Coping with Challenge, Loss, and Change

 

Some days and weeks are more challenging than others in my ability to maintain my upward spiral of positivity and goodness. The last few weeks have been more challenging than most with one blow after another keeping my emotions on a roller coaster of grief and sadness as I ride the waves of transition and loss. Each time I feel my sense of self moving back to normal another shock comes along and I find myself tumbling into more raw emotion – more tears, more grief, more sadness, and more questions centering around “Why?…”

Yes, I have my daily practices of writing, meditation, gratitude, and yoga that anchor me to the moment. Though, I find during times like these, I need more to ground me into balance and bring me back to joy. So I write more to explore my questions, express each story, and sort through my emotions. My journals become my rudder to navigate the emotional storms. I am grateful for my daily writing.

Another practice important for channeling my disrupted and lost feeling is focusing on creative expression — I’ve made several journals, sifted through photographs for a new album, (even doing dishes and cleaning are creative channels) and I have a crochet project ready to begin. Each of these provide focus and each brings me into a fine balance of mindful action and mindless free thought — because they tap into a cellular memory from doing them so often, my hands know the way. I find a sense of quiet calm when I am in flow while making something new.

A practice that connects me to my spiritual self is to look for beauty in nature. Yesterday, I went for a meditation walk with my camera. Each step taken slowly and mindfully while opening my senses to beauty. Sometimes I’ll walk with a prompt or question then wait for what is before me — I listen to nature for answers, calm, or a redirect. My walk led me to explore my gardens. I was captivated by the lush growth and the recent challenges of weather. We’ve had an over-abundance of rain which invites overgrowth.

I then focused on the finer details. My eyes found something quite interesting as I stepped closer to a gourd plant — as it grows it sends out these spiraling shoots to grab hold of what’s available for stability and support as it grows taller. These reaching shoots create more than support, they generate my sense of awe and wonder as I witness the beauty and intelligence in nature.

Do I not also need something to hold for stability as I feel insecure and off my center? How do I find my anchor in turbulent times?

Later I reflected on my list of anchors I’ve recently utilized as reminders of my inner strength and resilience as well as support:

~ Reach out to a friend, whether by phone or in person.
~ Make something – like a journal, a weaving, or a photo album.
~ Make a plan for a next project when these are finished.
~ Go for a long hike into the woods feeling my connection to the natural world – not only are my hikes connection to nature, they are also movement which is always healing and calming.
~ Write in my journal exploring my questions and writing the stories in response to each situation.
~ Read something inspiring – poetry works well for me, as well as uplifting authors such as Brene Brown, Tal Ben Shahar, Megan McDonough, Maria Sirois, or Elizabeth Gilbert.
~ Give myself permission to feel all of my feelings. By expressing them without holding back, I move through them more easily.

By doing, I am reminded of using my strengths of appreciation and curiosity. I use these strengths on my meditation walks. I am also reminded of the research studies supporting the positive benefits of writing about troubling or traumatic events — writing about the same topic over 4 – 5 days allows me to integrate my emotions and my experiences into a greater sense of well-being. I am also reminded of the power of my breath to fortify my immune system, improve vagal tone as well as to lead me into my meditative calm. My creative self is grateful for my flow experiences that take me out of myself and into a focused process of creation — a healing balm in troubling times.

As I sit with a friend for support I feel the oxytocin – or know it’s being released through our connection – and find comfort in the positivity resonance shared between us.

All of these guide me in making sense of troubling times and make room for my thoughts and tears to flow while being balanced in positivity.

What do you do to lead you into a positive upward spiral during challenging times?

 

Nature Deficit Disorder

 

 

“Nature deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
~ “The Last Child In the Woods” by Richard Louv

Do you play? How do you play? Do you spend time wandering in nature? Perhaps play is a memory from your childhood traded in for the responsibilities and busy-ness of adult living?

For the last four months I’ve had the gift of both witnessing and participating in the play of my grandchildren. From the time they wake until bedtime, they are involved in some form of play. Life is an endless stream of curiosity and exploration. As I watch them, I remember my own childhood of play with Pennsylvania farmland as my back yard.

Except for weekdays in school, I remember being outdoors soon after breakfast until lunch, then out again until dinner. In the summer we would be out again after dinner until just after dark. The only time we stayed indoors was if the weather prevented us or if we were sick.

With plentiful seasonal clothing, I learned to love being outdoors and using whatever was available as props for play. My siblings and I made up endless stories and games for fun. I remember knowing the names of trees, bushes, and flowers that grew around our neighborhood.

Now, I am grateful for the days, seasons, and years spent outdoors. I am grateful to my mother for sending us outdoors throughout my childhood. As an adult, I prefer the outdoors to being indoors. I prefer curiosity and creativity in nature over sitting in front of the television or my computer. Most days I look for ways to get outdoors to walk, stretch, work, and enjoy the changing weather and seasons.

