The Structure of Society

Structure and routine help us to feel grounded and safe. There was a time when society contributed to that framework for us; but today we see less and less of it in our ever busy and technology filled world. Some examples of how I experienced that structure when I was a kid (in the 70’s and 80’s) include:

  • Sunday was a day of rest. As a family, we went to church and then spent the day in relax mode.
  • Stores were closed on Sunday; on weekdays, you had to do your shopping before 5 pm or you were plum out of luck.
  • There was “phone time.” My sister and I had about a 1/2 hour tops before my Dad would tell us to not tie up the line.
  • We didn’t have TV’s in our rooms (and there were no computers or laptops yet) so when we went to bed, we read to help relax our brain.
  • My Dad worked an 8 to 4 job; supper was at 5.

In today’s society, it is often hard to escape the frenetic pace that consumerism and technology has created. Heck, we can buy things online at 2 am if we don’t feel like going to a 24 hour Walmart. Our society may have changed, but our need for structure and routine remain; it becomes important for us to establish our own limits, our own family’s framework in order to establish our own structure. Society may have dropped the ball on this one, but we need to remain in the game 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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The Notion of Unconditional Love

A little poem by Matthew Spenser caught me eye:

There are days when the sun rises a little later and I am all storm clouds,

I hope you love me still and choose to dance with me in the rain, instead of reaching for your umbrella…..

It is the notion of unconditional love that speaks to me in these words. The idea that you can be granted the freedom to have your feelings, give space for your emotions and have those around you simply allow it to be. No conditions, no unspoken rules, just acceptance. It is about positive regard for the other; not only an unconditional affection for the one experiencing the storm clouds but also an understanding and sense of empathy for the one standing in the rain. For unconditional love to grow benevolently, there must exist both symmetry and vulnerability to the dance.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Joel Overbeck on Unsplash

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Getting To Know Our Anger

In an article entitled, “Anger 101: Making Peace with Your Angry Feelings” by Lillian Rozin and featured on Good Therapy, Lillian writes about our lack of formal education when it comes to our emotions. She states, “We are rarely taught about our feelings with any intention. We learn emotion by observing our families and by experimenting in our relationships, mostly without anything that could be construed as constructive feedback.” 

This is especially true when it comes to anger. Being our safest emotion, anger allows us to skip over any preceding emotion and instead, step right into defensiveness and denial; moving us into a need to be right, not into process, which includes compassion and compromise. The article features three key points in making peace with our anger; one that resonates with me and is a great starting point is to “examine the messages you received about anger – spoken and unspoken- you received growing up.”

When we can reflect upon the messages we internalized, we can begin to understand how we became informed as to how to handle anger being directed at us, but also how we learned to deliver it as well. By understanding its roots, we can begin to make peace with our anger, allowing us to choose process over past.

To read the full article: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/anger-101-making-peace-with-your-angry-feelings-0825155

Photo credit: http://Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

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Anxiety Fact #5

Anxiety is mostly anonymous. As much as our anxiety makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, most people (except those closest to you) cannot tell when you are anxious. I can remember how nervous I used to feel when having to present something in front of my peers in graduate school; I would have that sinking feeling in my stomach and it felt as though everyone could see my uneasiness.  It was a physiological reaction and one that felt both out of my control and very obvious. Afterwards, my classmates would complement me on how calm, cool and collected I was. 🙂

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Armit Ray

Information for this post and a great website: https://www.anxietycanada.com/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Matthias Wagner on Unsplash

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5 Interesting Facts About Sleep

We all know how important a good night’s sleep is for both our physical and mental health; a few sleep deprived days can leave us feeling as cranky as a bear with a sore paw. Recently, I was introduced to a website called “Tuck” (what an awesome name!) and from their many resourceful articles, I was able to come up with some interesting facts about sleep:

  1. The ideal nap is 10 to 20 minutes. Anything exceeding the 20 minute mark can lead to feeling sluggish; potentially creating sleep problems at night.
  2. Experts estimate about 41% of people sleep in the fetal position, making it the most popular way to sleep, and it’s favoured by twice as many women than men.
  3. The best temperature for sleeping for adults is 15 to 19 degrees (for babies and toddlers add 3 degrees); as cooler temperatures help the body to maintain a consistent temperature.
  4. Tart cherry juice is a natural sleep remedy that boosts melatonin and staves off insomnia; specifically, tart Montmorency cherries.
  5. Sleeping naked is good for you! When we sleep in our birthday suits, it helps our body’s thermo-regulation system achieve the perfect temperature for getting a good night’s shut-eye.

All of this and more can be found at Tuck’s website: https://www.tuck.com/

They also have some great guides to explore under their Sleep Health tab: https://www.tuck.com/sleep-health/

Photo credit: http://Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

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The Relaxation Response

Yesterday we talked about how we have a fear response that can trigger the fight-or-flight mechanism in our brain when we are faced with true (or perceived) danger. But what about our relaxation response? Our comfort system? Just as our body is attuned to danger, it is also modulated by safety. When we feel secure, we feel less vulnerable and more capable of handling life’s challenges.

