“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Stress is inevitable and a necessary part of life. We also know that stress is toxic and will destroy us if we do not lovingly take care of our body so it can better adapt to stress (if you didn't know, check out this article).
In the spirit of love on Valentine's Day, I'm sharing with you some of the things that I do to offset and recover from the stress that I experience in my life.
I hope they spark some inspiration for you to create your own unique ways to feel better, develop a better relationship with stress and build resilience to live your life to the fullest. In no particular order...
1. Play more
Play fulfills our human need for novelty and pleasure to experience joy. When you play, you stimulate the part of your brain for creativity, problem solving and relationships. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, play researcher, play is all around us, it is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming. You also play when you talk to your pets, clown around with your friends, or in engaged in deep imaginary fantasy. One way to incorporate more play in your life is to ask yourself, "is there a way I can make this task more fun?"
2. Move your body
You already know all the great benefits of exercising. But did you now that moving your body is vital for the health of your mitochondria? Mi-to-chon-dri-what? If you remember nothing from high school biology (like me, before my research), mitochondria are the “powerhouse” of your cells. Every cell in your body contains mitochondria. It is the mitochondria that determine how much energy you have available daily. Think, happy mitochondria; happy life.
Healthy mitochondria need movement. When you move, your mitochondria move (just like the Ludacris song). According to Mitochondria researcher Martin Picard from Columbia University, being physically active is the best thing you can do for your mitochondria, and being inactive for long periods of time is one of the worst things for them. Your mitochondria are responsible for helping your cells adapt to stress response. So the happier they are, the more "stress-ready" you become.
So when we move, they move, and while their moving, they:
3. Master your thoughts
Master your thoughts to master your life. Your thoughts generate how you feel on an emotional level. How you feel influences how you behave. If you’re hoarding some unhelpful thoughts and limited beliefs, it’s going to impact your life.
Get to know your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. This takes time and practice, but the payoff is like none other. Only from the position of awareness are we able to shift our mindset. Practice mindfulness/presence/meditation/visualization to build a helpful relationship with your thoughts. Seek support from a coach, therapist or a counselor to help you process your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that often times are hidden from plain view.
Look, we all accept the fact that we need to hit the gym to keep our body strong and healthy - it's time we treat our minds with the same respect!
4. Nourish your body
Remove toxic foods and feed yourself what your cells need to flourish. Just like there is dirty and clean fuel, there is dirty and clean food. Food can be complicated, and very individual, especially here in the U.S. There are whole industries that inform what we should and shouldn't eat that anyone can Google. Be aware that there are gray zones of what's considered "heathy" that experts debate endlessly, which frankly confuses the heck out of everyone else. So here's what you should know at a basic level:
Harmful with zero benefits:
Nourishes your mind and body:
5. Lean on people
Your support network is your panel of "life advisors." They can be your family, friends, mentors, coaches, spiritual counselors, business partners, therapists, neighbors, doctors, staff, etc. It’s quality, not quantity that matters for health. You want to surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you, and with whom you can share your honest thoughts and emotions. When you are stressed, reach out to lean on your support network. Let them know what you're experiencing and allow someone to do something nice for you.
6. Be helpful
You are a social creature and your brain rewards you for helping your community. When you help someone else, your body releases oxytocin, which boosts your mood and counteracts the effects of cortisol (the dreaded stress hormone)! In addition, when your oxytocin is boosted, so are serotonin and dopamine (creating feelings of happiness!). Data shows that your ability to experience positive thoughts, sensations, emotions, and sentiments makes you more resilient to stress.
7. Know what gives you energy
Your body is like a radio, tuning into various stations. Some stations drain you and others make you perk up and dance. Finding your joy is all about picking up signals that energize and create a feeling of expansion in you. Your goal is to refine your tuning ability so you can hone in on the stations that make you come alive and skip or limit the ones that drain you. As an example, visual stimulation energizes me. So I make a conscious effort to surround myself with nature and visual aesthetics to inspire and motivate me. Everyone’s preferred stations are going to be different, so have fun exploring!
8. Get out into nature
You are a part of the earth, so there’s a part of you that naturally and intuitively craves nature. Although we each have different levels of “hippie threshold,” at a fundamental level we all appreciate fresh mountain air. The point is, nourish your senses and let your body soak up the healing properties of trees, mountains, hills, grass, moss, flowers, open water, sand, soil, snow, rain, sun, moon, and the night sky.
