Can you believe it’s already December? Now, that you’ve made it through Thanksgiving, what’s on your mind? Is your calendar packed with parties, gift giving, decorating, kids’ performances, and other assorted requisite holiday happenings? Well, this may be the perfect time to talk about “holiday mindfulness.” You may be thinking, My mind is already full holiday stuff! What else am I supposed to be mindful of? Good question. The answer is you. With all the stress and pressure to get things done this holiday season you may feel overwhelmed. Perhaps, your emotions are playing that dreadful tug of war game with your sanity. If you feel pulled in every direction and obligated to have a jolly good time in the midst of it, mindfulness may be the remedy you need to abate some of the craziness you may experience this month.
Mindfulness is one of the most intriguing and fascinating subjects I have ever researched. If you’ve never heard of this term before it’s simple; mindfulness is awareness. That’s it. Jon Kabat-Zinn created Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a meditative method which is used and taught nationwide for treating pain, illness, and stress. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is cultivated by purposefully paying attention, being present in the moment, non-judgmentally.
Unfortunately, it’s so easy to be caught up in negative thought patterns that trigger unhealthy emotional reactions causing overloads of stress and anxiety. Through the systematic cultivation of mindfulness you can become more aware of reality, your thoughts and emotions, and the way you are in relationship to them. Mindfulness, instead of adding to the mess, gives us a chance to breathe in the present and see things in a new perspective.
We have been conditioned to try and solve our problems by doing more with our minds. Thinking about the past and the future does help us to plan and grow, but the only moment we have is the present. Part of the essence of mindfulness is to center ourselves in the present and use our innate inner capacity for awareness to better respond to situations moment by moment. Can you see how this may relate to the holiday season?
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and harnessing the power of being present you may enjoy the following books available through Howard County Library System. You can also try a meditation workshop at the Miller Branch or join a class at Howard County General Hospital.
So, the next time you feel overwhelmed with holiday stress, slow down and check-in with yourself. Get in touch with what is truly most important for your well-being. Disconnect from the hustle and bustle and connect with your emotions and health. Mindfulness may help you make more effective decisions, enjoy the richness that life has to offer, and be able to understand yourself in a (potentially) greater way. I hope you find that you are worth the time despite the haste that the holiday season brings. May your holidays be peaceful and bright!
I’ve been called the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge and a few other choice things. I understand. They are labels thrown out by people that can’t fathom my particular brand of holiday spirit. To them, there is no holiday without shopping and wrapping… without gift exchanges at the workplace, the preschool, the mom’s group, and the basketball team. It’s the season of giving, right?
Absolutely. Many illuminate the longest nights and darkest days of winter with a celebration that involves giving. It is at that point, however where we usually diverge, as I choose the path less traveled and that has made all the difference in my life.
Long before the downturn in the economy prompted conservation, Occupy Wall Street caused us to consider our own personal levels of greed, and recent studies called to mind our staggering level of consumption; our family chose to tune out the unrelenting cacophony of the holiday season and celebrate Christmas “unplugged.”
Nearly fifteen years ago, on Christmas morning, my husband and I applied the proverbial brakes. Surrounded by a sea of torn wrapping paper, empty boxes and mountains of new non-essential things to put away, we realized that which we had taken months to create, had taken only ten minutes to undo. We had succumbed to commercial interests and become conspicuous consumers. We had filled the landfills with more than our share of stuff. We were stressed and snappish. We had lost sight of our own faith-based reason for the season. And, most heartbreaking- we had lost our most precious gift- time with our children. There was no way to reclaim those dozens of hours lost each year to the commercial clamor of shopping and wrapping of holidays past, but we could rewrite the future.
We resolved to change. Out of respect for the sensibilities of young children, who could understand the theory, but not so much the practice, we eased into our new tradition. We limited the gifts to three presents per child for the first year, but the next year, we were all in- we graduated to Christmas- Unplugged.
