Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Post 2016 Election Stress Reduction

The 2016 campaign and election was one of the most stressful in American history.

Hopefully, I can write this blog without revealing which candidate I was cheering for.  The main thing, is to help YOU with your post election stress.

Whether you voted for one candidate or the other, most likely your stress level was high, as it was for most Americans.

Post election stress, is also high among folks within both of the main parties, as well as the smaller outlier parties.  It doesn't matter if you voted for Hillary or Trump, you most likely were scared, confused, hopeful at some point, and totally surprised in the end.

So what do you do now?

Well, if you are a Trump supporter--unless you live in a dominantly Republican state--you most likely are frequently hiding that you voted for him.  Witnessing the many people around you who are angry and upset that their candidate, Hillary Clinton, did not win, is upsetting.  Especially if it is friends or family members who you can't even talk to about your glee and celebration.  Maybe you've even had doubt about whether you did the right thing or not.  You might also feel confused that many of those who disagree with you consider you now to be a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and white-supremacists.

If you had hoped that Hillary would win, you are most likely suffering from what many other Hillary supporters feel, which is a combination of shock, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and depression at what seems to be a realization that so many Americans seem to still carry so much prejudice and hate in their hearts.  You might worry that--as has been reported--you might be the victim of post-election bullying, prejudice, hate crimes like misogyny or attacks on gays and lesbians, or accused of just whining and not being able to accept the outcome.

One of the things many of us can agree on is that we would like to come together now that the election is over.  If you can't stand that Trump won, it's important to remember that not all Trump supporters are hate mongers.  And if you were a Trump supporter, the burden might be on your shoulders now to prove to others that you are not a hate monger.

So how do we deal with the stress of this outcome?

Nothing feeds open wounds more than poor winners, or poor losers.  Many of us were taught that when we competed in sports in school, it was appropriate to shake the hands of those we just beat or lost to.  In addition, debate education taught us all to graciously listen to those who have views that differ from our own, and to politely acknowledge what it is we agree on with our debate opponents.  Disagreeing does not mean dominance and demeaning other people who disagree with us.

We all want to do good in the world, but sometimes we disagree on what "good" is.  We differ in our religious and philosophical views, but that doesn't mean we need to fight with each other, be disrespectful or violent with one another, or call one another names. 

Sit down today and take a deep inventory of your thoughts and feelings.  Have you already begun to demonize those with views that oppose your own?  Are you calling them names like "whiners, hate mongers, racists, or babies"?  Think about how these titles and views will never bring us back together as a nation.

It's important to exercise a high dose of empathy right now.  A means of getting inside the head and perception of those that disagree with us, and seeing the world from their mind-set.  It does not mean we agree with them!  It simply means we are making an effort to see how they view the world so we can come to the table in decent conversation, and not arguing with hate in our hearts.

Take into consideration three views which you are at least willing to try to see from those who disagree with you.  Then, try it without rushing in to defend your own view.  Seriously TRY to see your opponents view without arguing about it.  It does not mean you agree with them, you simply say... if I were in your head, I can see how you see it that way.

All we can do at this point is try our best to improve our communication skills as much as possible.  Brainstorm to see where we are willing to bend or be flexible, because compromise means we all have to give a little.  Polarization only gets worse when we can't compromise or meet others half-way.

Thank you to Beverly & Pack for the great photo of the Peace Flag

Friday, October 28, 2016

Meditation and Stress Reduction: Avoiding the Monkey Mind

Meditation is very common.  Maybe we all know at least one person by now who does it.  For many, it just means sitting still and being quite for awhile.  For others, it's a way to slow the breath, lower the heart rate, and reduce anxiety.  But what a lot of people don't realize about meditation is that its main purpose is not only to become aware of the thinking that races on inside of our heads, but to practise the art of not getting carried away by that thinking.

One common analogy is to imagine yourself looking out at the horizon while sitting on a beach.  As you look out over the ocean's surface, you imagine a boat entering your view from the left.  You notice the boat as it meanders across the surface of the horizon to the right, until slowly it vanishes off the screen of your mind, out of sight and "out of mind".

