Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Reducing Stress during the Holiday Season

Though they are advertised as the most pleasant seasonal events of the year, the holidays can actually be some of the most stressful times for many people.  Much of the media during these times insists that everyone feel jolly, happy, joyful and thrilled to no end about spending money they don't have in order to satisfy the gift-giving season.  Unfortunately, this expectation is unrealistic for those who find the holidays (and the time of year) depressing and difficult.

That's why self acceptance is very important during the holidays.  If you don't feel all that thrilled about the holidays, you don't have to hide it, but you can find ways to try to make the very best of a time when your emotions are not in alignment with the external world's demands.

First of all, stop to think about what it is you personally need during the holidays.  Is it just relaxation?  Time with your family?  Some kind of traditional event that makes things feel right for you?  Sometimes the holidays get even harder when we feel pulled in all directions by the demands of others who are trying to get their needs met as well.  It's important to find a balance and make sure you are not getting spread too thin.  Saying no to some things is okay, and saying yes to your own needs can be a part of the formula for a good holiday.

Money is always a stressful factor during the holiday season as well.  It's okay to make it clear to others that you need to limit your spending, so be sure to speak up.  Suggesting that the family or office crew draw names to reduce the number of gift spending is always wise and helps reduce financial worries.

If the holidays aren't your thing, try to plan some events that feel more in tune to what you need, be they non-holiday themed movies, concerts, trips, books, socials with friends or just solo getaways that reduce your exposure to the media hype and promotions.

Don't be surprised if there are others out there that feel the same way and would love to get together with you to do something "non-festive".  Check in with some of your friends and family and see if any are up to the task of finding something that can remove you in any small way from triggers that contribute to your depression and stress during this time of year. 

Here are some ideas of things you can do to cope with your stress and anxiety during the holidays:

*Go hiking or snowshoeing which pulls you into nature and away from media hype
*Go see a non-holiday themed movie during the day when crowds are low
*Go for a walk or bike ride where festive decorations and music are not heard
* Limit your spending by announcing to others you plan to give limited gifts this year
*Say no if you need to when others demand you fly or travel to see them for the holidays
*Be sure to share and delegate shopping and other tasks to your spouse or other relatives
*Explain to children you are not made of gold and they can't have everything they want
*Above all, take time to sit down now and then to relax and take a breath.

Thanks to William Brawley for the lovely holiday photo

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Finding Solitude helps Reduce Stress and Anxiety

We can't always get away from this big world for rest and relaxation, but making an effort to find pockets in our schedule for solitude and rejuvenation is key to keeping a balanced life.

"I'll do it after the first of the year," you say, or "when the kids finish school."  But the truth is, those times are always in the future and the need for balanced relaxation in our lives is now.

If you aren't able to find a hut in the middle of nowhere to find peace and quiet, then try for a smaller, more reachable goal.

One woman finally insisted with her family that they must all arranged to cover for her so she could get away to the local Barnes and Noble once a week to sip some coffee and peruse the magazines and books for a couple of hours.  Another asked friends to watch her kids so she could go sit in a hot tub at the local recreation center now and then.  One man began taking that lunch hour he once worked through to go meditate at a facility he'd found in his area.

It doesn't have to be complicated or involve expensive trips away to even more expensive retreats in the mountains, which take time away from work, family, jobs and typically end up being even more stressful.  It's actually the little pockets of time, and little bits of relaxation during our day to day activity that add up to a more balanced life of stress versus relaxation.

Here are a few simple ideas for getting away for short periods of time:

*Find a local park and visit it during your lunch hour to eat or just walk or sit.
*Utilize your own back yard now and then to sit and watch the birds or clouds
*At home, run a hot bath and soak while listening to gentle music and/or using gentle aroma candles
*Go for walks in your area to relax the eyes from all the electronic stimulation
*Go visit your local library on a day when all the kids are in school.  They are fairly quiet places.
*Visit a Day Spa and get a massage in your area

Be creative and remember to listen to yourself.  When you find yourself saying "I'll do it later", you can be sure it's because you think it's too big of a task to get to right now.  Making the task smaller makes it reachable and doable.  You  can't put off your need for relaxation forever.  Your body and mind will eventually catch up with you and the stress by then will take so much longer to correct in order to bring balance to your life.

