Presence and Peace

11 Self-Care Tips for Stressful Times


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Stress.  When was the last time you said to someone, “I am so stressed!” Last week?  Two days ago? Just before opening this post?

We all feel stress occasionally; some of you may be even deal with chronic stress, like in a high-pressure job.

The National Institute on Mental Health defines stress as the brain’s response to any demand.  While not all stress is bad–there’s plenty of good stressors in life–NIMH says chronic stress can have a harmful effect on the body.

Practice good self-care when stressed

My niece had her first baby a few days ago.  She had a beautiful and healthy boy.  As I think about practicing self-care, it occurs to me that being pregnant is a definite stressor, especially on a woman’s body.

My niece was prepared, though, and throughout the pregnancy, she did certain things to minimize–reduce the demands–to ensure her health and her baby’s.

If only I responded to stress in the same fashion.

Even after all these years in recovery from addiction, my reaction to stress usually lines up with the flight or fight pattern inherent in all animals.

So, we moved last week.  For those who have moved recently and are young at heart but not so young physically, take heart.  The stress of moving did not kill us.

But it did cause an abundance of sore muscles, short fuses and more than one round of hurt feelings.

Honestly, though, had I practiced all of the tips I’m sharing with you, it’s possible that my body could have reacted instinctively, much like my niece’s pregnant body did.

Here are my 11 tips to practice during stressful times

1. Don’t forget to always have snacks and water with you.  We found ourselves on the run while house-hunting, and, although missing a few meals isn’t such a bad thing for the waistline, missing nourishment and hydration is!

2. Try to get the normal amount of sleep.  I didn’t do so well with this one as we looked for a place to live, although once moving kicked in, I slept like a baby most nights–from sheer physical exhaustion!

3. Don’t make a habit of eating junk food.  Here and there is sometimes unavoidable but your body needs real nutrition to ward off the inevitable run-down condition that continual stress can cause.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Stressful situations are often fueled by the frustration of trying to communicate your thoughts or by discovering that you and your partner have a completely different idea about something as simple as whether to cook or go out for dinner.  Speak up!

5. Stay grounded–keep up with journaling, meditation, exercise, etc. Somehow, some way, you must stay as regimented as possible with your schedule.  For me, my work production suffered during our move, but  I faithfully wrote in my journal every single morning.  Do whatever you can to maintain a high level of serenity.

6. Take regular breaks.  I tend to try to work through stressful times without breaks because if I can get one more thing finished, well then maybe I won’t be so stressed.  Take breaks from stress where you can get them.

7. Be mindful of your breathing.  Often during our whirlwind moving process, I stopped, took a really huge gulp of air and slowly let it out.  This works especially well when you’re trying to go to sleep.

8. Think before you speak.  Are you like me in that words tumble out of your mouth crossways when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired?  Train yourself to filter your thoughts before speaking them.

9. Let your way be yours and others’ be theirs.  Can anyone say, “control issues?” I am so guilty of wanting things to be done my way!  There is always another way, and usually, that way is in the head of your partner.  Listen!

10. Liberally use phrases like thank you, I appreciate you and I love you.  Sometimes out-of-the-blue phrases like these diffuse tension so that you can be a forceful team when it comes to dealing with stress.

11. Remember to have fun.  One of the gifts of packing and moving–stressfulness aside–is having fun.  It is cool to look at your partner at the end of the day, smile and say, “Wow, did we do all of that?”

I’d love to hear some of your methods for handling stress.  Share, please, in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of imelenchon 

5 Steps to Spiritual Activism (And Less Pissiness)


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I’m feeling pissy, not all the time, just on and off.

There is so much good in my life.  I just spent the first night in our new home and it was uber-cool sleeping on air mattresses in an otherwise empty house.  The bedroom furniture arrives today and everything else tomorrow.

Work is good; picking up new clients and slowly starting to build my business.

My oldest niece is expecting her first child–a boy!– in a matter of days.  Hard to believe she’s old enough to give birth, but there you have it.

