Less Stress for Your Heart

February is the month of love, it’s also heart month. Like other body parts, it’s so easy to forget about what keeps us alive, unless it pounds after you’ve done something strenuous or something’s wrong with it. Stress is something that affects our whole bodies including our hearts, so it’s important to try to learn to manage our stress. Even if it’s not possible in this world we live in to be completely stress free, I still think there are some choices we can make that help us better manage our stress, and better control how much stress-inducing things have access to us.

The other day on the radio I heard a lady sharing about how she had turned off more of the notifications on her phone. I love silent notifications (no sound, no vibration), because they’re not as intrusive, but they do communicate updates to you that you can see instantly when you check your phone. If you’re looking at your phone you’ll know they’re there, but otherwise you aren’t constantly interrupted (or stressed out) by pings and other sounds. Yes, it’s important to be part of a community and stay connected, and we do have phones today because of how connected and in-touch with each other we are. But let’s be honest, if you’re expecting an important email or other message, there’s a good chance you’re checking your phone every 5 minutes anyway and the ping won’t be necessary. And if there’s something you absolutely need to know about like an sick child you would get a phone call. Just about everything else that comes with a notification can wait an hour or six until you’ve got a minute to check.

The idea here is that rather than letting the world control you, you take back some of the control. Much of how stress is created has to do with feeling out of control and overwhelmed, and when you let the world (or your phone) run everything, it’s easy to increase stress. So go ahead and make your own rules for how often you check the news and what news you see and how much you see. Make your own rules for your phone and what notifications you get and how much you do on it. Make your own rules for emails and other communication (as long as you’re productive, of course). Make your own rules for social media and how much time you spend there, the people you’re connected to and the content you see. Taking control of even these little things can help you reduce some of your stress and make more victories in your life.

Reality Reflection: Seeing the Signs

The other week I was at the grocery store and saw they had zip bags on sale and decided to pick up a box of the gallon ones. They weren’t on my list but I couldn’t remember the last time I bought any, so I got them. Fast forward to this week and late Friday night after the shopping and such had been done, I discovered the kitchen had been invaded by ants. Exactly what anyone and everyone wants at the end of a busy holiday week. Not to mention the work I still had to do and sleep I hadn’t gotten and had thought I was about an hour from. Several hours, several large storage bags and the box of gallon zip bags later, I had it mostly under control, with some help from some bug spray and a hard object or two.

Closets are one of those things that you look at and say, yea, I probably should clean that occasionally, but it is quite a bit of work to take it all out (although it’s less work when you’re not fighting with ants at the same time). As I stood to survey the scattered kitchen in the light of day today, I reflected on the ant I had seen earlier in the week but not thought much of and on how thankful I was to have bought the bags and have other large zip bags always on hand.  It was a reminder that the universe, God, and others all send clues in our direction. Sometimes it’s something to tuck away, say about Christmas gift ideas. But other things like ants are a little stronger wake up call that something needs to be checked or addressed.

Which also got me thinking about the mixed bag that Christmas can be and the signs and reminders that are so visible and apparent this time of year. Shopping can be an extremely stressful endeavor, some people are in such a rush and somehow don’t care or see that everyone else is right there with them, and it can be stressful if you have to get together with people you don’t really know or like. You also can’t forget the stories of Scrooge and the Grinch, and think of people in your life who may be like them sometimes.

When the stress is overwhelming us and we’re dealing with unpleasant people, it’s important to take in the signs around us and remembered what the season is supposed to be about. If Mary and Joseph can deal with all they did before Jesus was born, I think we can wait a little in line at stores. If we hear Christmas songs, it should remind us to celebrate, to give, to love and find joy in our hearts. Putting up ornaments and decorations that have been passed down should be an opportunity to remember and honor those people. Pay attention to the signs in your life, it may help you have your best Christmas season ever.

Going Back to Simple

I’ve been thinking about simplicity recently from many perspectives. On one hand I can appreciate the layers, steps and things that are involved in making things get from point A to point B. We don’t simply go to the farm stand and pick up our vegetables for the week, we go to the food store that got food from around the country or even around the world. Both are “simple” for the consumer, but for everyone else involved, it’s not that simple anymore. I also understand that there’s a lot more involved in getting electricity from point A to point B or creating an app than it may seem on a surface level. I also understand that what one person likes another doesn’t and that’s why families buy several different kinds of mac and cheese or other products because they can’t agree on one.