Thanks to Lain Merchant for the great photos

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Reduce stress: Stop wanting things to be other than what they really are

In the forest, when a hunter fires his or her weapon, the shattering blast explodes in the silence of the gentle trees and streams.  The animals are startled and some stand frozen in place, wondering what danger has entered the boundaries of their otherwise safe and quiet home.

And so it is among us humans when another mass shooting has taken place.  Our modern "forests" are much louder, busier, and hectic; but we freeze all the same when the explosion of danger has entered the arena of what we had taken to be a safe and enjoyable surrounding.

So too, with the newest of public shootings occurring in Las Vegas, we can't help but be like the animals in the forest--startled, hyper vigilant, confused and afraid.

Yet, the reality of these events is something we cannot turn away from.  More than ever it's important for us to look even closer at what the problem could be and what we can do to try to remedy this increasing phenomena--which statistics show is now occurring more frequently and more severely with each new event?

If we are to help put an end to such events in the world, we have to begin within ourselves and deal with the issues festering inside each one of us.  Of the many suggestions that are sure to flood the stage in the aftermath of this event, I start by offering the suggestion that  we each try on this idea:


Look at your own life and ask yourself what things you personally are frustrated with because they just aren't going your way.  The boss "should" act a certain way, and isn't.  The kids "should" be more respectful, and aren't.  The traffic "should" roll more smoothly, and doesn't.  You "should" be getting paid more and fairly, and aren't.  The list is endless.  Whatever it is, you believe it should be going some other way than it is, and if it's not, then frustration sets in.

On a small scale, these are the seedlings of emotion that, when ruminated upon, can lead to violence that is expressed outwardly and into the world where others can get hurt.  If someone wants the world to go a certain way, then when it doesn't, frustration grows into anger, and anger become rage.  When an individual can't control how things are going in life,  they might try to find ways to gain control by any means.  That's why it's important that we teach the children of our society what tolerance is, and not just tolerance for others, but also for disappointments and let downs that are an inevitable part of everyone's life.

Both anxiety and depression can also be reduces with a focus on this task.  To believe that life will never have anxiety or depression is completely unrealistic, but knowing that life will have it's ups and downs, and that when things don't go your way, you can cope without feeding the fire by ruminations that convince you that life should be something other than what it really is at the moment.

Learn what you can "reasonably" change (non-violently), and never ever convince yourself that if you can't have what you want in life (i.e., if life is not going the way you want it to), that you must destroy something to show the world the magnitude of your frustration.

Thanks to jseliger2 for the great photo - frustration

Thursday, September 21, 2017

All Things are Impermanent

The changing seasons are always a good reminder that nothing ever stays the same.  Everything changes.  When it's Summer, you can be sure, it won't be Summer forever; and when it's Winter, you can also be sure, it will eventually change into Spring.  And just as the seasons change, so does everything else.  Including our moods.

When Fall changes come and the days seem shorter as the number of hours of daylight decrease, many people fall victim to bouts of depression.  It's easy to get trapped into the belief that when in a depressed mood, one might never escape.  "I've been like this forever."  "Nothing ever changes it."  "It'll never get better."  But typically, moods change and you realize that episodes of depression don't last forever.  Depressions lift, moods change, and others will replace them in time.

These consistent human changes are true for anxiety as well.  When anxiety surfaces, it can be accompanied by over-generalized thoughts that include word descriptions of "permanence".  Such as, "this feeling will never stop", or "I'm always going to be this way."  They include words such as, "never", "always", "forever" and "never-ending".  But in reality, episodes of anxiety are also not permanent and in time, will change to something else.  When experiencing them, you can ease some of your cognitive suffering by reminding yourself, "This won't last forever", "It's not permanent", and, "This feeling will pass or change", etc.