So with all the good, why am I feeling pissy?

Because people continue their inhumanity to other people.  Iraq and Iran are blowing up and lives are extinguished by the hundreds, maybe even thousands.  Much of he world detests America and many fear that some form of heinous terrorism on U.S. soil could make 9/11 look tame.

Children pour through the U.S. southern border into Texas and Arizona like drops of water through a sieve.  Children.  Can you imagine using children as pawns in a political chess game?

There is a heroin outbreak infecting children and teenagers from coast-to-coast.  “Hands down,” a friend of mine says, “the girls I admit to my sober living houses are recovering from addiction to their number one drug of choice–heroin.”

The world’s largest elephant–named Satao–was found mutilated and dead in Kenya, presumably a victim of ivory poaching.

Add man’s inhumanity to one of the most magnificent animals on the planet to the long list of atrocities.

I am much too connected to not see and hear these stories, and then absorb them into my heart.

The question becomes, “what are we gonna do about it?”

There’s only one answer

Marianne Williamson writes that just as people afflicted with addiction often hit what’s known as a physical, spiritual and/or emotional bottom, countries often hit bottom.  She claims that the bottoming out process is necessary for a phoenix to rise from the rubble.

In the meantime, we as individuals who love our countries but despise political posturing without effective results, do have power.

We can pray and we can meditate.

Does that sound crazy to you?

From Marianne’s Facebook post yesterday:

A study published in the Yale Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1985 reported on a group of advanced meditators from the Transcendental Meditation Movement who meditated in Jerusalem in 1983 during the height of the Lebanese Civil War. During the summer of 1983, on each day in which there were large numbers of meditators, violence dropped and stayed low for an additional day or so and then went back to its previous levels. The final data revealed that whenever the group of meditators assembled, there was an average of a 76% reduction in war deaths. 

She continues, “War is not just an external event; it is a field of fear-based consciousness that needs to be addressed on internal as well as external levels. And that will take all of our efforts.” Marianne then describes five steps of what she terms spiritual activism:

1) Atone in your heart for your own warlike nature – any thoughts or behavior of judgment or attack — and seek to change your life where necessary.

2) Spend at least five minutes a day in prayer or meditation, knowing you are part of a global field of consciousness at work on the inner plains to bring about world peace.

3) Seek to organize your own community of like-minded individuals to join you in prayer or meditation groups for world peace.

4) If it applies, atone with others for the behavior of your country if it has in the past, or is now, participating in unjust military activity.

5) Practice mercy and compassion towards yourself and others, particularly resisting any temptation to monitor someone else’s journey.

What are your thoughts on embracing prayer and meditation at the level Marianne describes?  For me, as a person in long-term recovery from addiction who has witnessed numerous miracles, I think she’s on to something.

I’m willing to try.  Are you?

Photo courtesy of DarrenHester

3 Free Tips to Stay Sane When You’re Moving


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By now the Universe and unnamed distant cosmoses know that we’re moving.  This week is the week.

The word stressful is much too tame to describe the atmosphere around our house.  Packing boxes are everywhere; if we could easily hang them from the ceiling, we probably would, simply to make still living here a little less hazardous.

First tip: packing boxes

You can no longer go dumpster-diving behind grocery stores to get your packing boxes.  Now you need to make a formal request.  You call the night manager around 11 p.m. to reserve those valued produce boxes and then make sure you arrive at the store no later than 7 a.m. the next morning to retrieve them.

If you buy new boxes, Home Depot and Lowe’s offer the same prices on their small, medium and large boxes.  However, the Lowe’s boxes have handles.  Important when you pack and move three dozen or so boxes filled with books.

What can I say?  I love books and no, that does not make me a bookie!

Second tip: connect with Facebook garage sales

Everybody knows about Craigslist; you probably have your own stories of success or horror.  Personally, I’ve always had good luck selling stuff.  In fact, last week, we decided to sell our small-capacity washer and dryer on Craigslist and less than 48 hours after making the decision, it was out of here!