In the last decade or more it has become increasingly rare to see children outdoors simply playing (even at playgrounds). Though I understand the dilemma parents must face now — fear of children being bullied, abducted, or our own over organized schedules preventing time for play, as well as the hours of homework children must do after school — I wonder if we are robbing our children of important play and exploration, without a schedule.

Today, the process of squelching play begins at younger ages (even in preschool). We exchange their natural curiosity of learning through play for standardized tests so they can succeed in the world of academia. Are we robbing them of something essential? I believe so.

Watching my grandchildren in their play, I see that play is their learning. Through their play they are acquiring knowledge and important skills they’ll need for life. I am excited by their enthusiasm, curiosity, and exuberance as they run, explore, use their imaginations, and ask endless questions about what surrounds them in nature. Being outdoors has seen them grow in so many ways. My almost seven year old granddaughter can take you on a nature tour, identifying flowers, plants, and trees she has learned. My grandson, who is just two, has improved his running style, digging skills, and strengthened his bond with his ‘always by his side’ dog. They have both honed their frisbee throwing, gardening, and ball throwing skills. As a family we have enjoyed hours of birdwatching while the seasons have changed from winter to summer. On rainy days or just before bed, we listen and learn the birdsongs of the birds we’ve seen. Walks in the woods now include listening as well as seeing to identify birds.

We’ve rescued birds, turtles, and toads from danger or injury. We’ve made a nature book to create pages with nature’s findings — butterfly wings, leaves, feathers, and treasures.

Richard Louv in his eye-opening book, “The Last Child In The Woods”, speaks about the decline of children being outdoors to hike, walk, fish, play, and garden. Science studies indicate that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. Louv has coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ and speaks of children missing out on important outdoor play and exploration. Florence Williams in her book, “The Nature Fix”, has followed scientists around the world who study the positive effects of being in nature. When we are outdoors in nature — the woods, the beach, or hiking mountains — we can lower blood pressure, calm our minds, and decrease the effects of daily stress. Nature allows us to be more creative, improve problem solving skills, and leads us back to our busy lives refreshed.

The fresh air, the changing seasons as well as the sunshine has helped my grandchildren grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. They have become more independent and resilient being in a natural setting. Each day they are filled with nature. They are not experiencing nature deficit disorder that is so common with children today.

For myself, I’ve re-learned to relax into play and exploration while letting some of my ‘responsible to do’ lists take a back seat. I enjoy watching butterflies land on flowers, hummingbirds drink from the feeders, and looking for toads.

Do you play? How do you play?

Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu Center

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“Love is when your name sounds safe coming out of someone’s mouth.”
~ anonymous child’s quote

I spent last week at the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit held at Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA. It was a smorgasbord of ideas, techniques, and stellar presenters. Connecting with friends I know and meeting new friends was a real boost to my positivity. My only regret was that I couldn’t go to every workshop — we were challenged by needing to decide as many workshops were happening at the same time.

I’m writing about this to whet your appetite and encourage you to plan to attend the next Summit a year from now. The topic on this Summit was Love within the framework of embodied positive psychology. I attended the one last year and have decided that it will be part of my schedule for every one. I’d love you to be there!

Note: this is my synopsis from my own notes & experience. Apologies if I wasn’t able to attend your workshop.

We began on opening night with Megan McDonough of Wholebeing Institute asking us to consider what we wished to gain, give, and grow into during our time at Kripalu and the Summit. We were asked to consider our own growth within a larger ecosystem of ‘we’. We looked at love as so much more than romantic love — how we love one another in micro-moments of connection that reaches beyond romance to our daily interactions.

Neal Mayerson spoke of VIA strengths and our personally unique imprint through our own strengths. One of his pearls that remains with me is that “Deep love requires BEING in order to be SEEN.” In other words, the importance of being ourselves.

Caroline Miller talked about grit and hard goals which both nurture and require resilience. She talked at length about how our children don’t take risks anymore and our educational system is, sadly, dumbing them down to a fearful degree.

Joan Borysenko inspired us with her wisdom on compassionate presence, empathy, humans as social animals, and how we require the shelter of one another in order to thrive.

For me, Lynda Wallace’s workshop on ‘Love and Work’ helped me clarify an idea I’ve been tossing around for a few years. I’m excited to see where my exploration and research lead.

Howard Martin, of the Heartmath Institute, reminded us of the critical juncture we, as humans, have reached where disruption is the new constant. From there he talked about heart coherence of positivity and our hearts natural intelligence.

On Thursday morning, Stephen Cope enlightened us about friendship and, even with its risk, is important. To know more, consider reading his newest book, ‘Soul Friends’.
I went to listen to Karen Whalen-Berry present her inspirational wisdom on intentions, goals, and working toward our ideal or best self. I appreciated her handouts which we could explore our own intentions and ideal self.