But at the same time I think in many ways we over-complicate things. Why do we need 6 apps to communicate with each other when email works just fine? Why learn things in school and college that have no practical application on your future especially with all the advances in technology and information? Why do busy work at your job? Why assign the same task to two different people with there being only one logical answer or result? Why make people jump through hoops when it’s truly not necessary? Why can’t we reduce the red tape and go back to a simpler life?

What is it about the simple life that has been speaking to me recently? I think a big part of it has to do with freedom and not making things super complicated when it’s not necessary, not having to learn new things around every corner, and not trying to fit your square peg into a round hole. As I said earlier, one size doesn’t fit all, so why are we trying to put everyone into a box or force everyone to do things one specific way? I think part of it has to do with not understanding what others don’t find simple, and not understanding that what you find simple isn’t simple to them or vice versa. It also may have to do with things not being explained in a way that makes sense or shows the value of switching or doing it differently.

This week I encourage you to release yourself from some of the pressure you might be feeling to add more to your list or do things a certain way. Especially with the holidays coming up and more that’s going to be added to our plates, now’s a great time to either learn how to do it because it makes sense to or find a way that works better for you, even if that means stepping back according to some.

The Many Sides of Disconnect

When was the last time you thought about the term ‘disconnect?’ It’s a popular term right now with regards to separating yourself from the internet and internet-connected devices. People talk about doing tech detoxes, scheduling (limiting) their device time, and some go so far as to unsubscribe from popular sites. I appreciate technology as much as the next person, but I’m not one to be on my phone all the time, I don’t use all the popular apps and I don’t spend hours of my personal time each week on social media. I do like being able to reach out for help at any time, getting typically accurate answers with a few pushes and having a selection of books available anytime day or night and anywhere I may be.

There’s also the type of disconnect that thankfully is not very common or frequent, and that’s a power disconnect. Hopefully you don’t experience them too frequently or extensively where you are, but I experienced one recently and it reminded me, first and foremost, how blessed we are. With a few notable (mother nature related) exceptions we’re so blessed to have reliable power which brings us internet and heat and electricity to our homes and places of employment. I can’t imagine what it was like back in the years before reliable electricity where when the sun wasn’t up you only had the light of candles or a fire to depend on. Not only is it not very safe, it’s also not very illuminating and has lots of limits compared to what we have today.

There’s one more disconnect I want to talk about today, and that’s a disconnect between you and yourself and/or you and the rest of the world. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what’s going on either in our lives or in the world around us that we get disconnected from the other. Other times we get so sidelined by stress that we’re disconnected from everything and we almost would be comparable to a cat chasing their tail endlessly. It’s frustrating to feel the disconnect and it’s frustrating to see someone in our lives disconnected. If you’re continually hitting a wall in your pursuit of victories or communicating with someone, it’s likely that there’s a disconnect somewhere that you’re missing and until you see it and fix it you’ll keep struggling.

Disconnects can be good and they can be bad. If you’re feeling overwhelmed maybe it’s the right time to do a bit of disconnecting, and get some things off your plate for a time. But keep your eyes open and watch for disconnects that you don’t want or need in your life, the sooner you address them, the healthier your relationships will be and easier it will be to reach your victories.

Cinco De Mayo Break Time

Today is Cinco De Mayo!  It’s a chance for all people who have some Mexican/Latin heritage to remember the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces in 1862.  That sounds like it was a long time ago, and it was, but we celebrate things from centuries before that still, so a hundred and fifty or so is nothing.  But whether you’re celebrating a victory over an addiction a few years ago (and still going strong) or a battle some hundred years ago, any day is a great opportunity to make time to celebrate.

As I was thinking about celebrating Cinco De Mayo and our theme of the month I was checking out some quotes to share and found a saying that related to both topics.  “It’s a ‘I want to fake my own death, move to Mexico and live off tacos and tequila’ kinda day” I know, funny, right?