Learning to sit through the discomfort of seasons (or moods) that are not particularly your favorite, is part of accepting reality as it is.  Does that mean you should never take medication for depression or anxiety?  Not at all.  That would be like saying you should never choose to use a blanket in the winter when the temperatures drop.  Medication, like a blanket, is a matter of choice, and sometimes survival.

The point is, to try not to get trapped in hopeless internal self-talk in which you convince yourself that whatever discomfort you may currently feel will last forever and that you will be a hopeless victim to it.  Just keep in mind that -- like the seasons -- all things change in time.  Including your current mood.

Thanks to Bernard Spragg. NZ for the great photo

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Remember Who You Are

What do we do in "times of trouble" such as these, when there are protests in the streets of America that include guns, fighting, violence, and even death?  Well...in the words of Mufasa, the great Lion King and father of Simba... "Remember who You are!"

It can be very stressful right now for Americans to turn on their TV sets and see an ongoing--and what seems like never-ending--soap opera of daily drama, playing out on the stage of our political arena, and spilling out into the streets of our great nation.

Never-the-less, it's important to keep your senses about you and "Remember who You are".  You... are an American citizen!

What does this mean?  It means, that each and every one of us must dig deep into our very being and ask ourselves what we are willing to stand up for in this short and limited lifetime.  But more importantly, HOW we stand up, and with what morals and ethics will we do so as American citizens... is the more pressing question.

Perhaps you believe in white supremacy, or maybe you are leaning toward socialism these days.  We all have our various beliefs in this great country that has fought long and hard to afford us all the right to have the views we so choose.  Maybe you are Christian, or maybe you are Atheist, but who you are at the core of your being, will determine whether or not you head into the great streets of this country ready to kill your fellow citizen with guns, or beat your fellow citizen with poles, and bats and pipes, or... if you are the kind of American that has the tolerance to allow others to have their own views as well, in order that yours might also be preserved.

Be proud of your country, but don't forget its foundations.  It was built by all of us--free and slave.  It has a proud and shameful history, a peaceful and violent history, and a polarized history that has lasted to this very day.  And in order to find peace, we must as a nation begin to sort out how to live with these polarizations and the differences that seems to perhaps be a part of nature itself, and therefore will never NOT be a part of us.

Go into the streets as a free American citizen if you feel so compelled--it is your right.  In some cases, I even hope you do.  But "Remember who You are!"  You are an American citizen!  Don't go armed into the streets to harm your fellow citizens.  Have your voice, and hear the voices of others.  But don't insist with the price of death, that you're citizenship, and your voice, be of more importance than the voice and citizenship of your fellow American.

Remember Who You Are!

Thanks to Brett Jordan for the great photo - Lion 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Walking Meditation

Meditation comes in many forms.   From guided voice meditation, to silent sitting.  There is moving meditation such as Qigong and Tai Chi, and a form of meditation that works well for those who find it too difficult to sit still for any length of time--That is, walking meditation.

Walking meditation is frequently used between rounds of seated meditation in order to help stretch the body and give it a little break before returning to the meditation mat to sit some more.

However, you can use walking meditation in many different ways.  Some find it relaxing and centering to take a break from their busy work day to go to a park and walk the paths, or through the grass, to get a little more focused on the present moment.

Walking meditation can also be used as a way to move the body, yet stay focused on just one thing, such as the sound of the birds as you walk among the trees or just the sound of water if you are walking near a fountain or stream.

You can also practice synchronizing your breath with the walk.  Counting "one" as you breath in while stepping with the left foot, and "two" as you exhale and step with the right.  Or if you want a faster pace, you can count "one" to inhale as you take several steps, and count "two" for the next several steps.  You can also place complete focus and attention on the placement of the foot.  Heel, toe... heel, toe... while working to not allow any thoughts or distractions to draw attention away from this mindful task.

You don't have to force yourself to do a meditation that is not comfortable for you.  Buddha was meditating in a reclined position when he died.  Perhaps you've seen the statue of him lying on his side called the "Reclining Buddha".  Some people who find it difficult to sit up during meditation will practice that way (i.e., lying down), and their task is to not fall asleep, but to stay awake and mindful.

