An Old Journal Post

Hello all! It has been quite a while since I posted in this blog..but that’s life for you! I hope to resume writing posts soon and share life’s experiences with all of you.

Today I wanted to show you excerpts of a journal entry I wrote on 12/31/2013. It was roughly 4 years ago that I wrote this and right before the new year, 2014, kicked in. Hope it gives you some inspiration!

It is 12:13 AM and I am sitting in my room. Boy, I just went over one of the older journal entries and it is funny just how much life changes year to year. I am deciding, for the first time, to not make resolutions this year. Every year I make resolutions, they barely go through. I feel like I have already started so many resolutions within the past year that I should just continue them. So in a nontraditional manner, I am not going to make 2014 resolutions, but am going to reflect on what I learned in 2013 and why, in my opinion, it was the most fruitful year for my evolution and growth.

I learned that not everyone is meant to stay in your life, and even some that stay in your life are not meant to stay there forever. In reality, the only thing that is constant in my life is me. I learned that you should focus your time and energy on the people that will help you grow into a better person and not let you fall back into bad habits. I also learned that some people are meant to be there in your life for only a phase and will help you get through that phase, but then their expiration date appears. I am forever grateful for both those people that do and don’t have an expiration date because they taught me this important lesson and have helped me become who I am today.

I learned that social media shouldn’t dictate your life. I used to be so upset if no one liked my status or if no one responded back to me, but I don’t care anymore. I use social media because I am simply a social person. I am not trying to become famous, get compliments, or have a reason to get an inflated ego, but I use it as a way to see what others are up to. I admit, I get jealous at times and sometimes I think I bring that upon myself, but I have learned the important lesson that social media doesn’t define you unless you let it define you.

I learned that gratitude goes a long way. I started a gratitude journal in November and started a daily writing journal in August and I swear that by doing both, I have seen a significant improvement in my life. I don’t mean improvement as in my life got better, but improvement as in my way of thinking has changed. I used to be so negative and my attitude would make me see the world in a negative light, but the act of daily gratitude has changed all of that. Now things that usually upset me either don’t upset me at all or upset me considerably less. Of course I am human and I am not perfect, so I have my days where I become very sensitive and all my walls are brought down, but I can happily say for the most part that gratitude has really changed my life.

I learned that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, and I can attest to that myself. I have learned in 2013 that, along with gratitude, forgiveness goes a long way. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily need to vocally involve the other person, but just forgiving someone can let the mind be at peace. I learned to try not to stay angry at people if they’ve wronged me in any way. Everyone is trying their best to be a good person and are doing what it takes to make themselves happy, even if it hurts you in the process. I do the same to others and stay positive that they forgive me too, and usually they do. I know. Sometimes it’s better to try to understand how someone else feels in a situation and try to step into their shoes, which goes hand in hand with gratitude for me. I feel like a lot of situations that would’ve normally really upset me, ended up making me feel gratitude for other people or scenarios.

I learned in 2013 that sometimes letting go is the best thing to do for yourself. Not necessarily in personal relationships, but in every day decisions. I learned to not stay too attached to the outcome of a scenario or whatever your mind creates, because sometimes the unknown shows you how beautiful it is. Now I try not to stay too attached to scenarios, especially if I am just assuming something. Sometimes letting go is the best thing you can do for yourself, and if the situation involves other people, it can be the best thing for them. I have let go of anything that is holding me back against my potential in life and my life has drastically improved with learning this.

Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself in 2013. I learned what makes me happy, what makes me sad, and learned what makes me curious. I learned that I am a strong and independent person, but am very loyal at the same time. I am loyal to my family and I am loyal to those I consider friends. I strive to see the best in everyone and try to make other people smile. I am a good person and I know I have a good heart. I know my self-worth and know that I deserve to be appreciated, loved, and cared for. I am really happy with who I have become and even though I still have a ways to go, I have started the climb to the peak. Here’s to 2014 and continuing that climb.

Much love and hope everyone is doing well!

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Let’s Talk About Stress

Stress: our not-so-friendly neighbor that enters into our lives without knocking, or sometimes that kind neighbor that inspires us to pursue something that inspires us. Stress can be beneficial (eustress) or bad stress (distress), but can definitely impact our life for the better or worse. I’m here to talk about distress and ways that we can cope when we unexpectedly (or expectedly) experience it in our life.

