Saying Goodbye to a Hard Year

 

saying goodbye to a hard yearIt is New Year’s Eve and even though the cupcakes we baked look festive, my heart just cannot follow suit.

How do you say goodbye to one of the harder years of your life?

A year when you chased a dream hard and in the end realized you just weren’t ready to make the cut.

A year when you felt about as sick and broken as you ever have in your life.

A year when people you loved died to soon and you learn that kind of heartache doesn’t just go away.

 

As we prepare to countdown 2014, I still really don’t know how to send it off.

I guess all I can hold onto is what I have learned along the way:

Sometimes you have to try and fail and try and fail and try and fail again before a dream is realized. And the failure isn’t even really failure after all. It is growing and learning. Painful sometimes, but necessary nonetheless.

When you pray for complete healing it means you have to dig down to the deep roots of your fear before you can let it go. Also it helps if you ask for help along the way. And taking antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication is not a cop-out, it is a Godsend.

After years of striving and longing and wishing I was in a different place in life, I am finally learning to be content right where I am this moment. Even if it is not where I thought I would be or where I wanted to be.

So as I say goodbye to 2014, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to put no expectations on 2015 whatsoever. There will be no resolutions or big dreams or even fears.

It will be what it will be.

And I will learn to be what I will be in it.

And that is enough.

Easy Gratitude Exercise

As we enter this week of Thanksgiving, I thought it would be helpful to share with you an easy gratitude exercise.

So easy you can practice it anywhere and anytime.

I learned it while reading Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World which is a great resource book for anyone looking to take back their life from stress and fear.

So as an early Thanksgiving gift, I offer you the

Ten Finger Gratitude Exercise.

easy gratitude exercise

When you are in a time of stress or worried thinking, simply look at your ten fingers. If their existence is not miracle enough to snap you out of your worry loop (I mean come on, opposable thumbs, how cool is that!?!) proceed to use them in counting off things you are thankful for.

For me the first three are easy, family, friends, health or something of the like. The next few come pretty quickly too. Having a house, a safe community in which to live, clean water, and free education.

But by the time I get to eight, nine and ten, I find I have to really think about it. What am I thankful for? What is good in my life?

At this point I start re-wiring my brain to focus on what I am grateful for instead of what I am worried about, which is really the whole point.

Pretty soon things get re-framed. Instead of complaining about the cold, I am grateful the hard freezes have killed the weeds I am allergic to which made the pollen count go down. Now I can enjoy walks outside again, even if said walks require a heavy coat.

So when you encounter times of stress and worry this week, just turn to your ten fingers and focus on the good things in your life.

Hopefully then you’ll remember those stains in your carpet or your fallen cake aren’t such a big deal anymore. Even Uncle Joe getting tipsy and ranting about politics isn’t the end of the world. He’s getting pretty old anyway and one day you might miss his curmudgeonly ways.

Remember friends, take a breath and focus on the good things, the big ones and the small ones. But most of all:

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Gratitude as a cure for Anxiety

31 Days (11)

One of the sure fire ways to quell anxiety and depression is to focus on Gratitude.

Since anxiety often revolves around issues of scarcity (not enough of something) and depression is fueled by negative thinking, gratitude puts a pause in the downward spiral of our thoughts and moves us in a better direction.

Personally, I have found practicing gratitude to be quite helpful in managing my anxiety.

Gratitude reminds me that there are still plenty of good things in the world and that there is much more to my life than my worries.

Lately, I’ve been laying in bed and having a moment of gratitude before I even push back the covers in the morning. Sometimes when my anxiety is flared I actually wake up worried, so having this moment is important for me to start my day off on a positive rather than negative note.

I start with the really simple things. I give thanks for the rest I received the night before and that I woke up alive and breathing. I give thanks for my children whom I hear stirring about and the dogs that shuffle around next to my bed. I give special thanks for my husband when I hear him puttering about in the kitchen starting breakfast. From there the list goes on.

Usually this is enough to help me put the worry down and get up and going each day.

Throughout the day, practicing gratitude can keep us on an even keel. In Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic WorldWilliams and Penman suggest practicing a ten finger gratitude exercise once a day. This consists of counting out ten things you are grateful for on your fingers. They emphasize not stopping until we get all the way to ten as this forces us to look around ourselves and find appreciation for the small things in life.

gratitude heals anxiety

gratitude exercises help me appreciate the good in the small things like dachshunds lying in sunbeams.

 If you want a great read that will help you take the next step with Gratitude in your life, check out Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where you Are. Voskamp, who herself has struggled with depression, one day decides to keep a running tally of the good things in her life. She will writes down every gift, large and small until she makes it to one thousand. This practice of appreciating everything from bird nests, rising moons, messy kitchens, boisterous kids to beyond becomes life changing for her.

If you adopt her practice, you may be surprised how healing it is to focus on the good that is all around us. For it turns out that our scary and scarce world has been abundantly full of goodness and joy all along.

I know I am praying for my eyes to be healed to see this grace all around me.

How are you learning to practice gratitude for the large and small gifts in your life?

 

 

What If Thinking

What if Thinking

 

One of the common thought patterns that leads to anxiety is “What If” thinking?

 

We’ve all done this from time to time. It is the kind of negative predictive thinking that goes something like this:

What if Enterovirus spreads to our area? What if it hits my kids’ schools? Will I still send them to school? What if my kids catch it and get seriously ill? What if one of my children dies?

“What if” thinking starts with a relatively plausible worry and then mushrooms from there into a huge paralyzing fear. If we do not learn how to stop our “What if” thinking it can begin to limit us and debilitate us in life.