9. Take stock on what's going well
When you focus on the good, you prime your mind to notice the positivity that comes your way. Our brain is built with a negative bias which means we tend to focus on what's wrong versus what's going very well. When I catch myself heading into a negative spiral of self-pity, I try to shift my gear and begin to notice the things that are going well. My experience is that it is very difficult to be grateful and mad or fearful at the same time! So shine some light on the things that are going well, to move into your positive spiral. Positivity begets more positivity.
10. Write it out
Writing is great for processing thoughts. When you write you actually process a different part of your brain than when you speak. So in a way, it’s looking at your “problem” from a different perspective. My favorite writing tools to process thoughts are freewriting, journaling and writing a letter to yourself or someone else. Try the different techniques of writing and see what you unlock and discover for yourself.
Take regular breaks. Rest. Nap. Sleep (aim for more than 7 hours). Only when you're resting, can your mind and body learn, gain insight, repair and heal.
12. Belly breathing
Notice how you're breathing throughout the day. Are you holding your breath? Are you breathing shallow? Is your breath rapid? Do your shoulders rise when you inhale? These are all signs that you're not optimizing your breathing. What's more detrimental is that you're sending "fight/flight/freeze" message to your brain that you are under threat. Instead, what you want to aim for is slow and deep breathing. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose. As you inhale your belly rises and deflates as you exhale. Keep your belly soft and breath smooth. Belly breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system to relax you.
13. Media Detox
Just like what you put in your mouth affects the way your body feels, what you feed your mind, has the same effect. Reduce/remove toxic media stimuli when you can. If you don’t know whether something is good for you, ask yourself - what is the intention of this information? If it’s to create fear, insecurity, frustration, guilt, tension, blame, jealousy, and other emotions like this, you know you can cut it from your life. Some common media I personally cut out or access with caution especially when I'm stressed: social media, news, reality tv, horror, thriller, suspense, drama, commercials. Not all media is bad, follow and look for content that ignites, inspires, motivates, develops and advances your life and personal wellbeing.
14. Spend time with animals
Animals are great for many reasons, but when it comes to de-stressing, they are fabulous for helping you get out of your chattering mind and into your body. Why? Because they can’t speak your language thus forcing you to tap into your right brain communicating through visceral sounds and body language.
15. Learn something new
When you expand your knowledge of the world, you expand your perspective. Meet someone new. Discuss a new topic. Read a book. Take a class. Watch a video. Listen to an audiobook or podcast. Pick up a new hobby.
16. Connect to a greater purpose
You tend to find more meaning in your life when you are able to connect what you do to a greater purpose. Purpose could mean different thing to different people - spirituality, religion, child-rearing, social movements, universal consciousness, whatever that connects you to a greater power or energy source beyond yourself.
Why do these tips work? Because it focuses on either lifting your mood or building your resources (physical, psychological and social). According to the “Broaden and Build” theory in psychology, when we give ourselves a lift in mood, we are able to see the world through a wider lens and our perspectives broaden. A broader perspective allows us to notice more possibilities in our lives so that we’re better able to tap into or build up our resources, which makes us more resilient to stress.
Let me know if any of these tips work for you. Or if you have other tips for de-stressing. I'd love to hear your thoughts!
"Emotional competence requires the capacity to feel our emotions, so that we are aware when we are experiencing stress." ~ Addiction Expert Gabor Maté, Ph.D
What comes up for you when you think about stress? If you’re like me, I used to think about stress as a game. A “survival of the fittest” competition. I used to think, stress is experienced by the weak - so you need to build intestinal fortitude to overcome the stresses in life. I used to think I get energized by stress, and without it, I wouldn’t get anything done. I used to think people who want to de-stress are slackers, soft-willed and lack ambition.
How’s that for honesty?
I’ve come to learn that the truth is, like most things in life, nuanced. But what is undeniable is that stress in the modern world isn't like stress experienced by our ancestors, or even 50 years ago. Our physiology hasn't evolved as quickly as our lifestyles and technology to make sense and protect us from harm. In fact, chronic stress, which is the type of stress that many of us experience in the modern world is not an inconvenience, it's lethal.
So, do I still feel the same about stress as I did the past? Well, yes and no. And I’m not saying that just as a former management consultant.
Let’s crack that nut apart, shall we?
1. Stress is good for survival
YES: If we were in the wild, and came across a tiger, our reaction to that threat would impact how well we’re able to flee, attack and/or hide. Or if we were living off the land, and we had to relocate, that stressor would impact how well we’re able to stave off hunger, stay energized and motivated to seek out our next plot of land.
NO: Our body’s automatic response to threat is to produce chemicals to help us deal with short term stress with an endpoint (ex. When we’ve escaped the tiger or when we've arrived at our destination). Prolonged stress isn’t good for our body because we are not meant to bathe in the stress chemicals for long periods of time. Stress chemicals over-time break down muscles, brain tissues, bones and wreak havoc with our mental and physical health.