This topic is very near and dear to me since, as I’ve gotten older, I physically feel the effects of stress more and more. The tension I feel in my body when stressed manifests into my jaw, which led to me having TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), and results in me grinding and/or clenching my jaw in my sleep. Because of TMJ, I have to wear a splint that separates my upper and lower teeth at night..and is something I may have to live with for the duration of my life. I often wake up with headaches that all result from the tension staying in my jaw and also see a change in my eating habits that affect how my digestion works. All because I have struggled to find effective ways to combat this stress and release the tension from my body. Stress can really take a toll on our physical and mental health if left untreated, which is why I think it is so important to learn how to identify when you’re feeling stressed and then have a good plan-of-attack to fight it when it arrives.

First off, what is stress and how does it physiologically work in our bodies and lead into these symptoms we experience? To put it simply, a “stressor” will cause an intricate pathway of events that lead to the release of cortisol, the key player in our body’s stress response. When levels of cortisol are increased in our body due to stress, its job is to get us back to normal. This involves regulating our blood sugar and maintaining the normal environment that keeps our bodies happy, but it comes at a price of lowering our immune system, which is our built-in defense system we have against infections. Have you ever noticed that when you’re especially stressed, you easily develop a cold or some kind of sickness? It’s because your immune system can’t protect you as well during stress and, therefore, makes us more susceptible to illnesses.

While stress can sometimes be unavoidable and oftentimes we experience bodily stress without knowing it, there are ways that we can reduce the effects of stress and even prevent it from being chronic:

  1. Identify your stress triggers. What causes you stress? My personal triggers are when I feel overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, insecure, or generally uneasy with situations in life. When I start noticing these feelings and negative thoughts occurring, I know I’m experiencing a stress response and will change gears and work on some stress-reducing activities.
  2. Find physical activities to reduce stress. You know that high you feel after working out, running, or doing something physically demanding? That’s because of endorphins we release when being active that act as natural painkillers. I personally always feel less stressed after going for a run, taking a walk, going to a yoga or fitness class, or just hitting up the gym. If you don’t want to strain yourself, even a walk outside can do some good.
  3. Find visual ways to reduce stress. What are things you love seeing that make you feel less stressed? For some people this may be a funny TV show, or a website that has cute pictures of baby animals. For me, my visual way to reduce stress is going outside and viewing nature: the trees, plants, grass, flowers, animals, birds, etc. What is something you can look at that will produce a sense of calm?
  4. Journal. Similar to how I hold tension in my jaw when stressed, we can unknowingly hold emotional stress in our minds and just let it sit there and amplify our physical symptoms. One way we can combat this is to write down whatever is causing our stress and getting it out of our mind and onto a piece of paper or computer document.
  5. Meditation. I found through a dedicated meditation practice that sometimes allowing myself to feel uncomfortable and sit with the stress gives me power to not let it take control over me. Now when I start feeling tension building in my body, I go into a quiet room or put headphones on and throw on a guided meditation, or meditate in silence. Sometimes when we notice the stressful thoughts as if we are an outside observer, it takes away the power the thoughts hold over us.
  6. Gratitude. Stress can throw us into a mental state where we are thinking of everything in a negative way. One way to combat the negative thinking that causes stress or stress can cause, is to make a list of what we are grateful for. Even one single thought of something you’re grateful for can create a change in your mood and help lower your feeling of stress. I try and think of at least 3 things I’m grateful for every day, and especially when I start to feel cynical and ungrateful for situations in life. It really is such a powerful tool.

While experiencing stress is a normal part of being human and experiencing the ups and downs in life, we don’t have to let it take control over our life and be a long-term unwanted visitor. Your mind and body are both precious entities of your being that should be treated with love and care, even when stress makes us feel uncomfortable. Over time, the coping mechanisms we have against stress will be so incorporated into our routine that we will find ourselves becoming more resilient when facing tough situations that life throws at us.

The Science of Gratitude

Happy April, everyone! Spring finally feels like it has come here to stay for longer than short periods at a time. I am grateful to be able to enjoy the sunshine and spend more time outside.

I want to focus this post on gratitude and go into the science of why implementing it into our daily lives can really help us experience more positive emotions (even amidst negative situations). I really want to highlight this topic because I have personally found that even a single thought of gratitude can dramatically shift my mood from negative to positive and turn a bad day into a good one. You might think, “Wow, a single thought?” Yes, most definitely a single thought! Gratitude can be a very significant tool in helping us lead the kinds of lives we want to live.

The positive psychology field has been very successful in garnering scientific researchers to tap into the effects of how gratitude affects our lives. One of the most informative studies came from the efforts of three scientists, Dr. Emmons at UC Davis, Dr. McCullough at U of Miami, and Dr. Tsang at Baylor. The collaboration between these researchers in 2002 resulted in a famous study (made up of four smaller studies) that assessed how grateful disposition (choosing to be grateful) affected the quality of life (along with numerous other lifestyle factors) in study participants. To measure grateful disposition, they developed a 6-statement Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ-6), which was given to the participants who had to self-report their ratings on a scale from 1-7, with 1=strongly disagreeing and 7=strongly agreeing. You can see and download the questionnaire here and read the original research article here.