Later in the day, my own workshop on the impact of eye contact for deep connection and trust was an honor to present to so many open hearts, open minds, and open eyes.

Friday morning, Barbara Fredrickson spoke of positive emotions unlocking other-focused thinking or more ‘we’; less ‘me’. She then spoke of the upward spiral of Positivity Resonance and cardiac vagal tone. She reminded us of the importance of mindfulness and awe. Barbara Fredrickson ended with encouraging us to bring more positivity resonance into our lives by making a plan to do so.

Ending the Summit, Megan McDonough left us with a question, “What value do we take into the world?” She let us in on next years theme by reminding us to become leaders by aiming for our highest and our best.

I left feeling full, inspired, and plans to continue my own positivity resonance and creating micro-moments of love throughout my day.

(The Summit was book-ended with Masterclasses which I will write about in a future post)

Practicing Gratitude with “The Little Book of Gratitude”

Gratitude Book

Robert A. Emmons has a real winner in his book, “The Little Book of Gratitude.” I find this book a bright gem to carry with me anywhere, reminding me of the benefits of a gratitude practice and a wealth of activities for expanding my daily gratitude practice.

Emmons research has shown that gratitude, among many other strengths, is the best indicator of emotional well-being and strong relationships. He says, “It (gratitude) is also the truest approach to life.” In this little book, Emmons reminds us that gratitude is a valuable life orientation. Research shows we more easily notice the negative because we are wired for negativity as a survival mechanism. Through daily practice we can reorient our focus to what is good, what is going well, and all that exists in our days to give thanks for. When we do this we experience better health, increased well-being, and live with more contentment and inner peace.

“The Little Book of Gratitude” is filled with research, wisdom, activities, and even the myths surrounding gratitude. Many of the activities I have practiced for years and I have learned even more by reading this little book. Yes, it is little and can easily fit into a purse, backpack, or bag.

My favorite reminder for gratitude, as a life practice, is Emmons, ‘The 3 Stones of Gratitude’. What are the 3 stones? 1. Look for the good. 2. Receive the good. 3. Give back the good. I have my three stones on my altar and, often, in a pocket as I go about my day.

I highly recommend this book to learn about gratitude and develop a regular practice of gratitude so that you, too, can experience both the health and happiness benefits of giving thanks.

The Value of Massage

I was recently asked the value of massage? I am a massage therapist, massage instructor, and have received massage regularly for most of my adult life, yet, I found myself pausing before answering the question. I have been participating in the massage world for so long, I take its value for granted and give it little thought beyond scheduling my own massage or preparing to give a massage to a client.

My first answer to her question is that massage is an essential part of my self-care routine along with exercise, good food, rest, yoga, and meditation. I get massage regularly — once a week when I can and, at the very least, twice a month — because I can’t imagine my life without it. Massage, both giving and receiving, has been a valuable part of my own healing from childhood trauma. Massage helps me relax when I can’t on my own or simply want the support to relax. Massage is therapeutic when I’ve been injured or have overworked muscles from exercise or work (and too much snow shoveling) – it facilitates my own healing and balancing. Massage also allows my mind to relax as I get to receive care from someone else’s experienced touch.

I am an advocate for regular massage whether once a week or several times a year. Massage balances our nervous system by boosting our parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the relaxation response as well as decreasing inflammation, lowering heart disease, and increasing heart rate variability (an important marker for overall health). Massage also lowers blood pressure, aids in creating a quiet mind, encourages our immune systems to work better, inspires our body’s healing systems, and improves circulation. Massage helps facilitate healing from stress, overexertion, injury, and emotional upset. Massage also facilitates the release of Oxytocin, the calm-and-connect, feel good neuropeptide I spoke about in my last blog post.

Massage is safe touch so I don’t need to worry about unsavory or unwanted touch. I know I can talk with my massage therapist if her touch is too firm or too light. When I work with clients, I encourage them to let me know if my strokes are painful or too light. I tell them that they live in their bodies, I don’t. So communication along the way is essential for me to do my best to serve their needs.

[Note: I do know there are those uncommon & unfortunate scenario’s where massage therapists overstep safe touch boundaries. Unfortunately, those are the folks who give massage a ‘bad’ name.]

Massage is self-care, which I encourage all my clients and/or students to include in their health protocols. I am grateful I learned the value of self-care early in my adult life as everything I do for myself, my health, and happiness allows me to be more fully present in my work and enjoy a full, healthy, and active life.

If you have never tried massage, go and schedule one today. If massage doesn’t appeal to you, consider acupuncture, acupressure, shiatsu, or acutonics as part of your self-care. You owe it to yourself.

