Tag Archives: stress

The Myth of the Perfect Holiday

Life has a way of building up, of stacking situations, events, emotions, needs and tasks on top of each other. Until it gets difficult to clearly see what is a priority and what is really important.

The holidays are especially a time like that. Making sure presents are gotten and wrapped. That the decorations go up. That the tree goes up and gets decorated. That you can find where the menorah is. (We celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice). There’s excitement in the air and the kids can’t contain it (often the adults can’t either).

There’s traveling or guests coming to your house. Is your house clean? I better put away the empty bottles from the kitchen. And dust everything. And did I vacuum the floor in the basement where no one will go and that no one will see?

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in all the things we need to do and all the details that we fail to pay attention to the “other” things. Like driving. I’m not certain why, but once it hits the week before the holidays it seems that many people forget how to drive. Blinkers? I know where I’m going! Stop signs and speed limits? I need to get there 10 minutes ago.

And the inattention continues in the stores. People rushing and carelessly bumping into others. Failing to hold the door for the person behind you. Huffing at the long lines at the check out. Even fighting over the last of an item.

How is this beneficial to anyone? We’re all stressed out. Rushed. Anxious.

Everyone would like to have the “perfect” holiday. The perfectly decorated house. The perfect holiday meal. The perfect gifts, for loved ones and ourselves. But not at the expense of others and ourselves.

How about some goodwill towards others? Hold the door for the person behind you. Donate to those less fortunate, with monetary donations, donations of a gift or food, or volunteering your time. Say thank you to those helping you at the stores. Retail is brutal this time of year (and year round!) and a simple gesture such as thank you goes a long way.

Even if your house isn’t perfect. Or your meal doesn’t turn out as planned. Or the presents you give/receive aren’t exactly what was wanted. Be grateful of what you do have. And slow down.

Be kind to those around you in your daily travels. Be thankful of the food you consume. Be present in the moment and enjoy the time you’ve been blessed to spend with those you love.

It isn’t about the food. Or the presents. Or the decorations. Or what you receive. Or what you didn’t receive.

It’s about the moment.

So slow down, take a deep breath and just be here.

Wishing you all happy holidays, whatever you choose to celebrate.

Coping with Holiday Grief

Holidays can be a difficult time.

There’s the stress of  planning, of cooking a meal, of traveling to destinations. There’s the stress of family. Of gathering everyone together. Of  relationships that may be less than ideal. And the feeling of absence of loved ones, either through distance or death.

It’s now been over a year since my father has passed away. This past Halloween was the second year without him and tomorrow will be the second Thanksgiving. People have told me that it will, “get easier” but so far that hasn’t been my experience. I find each holiday, each event and milestone to be equally as difficult as the last.

There’s a constant feeling of, “he should be here.” This past June as I sat at my graduation, waiting to walk for my Early Childhood degree, I had difficulty containing my tears and my emotions. I kept trying to focus on the speakers, on those sitting around me, on the number of seats in the venue… on anything to distract myself from the running thought in my head that he should be here.  Because he should have been there. While I was proud of my accomplishments, my feelings of loss were overwhelming.

My feelings of loss exist outside of holidays and milestones. Perhaps this is just another stage of grief. Or perhaps this is a lasting feeling. I mean, I miss my dad and it follows logic that I would feel that loss even more so in times of heightened significance. Holidays. Birthdays. Graduations.

People that play such a vital, important role in our lives surely would be missed. Surely their absence wouldn’t be overlooked.  I don’t want to dwell on the sadness of his absence. I don’t want to allow my feelings of sadness to become a surrogate replacement for the place where, “he should be”. So how can I, and others dealing with loss, handle the upcoming holidays (and other milestones) ?

Griefnet.org offers several articles on dealing with grief during the holidays. Below are a few points I found to be particularly helpful:

  • Holidays often magnify feelings of loss of a loved one. It is important and natural to experience the sadness that comes. To block such feelings is unhealthy. Keep the positive memory of the loved one alive.
  • Often after the first year the people in your life may expect you to be over it. We are never over it but the experience of many bereaved is that eventually they enjoy the holidays again.
  • Don’t forget, anticipation of any holiday is so much worse than the actual holiday.

Keeping the positive memory of a loved one alive, by celebrating and remembering them can help to cope with the grief of loss. Here are a few ideas on how to do so:

  • Light a candle to honor your loved one, perhaps during holiday gatherings as a reminder of them.
  • Create a memory box by asking family members and friends to write down a good memory they have of your loved one. These may be shared as a group or viewed at a later point privately.
  • Look at pictures and/or videos of your loved one. Often times these will spark memories and encourage conversation of good times.
  • At a gathering, encourage family and friends to make colleges of words and images that remind them of your loved one from old magazines, scissors and glue.