But the reality is there are those days we want to just throw in the towel and give up.  The good news is that sometimes that’s exactly what you should do, probably not to the extent of moving to Mexico, but certainly to the tacos and tequila.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is give up for the day.  Yes, there are times when pushing through is the right thing to do, but often I feel like we keep trying to install a door in a window space (obviously with little success).  But we’ve gotten pretty good at being stubborn and see being stubborn and never giving up as more rewarding or better than giving up.

As you know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Sometimes the best way to figure out if you should stay stubborn or if you need a break is doing a gut-check.  If you’re feeling tired it might also be a very good sign that you need a break.  There’s nothing wrong with taking a break and getting a taco and alcoholic beverage, or cookie and cup of tea or whatever your day is calling for.  You also might be in need of some fun if you’ve been doing a lot of work lately and not taking time to recharge.

So this weekend I encourage you to let Cinco De Mayo or whatever you’re celebrating today linger a little longer and make time for fun and relaxation!

Following the Flow of Life

I’ve been taking a lot of time to consider life and the future for the past few weeks.  I’ve been taking some downtime and trying to regain perspective on what life means to me and what my place is in it.  I’ve been reminded that everyone gets tired at points throughout their life.  Sometimes we get tired because we’ve been trying to fight the current and go against the grain.  While sometimes it’s the thing to do to get through to the bigger victory, other times fighting and resisting the natural flow of things really hurts you and keeps you from moving forward.

I’ve always been a path-less-traveled type of person, but the past few weeks have got me thinking about whether I’m on the right path or if I’ve been resisting the path.  Because even when we’re talking about “the path less traveled”, there’s still a path of some kind to follow.  One of the conclusions I came to is that when you’re busy fighting against the flow (or just trying to stay afloat) you can miss the path or get distracted and forget that you’re on a path.  Sometimes life does throw big blocks into your life like big health crisis or moving from one side of the country to another.  One challenge we have is staying on point as we navigate over/through/around those blocks.  Most of us get through OK, but not without a few scratches.

If you’re feeling tired this week I encourage you to take a look around and make sure that you’re not uselessly fighting against the current.  Make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings, the pressures in your life and have the support to work through what’s in your life.  If you are being blocked or fighting the current, learn the lesson you’re there to learn and get back on track as soon as possible.  You never know how much life you have left, so make sure to care for the life you have.

“It is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.”  Rainer Maria Rilke

Stress and Purpose

This month we’re talking about living our purposes. Have you been working on living yours or at the very least making plans and changes for how you can do so in the near future? Today I want to talk about a topic that doesn’t really seem to align with living your purpose, but absolutely does: stress. Yes, it can be very stressful trying to live your purpose, especially if you don’t have a lot of people in your life who believe in you and support you at the very least emotionally in your life. Life purpose is something that we each have but most of our purposes are tied in with other people’s purposes. We’re not islands, we’re meant to work together to make the world a better place. But when that teamwork breaks down or isn’t in place, we’re stranded on our own trying to get it all done, and that can be really stressful.

It can be stressful as well to know that you’ve got this big calling on your life and feel a bit overwhelmed by all that’s involved in fulfilling and living it. If you’ve got the (potential) support in your life and still feel stressed about your purpose maybe you’re trying to do too much at once or don’t have any plan for how to fulfill your purpose. Yes, sometimes it is scary to sit down and really outline a plan for how to start fulfilling your purpose, because it makes it that much more real. But life is so much more fulfilling when you’re living on purpose, and you’re making a positive difference in the world too!

Even us introverts need people to support us in living our purposes and in life in general. Don’t believe the lie that you can get through this life on your own, reach out and ask for the help that is readily available and waiting for you to accept it. If the people in your immediate life aren’t willing or able to support you, there’s a whole world of people just a few clicks away who are more than ready and willing to encourage and support you. Say what you will but social media has lots of good-hearted people on it that you can connect with and find things in common with them; people who are invested in making the world a better place, and even people who have similar purposes to yours or purposes who would work well in support of yours and your purpose in support of theirs.

Choose this week to begin conquering the stress related to purpose in your life. Reach out to people, ask for help, make a plan and believe in yourself and your ability to fulfill the purpose you’ve been tasked with.