Below are the 6 statements that were on The Gratitude Questionnaire (GQ-6) and the four studies that the researchers performed:

  1. I have so much in life to be thankful for.
  2. If I had to list everything that I felt grateful for, it would be a very long list.
  3. When I look at the world, I don’t see much to be grateful for.
  4. I am grateful to a wide variety of people.
  5. As I get older I find myself more able to appreciate the people, events, and situations that have been part of my life history.
  6. Long amounts of time can go by before I feel grateful to something or someone.

Study 1: The researchers recruited 238 undergraduate psychology students to take the GQ-6 and self-report their life satisfactionvitality, subjective happiness, optimism, hope, positive and negative affects, and psychological symptoms (anxiety/depression/etc). They then wanted to look at the correlation between grateful disposition and the above measures of positive well-being, in addition to prosociality, spirituality/religiousness, and the Big Five traits.

Study 2: This was similar to Study 1, but the researchers involved non-students through a web survey on the internet and wanted to see the correlation between grateful disposition and positive and negative affects, the disposition to forgive, spirituality, and the Big Five traits.

Study 3: The researchers looked at the correlation between the factors considered in Studies 1& 2 and grateful disposition, but also looked further into a relationship between materialismenvy, and grateful disposition in 156 undergraduate psychology students.

Study 4: From Studies 1-3, the researchers found that disposition toward
gratitude was correlated with the Extraversion/positive affectivity, Neuroticism/negative affectivity, and Agreeableness traits from the Big Five assessment. In this study, they wanted to see if there was any correlations that existed independently of these Big Five traits and retroactively performed correlation statistics by keeping certain Big Five traits constant in their re-analysis.

So what did the researchers conclude from these studies? They had numerous findings and conclusions, many of which were laid down as a foundation for future gratitude research, but overall, they found that grateful people are higher in positive emotions and life satisfaction and lower in negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, and envy. Even more interesting is that most people report being grateful (an average rating of nearly 6 on a 7 point scale). Gratitude really is all around us!

Interestingly, the study showed that a grateful disposition didn’t necessarily diminish unpleasant feels (i.e. make our problems go away), but did enhance pleasant emotions. Dr. Emmons states on his lab website that, “Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.

What does this all mean for us going forward? It’s absolutely GREAT news and shows us that, while gratitude doesn’t make our problems go away, it can certainly enhance our ability to experience positive emotions in life. Also, even if one is born with a lower grateful disposition, there are ways to cultivate more gratitude in life. I find that gratitude helps me get to a better mental state of mind that increases my ability to find clarity in unpleasant situations and gain the strength to find solutions to problems i’m facing. Gratitude is my catalyst to making better decisions in life. Was I always like this? Absolutely not. By making it a goal to practice more gratitude every day (through the suggestions I make below) has truly made a dramatic change in my life for the better.

With all of this being said, what are some ways we can cultivate more gratitude in our lives?

  1. Keep a gratitude journal and use it to write down all the things and people in life you’re grateful for. This is a wonderful reference you can go to during moments in life when you feel negative emotions. You can also create a daily exercise and write down 3 positive things that happen every day, which is is a great way to seek out the good things that happen to us on a daily basis.
  2. Write a gratitude letter to people you are grateful for. Show them how thankful you are for them being in your life. On that note, write a gratitude letter to yourself and highlight what parts of yourself you are grateful for. Show yourself the same gratitude you show others!
  3. Meditate with a lovingkindness meditation (also called Metta meditation) that evokes compassion towards yourself and others by repeating loving phrases towards yourself and others. My meditation teacher (in the Saturday morning group meditation class I used to go to regularly) would always include this Metta meditation at the end of our 30 minute individual meditation practice and I often felt my heart open after doing this.
  4. Count your blessings and try to circumvent negative thoughts that pop in with something that you’re grateful for. I like to personally ask myself during hard times, “What can I learn from this? What is this situation teaching me?” and try to use every negative situation as an opportunity to grow and/or learn more about myself.
  5. Make cultivating gratitude a shared effort and have a shared Google doc/Skype date/club meeting/journal/list/e-mail thread with someone else or a group of friends who is/are trying to cultivate more gratitude into his/her/their life/lives as well. Just like finding a workout buddy, our goals can be more easily obtained (and fun!) if we share them with others and have someone else hold us accountable for what we are trying to achieve. I also find it helps to find more motivation when someone else is participating in a goal with you, and luckily this gratitude goal will benefit all included party members in a very positive way.