Overall, be gentle with yourself. There is no magic amount of time designated for grieving. There’s also no “right” way you should be feeling. Do what feels comfortable to you and allow yourself to feel however it is you feel.

Are We Doing Enough for Our Veterans?

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day. An annual holiday in the United States honoring military veterans. While it’s wonderful to have a day honoring the brave men and women who have served, and who continue to serve our country, it isn’t enough.

The fight doesn’t end when they get home…

Homelessness, unemployment, disability, substance abuse and mental illness all face service men and woman upon their return. Lack of family or a support system, compounded by inadequate or nonexistent services does not present the honor and respect our veterans deserve.

There are some resources available to veterans. The National Center for PTSD offers information on Post Traumatic Stress disorder in veterans, though they do, “not provide direct clinical care or individual referrals.” Afterdeployment.org, “is a behavioral health resource supporting service members, their families, and veterans with common post-deployment challenges.”

Flickr: finishing-school

Serving San Diego county in California, Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) provides comprehensive and innovative services for military veterans and assistance to needy and homeless veterans and their families. Solider On, serving the state of Massachusetts, “assist[s] veterans with both picking up the pieces of their lives and filling in the gaps that public agencies do not address.”

Soldier On’s mission statement declares that, “Homeless veterans need an interwoven effort that provides a safety net of housing, meals, health care, substance abuse aftercare and mental health counseling. They also need job assessment, training and placement assistance. Our mission at Solider On is to offer a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing, treatment and recovery for addiction, food, and clothing, as well as medical, counseling and job-related services.”

“Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only one in 10 veterans in need, it is critical that private groups such as Soldier On reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care.” Private groups comprise a large part of programs providing assistance and resources to homeless veterans.

The story of Herold Noel, an Iraq War veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and living in his car in Brooklyn, is featured in the documentary WHEN I CAME HOME. The film examines the challenges that are faced by combat veterans returning home and the battle that many must fight to receive the benefits promised to them. The trailer is provided below and you can view the entire movie streaming online for free on hulu.

Music as a Tool

Music, like other mediums, is a conduit of emotion. Singing or dancing along to a favorite song connects you to it, fully immerses you in the music and makes you a part of the experience.  Where your attention is focused – on the melody, the beat, the lyrics, the tempo, the various instruments, etc. – differs by the song, as well as differing by each individual’s own preferences.

Music can certainly affect mood. Certain songs may encourage you to be in a good mood, a “happy place” or even a “sad place” depending on the mood of the song itself and your relationship to it.  For example, listening to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” can lift me from a sad, depressed mood and inspire hope. For me, the upbeat tempo and the lyrics, “Don’t worry about a thing,/’Cause every little thing gonna be all right”  provides positivity. For another person, the same song may not have the same effect.

Specific songs can bring you back emotionally to a prior time and place of hearing the song. Much like a  time machine, the song transports you to a previous time. Songs can connect you to those in your life who are absent, due to distance or death. I personally cannot listen to a Bob Dylan song without thinking of my father, whose favorite musician was Bob Dylan. As my father passed away in November of 2010, this can function in a positive manner or a negative manner. Listening to Dylan music has acted as an agent in my grieving process, both allowing me release through crying and allowing me closeness to my father through memories of times we listened together.

As music and memory are so interconnected, you must be aware of songs that bring up negative memories and emotion for you. I try to refrain from listening to music that produces negative memories (and emotions) in myself, such as songs that my ex-boyfriend frequently listened to. Certainly there are songs that bring up positive memories and emotions as well.  Music can inspire empowerment through lyrics that show triumph and overcoming. It can inspire connectiveness and the feeling that “I am not alone.”  Songs can tell stories, beg you to think about issues and, reversely, invite you to get absorbed in the aesthetics.

In this way, music can be used as a distraction from current unpleasantness or pain. In times of stress or crisis, listening to music can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Calm, instrumental pieces can be used in relaxation techniques.  There have been several studies that even suggest  music can improve memory. One such study reports that, “[a]utobiographical recall in patients with dementia improves significantly when music is playing…” (Lancet).

I am, by no means, even close to an expert on music. But I do know this, when I’m having a terrible, stressful day, when nothing seems to be going “right” and I feel myself sinking into depression and anxiety, music helps. As I listen to Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up”, singing along to the lyrics, it doesn’t solve my problems or make everything better, but in that moment I can focus on the words in the song and I can believe that I’m going to, “turn out fine.” Sometimes a brief moment, such as this, allows me to alter my mood and offers positive thinking an entrance.