SO WHAT? When stress is experienced in the short-term, it can help us run faster, jump higher, dig deeper into our mental and physical energy reservoir. However, whenever stress is extended, especially one with no end in sight, it’s a quick way to remove ourselves from the proverbial gene pool, because we will get sick. It's not a matter of if, but when. Modern day stressors are often ongoing, long-term, almost with no end in sight. We’ll talk more about that later.
2. Stress is experienced by the weak
YES: If we’re defining the “weak” by someone who is lacking in ability or resources, there is some truth in this. Stress is experienced when the demand exceeds our ability or resources (perceived or real). Say, if the mob extorted me for $100M by end of the week, For sure I will be highly stressed out because I currently do not have $100M or the ability to easily acquire this money. Now, say if Jeff Bezos was extorted the same amount, his level of stress compared to mine would differ greatly because both his resources and ability, in this context, would exceed mine (for now).
Similarly, if we’re asked to solve a problem at work for which we are under-resourced, or present on a topic for which we know very little, or host a dinner party when we are not confident about our cooking, or perform on a test for which we are ill-prepared, we will experience stress. In all these examples, the person would experience less stress, if given more support and resources.
NO: However, it’s not like the top dog doesn't experience stress. Stress is an equal opportunity, non-discriminatory experience. The playing field is leveled out by the protective mechanism of our brain and body. Even if we had all the resources and abilities in the world, we still have to grapple with our evolved brains which come with an interesting feature for survival, but not very helpful for happiness. This feature is called “negative bias.”
Negative bias is our brain’s tendency to focus on the negative. Our brain evolved to routinely trick us into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (Hanson 2013). This likely served us in the past - to be vigilant of threats in the wild and fulfilling opportunities. It was more beneficial for our ancestors to regularly mistake a rock for a tiger, than to not spot the tiger in the event it's there, even if it caused some unnecessary anxiety. Fast forward to us, who have inherited these traits in the modern world. In the modern world, there are more than just tigers that can potentially harm us, and our brain is on overdrive scanning our environment for threats (virtual and IRL). You know exactly what they sound like.
So what exactly is scanning our environment? Well, there are our five senses of which we’re consciously aware (ex., a honking horn, smell of smoke, a look disdain). We also have a hardworking system interpreting our environments for threats below our level of consciousness. This system is our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and it senses and monitors our environment 24/7 - even when we are sleeping. In fact, this why we tend to not sleep as well when we are in a new location because half of our mind is assessing if our new environment is safe (Tamaki et al. 2016).
Now, take into the context of our modern living - hyper-accelerated pace of life, inability to fully disconnect from work, financial pressures, dating / relationship pressures, addictive mobile devices, negative emotions with social media usage, disrupted sleep due to late nights, blue lights and interruptions from technology on our circadian rhythm, lack of sun exposure, lack of access to nature, frequent flying and radiation exposure, lack of connection to community, exposure to pesticides, convenience of processed foods, trans fats, GMOs, and sugar at our fingertips… just to name a few.
When our ANS sends messages to our brain with potential threat to our wellness, our brain sends directives to our sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The SNS is responsible for preparing us for activity related to “fight/flight/freeze.” When the SNS receives the message that we are under threat (perceived or real), it releases chemicals to help us get out of danger. The HPA axis which consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenal glands, is the network responsible for releasing stress chemicals. As long as our brain is still receiving messages of threat, our HPA axis will keep its “foot on the gas pedal” (Seyle, 1950). Over time, this messes with our hormones and creates a downward spiral on our health. Unfortunately, in our modern world, most of our stressors are on-going because it’s now our way of life.
If you’re feeling your SNS responding to this section of the article, go ahead and take 3 deep breaths through your nose filling your belly with air, keeping your exhale a second longer than your inhale, and tell yourself you’re safe and not in danger (this will activate your parasympathetic nervous system to chill; you’re welcome).
SO WHAT? Everyone experiences stress; many will experience chronic stress especially in modern living. Some experience stress very consciously, but everyone is experiencing stress on a subconscious or unconscious level as well. If health and wellness is important to us, we must identify our contributors of stress, monitor our levels of stress throughout the day, and work on supporting our stress response system. We are most vulnerable to the ailments of stress when we think we are not impacted or don’t take efforts to de-stress. A side note about sustaining stress - according to the Hans Selye, father of stress research, our bodies respond to stress in three stages 1) Alarm 2) Resistance 3) Exhaustion. When we are in stage two, our body is pushing down the "gas pedal" of our stress chemicals to maintain our ability to escape danger. Individuals vary on the length they can sustain stage two. During this period, we might not be feeling awesome, we're getting things done, so we believe we're coping just fine. However, the gas will eventually run out and we'll dip into stage three, where we become susceptible to serious diseases. Unfortunately, many (including me) learn this lesson the hard way - when we wake up one day mentally and physically burnt out or learn that our health has been seriously compromised.
