When going home hurts

Stress Management

The holiday season is in full swing.

In the United States, Thanksgiving through the New Year is a magical time of year for family, love, friends, and celebrating life. Hanukkah started last night and Christmas is tomorrow. Everywhere I look, I see holiday lights, candy canes, Santas, and other festive decorations.

For those of us who were raised in abusive or neglectful homes, this time of year can be very stressful and confusing. We feel nostalgic for a childhood we never had (but saw in all of those Christmas movies). We have a hope that this year will be different. This phone call home will go smoothly. This time so and so will be nice to us.

To make it more confusing, many people who were raised in abusive homes would not identify themselves as survivors of abuse. This is mainly because there are different types of abuse.

Physical abuse includes:

  • punching, shaking, kicking, pinching, hair pulling and many other terrible examples.

Sexual abuse includes:

  • unwanted touching anywhere that is typically covered by a swim suit or underwear. Sexual abuse also includes being forced to watch others engage in sexual acts against our will.

Emotional abuse is:

  • when people try to break our spirits by calling us names like “stupid”, “worthless”, a “mistake”, “fatty”, and even worse. Emotional abuse leads to feelings of shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, and anger. Emotional abuse is often not recognized as often as it should.

Physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse can all cause life-long problems, but especially when they are inflicted on us by the very people who are supposed to love us and keep us safe. Some of us continue to live and interact with our families on a regular basis and some of us have to make the decision each year whether or not we want to go home for the holidays.

Part of us really wants to go home. Part of us wants that love and validation that we have never been given. The other part of us already knows it will, in all likelihood, not happen that way yet we go home anyway, out of duty. Because during the holidays, that’s what you do, the holidays are all about family after all.

How do I fix myself?

I recommend developing coping skills first and foremost. You cannot dig into all of the deep pain of a broken childhood without having coping skills already in place. A mental health professional can help you learn, practice, and use these skills correctly.

Coping skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Yoga
  • Using music effectively
  • Exercise
  • Hiking
  • Reading particular books
  • Meditation
  • Learning to use and guide your thoughts and imagination
  • Guided Imagery
  • Support groups

 

 

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Is life passing you by?

Stress Management

Here are 4 amazing and simple tips to increase your gratitude and create a life you love:

(Because if you are anything like me, you might wonder where the heck your year went, what you did and where you went)

Make a memory box

Buy some nice stationary and some pretty ribbons and write or draw positive events that happen. Store them in a special box, then, review them next New Year’s Eve. It could be a lovely tradition for yourself or for your family. Once a week (or once a month) create time and a space for yourself to add to your box. 

You can take time to decorate your box and really make it special. You could also include ticket stubs, photos, or trinkets from outings.

*Pro-tip: you can also pull them out and look at them any time you are feeling depressed, discouraged, or need a pick-me-up.

Become a photojournalist

Take one photo a day every day for the whole year to document your life experiences.

You can collect these photos in Instagram, Snapchat, or a special photo album on your tablet. Set a reminder in your phone to remind you if you need help remembering. This project will also help you look for the positive things in your life throughout the day as you decide which one photograph you are going to take for that day.

At the end of the year you will have 365 photographs that sum up the good in your life.

*Pro-tip: at the end of the year, load the photos on to Shutterfly (or some other similar website)  and create a keepsake photo book to printed and mailed to you.

Keep a diary

Jot down one positive thing that happens to you each day in a journal. It can be a beautiful paper journal you purchase just for this project, or you could use Evernote (or any similar app). You could write about anything that you consider a positive thing. An amazing book you read, a new outfit, dinner with someone special, a particularly good film you saw, a vacation, a promotion at work, etc. Again, set a reminder in your phone if you need help remembering at first.

*Pro-tip: Review your year. What were the highlights? Times with friends? Times of growth? Times of solitude? Use those insights to create more experiences you will love in the upcoming year.

Create your vision board or bucket list.

Make a list of things you really want to do or have in your life. But, here’s the catch, you have to actually work on doing or getting them. This isn’t about documenting your dreams, it is about turning your dreams into goals. Actively develop a plan for how AND when you will achieve these things on your list.

Include big things like a specific car you have always wanted, getting a specific degree you would like, or a trip to another country. Also include smaller things that you have always wanted as well. Maybe a nearby city you have always wanted to visit, or a day trip to a local winery, a specific restaurant you want to try, stargazing on a new moon, starting that yoga class.

*Pro-tip: you can make these tips circular by using your vision board or bucket list to create opportunities for amazing photo or journal entries and then using your diary to help define what goes on your bucket list. 

Design a life you are crazy about

Stress Management

Today is National Stress Awareness Day.

I am sure there will be a lot of tips on breathing, eating healthy, and mindfulness (all of which are good) BUT, I would just like to remind you to also think in the macro…

Life is what we make it.

It can be relaxing,

It can be adventurous,

It can be stressful,

It takes a little bit of effort, but our life can be whatever we decide to make it.

Step One

Figure out exactly what kinds of things make you happy.

Maybe it is music.

Maybe it is travel.

Maybe it is animals.

Maybe it is the beach.