In the same way, thoughts also enter our mind as we meditate.  For instance, the grocery list might come to mind just like the boat when it entered your view.  If we are skilled at meditation, we can notice the thought and then watch it fade from our mind, just like watching the boat on the horizon as it meandered out of view.

However, what tends to happen with many of us instead, is that we might notice the thought of the grocery list, and that makes us think of something else which distracts our thinking mind.  The thought of the list leads to thinking about getting gas in the car while we're out, and then we recall we haven't put a certain item on that list and we worry we might forget.  That might lead us to think about an elderly relative that had memory problems and so we wonder what we will be like when we get old.

On and on the thoughts go until we are off track and the mind is racing.  This is commonly called the Monkey Mind, because it is jumping from "branch to branch" (or thought to thought), just like a monkey does.  And where the mind goes, the feelings follow.  So if the mind is jumping from one stressful thought to another, the body will not be as relaxed as it might be if we were doing something more focused with our mind, such as counting the breath.

Meditation takes practise, but you can get much better at it with steady repetition.  Here is a simple exercise to try when you have a little time:

After you've settled into your usual meditation posture and taken a few breaths, imagine that as you breathe, you can actually see each number right in front of you, as if each were projected on the back of your closed eyelids.  1...2...3... and so on.  When you get to 10, begin to see the numbers in reverse order, such as 10...9...8... and so on, until you are back to 1, and then repeat.  If you are not really a visual person, or have problems imagining things visually, then imagine the sound instead.  Imagine your voice, or another woman or man's voice saying the numbers as you count, "one"..."two"..."three", etc.  If you find that you have gotten off track or some distracting thought (like the grocery list) has entered your mind, just notice it, and then return to the beginning and start all over again.

It's very important to not be too hard on yourself when doing these exercises.  They should be done with a nonjudgmental intention, and a large dose of self compassion.  Don't beat  yourself up with thoughts like, "I messed up again", or "I just can't get this right".  Just notice when you've gone off track, and return to the beginning and start over.

Thanks to Brian Carson for his great photo - Morning Meditation

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pausing to reduce Stress and Anxiety

A fabulous stress reduction idea was created by meaning to pause®.  It's called the pause braclet.  It gives a "private but deliberate" reminder (by means of a gentle vibration) periodically to help people stay focused and present.  The reminder helps people to stay aware and perhaps take an inventory of where they are with their thinking, breathing, or behavior in the present moment.

Staying focused in the present is not an easy task, but with practice we can get better at it as time goes on.  There are many methods like the pause bracelet that can help us to bring our awareness to the present moment.

At the Zen monastery of Plum Village in the south of France--a monastery created by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh--there is something called The Bell of Mindfulness.  At the monastery, a bell tone is made periodically so everyone in the village can hear it and at which time they pause momentarily.  On their website they have posted,  "When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop all of our conversations and whatever we are doing, and bring our awareness to our breathing.  The ringing bell has called out to us:  Listen, listen.  This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home."

The point is, that we can use many things throughout our day to nudge us a bit to take a moment and pause.  The sound of an airplane going overhead.  The ding of a new incoming email on our phone.  The sound of the engine in our car as we turn the key.

Reminders don't have to be just auditory, either.  They can be from a variety of our senses, such as each time we see a red light and slow our car to a stop.  Pause.  Each time we smell the aroma of our neighbor's fireplace.  Pause.  Each time we feel the warmth of clothes freshly being lifted from the dryer.  Pause.  When the cat meows.  When you hear a door close or open.  Pause.

You can decide what your "Mindfulness Bell", or bell(s) will be, but whatever they are, be sure they have associations for you with your willingness to pause for just a moment so that you can become aware of your true self, which only exists... right now.

Thanks to Eric Walker for his lovely photo - Pause

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Flowers and Relaxation: A Simple Way to Reduce Stress

When it comes to relaxation and reducing stress, flowers have a multi-dimensional way of helping.  Not only are they beautiful, colorful, and pleasing to the eyes, but they hold the additional advantages of bringing aroma-therapy into our lives.