In addition to Craigslist, there are city- and area-wide Facebook garage sales that are super cool!  Folks sell everything from baby clothes to furniture and even cars.  You may even know the seller because you’re in much closer proximity that Craigslist.  Some say it’s safer to do the Facebook group thing but I’ll let you know after I buy something (not moving anything I don’t have to!).

You can do what’s called an ISO on the Facebook neighborhood garage sale too.  Stands for in search of.”

Third tip: make sure you eat Asian food while you’re packing

When you’re packing and cleaning to move, the last thing you want to do is think about cooking dinner.  We’ve been eating out a lot and about a week ago, dropped in to our favorite Asian chain eatery, Pei Wei.  Five fortune cookies later, I realized that the Keebler elves were packing those little pieces of paper into my cookies.

The similarities between the fortunes and my life as a packing and moving queen are eerie.  See what you think:

Don’t be surprised by the emergence of undiscovered talents! Well, duh!  I can pack a box and a car’s trunk with about 1/72nd of a square inch to spare.

Luck helps those who help themselves. Were we lucky that our application was “selected” over another couples?  I think not!  We helped ourselves by wowing them with an introductory package they couldn’t ignore.

Treasure what you have.  Yes indeed.  Pack those valuable possessions up nice and tight, especially anything that belonged to my mama.

Bide your time, for success is near.  We toured some icky homes before we found this one to love.  There were a few days when the prospects looked a little bleak, but we never gave up. (I do confess to an exhausted crying jag one night, but hey, I’m human.)

You will move to a wonderful new home within the year.  ‘Nuff said.  Glad we didn’t have to wait for much more of the year to pass.

I’ve never met anyone who actually enjoys moving.  It’s crazy and tedious and yes, stressful.  But if you can keep your attitude as light as possible, laugh often and don’t forget to breathe, you’ll be miles ahead in the moving game.

Have any wild and crazy moving stories to share?  Or other moving tips?  Please write in the comments section below.

Photo courtesy of click

Ya Gotta Have Faith and Let it Be


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If you responded to the post title by humming the tunes of George Michael and the Beatles, you’re in good company with my brain today.  Or maybe not-so-good company.

Either way, I’ve been thinking a lot about all the song titles out there–although not necessarily the song’s lyrics–that have to do with surrender, releasing, turning it over, all action steps for having faith.

Why, you might ask, am I hyper-focused on letting things be?  Because, as much as I love the idea of faith, love to talk about it and love to tell others, “ya gotta have faith,” I suck at it right now.

This is my brain state:  twin tracks of worry and anxiety.  Throw impatience and obsessive behavior onto those tracks and look out!  There’s about to be a big-ass train wreck.

Release me from the bondage of self

What’s the problem, you ask?  My sweetie and I are moving in three weeks but we don’t know where!  One contract on a house fell through (a very good thing) and the house we fell in love with over the weekend (stunning and perfect) already has a contract in the works with another couple.

Damn it, Jim!

So we’re packing like fiends (We’re also committed to a three-week house-sitting stint for friends that begins in 10 days!) but have no clue where the boxes and all our furniture will end up.

I am in contingency plan overload as we work every conceivable angle to try to win the house.  It truly is a perfect house for us in a booming area of the Dallas metroplex.  You know the feeling of wanting something so much that you can’t sleep, and every thought is about seeing yourself immersed in what you want?

Be honest.  Of course you do.  Even the most Joe-cool of you knows what I’m talking about.

So, what to do?  Well, I sat my butt down in my writing chair this morning and after (okay, it was during) writing my customary morning pages, I grabbed my phone and started scrolling through my tunes.  I got the picture quickly.

Hello?  Anybody heard about a little movie called Frozen?

The 40,000-foot view

People talk about the high-altitude picture of a situation, the “view from 40,000 feet.”  The ultra control freak in me thinks I would soooo love that view–think of all the answers I could get instantly.  I could, in effect, see into the future.

But is that what I really want?  Even if I had super-powers, would I be satisfied?  Probably not.