Only rainbows after rain
The sun will always come again and
It’s a circle, circling around again
It comes around again

Mental Illness Awareness

Today is National Depression Screening Day (US)

Everyone experiences stress, sadness and anxiety sometimes. Unlike the normal emotional experiences of sadness, such as during a loss or major life event (for example: divorce, retirement, becoming unemployed), depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with one’s thoughts, behavior, mood, ability to work, sleep, eat or enjoy once pleasurable activities.

Depression and other mood disorders can not be seen on an x-ray. Yet mental illness is just as painful. And the stigma associated with the disease often prevents many from seeking help and getting treated. Without treatment, the frequency of depressive illness as well as the severity of symptoms tends to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide.

Symptoms of Depression include:

• persistently sad or irritable mood
• pronounced changes in sleep, appetite and energy
• difficulty thinking, concentrating and remembering
• physical slowing or agitation
• lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
• feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and emptiness
• recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
• persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain

National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) gives people the opportunity to take a free, anonymous questionnaire assessing their risk for mood and anxiety disorders and provides referral information for treatment. Visit www.HelpYourSelfHelpOthers.org to find a local organization offering depression and anxiety screenings or take a screening online today. More information can be found about NDSD at Mental Health America.

NDSD is also part of the larger Mental Illness Awareness Week, an effort to bring awareness to mental illnesses. To learn more about mental illnesses, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness by advocating mental health awareness, support, education and recovery.

Slow Down, Start Over

Yesterday morning I was already running late. Wednesdays are my busiest, craziest day of the week and I somehow always manage to fall behind. I went upstairs to wake my daughters, only to find E, my 3 year old, standing in the bathroom with an exploded pull-up. An exploded poopy pull-up. Now, if you haven’t ever had to deal with this (and I truly hope you’ve been spared!) let me tell you, it’s…disgusting. Not only did the pull-up explode but there was poop all over her pajamas, her legs and the floor. E needed a shower (which is what you get when you live in a house with no bathtub, but that’s a different story). I got Z, my 7 year old, downstairs to get dressed and ready (not an easy solo task for an easily distracted little girl) and went back upstairs to give E a shower. Of course, E didn’t want to take a shower. After much pressuring, she got in the shower and, 20 minutes later than expected, we all made it (somewhat) ready to the dining room table.

At this point we weren’t just a little late anymore, we were really late. And I still needed to feed them breakfast, put dinner in the crockpot and finish getting ready. I gave them breakfast and started on dinner. When I looked back a moment later, the girls were fooling around and not even at the table. I’m not going to sugar coat it. At this point my patience snapped and I raised my voice to tell them to, “sit at the table, be quiet and eat your breakfast.” One of them started to say something and I cut her off saying, “if it isn’t an emergency, I cannot hear it now.” They sat. They were quiet. And they ate their breakfast. But I felt like shit over how I had handled it.

As I began putting the chicken in the crockpot, piling ingredients on top, I took the moment to slow down and really process what had just happened. Was it worth damaging my relationship with my children to avoid being late? We were going to be late either way. Did it really matter (why I was upset)? Or could I let it go?

I thought it over and, quickly, decided that my relationship with them was of #1 importance. I sat down at the table with my daughters and apologized for raising my voice and being snappy. In doing so I owned up to my mistakes and modeled an appropriate method of resolving them. I asked them if we could all start the morning over, because I didn’t like how I acted and how it went (again, taking responsibility). Unprompted, they both apologized for not listening to instructions and said they would also like to start over and try again.

I work very hard not to raise my voice with my children, as I realize what they must feel when I do so. I don’t like it when someone raises their voice to me. It makes me feel horrible. And small. On the occasion that I slip up and do raise my voice (and, who are we kidding here, it does occasionally happen as stressed out parents) I like to use the Slow Down, Start Over model. It acts as a reset button. And you can use it anytime you wish.

Slow Down, Start Over

  • Slow down. Take a moment by yourself (go to the bathroom if you have to!) and take a few breaths to calm down. Then, process what just happened. Reflect on your own actions. Determine what your priority in the situation is (for me, it was my relationship with my daughters).
  • Own up to your mistakes/behaviors. Take responsibility for your actions. And then apologize.
  • Ask to start over (try again, reset, etc).
  • Let it go. This is important. You really need to let it go and move on. Holding on to feeling of guilt and the like will only cloud the rest of your day. Which you are starting over.
  • Start again, being cognizant to behave as you originally wished you had.