Too much “What if” thinking turns the world and even everyday activities into scary ventures. Before we know it we are in constant anxiety and fear.

And the worse part of all? We are worrying about things that likely will never happen. 

And even if they do happen we still may not have any ability to do anything about it.

“What if” thinking can be a pretty big struggle for me. Sometimes I am able to move past it and sometimes not. The times I have been able to move past it, there are a couple of different tactics that seem to be helpful in reducing its power.

 

The first tactic is to actually let the “What if?” go to its extreme conclusion and then stay with that possibility for a while.

This actually happened with me last night. I was putting some leftovers in the freezer and had to juggle some things around to make them fit. While holding the leftover filled tupperware with my still healing left arm, I began to feel that familiar burning sensation in my shoulder. I quickly set the heavier than I thought they were leftovers down with my left hand and began to run through my what ifs. 

What if I aggravated my sore shoulder again? What if it flares up? What if it goes into spasms the way it did last week when I felt this burning? What if I get another migraine as a result? What if I can’t handle my responsibilities of teaching yoga and caring for my kids because of the pain? 

Because these worries were actually possibilities and none of them involved anything totally catastrophic I just kind of let myself deal with the worst consequence. If the pain flared up and I was laid up for a day, I would be frustrated and inconvenienced, but I could deal with it. I would ice and take pain relievers. I would probably have to either cancel my yoga class or get a sub. I may have to call someone to help me with my kids. Again, it would be unpleasant, but my life would go on and eventually the pain would end. (As it turns out I am just a little tender today. Life has gone on almost normally).

 

The second tactic I use to deal with “What if” thinking I actually like even better than the first, though it is harder to practice.

I have found the best way to counteract “What if” thinking is to constantly make myself stay in the present moment.

I practiced this while taking a plane ride this past summer. Because the end of my “what if” thinking in plane rides ends with me dying in a fiery crash, if I were to stay in that end of my fears moment I would have a panic attack and want to escape from the plane. So when my “What ifs” came up during the plane flight, I just kept drawing myself back to the present moment.

When I worried about having to fly through bad weather, I would remind myself that the skies we were currently flying through were slightly cloudy, but otherwise fine. When I worried the turbulence we hit would get worse, I would remind myself that the turbulence we were experiencing at the moment was quite small and that I was just fine. Basically whatever fear I projected out with, I just kept reminding myself that the bad thing had not happened yet and for the moment things were dandy. When I could just stay in that dandy moment for minute after minute I began to relax into the hour ride. There were moments when I was actually even able to enjoy flying through the evening sky instead of panicking about what might go wrong.

The practice of staying in the present moment, which is a part of Mindfulness practice, if truly life changing. It is in no way easy, but when we can make ourselves at least try to be in the present instead of projecting forward with fear or drawing back to hurts of the past, our anxiety and depression are eased.

Do you struggle with ‘What if” thinking? If so, how do you manage it?

 

 

 

 

The Difference Between Pain and Suffering

Pain is probably one of our most universal experiences. We feel it when we are born. We feel it when we die. We feel it countless times throughout our lifetime in a spectrum of different ways.

Heartbreak. 

Injury.

Illness.

Loss.

But does pain necessarily equal suffering?

As I’ve written recently, I’ve been laid up a bit these past few weeks with a bad neck and a resulting flare up of my panic/anxiety issues. I think is is safe to say that some days there was both pain and suffering present as I was laid out on the sofa.

Not only was I hurting and unable to do what I wanted to do, but I was frequently thinking about how frustrated I was that I was hurting and unable to live my normal life. Not only would I think about it, but I would share my worries and complaints with whoever would listen.

Eventually I got tired of hearing my own self complain.

One day for a change of pace, I asked my husband how things were going preparing for the Mindfulness class that he was to start up that afternoon. He shared how they were going to start with the raisin meditation and then shift into discussing the difference between the Doing State and Being State.

Thinking I had been involved with a lot more being than doing lately, I asked him to refresh my memory on the differences.

“Oh, the doing state is where we get caught up with where we should be and what we think we should be doing. The being state is where we let ourselves be just where we are. We accept the present without struggle,” he said.

Oh, man. At that moment, I was amazed at just how much Doing I had been accomplishing laid up there on the sofa.

And here I thought I had hardly been able to do anything at all.

But really what I had been doing most was making myself suffer. 

The pain in the neck may have been inevitable. And to a certain degree some of the anxiety may have been inevitable as well.

But my lack of acceptance of the pain and my limitations was a choice that I was making.

A choice that was leading to much unhappiness and stress in my life.

I cannot say that after that epiphany I have ceased to suffer at all. But I am trying to lean into being present where I am and letting that place be okay. Even if there is some pain involved. Even if it involves adjusting my expectations on what life should look like.

And sometimes it works. Like on the MRI table today when I initially thought “Oh my God, how and I going to lay still and listen to this loud noise bang in my ear for 30 minutes to an hour? This is going to be a nightmare!” But then I took a breath and started making up songs to the rhythm of the banging.  Songs about healing. Songs of prayer. And in a little while I heard the voice of my tech telling me the test was over and how great I had done. Mostly because I had allowed myself to be present in that long white tube of noise.

So the next time your life is not quite living up the the ideal that you had hoped it would be (and honestly, when does it ever?) Maybe you’ll allow yourself to let go a little? To release yourself from the struggle to be where you think you should be and just allow yourself to be where you actually are?  

Even if that place holds pain.

We cannot remove all of the pain from our life. Oh, how I wish we could. But we can eliminate some of the suffering that comes with fighting pain. And we can allow ourselves to find moments of joy and gratitude wherever we are.

the difference between pain and suffering