So it's the same with walking meditation.  If you choose a moving meditation rather than a sitting, or still meditation (such as standing meditation), the task is always the same...to train the mind to remain present and completely aware.

Thanks to World Peace Initiative for the great photo

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Reducing Anxiety by letting life Unfold

The one thing we can be sure of in life is that things will change.  Nothing stays the same.  Some change is so gradual that we can hardly see it unless we witness some kind of time-lapse evidence such as video or photos that show us "quickly" what we cannot notice when in the middle of the event itself.

Changes that happen more abruptly are harder on we human beings because we spend a large portion of our time living in a delusion in which we convince ourselves that once things are "good", we can somehow keep them that way, or that change will disappear and happiness will remain.

We seem to want the good things to last forever, and the bad things to end as quickly as possible.  So we spend our time striving for things we consider pleasant, and running from things we consider unpleasant.

But here is the truth--and you don't have to believe it from me-- look at it for yourself.  Nothing does Not change!  Or said differently, Everything changes.  Everything!

The torture takes place the most when we try to get things we like to remain indefinitely, and when we try to get things we dislike, to be different from what they are.  How many times have you gone back to repeat something fun, only to find yourself disappointed because it "wasn't like last time"?

From the day we are born, until the day we die, change is happening and we suffer the most when we don't want that reality to be true.  Instead, learning to move more gracefully with change can increase  your sense of well-being and reduce your stress and anxiety.

One way to re-frame this never-ending cycle of change that comes with life, is to think of it more as an "unfolding".  When something is unfolding it has a perpetual movement to it.  You can label the movement "good" or "bad", but it's not really necessary.  It's just what is unfolding.  Some of the unfolding is pleasant, and some is unpleasant, but none of these states are permanent.  Be it pleasant or unpleasant, it will change.  It's only a matter of time.

Thanks to Liz West for the great photo - Melting

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Art of Relaxed Hurry

In today's modern world it's kinda hard to take things at the pace that our ancestors once did.  Though they woke and slept with the rising and setting sun and worked long days, they also breathed much cleaner air, ate cleaner food, and could sit for prolonged periods of time without TV, cell phone, internet, or constant stimulation other than the sound of a running stream or the occasional sound of the horses or cows in the fields.

Today, we are constantly on a time schedule.  Be it time to get up, or to be sure we're asleep to get enough rest for the next day.  From getting to work on time, to parental schedules of getting kids to school, or soccer games, or to the dentist.  Even relaxation coaches and Yoga teachers have to be someplace on time, and though they are not infallible to being late, they might just get there in a completely different way than most of us.

Living in a hurried world can take a toll on our health and eventually our mental and emotional well-being, but since this is the modern world after all, it's also not something we are fully ever going to escape.  The reality is that--outside of our need to schedule-in times of rest, vacation and relaxation--we must find ways to cope with a hurried world, and do well to ourselves by approaching our hurry with as much mindfulness and relaxation as possible.

If you think it's not possible to be fully present while rushing through life, take a look at this video of William Polly, a world champion cup stacker.  He shows his skill in slow motion as well, which is so fast that you most likely will still find yourself struggling to keep up with what's happening.  But if you look at the cup-stacker, he's as calm as can be.  Why?  Because he's trained himself "three hours a day" to be fully present.  That's what training in mindfulness is all about.

If your life and schedule are rushed and hurried, mindfulness practice is all the more important.  You will need to be fully present for each of the many things you have packed into your daily schedule.  Paying attention to your thoughts, to the present, to your breath, the colors around you, the feel of the temperature around you, etc.  Noticing what you see, smell, taste, feel in any given situation.  Staying mindful helps your attention no matter what the pace of your life.

Here's a challenge:  Sit in a comfortable position.  Closer your eyes and relax.  Begin to count your breath slowly.  One, as you breathe in.  Two, as you breathe out.  Three as you breathe in, and so on all the way to 10.  And then start over at "One".  Many people will begin to wander into thoughts and get distracted before they ever reach the number ten.  But with practice, you can train your mind to stay present and aware.