3. Stress is energizing and productive
YES: Our brain needs to be a little bit challenged and our interest piqued for us to access the creative area of our brain. Our prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the most evolved region of our brain responsible for things like decision making, expression, innovation and insight. A neuroscience perspective is that in order to access our PFC, we need to be in a sweet spot that generates eustress or "good stress" which is between being completely bored out of our minds and overwhelmed. Eustress is not determined by the type of stressor, but how one perceives the stressor, which means everyone's "sweet spot" is going to be different. When we are out of range of Eustress, we heavily rely on our basal ganglia which is the part of the brain responsible for our “working memory” - think frying an egg, driving or riding a bike, where we don’t really have to think a whole lot (Fabritius, 2018).
This means some stress is good for us. we know we're experiencing eustress when the stress (Seyle, 1974):
NO: Bad stress or distress is unrewarding and with a lot of risks attached. When our body perceives unhealthy stress, we produce a chemical called cortisol. When cortisol is released, our PFC shuts down. When we are exposed to stress, we lose our prefrontal cognitive abilities. Why? Because when our life's threatened, the priority is to get us the heck out of danger rather than play with creative concepts. The PFC is the brain region that is most sensitive to the detrimental effects of stress. So much so that prolonged exposure to stress causes this part of your brain to shrink (Arnsten 2010).
Bad stress weakens prefrontal networks and higher cognition (Arnsten 2015). What does this mean? It means that stress can make us stupid. Stress shuts down the thinking part of the brain so that we can respond to threat instinctively and reflexively. This would have been the “smart” thing to do in the wild - when there's no time to sit and wax philosophical. However, our ancient protective mechanism doesn't help us out in the modern world when stress runs high. We are expected to think and refine and analyze and calculate and negotiate and present and produce creative, innovative, brilliant solutions to most modern-day problems.
SO WHAT? Some short-term good stress is good for us. We need to be aware of the eustress and distresses in our lives to keep check of the type of stress we are taking on. Too much stress is harmful to our cognitive ability. In fact, not only do our PFC shrink with stress, our amygdala, the part of our brain that detects danger and reacts with fear, anxiety, and aggression actually increases in size as it works overtime. So the more anxious and stressed out we are, the more anxious and stressed out we become! (Kaufer et al., 2014)
4. People who can’t handle stress lack grit and ambition
YES: Our society definitely depicts people who can’t handle stress as lacking in will or perseverance. We see this in movie characters and perhaps even some people through our lives. It begins with the child who can’t resist and wait to eat the marshmallow and will eat it immediately upon being given one. Then the teenager who struggles with the test and gives up completing it only halfway. As adults, the person who lets “that’s too difficult” become the driver their decision making. It is entirely possible that all of these individuals lack grit and ambition because they can't handle stress. But more likely, there's something else going on here.
NO: There are a few concepts that can easily get conflated with not being able to handle stress. 1. Unclear vision or goal 2. Lack of passion or purpose 3. Lack of belief or confidence. 4. Inability to delay gratification. There are many reasons why people don’t persevere, and many of them have nothing to do with the ability to cope with stress. In fact, I believe when we have a clear vision and purpose, coupled with skills to boost our confidence, we will naturally prioritize to realize our goals.
The reasons why people do not persevere and can be misunderstood as “if you can't handle stress, you lack grit and ambition.” It has been shown that when individuals are taught how to delay gratification for a more positive outcome, crystallize their vision and purpose, and increase their confidence with training or new tools, the same individuals will charge forward with new found energy and direction.
As mentioned previously, there are good stress and toxic stress. Good stress challenges us to grow, and if we do it well, we are rewarded to our satisfaction. Toxic stress is prolonged with an unclear “finish line,” where the challenges and difficulties are mostly out of our control with lack of/uncertain rewards. When we identify the toxic stress in our lives, the choice becomes clearer in terms of how we want to respond. If we continue and do nothing about our toxic stress, it’s a form of self-harm. So one can say people who opt-out, won't or "can't" handle stress (toxic stress) is practicing self-care.