Again, this list could be endless.

Step Two

Figure out the specific things in life that cause you anger, anxiety, or depression and work to limit these factors in your life as much as is possible. We will never be able to avoid everything in life which causes us stress, but we can actively reduce these stressors.

Maybe there are specific people in our lives which cause us to feel angry or unloved. We can work to limit the amount of time we allow them into our lives or remove them all together.

Maybe it is our job that requires changing.

If bills freak you out, maybe you schedule one or two days a month specifically for opening mail and paying debt followed by something relaxing.

Step Three

Schedule things which bring you joy, peace, or excitement  into your weekly calendar or to-do list just like any other chore or activity. Consider these activities promises to yourself and honor them as you honor promises you make to others.

It can be really helpful to space these activities throughout your week either as little rewards or as ongoing stress reducers. For example, a tentative schedule could look like this:

 Sun

 Mon

Tues

 Wed

 Thurs

 Fri

 Sat

Hike

Pay Bills

Sauna

Read a Book

Yoga

Dinner out

Beach

Play Golf

 Gym

 Manicure

 Bubble Bath

 Tai Chi

 Live Music

 Road Trip

 Try Meetup .com

 Pay Bills

Try new recipe

Draw or Paint

 Get Massage

 Plan Vacation

 Bike Ride

 See Movie

Create New Playlist

 Volunteer

Netflix binge

Clean your car

 Laundry

Call Parents

Could you or should you?

Stress Management

Choice and judgement go hand in hand

I woke up with a memory from my past life this morning. I was still in a very strict evangelical religion and we were doing an icebreaker at the beginning of a small group study. The icebreaker that particular night was, “If you could be any crayon in the box, which one would you be?”.

 

I said that I would be the crayon that has different colors in one crayon. This was actually a pretty telling answer for me because I have always felt like I don’t really belong to any one group of people. I have always had trouble fitting in and I was trying to express that I have a loud side and a creative side and a thoughtful side etc.

51haoeuxyll

The pastor’s wife got very irritated with me and said I was cheating. Cheating. Because my answer didn’t fit into the one-color crayon idea she had in her head, I was cheating. She said I was wrong, I was cheating, and I had to pick another crayon.

I find that we do that to one another in life all the time. People do not have ideas or opinions we have so we think they are wrong or bad or broken. And, most of the time, we do not even realize we are doing it. We use words like “should” “must” or “have to” to express our ideas or preferences as if they are fact or as if there is only one way to do something.

So, what do we do?

Well, knowing we all do it and that we are not intentionally trying to be jerks (most of the time) helps. But, it is not enough.

While I believe in and encourage non-violent language and “verbal judo”, I’m not usually one who advocates for trigger-warnings or safe-spaces because, let’s face it, we all have to adapt and get by in the real world.

What I mean is that while it is nice to be aware of our own language and how we speak to each other, we cannot “police” the language of other people, so the work is best done on ourselves.

I work with people who want to learn improved communication skills. I help people learn the difference between “coulds” and “shoulds” in order to be better life partners, better co-workers, and better parents. I help clients see their world from other points of view and help them to learn the difference between their musts and their possibilities.

I also work with highly sensitive people and empaths who want to improve their stress management skills. Clients learn to have better boundaries and how to not take the ideas and opinions of others as facts and criticisms.

Learning to agree to disagree in a world that is constantly trying to put us in black and white boxes is a skill we all benefit from having.

Come to think of it, maybe a better answer to my crayon icebreaker should have been white, since the color white is in fact all colors of the rainbow in one.

darkroom-color-2

Reconnecting with the world around you

Stress Management

Mindfulness

One of the ways that we reconnect with the world around us is through Mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is staying present and in the moment without:

  • fantasizing or daydreaming to escape your life

  • blocking upsetting thoughts / feelings with constant music or tv

  • numbing your thoughts and feelings with drugs, alcohol, or self injury

Mindfulness is being in the moment. Feeling what you feel, seeing what you see, hearing what you hear, smelling what you smell, and tasting what you taste. It is experiencing your life using all senses available to you.


As I sit here I can hear birds, airplanes, wind chimes, an occasional car, a dog barking in the distance, and the clicking on my keyboard.

I feel cool air,  an occasional breeze from the open window, the firmness of my chair, the feel of my clothing against my skin.

I smell my coffee, incense

I see my computer screen, my dogs, a hummingbird, some bees, flowers, a tree, a roaming kitten

I taste my coffee, some chocolate, gum.


Ways to reconnect with the world around you:

  • play with a child
  • carve a pumpkin
  • turn off the tv
  • dance
  • draw
  • teach tricks to an animal
  • garden without a radio or iPod
  • practice carpentry
  • play with the pets
  • paint
  • put down your phone
  • turn off your electronics for an hour
  • wash dishes by hand
  • eat gobstoppers
  • Go on a walk without your phone
  • touch your food, feel the lettuce
  • walk barefoot
  • float in a pool of water and notice how the water feels on you
  • take a sculpting class
  • go stargazing
  • watch an eclipse
  • meditate outside in nature
  • make biscuits from scratch with your bare hands
  • find an outdoor yoga class