It took William "three hours a day" to get present enough to go so fast while stacking cups that when you watch him at full speed, it looks like someone has turned the film speed up to "fast".  For him it's "fun", but as he puts it, "it takes a lot of dedication and training".

Thanks to Hamza Butt for the great photos - "worker running with suitcase"

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Earth Day: Relaxation with Mother Nature

In April the world celebrates environmental awareness with Earth Day.

Mother Earth is the mother of us all.  Having given birth to the multitude of things that cling to her surface and swim the depths of her oceans.

There is a peacefulness in views like this one (image left) in which the blue planet glows with the gentle flow of water that makes up most of her surface.

There are many religions scattered among the people of this great planet and everyone seems to have a belief in what it all means, or doesn't mean.

According to Craig A James, author of The Religion Virus, "the earliest beliefs that can be identified as religious are animistic...".  He states that "Crops and trees, deer and bears, the sun and moon, rainclouds, a spear or axe - all of the things that were important to people - were imagined to have personalities and motivations."

Many of the earliest beliefs among humans somehow connected to this great planet Earth and to Mother Nature herself.  The plants, trees and water were assigned spirits and considered to be alive with the personality of that spirit.  But the world is much different now than it once was and the power of belief, unique to human beings, has become a power that can save or destroy this great planet we inhabit.

One way you can help lower your own anxiety about the increasingly, battle-weary clashes in beliefs around the world -- among countries, and inside your own communities, work places, and homes is to take a long look inside your own belief system and ask yourself this:  "Am I doing all I can to help bring peace to this world?"  "Does anything I consider to be my 'belief', 'faith' or 'doctrine' in life harm other people physically, emotionally, mentally, or psychologically?"

This great Mother Earth is suffering from the result of bickering, fighting, and arguing over differences of view among the people of this world, and because we are a part of her very breath, we are suffering as well.  "Earth Day" is and should be "every day" and every breath "you" take, is a breath she takes.  Which means, every moment you sit in meditation, she sits in meditation.  Every time you work to relax your body and mind, you are relaxing a part of her body and mind.  Every gentle thing you do to lower your anxiety, is something you are doing to lower the anxiety of the world.  So consider it a global act to work on your relaxation techniques.  Finding peace inside yourself, is the first step.

Whatever it is you believe, make sure it takes into account the whole of the planet and not just yourself.  Enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer and always act in kindness to her.. your one and only true Mother.

Thanks to Beth Scupham for her great photos - "Earth"

Friday, March 31, 2017

Relaxing with Essential Oils

Essential oils are "volatile aromatic compounds", which means they are oils that can change states quickly from liquid to gas.  Many people use essential oils in a diffuser with water to disperse the aroma into a room in order to enjoy pleasant scents.

As you can imagine, this is a relaxing form of aroma therapy that has grown in popularity over the years.  It's a great way to relax and can make a wonderful addition to a meditative environment or spa-like room.

You can read more about aroma therapy here in my May 2015 blog entry.

If you are looking to create an environment that is suited for relaxation, using a diffuser to disperse your Essential Oils is a great idea.  But keep in mind, you can also disperse the aroma by many other means:

*Spray bottle
*Cotton ball or tissue
*Heated on the stove
*Used in the bath
*A few drops on your furnace filter
*In your Potpourri warmer
**Be sure to always read instructions carefully so you use the appropriate amounts in any of these
    given methods.

Introducing pleasant fragrances to any room can add to the relaxing environment, and we know that certain scents can trigger both memories and moods.

Thanks to Sulen Lee for the great photo

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Relaxing Balance between Social Gatherings -v- Social Media

Statistics have shown that having friends and an active social life are important common factor in those who live longer and have higher levels of health as they age.

Unfortunately, at the exact same time, our modern world is moving more and more people toward social isolation and loneliness due to the Internet and social media.  But do we really want to be critical of the great modern technology that is simultaneously bringing us all closer together and moving us all apart, at the same time?

It boils down to finding a sense of balance between "reality" and "virtual reality".  Are your truly "with" others if you are only communicating with them on the Internet, but at the same time (in reality) sitting by yourself, night after night, in front of your computer screen, and not really physically interacting with anyone?  Not really.