The process of doing this shows kids how to take responsibility for their actions, that mistakes are ok (AND that moms make them too!), to apologize/make ammends, and to let it go so you can try again. It frames mistakes as a method of learning and growth. It can be parent or child initiated. And, many times, it works. After our morning start over the remainder of yesterday went quite well. Yes, we were late, but my children were able to see me as human (instead of the supermom I try to be) and we were able to use it as an opportunity to learn.

Me, Ever Evolving

I’m (still) working on staying in a positive place. In a positive state of mind. In a positive perspective.

I cannot change the world around me. I cannot change the way other people choose to act. Or not act. I cannot change who my family is. Or which of them are alive to be here with me. I cannot change what people think or say about me. I cannot change how the driver on the road in front of me drives. I cannot change the teachers my daughter or I have. I cannot change the weather. I cannot change where I live. I cannot change the bills I have to pay or the things that need to be bought. I cannot change the work I have to do. I cannot change the chores that need to be done. I cannot change the way my kids react to situations. I cannot change the choices of others.

I can change how I deal with it. And how I view it. And how I react. I can change what I do. Nothing more.

“Life is not a matter of having good cards, but of playing a poor hand well” – Robert L Steve

I’m working consciously every day to do this. My world isn’t going to change any other way. And in doing so I am starting to see things as looking up.Last week the home daycare my girls go to needed to close for the day last minute, due to the death of a family friend. In the past I might have gotten worked up and anxious about it, jumping ahead to all the what-if’s without even allowing myself to process. Instead, I looked at my calender, saw I didn’t have anything I had to do sans children and simply told the provider that I was sorry for her loss. No panic. No worry. That day I kept E, my 3 year old daughter, home with me and we watched a movie and painted our nails. Later she helped me make bagels into pizza for lunch and chili for dinner. Nothing had changed except how I chose to look at the situation.

On Saturdays the girls take swimming lessons at the Y, with a 1/2 hour break in between the timing of their lessons. It’s usually a struggle and quite stressful. But last week I brought coloring books, workbooks and colored pencils.  Z, my 7 year old daughter, and I walked down the street to get some coffee/steamed milk for everyone while B, my partner of almost 7 years, stayed at the Y with E while she swam. It was the last class of the session and E did so well in the Pike level of swimming that she was been moved up to the next level (Eel) for the next session! This will work out much better for us because now their lessons will be one after another, instead of a 1/2 hour break in between. Instead of what could have been a stressful morning, I was able to feel more relaxed due to planning and going into the situation positively.

I’ve been thinking more about what I need and want. It still feels really selfish most of the time but I need to take care of me in order to begin feeling like I’m moving in some direction (hopefully toward happiness!). Currently I’m in the Human Services Social Work transfer program at my community college. I’ve already completed an AA in Early Childhood Education. I want to transfer after graduating to earn my BS but hadn’t really looked too deeply into it. Mostly out of fear. This week I met with the transfer counselor to find out when Elms College (where I’d like to transfer to) is sending a rep to the community college so I can meet with them. I’ve also been looking into financial aid and scholarships, since Elms is expensive. I was looking through the Elms website and noticed that Elms College offers merit-based scholarships to transfer students, noticeably the Elms Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship that is offered to students that have been inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (the scholarship is pretty hefty at $8-10k a year!).

In further researching Phi Theta Kappa I learned you need a 3.6 GPA to be invited to join. So I am now working to get my GPA up to a 3.6 (from a 3.549) so I can get admitted to Phi Theta Kappa. This means I need a 4.0 from here out at the community college, though if I retake a class I previously had earned a C grade in and received a B+ or A, that would significantly help my GPA. I likely will retake that class since it’s a 100 level class and I took it in 2002 when I honestly (and unfortunately) didn’t care much about my education.

I’ve been attending a weekly DBT class since the beginning of 2011. It’s structured in modules, each covering two topics and lasting 11-12 weeks. I’ve found the class itself and the skills taught to be quite helpful and very likely helping in my growth. I was upset that I had to drop out of the last module due to time constraints but I’m really glad I could take this current module. I hope to begin sharing some of the skills I have learned in DBT here.

All in all, I feel better. It’s not perfect. I still cry when certain songs come on the radio. Or when I’m watching sappy kids movies with the girls. Or when I think of my dad (who passed away in November of 2010). I don’t know that those things will ever change though. But I’m choosing to look at them differently. It is what it is and nothing more. Making it anything more than me crying at a song (etc) just makes that feeling bigger than it truly is and allows me to get stuck in it. I don’t want to get stuck feeling like that. Instead I will try to ride it like a wave, to just let it come and wash over me, to experience it, to acknowledge it. And then to let it go.