Our comfort system is about a feeling of peace; you may find it outside when the sun is shining warmly on your face or the white snow is gently falling around you. You may find it when you are curled up in your cozy armchair with a good book in your lap and the fireplace on. You may find it sitting across from a good friend, as you laugh and catch up, your hands around a warm cup of tea. You may find it in the top of your child’s head when you kiss them a final goodnight as you head to bed. You may find it in the space of your partner’s hand as you take a walk on a city street to look at shop windows. However you find your peace, it is through those moments that our comfort system is nourished and helps to balance life’s stressors and its subsequent burdens. To nurture and sustain our comfort system is a proactive approach to keeping ourselves both physically and emotionally healthy; take time today to go find your peace 🙂

Photo credit: Me! (and Cricket 🙂 )

The Fear Response

When we are going about our everyday lives, our brains help us to move and flow through our activities with a fair amount of ease. We call this top to bottom thinking; as the top parts of our brains, the pre-frontal cortex especially, help us to attend.  When our fear response kicks in, we call this bottom to top thinking; as the fear response part of our brain, in the amygdala, is closer to the base of our brain. When the brain detects danger, the fear response kicks in, and the rational part of our brain gets hijacked in a sense in order to attend to the threat.

The fear response sequence follows as such:

  1.  Freeze (danger is being assessed; happens in milliseconds)
  2.  Flee (fear will always choose to flee if it assesses the possibility)
  3.  Fight (when our fight response kicks in, it is still in an attempt to flee).

While this works considerably well for true danger, it is important to note that it works for perceived dangers as well. Our perceived dangers are often emotional, based on past experiences, or worst-case scenario thinking. Our brains get hijacked into bottom to top thinking, but in the absence of true danger, we get locked into an anxious state; which for some people can lead to panic. Knowing this can help us to begin to assess the reality of the worry. By focusing on fact, our rational brain allows greater space to be objective, which in turn settles down the fear response, and we return to a more grounded state.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

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Building a Better Boat

Thanks to my partner Kurt for having introduced this song to me; I have come to appreciate Kenny Chesney’s “Better Boat” (feat. Mindy Smith). Although it was written to memorialize the devastation that occurred in the Virgin Islands during the 2017 Hurricane season, it speaks to me of a greater theme. One that touches on the challenges that we face in life; often not in our control, that we must navigate through. It is about allowing ourselves to ride the waves of our emotions, being mindful of the importance of taking some deep breaths in moments that overwhelm us, to lean on others for support, and to have the overall goal that we can rebuild. The main chorus touches on these themes:

I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
I ride the waves I can’t control
I’m learning how to build a better boat

To listen to the audio version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwZfQSLxg3U

To listen to the story behind the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmslqIT68to

Photo credit: http://Photo by David Candreanu on Unsplash

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Defining Moments

We live with defining moments in our lives. The moments that become “before the event and after the event” moments. One such moment in my life was the day that my ex-husband and I had to tell our children that we were separating; without question one of the toughest days of my life and undeniably a defining moment for me. In looking back, I can reflect upon the fact that before the event, it was my time to begin grieving a 23 year relationship. I would cry in the shower, cry when driving, cry before going to sleep but it was only my emotions during that time that I had to worry about. After that day, my emotional energy shifted. Yes, I was still grieving, but I was also very conscious of what the girls were going through and as impossible as it was, I just wanted to shoulder their grief for them.

It has been over five years now and the winds of change have brought me renewed happiness. I suppose it would be easy to look back on that defining moment and wish all the pain and suffering away, but that would not be fair. For during that time, I was also grateful. For the love and laughter of family and friends, the shared grief with my ex, the affectionate support from my girls, the constant and faithful companionship of my dog, and my clients for allowing me to get lost in their stories and distract myself from mine.

Yes, I was encountering grief, sadness and worry, but l also felt love, contentment and acceptance. For it is in our defining moments that we find the whole experience, the tough parts and the joyful parts that bring colour to our stories.

Photo credit: http://Photo by XiaoXiao Sun on Unsplash

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5 Ways to Reduce Chronic Stress

We know from yesterday’s blog post that chronic stress and cortisol are not a good mix; putting both our physical and mental health at risk. Our mind-body system needs to be able to return to it’s relaxation response in order for cortisol to best do its job; therefore, reducing stress in our daily lives becomes part of our goal towards creating balance for a healthier life. Here are 5 possible ways to help reduce chronic stress:

  1. Unlearn to worry (yes, it’s possible!). Worrying and anxiety go hand-in-hand; creating increased overall stress in our lives.
  2. Get outside. 30 minutes of walking a day, preferably in nature, is optimal; the research proves it works just as well as anti-depressants to boost mood.
  3. Daily self-care. 10 minutes of “just you time” a day is a great way to remind ourselves that we are important too.
  4. Prioritize. Look at your list each day and ask yourself, “Which tasks do I have to get done today? Can I delegate, delete or defer any of them?” (Try it; it works!)
  5. Laugh. Find ways to bring laughter into your day; at work, at home, with friends. We often underestimate the power of laughter and the uplifting quality it brings to our soul.

These are just 5 ways, of many, that we can move towards finding balance in our lives and working with our cortisol to produce an optimal system of stress regulation. Feel free to leave a comment with additional ways that you reduce stress in your life; we might be able to generate more ideas for each other 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

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