time because the more deeply and regularly we breathe, the less vulnerable we are to anxiety, the more clearly we think, and the less likely we are to feel quite so exhausted and overwhelmed.  Even if we have to repeat our deep breaths many times in the course of a day (or even an hour), the truth is that even just a few of them really can make a huge difference.

With Compassion for self and others because caregiving scenarios are inescapably difficult, whatever their details. Everybody is vulnerable in one way or other. It’s hard for everyone involved.

Equally important is the fact that this kind of compassion is highly correlated with the reduced stress and improved emotional wellbeing you’re trying to achieve. It’s that simple.

Therefore, you’ve got to muster the kind of kindness you’d be inclined to offer anybody else and then treat yourself, and others too, that way. And you’ve got to do it even if you don’t feel it. You’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.

The path through the caregiving experience is not a straight line or a superhighway. 

It’s a winding road, or a snaky mountain pass, and it’s definitely a country mile. The thing to remember is that it goes where it goes and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The trick is to be able to support yourself along the journey that is uniquely yours. The better you can do that, the better you’ll fare at those times when the going gets tough.

You can practice ABC anywhere, anytime, whenever you need it. So it makes you less at the mercy of whatever is happening in the moment. And that’s empowering.

However your heartache came to you, ABC really can get you moving again toward restored serenity, peace, and the kind of emotional wellbeing you want.

All you have to do is practice. Moments a day is all, more is better, and anything is good.

Click here to listen to the podcast I  recorded for you about “The ABCs of Caregiving.”


Forgiveness and the Problem of Fairness

“It’s not fair. Why does the betrayed person have to do all the work?”

That’s the question a woman asked me after reading last week’s blog post in this series on forgiveness. And she’s not alone, is she? Because really, it’s human nature to feel that way. And the truth is that there is no one right answer to the question of how to handle a forgiveness dilemma. There’s no “one size fits all.” For that matter, there’s no wrong answer either.

The thing is that, where forgiveness is concerned, the concept of fairness is basically irrelevant.

Because forgiveness, at least on the most practical level, is not about the other person; it’s about you. And if that’s the bad news, then the good news is that the power to reclaim and restore your serenity, inner peace, joy, and overall well being is right in the palm of your hand.

A great teacher of mine used to say this: no matter how you got your problems, they’re still yours to solve.

No matter what anyone else did (or didn’t do), you get to choose how hard you’re willing to work to reclaim your basic right to enjoy your life.

Getting clear about your beliefs about the concept of fairness will take you a long way toward making choices that will bring you the relief you want, need, and deserve.

The thing about fairness is that it can be tricky. It’s an edgy concept. Most of us carry a lot of baggage around the whole idea of it. So the first step is to make sure you’re on top of your “stuff” about it: your beliefs, your thoughts, and your feelings about it. As you raise your awareness about all of that, you can begin to make some decisions about what you still want to keep and what you might want to let go. The thing that should be your guide is the way your belief(s) make you feel.

“Living well is the best revenge,” wrote the English poet George Herbert.

Leaving the concept of “revenge” aside for the moment, he was spot-on right. And if you want to live well, you’ve got to take a look at your beliefs about fairness.

Scroll down to listen to my podcast episode about fairness.

If you have a forgiveness dilemma you’d like to share, feel free. I’ll address it, minus identifying names and details, during the next few weeks of this series on forgiveness. Or if you’d like to speak with me privately, go ahead and send me a message and we’ll set up a time.

Remember that your serenity, inner peace, and joy don’t have to hinge on anyone else’s behavior. Try to notice when you’re digging in your heels, cutting off your nose to spite your face, or otherwise holding onto the very feelings you’re trying to let go of.

As always, remember to breathe.