Positive Challenge #3: Find happiness in the here and now.

Hershey Gardens, Hershey, PA Photo by Sofia Reddy

Hershey Gardens, Hershey, PA
Photo by Sofia Reddy

There was a woman I knew who was never satisfied. No matter how much wealth she accumulated or how many loving people she had in her life, she was never happy. This woman had difficulty with giving and receiving unconditional love. She always had a scowl on her face. She complained about anything and everything. Nothing was ever good enough. It got to the point where she alienated everyone around her and she created the lonely life she had always feared having. The most challenging part of trying to help her was that she refused to see that she had the power to change her life by changing her attitude and perception of what true happiness is about.

Happiness is not about material wealth or the number of achievements we have acquired. It’s not about wearing top designer fashions or obtaining approval from others. It’s not even about how many friends we have on Facebook and how many of them give us a thumbs up on our posts.

Happiness is always found within. When we love and accept ourselves unconditionally we can experience true happiness. It won’t matter how many material possessions we acquire or how many diplomas and awards we have hanging on our wall.

Most of my joyful memories involve spending quality time with my son and husband. When I conjure up images of shared experiences with loved ones, I feel joyful. In this moment, I can focus on what is happening, right now. I can breathe and notice my body taking in nourishing oxygen. I can choose to focus on joyful memories. It doesn’t mean I stuff painful ones, but I can simply notice and feel, without giving in to the impulse to numb or escape. I can be.

Being in the here and now, compassionately, is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. It helps you explore what is going on in your mind and heart. It gives you insight and wisdom. You can discover who you are and what might be causing your feelings. You can then choose to respond in a loving way.

Today’s practice: Find a comfortable, quiet place, and sit or lie down. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Take 3 deep breaths, inhaling in through your nose, exhaling out through your mouth. As you exhale, notice the stress and tension melt from your body. Focus on your breathing. When negative thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them as such and let them go, as easily as they came. There is no need to focus on them.

After you have reached a place of calm, steady breathing take some time to acknowledge what brings you peace and happiness. What do you have in your life right now that brings you joy? Who are the people you trust and inspire you? How does it feel to focus on these thoughts?

When you’re timer goes off, take your time and get back into activity slowly. Now take this practice with you throughout your day.

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Self-care strategy #23: 3 tips to create a sanctuary from the work week

A pink lady slipper at Noanet Woodlands, Dover, MA

A pink lady slipper at Noanet Woodlands, Dover, MA photo by Sofia Reddy

Amazing things start to happen when you mentally and emotionally separate yourself from the stress of daily work life. If you’re like me, you probably spend an average of 40-50 hours per week working. Now add an average of 10 hours per week commuting, and you’ve spent about 60 hours out of your 112 wake hours per week working. You now have 52 hours left for the week. How do you use this time? After running errands, taking care of the house and kids, or any other obligations you have that doesn’t leave much time for decompressing or relaxing, does it? Every hour you commit to something is precious time and uses up your valuable resources (time and energy). No wonder many people I know, including myself, often feel tired and drained! We go back to work on Mondays wondering where the weekend went.

Your time is valuable. Use it wisely. Make every moment away from work and other obligations matter. Giver yourself the gift of time. Here are 3 tips to set healthy work/life boundaries:

  1. Set aside time on the weekend for yourself to do what you WANT to do, not just things you HAVE to do to. My favorite part of the weekend is going to my weekly acupuncture or yoga class, walking with a friend, or just getting up before everyone else does so I can work on my writing or read something fun. 
  2. Go on a day trip with your family and take lots of pictures. You don’t have to go far and you don’t have to spend a lot of money either. We love this time of year in New England. We find there’s always somewhere new to explore that’s just within driving distance. I always bring my camera so I can capture some of our finds, like the beautiful orchid featured here. This photo is from our hike at Noanet Woodlands in Dover, MA. It was a great day spent with good friends. We later had a picnic under the shade of a tree. It’s one of the highlights of my spring so far! Note: try to focus being fully present in the here and now when you’re on these excursions. Don’t think about the to do list waiting for you on Monday. It will get done!
  3. Think of an end of the day or work week ritual that will help you transition from work mode to personal life mode. After work I mentally tell myself I’ve “clocked” out and therefore I’m no longer being paid to think about work. If there’s something on my mind I write it down and note what action I want to take the next day or week about it. When I get in the car I leave work behind. There are some days that’s harder to do, but the more I practice, the better I get at it. My favorite thing to do now is listen to audio books. Friday night there’s a free wine tasting at our local wine shop with appetizers and good company. Think of something you can do that you look forward to at the end of the day or week.