SO WHAT? There are definite benefits to developing “intestinal fortitude,” “thick skin” and other strategies such as social support and presence/mindfulness techniques and other skills to make us more resilient to life’s ups and downs. However, most of us will experience at some point in our lives where inevitably stress will impacts our wellbeing. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can offer our best to the world because that's what will make us happy. We need to recognize when we are enduring something toxic without replenishing ourselves and stop the self-abuse. High-performance athletes will spend millions of dollars on self-care and performance recovery annually. Why the investment? Because they know that when they practice self-care by reducing/removing toxicity from their lives and replenish with nourishing elements for their minds and bodies, they will thrive and outperform themselves in the long run. Just ask LeBron James!
Ok, I’m stressed out. What’s the big deal?
Here are some physiological impacts of chronic stress on our bodies:
A part of me wished I’d known more about the causes and impacts of stress on personal wellness in past years. I might have reprioritized and changed many life's decisions. But then, on the other hand, I wouldn’t be in the position to share my experience today and hopefully help out someone else.
Passing on my experience with you so that you may make a more informed decision about how you want to live your life.
Do you have an experience with stress you'd like to share? Do you have an idea for a future article? Drop me a note, I'd love to hear about it!
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see ~Mark Twain
Be kind. Be compassionate. Be loving.
Most people associate these rules of engagement with how we interact with others more so than how we treat ourselves.
Often, when stress hits our lives, it’s when we need to be the most kind to ourselves, but ironically, it’s when we’re the hardest. We say things like, “you won’t rest/eat/play until you get this done;” “this is so like you to mess this up;” “why are you so awkward;” “why is this so hard for you;” “you are lazy;” “what’s wrong with you;” “you’re not good enough;” and “you are a fraud.”
And yes, these are all things I have said to myself at some point.
Recently, I had the fortune of experiencing a few disappointments that had me beating myself up unknowingly. I was being unkind to myself which intensified the disappointments (because now instead of the situation disappointed me, I WAS the disappointment, and I was not going to let myself off the hook until I made it better!).
It took some wise people, a supportive network and time to remind me that I needed to be more compassionate to myself. Once I did that, a whole other world opened up for me.
How do you know if you have been or being unkind to yourself?
Here are are some common examples of what we do when we are unkind to ourselves:
So you want to be kinder to yourself but don’t know where to start? Here are a few considerations...
Do you consider yourself a compassionate person? If so, Is there a difference in the way you exercise compassion for yourself versus others? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Most people I know, including myself, work really hard. I mean, around the clock, really. You wake up thinking about work and go to sleep to dream about more work (you have not dreamt until you dream in PowerPoint! True story).
Last summer, my husband and I hosted a “burnt out” party. It was a hit – because the theme was so relatable to so many, plus we lured folks in with temptations of icy beverages and a pool. This year, we gladly will not be hosting a “burnt-out” party and I see that as a huge win!
What is burnout? Are you wondering if you’re burning out or altogether burnt out?
While burnout is often contextualized in the work environment, you can also be burnt out from relationships, family, or any endeavor or obligation that is demanding energy from you.
Here are some common everyday symptoms (feel free to Google “burnout symptoms” or talk to your medical care provider for a comprehensive list):
The sneaky thing with burnout is that it doesn’t happen overnight. Burnout is something that you’ve worked really hard for over a period of time (although completely unrewarding), and can happen to many high achievers with a “can do” attitude. The irony is that once you have burnt out, you become a “can’t do” person, either in spirit or physical ability.
The thing is, you can be a high achiever, love your job and be successful- all without being burnt out. In fact, I’ll argue that it’s the only sustainable way to accomplish everything you want and be happy. I will also say that working long hours is not the main contributor to burnout. Have you ever lost track of time doing something you’re naturally passionate about? Instead of feeling tired, usually it will energize and satisfy you deeply.
At the core of it, burnout is not a productivity issue, it is a matter related to life purpose and wellness. When someone is burnt out, it’s heartbreaking. That person has figuratively lost his / her flames. Their desire, drive, ambition and sometimes even love, no longer burns inside their being.
So what contributes to burnout?
Key culprits for burnout are:
Here are some things you can ask yourself if you feel like you’re on the road to burnout:
If we want to avoid or recover from burnout, we need to get really honest with ourselves and ask, “Am I getting my needs met?” And if not, why?
The simple awareness to the answers of those questions will inspire you to dig deeper and reconnect with your truth. Follow and allow your truth to guide your way back to blazing.
What's your experience with burnout? Love to hear your thoughts below...
It's graduation time! So many bright and shiny faces pumped to live out dreams, build successful lives and contribute to the society. Someone asked me, "what advice would you give to new graduates?"