Contrary to popular belief, flowers are not just for women and not just gifts to give others.  Getting some flowers for yourself--be it from your own garden or from the local florist--is a pleasant treat that can enhance your surroundings and contribute to your overall level of stress reduction.

Lavender flowers have traditionally been associated with relaxation and are used in many stress reducing products such as bath oils and pillows.  Rose flowers are frequently used to create soothing lotions for the skin and gentle room fresheners.  But the most immediate reward from live flowers is their soft beauty and pleasing smell.

Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  The practitioner that arranges the piece works to become one with the work of art, and to minimize the use of effort and items.  In other words, to simplify the arrangement while simplifying oneself, and one's life.

We are not all skilled Ikebana practitioners, but using our creativity, we can arrange a flower vase for ourselves that we can enjoy for several days at a time.  It's okay to explore with flowers.  Maybe trying some you've never seen before, or going right for the ones that catch your eye.  Try a new arrangement each week and eventually you may find flowers that become your favorites to have near your meditation space.

One final word of advise:  If you have pets, be sure to do a little investigating before placing certain flowers around your home or relaxation space.  Some flowers, like daffodils and azaleas might be dangerous for your furry friends.

Thanks to Richard Riccardi for his beautiful photo (top) - Flower, and to Ligia Miranda (lower) for the beautiful arrangement - Streliza1

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Colorado Tai Chi for Relaxation

Finding various ways to relax has become one of the most sought after activities of the century.  There are healthy ways to relax and unhealthy ways.  We’ve all witness the unhealthy ways and maybe even experienced them first-hand, such as excessive use of alcohol or drugs, idleness on the computer with video games and surfing the net, or excessive spending.

Healthy ways of relaxation require a little more patience, but bring with them the long term reward of reduced stress.  That’s why learning an art such as Tai Chi is well worth one's time and effort.  It takes diligence, but like any good skill, it’s best to keep in mind that the art of Tai Chi is never really complete.  Instead, it's a life-time of refinement and a reflection of one's impermanence and intimate connection to the universe itself.

Tai Chi has been called a moving meditation.  It's slow and mesmerizing movement comes from the present-moment practice of mindfulness.  It has its roots deeply planted in Taoism--roughly, a spiritual and philosophical belief in one's connection to all things--especially to nature.

There are classes offered at many local recreation centers, including the North Jeffco Community Rec Center in Arvada Colorado.  You can find info about current classes at my website at  Be prepared to arrive with a Beginner's Mind, which simply means you begin with no expectations about what Tai Chi should be.  Emptying your mind of all concepts allows for new learning.  If your mind is too full and overflowing with ideas, there's simply no room for new lessons.

Until then, here are two of my favorite online videos of Tai Chi at it's best, and I think you will find them overall breath-takingly beautiful and relaxing to watch:

Thanks to Tetsushi Klmura for the great photo -- Tai Chi Chuan

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Coping with Stressful News Events

As I write this blog entry, the world is absorbing the newest story of another mass shooting in the United States.  Considered the worst mass shooting in US history—the event at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, has once again shocked and stunned us all.  As with Columbine and the “Theater Shootings”, the media is rushing to cover the stories and bring us ongoing updates about the event.  Our hearts go out to the victim’s families, to the first responders, to the businesses that will be affected, closed, or those that may live in fear of copy-cat offenders, and to our GLBTQ community which has shown great strength and determination over the years to maintain pride and hard-fought-for rights.

When stories are reported of tragedy like this, or of other forms of murder, violence, pain, and of course mass killings, it can be quite stressful to listen to, especially if you are the kind of person who is mesmerized by the rapid reporting and constant flow of news that comes from “special updates” and “special reports” that may go on for hours.  Many have actually opted to not even listen to such news stories because it upsets them so much.  But we can’t close our ears and eyes to what’s happening around us in the world.  When crisis and tragedy strike, and the media is pumping our minds full of the play-by-play, gory details and play-backs of every police report and eye-witness, it’s important to have a game plan in place to limit unnecessary and repeated exposure to information, and then find positive outlets in which to send the energy generated by our fear, pain, disgust, and anger in a positive direction, where we can try to gain some sense of balance again in a sometimes confusing and unpredictable world.