Blessings for Spring

Today certainly seemed like spring is just about here!  I’m super excited as you can tell.  I love spring because it means winter is ending!  Summer is my favorite season but spring definitely is a season I love.  This week as we take a look at Irish sayings and proverbs I wanted to share one that has the hope of this season we’re entering:

“May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”

Spring is one of the ultimate promises.  It comes around every year to remind us that our journey isn’t in vain, that the struggles we face, depression we work through, ways we fail, people who challenge us, and losses we experience will all work out somehow.  It’s also a reminder of how we should treat each other: that we should do our best to bless others through our words and actions, not add to their stresses.

You may be thinking about how much you’re going to drink for St. Patrick’s Day, but what if instead of drinking or instead of just drinking we tried to share as many blessings with others as possible?  What if instead of thinking about all the things wrong with your life while drinking and trying to drown them with your drink, instead you talked about all the things you can celebrate?

If you could use a break from the stress of your life, don’t use tomorrow as an excuse to drink your problems away.  Instead use tomorrow as an opportunity to celebrate all that you do have and all that the future, and the spring that is fast arriving, promises to bless you with.

Do You Matter?

Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away and (in case you can’t tell) I’m excited!! In past years (pre-diet changes) the next month and a half were always my favorites with all the cookies, pies and stuffing! While my excitement over food has changed a lot over the past few years it hasn’t dimmed my overall excitement for this time of year. With all the unpleasant things going on around the world it’s such a blessing to be able to celebrate despite or in-spite of those things and take time to remember all the good and blessings in our lives and in just being alive.

Today though we’re not going to talk about all the awesome things I love about this time of year but rather take a step back and be honest about the self-doubt that we experience during this time. There are tons of reasons for you to keep that checklist of ‘things people hate about me’ or ‘ways I don’t stack up’ or ‘ways I’ve let people down’ handy, family gatherings are known to bring out the worst in many of us, not to mention the embarrassing stories that always seem to get told every year. To be completely honest we don’t totally stack up against the standards or expectations that some people set for us partly because we’re not perfect and partly because we don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations except our own (even though we often do try to). It can be scary to choose not live up to their expectations for us, especially if they don’t seem to love us as much because of it, but it’s a big relief to be able to be ourselves and not whomever they think we should be.

Psalm 139:17-18 says “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” When we face doubts about who we are, why we were born, or how valuable we are the first place we should turn to is God. These verses remind us that we’re here because He created us with a purpose. God has plans for our lives, and if He has plans for us we’re not worthless no matter what anyone says. Not only that, but that God thinks about us for reasons other than selfish or judgmental ones, and often enough that we wouldn’t be able to count them if we tried.  That says to me that each of us is very special to God.  So when your family is coming down on you for not being who they wanted you to be or for some unrealistic expectation, know that you’re not alone and that God likes you just as He created you.

Stories of Suffering

This past week you may have been thinking about what I’ve been thinking about because it’s kind of hard to miss with all the news coverage: the Syrian refugee situation. For years we’ve heard about the conflict, actually it’s a conflict that has been going on for a very long time, so this isn’t anything new.  But finally things have gotten to a point that people are leaving.  They know it’s not safe and as hard as it is to leave the place you’ve known your whole life, when there’s no sign of things changing or improving any time soon, at some point in time you have to make the choice to stay or go.

So it got me thinking about the rest of us and our situations in life.  Your suffering and mine may not come anywhere close to that of the refugees, but that doesn’t make it any less real.  We can experience many of the things they do such as betrayal, displacement, loneliness, fear, hurt, and loss, but for us it may be related to our job, a relationship, a family member, a friend, our home, our health or even things that we can’t quite put a finger on like depression and other mental/emotional challenges/imbalances.  As I was thinking about this I read a verese that spoke to me about the tough choices the people of Syria face and our own challenges.

Habakkuk 1:5 says “…For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.”  

Don’t give up hope that God can work even when things look dire.  You don’t know everything so you can’t know all of the motivations and intentions of all of the people involved let alone all that God has going on behind the scenes.  Believe that there is hope and an amazing future in the works.

The challenge is in the rebuilding though: when the dust settles the question is will you allow what happened to hold you back and define you forever or will you choose to move forward?  Don’t let your past hold you back, instead apply what you’ve learned from your struggles, rebirth and recovery to the rest of your life, and when given the chance to support someone else who is going through something similar, don’t forget that you had help along the way too, or be the helping hand you wish you had had.