Where should I start, there are so many life hacks already out there:
Timeout. How did reading the above headlines make you feel?
Were you intrigued? Motivated? Inspired?
If you’re like most people, you felt anxious. Fueled by a sense of missing out. Maybe you felt it confirmed your suspicion that you're lacking something. You might have even felt anger, for being left in the dark for so long. The intriguing thing is that these headlines hook into our fears and sense of lack on a subconscious level... and many of us would click on that bait.
The notion that someone else can answer our life's deepest questions is appealing. Especially when we are recent graduates, we want to feel like we’re set up for success. For the overachievers amongst us, not only do we want to feel prepared, but often we want a leg-up in the game of life. Why be good, when you can be phenomenal? Why be successful when you can set a new record? Why be like everyone else, when you can be the unique magnificent individual that you are (cue rainbows, butterflies and unicorns)?!
Graduate, you will hear a lot of messages in the next decade that will create anxiety, allow you to believe you are not enough, distract you from what you already know to be true. Many of these messages are tied to other people’s agendas that have nothing to do with you. Often times those messages do not serve you. This is what I call noise. There is so much around us and many of us will let noise into our lives for different reasons, and likely, you will too. That’s ok, it’s a part of life and we all learn and grow from our experiences.
So, new graduate, while I have no specific advice for you because I believe everyone is on their own unique journey, I can share with you what I would have benefited knowing (about two decades) sooner for myself. You can decide how my experience applies to you.
You will have a lot of information coming at you from all directions. The sooner you realize you already have everything you need to be successful, the better off you will be. You don’t need a “hack” or a short cut. In fact, most of the time, they don’t exist or work.
What I'm about to share is the opposite of a shortcut. In fact, it can take quite a bit of time to experience and requires a lot of self-reflection. It's one thing to know them in your head and altogether something else to experience it. I call these 10 magical life experiences I learned to be true:
The sooner you realize the secret to living a "successful" life, is to find your own unique path to fulfill your unique purpose through everything you already know and have, the sooner you will be the phenomenal, magnificent guy / gal living a life you love (and who knows, it may even include setting that new record)!
"Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath." ~ Eckhart Tolle
I'm going about my normal day. Doing my typical thing at work when I receive an email…THE email that is a bomb wrapped between “Hi” and “Thanks.”
In a matter of seconds, my emotions ramp up from 0 to 120. I feel my breath shorten. My ribs tighten up. My teeth clench. My lips purse. I’m angry and my eyeballs can barely focus anymore! I recognize what’s happening. I recognize it’s irrational, but it’s too late. There’s no reversing it. On an honest day, I’d admit I’m mad, angry, pissed. On other days, I might rationalize this as having an “off” day, or “typical work” or “shit happens” kind of moment.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. Once in a while we get in a conversation or exchange that just gets under our skin (yes, this includes how others are driving on the road).
Sometimes we even recognize how disproportionate the emotional response is to the stimulus – other times, we are completely oblivious.
So, what is actually happening in that moment when someone rubs us the wrong way?
When we get angry, mad, annoyed pissed off, here’s what’s really happening:
Your value is being threatened
We all have core values that we hold close. These values can change over the course of our lives, but every given moment, you have a list of values you cherish and protect consciously or subconsciously.
If you don’t know what your values are, take a moment to reflect on what’s important to you. Anything you need or desire becomes your value: time, health, privacy, community, friendship, family, faith, aesthetics, connection with nature, space, respect, wealth, power, creativity, creation, fun, etc.
So, next time when someone changes the plan last minute and annoys you to no end, it might be interesting to dig deeper to see what’s truly annoying you (hint: it’s rarely the actual observable behavior). You might want to ask yourself, “which value of mine is being threatened in this moment?” For example, you might discover the act of rescheduling means a challenge to your value for time, or respect or fun. Once you recognize the value you are protecting, you will have some compassion for the way you are feeling. By identifying what’s at the core of what’s really bothering you, you will naturally be more effective at resolving the situation.
Something is triggering you
Triggers can be mysterious and elusive because they are so deeply rooted in past trauma that any whiff of the past, will signal our fight or flight response. This can create some melodrama in our lives and those around us (I call this the OMG moment when someone melts down or lashes out unexpectedly. This is what makes some reality TV so fascinating to their viewers). Often times bickering and fighting are really two people responding to triggers back and forth. Understanding our triggers can bring awareness to our feelings, thoughts and actions.