I hope this article has inspired you to cultivate more gratitude in your life. What are you grateful for? 🙂

The Power Of Your Belly

If you’re somewhat perplexed by the title of this blog post, then good! I wanted to catch your attention and discuss something that I have found to be very important: our breathing.

“What do you mean our breathing? Don’t we do that all the time? Why do I need to read a blog post on it?”

Yes, we do involuntarily (for good reason!) breathe, but did you know that there are different ways we breathe? Improper breathing can affect how we mentally and physically feel and, in reverse, how we mentally and physically (i.e. stress) feel can lead to improper breathing.

To give you an idea, imagine what is going on in the following scenarios:

You are being chased by a grizzly bear. Chances are, you are breathing rapidly with shallow breaths (drawing in minimal air to the lungs), making a lot of effort, and are heavily expanding your chest during this type of breathing; this is referred to as thoracic breathing or chest breathing. This is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for that fight-or-flight response we get when we sense any kind of danger, stress, or threat. This chest breathing doesn’t optimally use our lungs (via our diaphragm) and can even lead to hyperventilation. This type of breathing isn’t necessarily bad since it gives you the ability to “run” from this grizzly bear or help during vigorous exercise, but, as you can imagine, can be unnecessary and make you feel more anxious and stressed if it is done during a time when you aren’t vigorously exercising or needing to employ a fight-or-flight response.

You just did something relaxing and feel very calm. Chances are, you are breathing slowly (drawing in optimal air to the lungs via the diaphragm), are making a minimal effort, and are expanding your abdomen/belly as you take in air; this is referred to as diaphragmatic breathing. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the opposite effect of the fight-or-flight response and induces a feeling of calm and relaxation. This is the kind of breathing we want to practice and is beneficial to our minds and bodies. Let’s go further into how we can practice this below.

Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep/belly breathing, has scientifically been shown to help those suffering with PTSD, pain, depression, anxiety, and much more.

Currently, there is active research on the beneficial effects of deep breathing on our minds and bodies, and there is a reason why it has been featured on the websites of NPR, Harvard, TIME, New York Times, National Institutes of Health, The Wall Street Journal, and there are even new companies that aim to provide tools to help us improve our breathing.

As someone who tends to exhibit the fight-or-flight response at unnecessary and non-threatening times (a work in progress!), I can personally vouch for the benefits of deep breathing on reducing the adverse effects of tension, stress, and anxiety. In fact, my journey into the world of yoga was when I first became aware of how often I took shallow breaths and didn’t utilize the most out of my lungs–that type of breathing just felt normal to me, but little did I know it had adverse effects on my body and mind.

To help us improve our breathing, my yoga teacher would often tell us to lie down on the ground, place one hand on our belly, the other on our heart/chest, and visualize the breath expanding in our belly as we inhale (through contraction of our diaphragm) and notice our belly slowly deflating as we exhale. We would switch between inhaling through the nose and exhaling out through the mouth, as well as sighing out through our mouth as we exhaled. (Side note: I recommend sighing out through your mouth to release some tension, it feels good! Make some noise with it too!) We would eventually work up to pranayama by the end of class, which is the ancient practice of controlling the breath, and I would find myself feeling a sense of calm after doing these breathing exercises. If you are interested, you can read more about pranayama at this link and this TIME article provides some pranayama exercises as well.

I took the breathing exercises I learned in my yoga classes and have started to practice deep breathing in my daily life. If there’s a time when I feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, restless, etc, I take a few minutes to perform some belly breathing. I can’t say there has been a time that I haven’t felt calmer, or at the least, less tense/anxious/stressed after deep breathing. It is important to note that deep breathing isn’t a cure-all and won’t get rid of the underlying problems that are causing you stress, but it can at least temporarily provide you with a sense of calm and help get you to a better place both physically and emotionally/mentally. Feeling calmer can lead us to have more clarity in situations and use our rational thought in problem-solving, so it’s always beneficial to try to get to a more calm place when you find yourself in a stressed-out state of mind.

With all this being said, I would like to share some resources for you (aside from the links I provided above) to help you practice deep/belly breathing:

General Deep Breathing: This is a general deep breathing technique you can use anywhere. Find a place to sit or lie down and take a moment to just breathe as you normally would. When ready, breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your abdomen expand fully. I personally like to close my eyes, but you can choose to close your eyes or leave them open as you prefer. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth or nose (whichever feels better) and feel your abdomen slowly deflate. You can choose to place your hands on your belly so you can physically feel what your belly is doing. I recommend trying this breathing technique for at least 8 rounds of inhale/exhale, but play around with doing it for shorter or longer periods of time, breathing in/out through your mouth/nose, and make sure to do what works best for YOU.