Carving a Path to Health through Chemical Boosts

happy-chemicals

Did you know that your body has a host of chemicals accessible to you for boosting both your health and happiness? As a health practitioner, I find this fascinating and exciting. I get to see my clients with a different perspective — which chemicals are they a bit short on that could be a player in their compromised health?

These chemicals — Serotonin, Oxytocin, Dopamine, and Endorphins — when released, provide you with opportunities to feel healthier and happier. In fact, you can turn them on for a boost by doing simple and fun exercises/activities throughout your day.

By learning about these naturally existing chemicals and how they detract or enhance our health, we can look for those things we can do to help them be released. These chemicals get released in short bursts and don’t tend to last. We can increase the frequency of their presence with new habits. We can create micro-moments of chemical boosts. Micro-moments add up over time to improved over-all health and positivity.

Here is a quick overview of our inner chemistry — the four major players for health and happiness. (Note: there are many chemical processes in our body happening all the time, these are the major players).

1. Dopamine: For most of us, when we are low in dopamine, we experience self- doubt and tend to procrastinate. When we have enough dopamine circulating we feel motivated. One of the easiest ways to boost our dopamine is to take our large goals and chunk them down to smaller goals. Each time we accomplish one of our smaller goals, consciously celebrate your work. Celebrations can be simple — no need for a party with all of your friends (unless you want to). I like to celebrate by going to my favorite bookstore or cafe for my favorite coffee or tea. I return with more motivation to go onto my next goal.
2. Oxytocin: Too little of this neuropeptide and we experience mistrust or separation. We can boost oxytocin through holding hands, hugging, touch (massage anyone?), and, my favorite, eye contact. Each day we can boost our oxytocin in simple ways that connect us to others leading to a calm and connect state of mind.
3. Serotonin: When we lack serotonin, we feel depression and/or loneliness. The easiest way to boost serotonin is to practice heartfelt gratitude. End your day with listing 3 – 5 things you are grateful for from your day. You will feel better and improve your sleep as well.
4. Endorphins: Most associated with the second wind that athletes experience. When we lack endorphins, we feel pain and increased stress. Exercise is one way to increase endorphins. Another way is a good laugh (a full belly laugh) or even a good cry. If the weather prevents me from getting out into nature (my favorite endorphin release), I keep a stack of movies that always bring on my laughter or my tears.

I hope you find this useful and will plan for daily boosts of one or more of your naturally occurring chemicals for health and happiness. Let me know how it works for you!

Let’s Talk About Health & Sanity

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A Nature Valentine

Wow! For the first time since the internet arrived in my home — dial-up at first and now a cell tower box that has its own phone number — I’ve run out of available data ten days early! I had to purchase another GB so I can have limited access from home. I am determined to make that one GB last!

More importantly, running out of data days before the next round begins is an indicator of where my mind has been since the inauguration in January. Unfortunately, I have not been celebrating. I have been obsessed with following the whirlwind of news surrounding our frightening political climate. I have been obsessed with wondering what list of new changes will greet me each day that inspire my concern, fear, and anger.

Running out of data while the second snowstorm blankets my weekend has been a wake-up call. No wonder I have been restlessly sleeping, eating less than healthy foods, and ignoring my body’s cries for movement (other than snow shoveling). I’ve also allowed my meditations and writing time to wind down to minutes a day instead of much longer. I understand why I don’t feel myself — my stomach has been in knots, my mind’s been racing with fear and negativity, and my generally zestful energy level has been waning into a state of ‘tired is normal’.

Now, I do believe we are in a time of crisis where being informed is essential and what is daily coming from the White House each day is anything but normal. I also believe that my own health and well-being are also essential so that I can continue to make my daily phone calls, write letters to government officials, take action when & where possible, as well as participate in local action groups. I refuse to give over my health and sanity to a political climate I don’t agree with.

Running out of data? I am grateful for I was called back to myself and what is important for me to maintain my health and sanity. I spent the last three days reading, being outdoors, meditating, writing, and photographing the beauty around me in nature. Because I took a media, internet, and news break, I got to see a fox in my front yard one evening, finish a knitting project, do my yoga in a relaxed and healing way, dust off my kettle bell, and actually enjoyed the snow falling (at least until I had to get out and clear it). Clearly I have not been a beacon for all the positive psychology I have been studying and practicing for years!

This morning as I went to work I felt refreshed and sane. I was more present with myself and with my clients in a way I hadn’t experienced for several weeks. Before leaving work (where I do have wifi access), I briefly checked my email and looked at the headlines. When I closed my computer, I didn’t feel the concern and overwhelm I’d been living (obsessively).

I am committed to continuing to take breaks from the internet, social media, and the news. Time to renew and refresh is so important at this time. If we are to resist and stand up for our rights that are threatened every day, we must be strong and aware of our need to regroup when our health wanes. The news will still be there with right action to take. Let’s not give over our own health and well-being to these people.