Dealing with People You Cannot Change

Currently I’m dealing with a person that really gets my goat. I’m sure you know the type (though it’s different for everyone)… they seem to push all the buttons to annoy, frustrate and anger you. They may have habits or traits that are opposed to your own. They don’t take kindly to suggestions or advice…in fact, why would they? This is the type of person who knows everything regardless of the topic, regardless of the context, regardless of their education or anyone else’s in the subject being discussed. It’s their way or… well, it’s really just their way.

If you haven’t had the opportunity in your life to cross paths with an individual like this, never fear because it’s an almost certainty that at some point you will. And when you do, you too will be faced with the dilemma on how to deal with them. Most importantly how you can deal with them, while retaining your own self worth and respect and staying within the bounds of your beliefs and morals.

First, if it’s a situation where you do not have to directly deal with this person (for example on the train or at a party), then DON’T. If this is someone you have no obligation to at all, kindly excuse yourself from the situation. It’s not worth your time, energy or stress level to deal with someone of this manner when you don’t need to. Trust me.

Second,  if it turns out this person IS someone you need to deal with and do not have the option of excusing yourself from (such as a co-worker or a family member) then you’re going to need to find a way to do so without detriment to yourself. Chances are this person may not realize (or potentially care) how much distress they are causing you (and possibly others). If you are close to them or feel a particular responsibly to them, you may feel the need to figure out the underlying cause of their behaviors. It might be that they are dealing with some personal issues (such as mental health or substance abuse). However, even if this is the case, you shouldn’t martyr yourself to “save” someone who may not actually want to be saved. You cannot change or help anyone who does not have the desire to change or be helped.

In dealing with people that push your buttons it’s best to have as limited interactions as possible. When needed, know your limitations and the level of distress you can handle and kindly excuse yourself temporarily from any situations before they reach a boiling point. It’s much easier to excuse yourself to use the bathroom (or the like) to cool yourself down that to have to explain why you’ve verbally or physically assaulted another human being. Remember, we’re trying to keep our own morals intact here.

If you are in a situation with a button pusher where excusing yourself is not possible (in a car, etc) then these strategies can prove helpful. Distract yourself with something else. Rather than focusing on the person that is causing you distress, focus on something (anything!) else. One method is to look around the room and find items (visually) in a certain color. Another method could be writing or making lists. Deep breathing is a great way to distract yourself and calm yourself down. Take a deep breath through your nose and think to yourself “1”. Next exhale your breath through your mouth and think “2”. Continue this method as you feel necessary.

Despite these methods you still may feel your buttons being pushed. Remember that the only things we can change are ourselves and our actions. We cannot change anyone else. Getting fixated on a person who angers, annoys or stresses us will not change that. Any belief to the contrary is false. At the end of the day we are all free to do whatever we want to do.

All the Small Things

I spend enormous amounts of time thinking. Worrying, analyzing, trying to determine all possible outcomes in all possible situations. I often get caught up in all these details, in all the things that could go wrong that I often don’t focus on or even notice the little things that go right.

We all do it. We get wrapped up in the big picture, making sure our kids have lunches packed for school and that their homework is finished. Completing the never-ending list of chores: laundry, dishes, meal planning and prep, vacuuming, cleaning, organizing, yard work, more laundry. In assuring that the pets are fed, that holiday presents are bought, that we keep in touch with family and friends and on and on and on… that we sometimes miss out on the little things.

Yesterday, as I stood in the driveway of my friend’s house after a particularly long and stressful day, I noticed the stars. You know, the same ones that are there every night. The same ones that most of the time I don’t notice or, if I do, I take for granted. For some reason though last night I noticed them. And they were beautiful. And in that moment I felt a sense of wonder. A sense of calm telling me to slow down and look around myself. Because there is beauty right in front of us. I pondered how many times lately I had missed other beautiful, wonderful, amazing things that were right there for me to enjoy.

Later that evening, on my drive home, I noticed movement on the side of the street. On any other day I may have not given it a second thought. A squirrel, a dog, something. But I didn’t turn away. Two deer, one full-grown and one much smaller, were about to cross the street. I slowed my speed and they crossed directly in front of my car. The larger one paused for a moment before scurrying off to the other side, the smaller one in tow. Just a moment. Just a moment that I could have very easily missed out on.

Today, throughout my travels, I noticed things that very likely may have previously been there. I saw how crisp and warmly colored the leaves on the trees were. Many branches already bare. I saw how the rain droplets fell on the grass, pooling together into bigger drops. Tiny purple and blue flowers I had written off as being already gone this far into autumn grew along the parking space my car occupied.

So many things. So many little things that go unnoticed daily. And yet they fill me with joy; with pleasure. The old saying “don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff” feels true to me at this moment.