4-7-8 Technique: This technique makes use of “counting” while you inhale and exhale to maximize belly breathing. In this technique, you inhale through the nose and count to 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and then exhale for a count of 8. Check out a guided video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRPh_GaiL8s.

Visual Breathing Guide: This is a fantastic video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdbbtgf05Ek) that provides a visual reference to sync your breaths to. If you are a visual person like me, this will be an invaluable resource to help slow down and take deep breaths, as well as be a calming resource for the eyes as well.

*I want to make a note that if you ever find yourself feeling worse, or hyperventilating, after doing any breathing exercises then please stop practicing them. We are all individuals and what may work for one person may not work for another, so please be compassionate to yourself.*

There you have it, a reason/solution for why and how we can truly use our breathing to our physical and mental/emotional advantage. In addition to the biological survival mechanism we absolutely need breathing for, we can use it as a tool to help induce relaxation and reduce the effects of stress, anxiety, and tension that we will all inevitably feel at times in our lives.

Who knew how much power our bellies hold? Go forth and give your belly (and your overall self) some much-needed, and deep, love..and maybe a rub too! 🙂

Music Therapy: A Form of Meditation

As you probably have heard, noticed, and felt, there have been a lot of negative things around us lately. This is the best time (silver lining) to learn ways to take care of ourselves, others, and cope with stress that can feel inevitable at times. Even when times get better and we have nothing to be upset about, we can always utilize effective coping mechanisms when life decides to throw us a curve ball..so let’s put them into practice now.

One thing I’ve thought about lately is the power of music. No, i’m not some fancy musician who can wake up and write the perfect Grammy-winning song at 4 AM, nor do I play an instrument and understand the deep inner workings of what a treble clef is. I have, however, used music as a form of therapy for as long as I can remember and have found it works wonders for calming the mind and lifting the spirit. Many of us use music as a way to avert boredom or kill time when we’re commuting to/from work, sitting on a plane, trying to not look lame when we’re waiting for someone to show up, etc, but not many of us realize the power music has on our well being.

How many times have you used music as a form of meditation? Meditation doesn’t need to involve being completely quiet, but can simply be a way to slow down your thoughts. (P.S. It’s a myth that meditation removes your thoughts completely. There is no biological/psychological way for thoughts to completely go away. They will always be there (for good reason!), but meditation can help slow down thought intervals.)

For my fellow science-ers that like some sort of data before trying anything, there was a study led by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson at the Mindlab International in the UK that found listening to this song lowered anxiety by 65% in 40 participating women (just checked, the YouTube link has had a whopping  15,130,878 views! Now, that’s a lot of views). So what is so special about the song? A sound therapist at the British Academy of Sound Therapy, explained how the song affects the body:

“[The song] contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50. While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat.”

Anyone with a heart rate monitor want to test this out? Please let me know if you do!

The Mindlab International also recommends listening to these following songs as well:

We Can Fly,” by Rue du Soleil (Café Del Mar)

Canzonetta Sull’aria,” by Mozart

Someone Like You,” by Adele

Pure Shores,” by All Saints

Please Don’t Go,” by Barcelona

Strawberry Swing,” by Coldplay

Watermark,” by Enya

Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix),” by DJ Shah

Electra,” by Airstream

One thing I like to do when listening to music, especially when stressed, is to really focus on the beats and melody of the song if it’s instrumental. If there are lyrics, I try to focus and listen to the words (which is why it’d be effective to listen to positive lyrics, if possible, if you plan on using the song as a way to relax). Music has lately been a form of meditation to me because when I put on a song I like, or one that is calming, I find that I stop thinking about what is making me stressed and instead use the song as a focal point to redirect my thoughts.

Start taking note of songs you hear that instantly put you into a good mood and make a list of them. I’ve started either writing them down or taking a mental note of songs that instantly make me smile, feel calm, and/or want to dance.  Here are some songs/music artists I personally enjoy:

1. Like video games? Listen to the Triforce Quartet, the music is so soothing and you can also nerd out to the theme songs from your favorite video games.

2. Lindsey Stirling is my spirit animal. How many people do you know rock out to a violin, dance beautifully, all while to the beat of electronic dance music? This girl can!

3. I recently heard Run-Around by Blues Traveler when driving and instantly felt some joy, there’s something about the beat of the song.

Can you think of any tunes that make the blues go away? Go listen to them when you get a chance! 🙂

Channel Your Inner Tortoise

Disclaimer: This is my personal retelling of Aesop’s “The Hare & the Tortoise”. 🙂

Once upon a time, there was a Hare (looks like a rabbit, but isn’t) that prided himself on his ability to be lightning fast. He kept bragging and bragging about it to all the forest animals, until one day, a Tortoise named Slow and Steady (looks like a turtle, but isn’t) challenged him to a race.