It's important that we find balance between the two worlds in which we use the human body to move, walk, lift, stand, talk and make sound, and feel the ground beneath us, versus the other world in which we feel only the hard surface of our office chair on our bum as we sit for hours on end clicking with one hand and straining our eyes to see small font.

There are many remedies to solving this imbalance and here are a few of them:

1.  Consider joining a group of people who meet-up on a regular basis (weekly or monthly) to actually be together physically for talk, discussion, board games, dog walking, or any other physical activity such as hiking, walking, boating, etc.  This puts things on your schedule that force you out from behind the computer, so make sure it's not just a group of people gathering around a computer at someone's house!

2.  Look for reasons to meet your friend or friend(s) at the local coffee shop or restaurant for face-to-face talk time.  Agree to not bring your phones, laptops and tablets.  Make it real.

3.  Sign up for local walks that have been prearranged for various charity organizations.  The event will push you to gather sponsors for your event, and get you out among others for some needed exercise and conversation.

4.  Determine how much time you spend on social media and cut it in half.  Use the other half of the time to get up and go socialize with neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family.  Your kids might be shocked you've come out of your cave to spend time with them!

5.  Invite someone over for a cup of coffee or tea.  Don't head for the computer to show them your latest project.  Make sure it's face-to-face time with your guest.

**The main idea is not to stifle your social media completely, but to find more balance between the reality that it is (i.e., sitting alone in front of a electronic screen), and the reality that actually exists out there in the world.

Thanks to Betty Nudler for the great photo

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Finding Relaxation in the Stillness of the Present Moment

In a poem called East Coker, which is the first of four lengthy poems written by T.S Elliot called The Four Quartets, he wrote:

At the still point of the turning world.  Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.  And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.  Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.  Except for the point, the still point,
there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

We could almost think of Elliot's Still Point as the center of gravity where a surfer rides the wave.  Not really moving toward anything, or away from anything, but existing on a point of balance in the present moment.  The surfer dances atop the surfboard, but relative to it, is not moving.  And though the board stays atop the moving wave, the wave never leaves the surface of the earth.

In many Zen stories a comparison is made between the mind, and the surface of water.  A busy mind--it is said--is like the surface of rough moving water; but a still and calm mind is like the surface of calm water that has settled to the point of stillness, where--like the surface of a mirror--a bird flying above could be seen as a reflection in the surface of the water below.

But stillness is not easy to realize for many of us in today's modern world.  Trying to see the reflection of anything on the surface of our minds is getting harder and harder as people's minds are frequently distracted by the rough waters of the over-stimulating effects of technology and a busy world.

But, as Elliot said, "there is only the dance".  In other words, there is only this moment, "where past and future are gathered".  Stillness is getting more and more difficult for many who--when sitting themselves down to relax--find that the churning waters of their minds continue to move.

Finding your own place of stillness can take time, but it's important to work on it a little bit every day.  Slowing down the body in a fast-paced world isn't simple, but it facilitates the slowing down of the mind, even if it takes the mind awhile to catch up with the stillness of the body.  Tai Chi, Qigong, Yoga, Meditation, are all means to work towards this goal.

If you traditionally have a hard time sitting still, start by at least slowing down.  Try to slow your pace, walk more calmly, eat more slowly, or develop a slow and intentional ritual before bed or rising in the morning.  Try reading more slowly and intentionally.  Try grocery shopping more slowly.  Try everything from your morning shower to washing the car at a pace that moves your closer to stillness.

In time you may find that you become more accustomed to stillness.  But stillness is not just physical.  It's also mental, emotional, and psychological.  Stillness means to not always be looking for the next thing to do, or get, or be.

Another good poet by the name of Chris McCombs wrote in his poem, Go Deeper:

Go deeper
Past thought
Into silence
Past silence
Into stillness
Past stillness
Into the Heart
Let the Love
Whatever is left of you

Thanks to Hefin Owen for his great photo - Misty Sunrise Padarn Lake