Someone has hurt your heart
That’s right, boys and girls - that’s what it comes down to when we are angry. At the root of anger is hurt. Most of us do not like to associate with being a victim, so what we do is turn that pain (passive) into anger (active). This is completely natural and can at times serve a purpose to propel us into action. However, we will never “get over it,” and the pattern will continue unless we dig deeper and follow that anger until we recognize, address and heal the hurt underneath.
Any other reasons why you get angry? Share your thoughts below.
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness is a buzzword with growing popularity in the mainstream media as well as in our daily lives.
What comes up for you when you are faced with the word “mindfulness”?
Do you think Yoda?
Do you think of someone sat crossed legged in meditation?
Do words such as “zen,” “calm,” “peace” float across your mind in word bubbles?
Does the image of the statue “The Thinker” appear?
Are you reminded of a teacher who once said “you need to be more mindful”?
The truth is, many of us are not clear on the term “mindfulness” so we apply what we loosely associate with the word to our understanding. For many of us, this means we do not truly understand; therefore, do not consciously practice mindfulness. While it sounds like the “right” thing to do, it remains an elusive state that is not a priority.
I’m a Virgo, so they say I can be practical and grounded. What I do know is that I have an appetite to know and understand. So, let’s explore mindfulness together…
What is the opposite of mindfulness?
It is mindlessness.
What are some descriptions of mindlessness?
Do any of these descriptions remind you of areas in your life? Think about it. What’s the commonality between these areas in your life where you feel a state of mindlessness?
When I’m in a state of mindlessness, I’m focused on either the past or the future. My attention is on the history or outcome of a situation that happened in the past rather than the now. Or I’m focused on a desired outcome in the future that makes this moment dull in comparison. Of course, this is an illusion since the past and the future are only in our minds. The only reality is the present moment.
Ultimately, when we are stuck in mindlessness, it robs us of our joy, creativity and happiness in the now.
This happens all the time and to everyone. Living in a technologically advanced world, one can expect mindfulness to be difficult at times. Don’t judge yourself when you find yourself to be in a state of mindlessness. You are human, so your mind is built for autopilot sometimes. Awareness is a powerful first step to shifting your consciousness.
In true Virgo fashion, here are some tactical ways you can begin shifting from mindlessness to mindfulness:
1. Notice new things
You might walk or drive the same path to work or school every day and it’s easy to zone out. Try noticing what’s different about today’s experience. The people you see along the way, the newly formed buds in the trees and flowers, the weather and how it interacts with people and nature… what makes today’s experience unique?
2. Notice your emotions
This is your inner compass. Do not ignore it. Check your emotions often throughout the day. How are you feeling at this present moment? Your emotions tell you how near or far away you are from your truth. Being aware allows you to make conscious decisions relative to your truth.
For example, if you are feeling unsettled. Ask yourself “why?” Was it a hurtful conversation you had with a loved one recently? Is it feeling ill-prepared for a commitment you made later in the week? Your emotions will guide you to actions that will bring you closer your truth. Do you need to ask for forgiveness or express your hurt feelings with your loved one? Are you taking on too much and need to reprioritize your commitments?
If you push through the day/week/month without pausing to reflect, you are on autopilot and probably numbing yourself. This unawareness disempowers you to be in the driver seat of your own life.
3. Do things differently
How many of us are engaged in a long-term job/relationship/hobby? It’s human nature to get bored of the same things after months/years/decades. So, make it different! Ask yourself, how might I do this differently today? Often that’s how creativity and innovation is born.
How might you experiment with your tried and true recipe? How might you solve that problem you’ve solved 100 times before in a different way? How could you express your love and affection for your partner in a way that you haven’t before?
4. Focus on the now
Very simply put, when we are focused on anything else but experiencing the now, we rob ourselves of our life. The past is gone – dwelling on it can breed comparison, lack, regret and shame. The future is an illusion – focused on outcomes of the future which are out of our control, can create unnecessary anxiety and stress. The only thing that is real is the present. It is only by focusing on what you want to do in this moment that defines who you are and can bring you fulfillment. Learn more about how to be present.
What does mindfulness mean to you? I would love to hear your comments.
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Why is knowing what makes you truly happy such an important question?
Well, let me ask you in another way…
Are you holding on to a deep secret right now, one that you haven’t told anyone, not even yourself on most days, and one that you’ll probably deny if ever asked?
You know that feeling you push back down in your gut in order to move forward in your day; the thought you bury in the back of your head. It’s that crazy notion that even though you have what you’re “supposed” to have – be it opportunity, health, a job, a family, relationships, the right wardrobe, beautiful home, a comfortable bank account - there’s still something missing? And if you were honest with yourself, you would define that as being “unfulfilled” on some days.
A lot of people feel this way. But why is that?