(Now, we can all infer from movies/books/general media that if a tortoise LOOKS like a turtle, it must be SLOW like a turtle is, right? Have you ever seen a tortoise move? Let’s just say if you and the tortoise are trying to compete and grab the last Classic NES system during the Black Friday sale, chances are the tortoise isn’t going to physically beat you there to the shelf. :-P)

Anyways, the Hare started running down the road and noticed Slow and Steady trailing along behind him. He yelled out, “How do you expect to win this race at the pace you’re at?” Since Slow and Steady was way behind, the Hare decided to take a nap on the side of the road. After all, he has absolutely nothing to worry about, right? He’ll definitely beat Slow and Steady, no problem.

While the Hare was sleeping, Slow and Steady continued to move along the road at a comfortable speed. He kept going and going, but never once rushed himself. Eventually, he crossed the Finish Line and won the race for all the forest animals to see!

The Hare finally woke up and continued rushing down the road to win that race he obviously knew he was going to win…but, wait? Slow and Steady already finished the race and won? The Hare asked himself, “How could this be, when I am so fast?” Alas, the Hare accepted a new life lesson and discovered for himself, “Don’t brag about your lightning pace, for slow and steady wins the race!”

As a child, I grew up reading this fable over and over again. Back then, I didn’t know that this short story contained wisdom that I would revisit 20 years later and would hope to instill into my daily life as an adult. I realized that I always rush my way through life and try to get to the “Finish Line” as soon as I can, just like the Hare. Do you ever feel like that sometimes? We all live such busy lives and have to manage so many things at once: our job, our health, our relationships, our children, our pets, our home, our finances, etc. The list can go on and on..especially if subcategories are used! No wonder journals are coming back in style as well as productivity apps on our phones to help us keep track of what we need to do every day.

How many times in the past 24 hours have you put down your phone, your computer mouse, your TV remote control, your to-do list, and stood still in the present moment for even just 5 minutes? Have you actively stopped to take in your surroundings, your senses, your thoughts, and hear your own breath? If you’re like me, this is a rare (if it even happens at all) event. I realized that I don’t know how to relax and slow down. 

If you struggle with slowing down in life like me, let’s challenge ourselves to channel our inner tortoise and try to slow down a little. Here is what I plan on doing and I invite you to try these with me:

  1. Spend 5-10 minutes each day doing nothing: WHAT? How do I not do something? It’s hard because we are trained to constantly be on our feet (or mentally “on”), but this is a great way to remind yourself that you don’t need to be busy to feel happy or a sense of calm. You can even call this meditation if you want. It’s simply a time you can set to being still and giving your body and mind a break from the surrounding world. I know we are all busy and rely on our phones to keep us on track in our lives, so why not set a reminder to do this every day on your phone? Even better, use this free Insight Timer phone app to set a time limit for yourself so that you don’t accidentally go beyond the amount of time you have in your busy day to do this. (Bonus: the app contains 1000s of guided meditations..all for free!) Do you need a meditation cushion or decked out room for this? Nah. You just need some place (preferably away from all the hustle and bustle) to withdraw from your senses. Go outside your home for 5 minutes, take a walk, go into an empty room, or throw on headphones with some calming music (http://www.calm.com) if you find that you can’t get away from noise. See additional calming apps below in #3 to use as a substitute for music.
  2. Stop and notice your surroundings: This is a way to be mindful in your every day. Do you find yourself rushing to work or to get a task done? Or simply rushing through life, in general, to always get to that next step (whatever it is)? Take a few moments to stop and notice your surroundings. I have found this is a great grounding tool for when I start feeling anxious and/or overwhelmed with life. Are you outside? Take a moment to describe what you see and hear, whether it’s a tree, the sound of birds, buildings, people, etc. Are you inside? Take a moment to notice the color of the walls, the color of the chair/couch you’re on, the texture of an object that is near you, or the food that you’re eating. Although it doesn’t seem like it, this is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness doesn’t need to be done in a group meditation class, or while being guided by a teacher, it can be done at any moment. That’s the point, actually, is to be aware of the present moment. Not the past, nor the future, but the present moment.
  3. Can’t get away from your phone? Use your phone to your advantage then!: I totally understand that our phones are our connections to others and to the world. Sometimes we are “on call” to our children, our spouses, family members, etc, and turning it off simply isn’t an option. Luckily, there are a number of mindfulness phone apps out there (for free!) that give you a chance to take a mental break. Check them out here and here.
  4. Make time for self-care: I can’t stress this enough, but make self-care a priority. Read my previous post on some ways to do this. Often times, the result of rushing through life is neglecting your mind, goals, health, spirituality, passion, and your overall sense of self in general. Don’t rush through life and miss out on opportunities for growth because you didn’t make self-care a priority. Taking care of yourself (mind, body, spirit) will let you be able to take effectively care of others in your life and be more present with them.