First, when tragedy strikes and you’ve tuned into the TV or Internet to find out what’s going on, be sure to limit how long you are going to spend getting the basic information.  Watching the news, reading a few versions of the story, and possibly noting the basic photos among the media should be enough for you to get the basic story and details.  One thing you don’t want to do is stay tuned in to a non-stop bombardment of stories for hours on end of what they know now--that they also knew an hour ago, and an hour before that.

Second, don’t go to the other extreme of isolating yourself from the information completely.  We cannot hide from the reality of the world and doing so leaves us at risk of being a part of the crowd that never learns from tragedy because we refuse to experience our tiny part in it and learn the lessons it has to offer.  Get the stories and basic information, limit the time exposure you will allow for hearing repeated stories, and then let yourself begin to process the information.

Finally, once you’ve had some time away from the repeated media stories, you can processes how you feel and what you think of the information you have in order to decide what it means to you personally, what lesson or lessons it holds for you, and most importantly, what positive action you plan to take to make a difference in the world based on these conclusion.  For instance, as I type this, hundreds have lined up at various locations in Orlando to donate blood needed to help all the surviving victims of this most recent shooting.

Maybe you know a friend, neighbor or acquaintance in the GLBTQ community you can call or email to give your support, rather than sitting in front of hours more of upsetting news or just shaking your head believing it’s someone else out there that will do the comforting.  This is how we get out of our heads, where all the thoughts are swirling that lead to increased stress and anxiety.  

In the end, take positive steps to move forward and take part in making change in the world. Tragedies will continue to come.  How you react to them may make a big difference in your level of stress and anxiety

                  It was Gandhi who said, “Be the Change You want to see in the World”.

Thanks to  James Hill for the great photo - Pride

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Relaxation in the Public Parks

Thanks to the Trust for Public Lands (TPL), we have a lot of wonderful parks preserved right in our cities and residential areas.  These great places have been plucked out and conserved so that we all have nice areas to go relax, fly kites, play with the dog, have a picnic, or just enjoy being around some semblance of nature.  A park is a great place to find green grass, trees, fountains, benches and tables, as well as bike paths or scenic views.

You've probably driven by one of these nice parks every day during your hectic and stressful work schedule without hardly giving it a glance, but when was the last time you actually stopped to enjoy the peacefulness of one of these great places?

Because many parks are preserved close to residential and business areas, it's convenient to wander in during your lunch hour or even on your break (if you get one), and steal away even 5 or 10 minutes of relaxation.  The parks tend to draw a little bit of wildlife as well, such as ducks and geese, and give us however-little of a brief reminder that the concrete and steel we exist in throughout our day is not really the environment of our origin, and certainly doesn't fit with our natural instincts.

Parks are designed with relaxation and leisure in mind.  They cater to the individual who wants a moment to rest -- to sit in the grass, look at the trees, or walk a lot slower than the usual rush-and-hurry of the typical hectic work day.  Parks are where the casual picnic takes place, or where you can chew on a blade of grass, fumbling with a fallen twig, or kick off your shoes and feel the earth and cool grass beneath you.

Modern humans live inside boxes now --inside wood, plastic and chalk walls.  Parks help bring us back to our senses and remind us we are not made of those things.  We are a part of nature and even a small taste of this nature -- preserved for us in the form of parks -- is a great way to check in with the pulse of life and your connection to it.  It's a way to remind yourself who you are, and where you come from.

It's hard for some to give up the gadgets to go and taste a little of this nature's delight, but if you can manage it, leave the cell phone and MP3 player in your car, or shut off in your bag.  Why spoil a good thing?

Thanks to Ryan Latta for the great photo