There are various factors at play in the modern world that shapes and influences our perception – marketing and advertising, technology, media, social and family expectations and even arguably the education system. What happens is that we are directed and convinced in wanting certain things in life starting as a small child - and the promise has been, once you get it, your life will be awesome. At the surface, our environments shape us, but deep down at the core, only we know our truth and what will fully satisfy us- and that part of us is always there and always will be. We won’t be happy, fulfilled and satisfied until we experience what resonates with our core.
Most of us don’t spend enough time with ourselves. The self at the core. The reason for our being. This includes who we are, what we desire, our definition of success and what will ultimately make us feel like we’re on top of the world. When we know this, it’s easy to feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment immediately.
So what can you do? You can ignore your feelings another day – you’re good at it. You can work harder, push through and hope something will change. But know that you can never get enough of what you never truly wanted. So, I’ll ask you the question again, do you know what will truly make you happy? If not, you can find out. You have one life experience – and this is it! What’s the cost of not knowing?
My husband and I adopted our first cat, Snorkel, two years ago. Typical story of “going into the pound looking for a dog, and coming out with a cat.” Neither of us ever had a cat before, but for whatever reason that day, we were compelled to bring Snorkel back home. Perhaps it was because she cooed like a dove or that we learned of her sad kitten-hood. At the end of the day, we wanted to provide her with a home. Snorkel is a small gray domestic short-haired (tabby cat) with the most piercing emerald-green eyes.
Fast forward a year and a half later, we adopted our second cat, Porkchop (a.k.a., Monkey, Mr. Bear, JibberJabber). Porkchop is an orange and white cat and grew double the size of Snorkel in just 2 short months of living with us. We know he was raised with his litter and as far as we know, he’s was living in a caring foster home.
These two magical kitties light up our home lives. If anyone knows about cats or pets in general, they are just bundles of love wrapped in fur and hours of 4-legged entertainment.
What I had not expect was to learn life lessons from my loving fur babies who couldn’t be more different but were perfect for each other and who we love and appreciate in different ways.
Lesson #1: Our past experiences will shape our motto, which will shape our behavior, which will shape our future experience – and repeat.
Snorkel had a troubled early life. Without going into details, Snorkel’s history contributed to her temperament. She was very skittish, slow to trust and was the classic “scaredy cat” when we adopted her. She would scurry below the sofa at any sudden movement or loud noise. She was perpetually looking for a hiding place and in fact, did not leave her “base camp” bathroom for the first week she came home with us.
Porkchop is the opposite in temperament. Where Snorkel’s motto is “I’m outta here,” Porkchop’s motto is ”Oooh! What’s that?!” There isn’t a new smell or shiny object that won’t pique his interest.
We are easily shaped by are environment – our childhood, our family, our schooling experience. In our formative years (birth through ~8 years old), we begin to develop “mottos” that are then reshaped throughout our lives. Many of us evolve our mottos as we age and experience life. But often time, we will hold on to one or two mottos developed during our formative years, originally as a means to protect our little child selves now become a detriment to our adult life. For example, if someone in the playground once made fun of your hair and really hurt your feelings, you may have created a motto “don’t embarrass yourself” and lived by that rule for a long time. Perhaps that motto is holding you back from fully expressing yourself today or going for what you really want. Many of us are still carrying mottos created by a child that no longer serves us. If you find yourself living out an unhealthy or unbreakable “pattern” or “cycle” – you might want to ask yourself, what are the mottos deep inside you that have not evolved with your development?
Lesson #2: You will get more out of life with an open and curious mindset
Porkchop is always right in the center of action ‘checking it out’ while Snorkel is leery of the unfamiliar and will stay on the sidelines. As a result, we find that Porkchop naturally gets more treats, play experiences and cuddles because he throws himself at new toys, new food, and his cat parents (yes, he runs right into our laps for attention). Because we love both of our cats, we make sure Snorkel gets her needs met as well. But life for humans doesn’t always work this way. Opportunities are all around us and it’s really up to us how we choose to show up and react to our surroundings, which creates what we experience.
Lesson #3: Sometimes it takes a friend (or a loved one) to show you a better way
We have noticed that ever since adopting a brother for Snorkel, she has shifted her behavior– such as trying new food / treats, going into a crate (for play), being more confident around new people. It’s a theory, because my cats are still learning English, but I believe Snorkel learned by observing her brother that some of her earlier assumptions really didn’t serve her. Or probably more likely that she wanted what her brother was experiencing (food, fun and attention) so she modeled his behaviors.
Do you have pets? What have your furry companions taught you? I would love to hear your thoughts!