Slow down and appreciate the day-to-day. Be present to yourself and to others. We don’t want to rush through life, look back, and realize we didn’t actually live. There’s something to be said about Slow and Steady, the tortoise, taking his time and winning the race. Not only that, but he probably got to take in the beautiful surroundings of the forest as he walked down the road. 🙂 Let’s follow in his (webbed and clawed) footsteps and tread through life at a pace that lets us enjoy ourselves, our surroundings, our loved ones, and our life in general. See you at the finish line!

Let Go of Being Perfect

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and stayed warm and cozy if you happen to be in a cold climate this time of year. 🙂 The holiday season, for me, was one chock full of love, fun, and cheer, but also included a lot of tough reflections about myself I had to embrace, accept, and plan to change for the better. One of the thoughts that I kept ruminating over and over in my head was my innate desire to always be perfect and my struggle in being able to let things go. Funny enough, I didn’t even realize that I had been holding off writing this blog post for fear that it wouldn’t be “good enough” for people to read. Thank you, Kristen, for inspiring me to finally get this out topic out of my head and into words, perfect or not. 🙂

So if you look around social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc) you’ll often find at least something that involves “letting go”..heck, you’ll even find shirts, mugs, and jewelry that people use as a reminder to let go of whatever it is that they need to. So what does it mean to let things go? I don’t mean literally throwing things away (Though there is a huge advantage to decluttering) or letting a balloon/kite go up in the sky (That DOES sound fun! No, don’t stop writing and go find a kite to fly..), but I mean letting go of what brings harm and negativity into your life. To me, there is no limit or expectation as to what you can or should let go of. In my life, I’ve made it a goal to let go of thoughts, objects, past mistakes, behaviors, and people that do my life more harm than good.

This struggle with being able to let go isn’t new for me at all, but has been one I’ve been mentally struggling with for as long as I can remember. It’s been very easy for me to let go of objects and people, but negative thoughts, past mistakes, and behaviors has been much more of a difficult journey. If you were a reader of my old blog, I wrote two articles, one in March 2014 and one in January 2015, that were relevant to this topic and included one of the many antidotes I’ve personally found helpful in taking the steps to let go of perfectionism: self-compassion.

In my old articles, I emphasize a situation of a friend coming up to you feeling upset about something they failed at, made a mistake at, and/or did a sub par job of. Let’s imagine this friend coming up to you in the following scenario:

Friend: I made a mistake doing [insert task here] and now I feel stupid and like a failure. I’ll never be good at [insert goal here].

What would you say back to this friend?

A) It’s okay, dear friend! None of us are perfect. We are all doing the best we can, like you did, and now you can learn from your mistake and try again. You’re doing great and don’t give up!

or

B) Yep, you are a failure and stupid too. Why aren’t you perfect?!?! You should just give up trying your best, dwell on your mistake over and over again, and might as well catastrophize the worst case scenario for this stupid mistake you made.

Chances are you chose A and showed compassion and kindness to your friend and did what you could to comfort him/her. (If you chose B, please click “x” on the top right of your window browser and go see a therapist ASAP. Ok, just kidding, but not really…at least go pet some fluffy little animals and think about some things.)

So why is it that we can show others so much love and compassion, but we struggle to show ourselves love and compassion in the same way? Perfectionism is essentially a built-in tool for failure because we will never be perfect, no matter hard we try. Perfectionism is an energy drainer that sucks out energy we could use for so many other productive activities or people in life. Why should we even want to be perfect? Making mistakes and being imperfect is what drives us to grow and change our lives for the better. Being imperfect gives us a reason to become mentally stronger and more resilient. Being imperfect is a quality that we, as humans, share and bring us together through our families, friendships, support groups, online message boards, social media, and more that we use for love and support during hard times.

With all of this being said, I’ve made 2017 the year of self-care and self-compassion. It’s about time we show ourselves the same compassion we show others and treat ourselves with kindness. We, together, can strive to let go of the belief that we are not good enough, imperfect, or deeply flawed.