Seems like it might be a better choice to give the faith idea an extra look.  I wrote about faith this morning and here’s what I determined:

God is at work here, smack dab in the middle of our moving process.  My job is to have faith in right outcomes and to trust the process.

I sat with that for awhile, let the idea slowly rise in me until I was full up.

Then, I surrendered all.

The rest of today has been pack one box, tape it closed, pack another box, stack it on the first.  God is at work here.

P.S.  Do you get the meaning of the license plate in the photo?  It was mine when I lived in Missouri.  I used to tell people that I needed so many constant reminders to surrender that I put it on my car!

A Tale of Horses, Rocking Chairs and Hearts


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There once was a suburban gal named Beth who loved animals–except, perhaps, reptiles and amphibians, actually primarily mammals–but had never spent any time around horses.

One day, she met another gal named Kellie.  Beth and Kellie hit it off because they both love helping people, especially people who struggle with addiction.

Kellie told Beth all about her work as a mental health professional who specializes in equine therapy.  The next thing Beth knew, a few weeks had passed and she found herself standing in a pasture talking to four horses.

The beautiful mission of equine therapy

Yes, that was me, just a few days ago.  Thank you TONS to Kellie Schriver at The Stages of Change Equine Therapy in Celina, TX, who hosted Becky and me.

Truth be told, I thought we were driving an hour out into the country northeast of Dallas to learn about Kellie’s program.  I was just along for the ride; after all, I don’t really work in the addiction and mental health field (though I live in recovery).  Becky is the professional and I’m the writer having experiences.

Oh, how I loved this experience with the horses!

To be sure, Kellie did show us how she presents The Stages of Change program to her clients.

We began in her office–a converted horse stall in the barn–with the three of us sitting in rocker/glider chairs. Turns out the forward-back motion you get in a glider or rocker/glider provides a means of helping the brain do a little self-healing.  Kellie says there is an entire science behind how the movement can actually create new pathways in the brain.

Of course, I have to be willing to let go of the habit of thinking the thoughts that are entrenched in the old  pathways and that’s a different post for a different day.

The back-and-forth motion also replicates the gentle gait of a horse.  Ahhhhh, you’re thinking . . . rhythmic riding. You’re getting the picture, aren’t you?

There’s so much to learn about the science, Kellie’s program (check it out here), and yes, the horses.

The heart  of this horse story

Eventually we ended up outside with the horses.   Kellie explained that horses mirror the relationships in our lives.  I’ve since read that horses serve as a metaphor for the emotional states we carry around with us.

Here’s an example:  As we stood in the pasture and talked, one of the horses repeatedly walked over and stood with his head very close to me.

Kellie applied gentle pressure to his chest and pushed him back several steps.  He walked back to me.

Finally, she said, “How are you feeling about the horse being so close to you?”  I replied, joking, “This horse needs a lesson in boundaries!”

Kellie asked, “Does he remind you of anyone in your life right now?”

Bam!  Yes!  So I told her about a situation that was kind of bugging me and we talked about ways I could handle it.

Then she told me that people are like horses.   When you approach them gently and with love, applying a little, not a lot, of pressure, they usually respond well.

As our time to leave drew near, I asked Kellie if I could say goodbye to the Paint horse who had been in my face an hour before.  By this time, he was grazing way out in the pasture.

She whistled to the Paint who came trotting to us.  He came right to me, muzzle to my chest.  Kellie said he was going for my heart.  Unconditional love.

Then, out of nowhere, the Arabian–the only one of the four who remained far out in the field the entire time we IMG_2074were there–galloped toward me, presumably a little jealous of the Paint.

Suddenly, I stood facing both horses, the Paint a little off to my left and the Arabian a little to my right.

Kellie said, “Do you see the outline of the heart in the space between their heads?”

Oh boy, did I ever!

There were so many moments of joy that morning, enough for me to thoroughly understand how Kellie’s clients receive huge benefits from their time at The Stages of Change.  I’m so grateful for mine.