What are some end of day/week rituals that you do? What’s the highlight of your weekend or time off from work? How are you with work/life boundaries? Would love to hear…

 

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Positive challenge #2: Take a 5-minute stress break. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

A moment of sanctuary in California

Step 1. Stop what you are doing. Step 2. Take a deep breath in letting your abdomen fill with nourishing oxygen, and exhale all that carbon dioxide out through your mouth. Notice the tension leaving every muscle of your body. Step 3. Repeat 3 times.

Notice how you feel? What sensations do you feel in your body? It’s important for us to take mindful breaks like this throughout the day. Taking deep breaths and releasing all the stress and tension with each exhale can refuel you throughout the day. Don’t forget to breathe!

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Positive Challenge #1: Lift the FOG, lighten the load

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Today I introduce positive challenge #1. With each challenge you have an opportunity to create the life you desire. You have the power to choose happiness, one positive change at a time. Continue reading

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Self-care strategy #22: Letting go of a painful past through self-forgiveness

A visit to Castle in the Clouds, NH * Photo by Sofia Reddy

This post is dedicated to adults who survived adverse childhood experiences.

According to the Sidran Institute, 70% of US adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives, and 20% go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to develop PTSD, having such experiences can impact one’s life in other ways. One major impact of having experienced trauma is the misconception that the victim is to blame. It is especially the case with survivors of childhood abuse & neglect or other forms of interpersonal violence. Children are often most vulnerable to this self-view since they believe everything that happens is a reflection of something flawed within themselves or something they did to “deserve” it. Perhaps they were outright told as much. Adults who experienced childhood trauma are at increased risk of carrying this internal belief with them throughout their lives, unless they are able to work with a trusted therapist to challenge these false beliefs about themselves.

Trusting others can be difficult when one has survived painful experiences as a child. Reconnecting with someone who might have been a perpetrator of abuse (i.e. family member) or connecting with others who remind the trauma survivor of his/her abuser can also be challenging. Painful past experiences can leave one feeling confused, upset, angry, and sad. Often it’s possible to feel all of these feelings at the same time, which can be overwhelming. Ultimately, when these feelings are ignored or denied, one’s ability to form close and meaningful connections with healthy others is compromised. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair. We are social beings who are meant to live in community with others. Feeling disconnected and disenfranchised can leave one vulnerable to depression.

1 important step in the healing process is to first recognize that there might have been a painful past experience with a significant person: it could have been a parent, mentor, authority figure, sibling or a close friend.

2nd, we can learn to let go of a painful past through self-forgiveness. Often when the topic of forgiveness comes up, we think about it in terms of giving that gift to the perpetrator. However, in this case, I think it’s important we start the process of forgiving ourselves first. The abuse cycle continues as long as we believe that “we deserve it.” It’s hard to let go of this intense energy when we might be harboring underlying resentment towards ourselves (often we don’t even recognize we are doing that). Forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone what happened or that we continue to accept abusive behavior from another. Forgiveness means that we are finally starting to recognize how loving ourselves unconditionally means saying no to behavior that comprises our ability to do so.

3rd, we must find a trusted other (a therapist or objective confidante) to share our painful story with who can provide unconditional love and acceptance. Through the sharing of our story, it becomes possible to overcome false beliefs that the abuse or trauma was somehow our fault. By no longer bearing the burden of this experience alone, we can start the healing process. As I often tell my clients, we don’t heal in isolation. We need others who are nurturing and supportive to help guide us to a life that is worth living.

Self-forgiveness can’t happen until we recognize the pain within us and take steps towards healing through healthy relationship with another. We need to feel safe again. We need to feel that we belong and that we are worth loving. We need to love ourselves first. We need to let go of the past, one day at a time. We need to stop hurting ourselves and be kind and compassionate, instead. We need to trust ourselves and know that we can make healthy choices. Life is short. We can’t afford to live the rest of our lives in pain and isolation, grieving a past that we cannot change. We all deserve joy and happiness. It is our birthright.

We have the power to change our lives, in the present, one step at a time.

Thank you to all who have inspired and encouraged me along the way. Your presence, support, love and acceptance have guided me to become the person I am today.

I am forever grateful.

 

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