I challenge you to have an internal conversation with yourself when you start having self-defeating thoughts and ask yourself, “If my friend came up to me feeling upset about this situation, what would I say to him/her?” So, instead of wasting our energy on thinking about our failures, here are some things I’ve found to be helpful (and more beneficial) to do with that energy:

  • Start a gratitude/bullet journal — I am SUPER excited to start my new bullet journal! I plan on making bullet lists of what i’m grateful for, activities I can do when I start thinking negatively, positive affirmations, fun books I plan on reading, activities/trips I want to do/go on, hobbies I want to try, recipes I want to make, people that I can call when feeling upset, etc. Use it as a way to refocus your thoughts on activities and people in life that bring you joy. 🙂 Find out how to start one here and find more ideas on bullet page lists here.
  • Keep a list of qualities you like about yourself and things you’ve done that you’re proud of – This can be included in the bullet journal above as a page! Make copies of this list and keep it in areas that you have access to–your purse/bag, on your cell phone, in a document on your Computer, in your pillow, etc. Whenever you start finding yourself being flooded with self-defeating thoughts, remind yourself of what you’re proud of and all the great things you’ve done. 🙂
  • Set some healthy goals for yourself – Instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on healthy things that you can add into your lifestyle and let go of ones that do you harm. As an example, I’ve made it a goal to exercise for at least 30 min 3x a week (anything that gets me off the couch/apartment and moving) and to cook more healthy meals. I’ve also told myself I want to meditate every day, even if for 5 minutes. On the flip side, I want to let go of unhealthy eating habits and cut down caffeine intake (Don’t worry, I still love coffee!) and sugar consumption. The key is to not be hard on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. So what if I have an especially tiring week and I need to catch up on sleep? No problem! So what if during this same tiring week I don’t have the energy to cook healthy meals and want to just have mac n’ cheese and ice cream? I’ll happily have that mac n’ cheese/ice cream and not beat myself up about it, but re-frame it as an act of self-care for an especially tiring week. Show yourself that same love and compassion that you’d show a friend who is upset at not meeting his/her expectations.
  • Schedule some self-care time during the week – I have dedicated a whole Pinterest board to self-care activities as part of my 2017 resolution. What does self-care time mean? This means you will set aside time in your busy schedule to do something for YOU. Not anyone else, but you. It can be as little as 5 minutes to a whole day in the weekend, maybe even the whole weekend. This is where it’d be helpful to have a list of things you enjoy doing. Maybe it just entails listening to your favorite song or taking a short walk outside. Maybe it means watching a guilty pleasure of a TV show or reading a book you haven’t had time for. It could simply mean closing your eyes and meditating. Whatever self-care is to you, try to make that a priority at least 1x a week even if it’s for a few minutes, even 1x a day if you can manage it! We all lead such busy lives, and this can be especially difficult to balance when other family members and children are involved, but it’s important to take time to recharge your own battery so that you can truly be present for the loved ones in your life.
  • Start a journal/exercises to challenge self-defeating thoughts you have – I read this great book last year by Dr. David Burns called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and, I have to say, it did a number on making me more aware of my thoughts (Here’s a TEDx talk by him too). One of the things I remember most from his book is how to defeat ANTs, or automatic negative thoughts, and how challenging them could be useful in our everyday lives (whether clinically diagnosed with a mood disorder or not). For every self-defeating thought you have, challenge it with a TRUE statement. Often, our self-defeating thoughts are misrepresented facts that are influenced by our emotions at the time. Here’s an example of challenging an ANT:

ANT: I said something insensitive to Person X and accidentally hurt their feelings. I am a bad person and don’t deserve to have their friendship/relationship/etc.

ANTI-ANT:  I said something that this person found insensitive, but that was not my intention at all. I care about this person and meant no harm. I will apologize if I haven’t already and will not let this define who I am because I know it doesn’t reflect who I am.

So, instead of making the ANT start an endless cycle of why you’re [insert negative criticism here], stop the cycle and state a true fact. (Disclaimer: For this and the other suggestions I made in this post, if ANT exercises/journaling end up doing more harm than good and doesn’t help, then stop and let it go.)

  • Seek help – This 100% goes hand-in-hand with perfectionism. It’s easy to fall into the trap that “you’re crazy”and imperfect/flawed/insertcriticismshere if you seek professional mental help. This may especially be the case if you are inherently hard on yourself, but you absolutely not crazy for seeking mental help when you need it. I repeat, you are are not crazy for wanting to improve your quality of life and trying to make positive changes for yourself. If your perfectionism and self-defeating thoughts have started to take a toll on your daily life and nothing (like the examples above) seems to help over the long run, it’s okay to seek help outside of your support network of family and friends. I’ve done it (no shame at all and happy to talk about it!) and I know many others that have done the same at some point in their lives. Your well-being and quality of life matters and doesn’t deserve to be sacrificed for the fear of what others might think.

It’s about time we all embrace the fact that we will always be perfectly imperfect and strive to show ourselves the same love and compassion that we, so openly, give to others. Much love to you all and wishing you a New Year full of love (the self-love kind, too) and care!