Holiday display at the National Botanic Garden
We concentrate on what we do, and not on the things we don’t do. We bake cookies. We see the the lights in Hampden or visit the holiday train and monument displays at the United States Botanic Garden. We visit the International Crèche display at the Washington DC Temple. We support the local arts and go into Baltimore to see Tuba Christmas (200 of Maryland’s finest tubas and euphoniums in concert). We try to catch a show- last year it was Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Kennedy Center. We participate in workshops, like the annual Sock Monkey Saturday at the American Visionary Art Museum (memorable for the hopeless looks we received from the men in the family as they tried to stitch their creations together.) We go ice skating outside
and take long walks along the Patapsco and Middle Patuxent rivers. We play games like Bananagrams or Cathedral or Apples to Apples. We watch football games together.
Together as a family we celebrate old traditions and create new ones, we carve out time to spend together and in the process, we create lasting memories. Our family has grown and evolved, but the Christmas Unplugged spirit remains a steady reminder that the spirit of the holidays is within us.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
More holiday unplugged resources:
Mary Catherine Cochran
“We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart… and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together…. I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude.”- Helen Hayes
A daunting task I seem to find myself faced with more often than should be allowed is simply finding time for “me.” When I’m not at one job, I’m at the other. When I’m not at either job, I’m trying to spend time with friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending my free time making dinner with my friends or visiting a museum. However, this constant activity and plan-making leaves little to no time for ME and I am a strong believer in solitude.
Taking time for yourself allows you to think without distractions. I often feel as if my thoughts are coming and going so rapidly that even a road runner couldn’t catch them. When I’m alone, I can give those thoughts their much deserved attention and write them down.
Being alone also allows me to practice guitar, create something, clean my room, read a book, watch a movie, or just relax. When I don’t make time for myself, there are consequences: I become overly tired, moody, and less motivated. I feel anxious, like I’ve forgotten something very important. And what I’ve forgotten is making time for myself.
The Mindfulness Solution has simple steps to help you make time for yourself and balance it all.
It’s especially important to tell those around you when you need time to yourself. When I feel pressured (or obligated) to spend my “me time” with other people, I remind them (and myself) that I need that time to myself in order to remain balanced, happy, and healthy. Solitude is important. The Mindfulness Solution provides insight and simple ways you can take time for yourself throughout your day to help you work through your problems or help you reconnect with how you’re doing daily. When I take time for those moments of solitude, I find that I’m able to work through problems that would otherwise keep me stuck. Being able to think deeply encourages creativity and problem solving.
Tying into my last post, alone time offers many opportunities for us to grow like facing fears of attending movies or eating out alone. These experiences can be quite rewarding and comforting. I’ve purposefully attended concerts, shmoozed at events, and dined alone only to discover how enjoyable it all was. I’m even more determined to make the time to do that more often.
Spending time alone provides you with an opportunity to relax, think and reflect, discover, and reconnect to yourself. Grounding yourself daily, taking time for solitude is essential to a healthy lifestyle. I invite everyone reading this to seek solitude. You deserve it!
Oh, the joys of being a new parent! No one can truly prepare you for how your life will change once you’ve had a baby. Some days it’s just hard.
I feel this pressure to be “Super Mom.” I have to be able to do everything (at once) while also taking in “the joys of motherhood.” I need to care for my child, exercise, clean the kitchen, keep the house, do the laundry, and remember to pay attention to the other people in my life- like my husband. I question myself constantly about the essentials: should I use this time to shower, nap, or eat? I usually opt for the nap. My husband and I are in our thirties and we’re tired all the time. In fact, I’m more tired than I have ever been in my entire life!
I really didn’t know that having a baby and working full-time would be so challenging. It’s a lot of work and I have forfeited a lot of sleep in the process. What I’m learning though, is the importance of being compassionate with myself in the midst mommy-hood. If I don’t make time for self-care, I’m affecting my ability to be the best mom I can be.
I’ve put together some seemingly obvious (but easy to forget) suggestions of how to take care of yourself as a new mom. Basically, these are things to make sure you do, or are aware of, on a daily basis. Jennifer Wider’s awesome, practical book, The New Mom’s Survival Guide, which resonates with some of these tips. Wider also keeps a humorous tone when it comes to some of the topics that I’m not covering in this post (i.e. sex). I also recommend taking a look at Mojo Mom. Here are my self-care tips for new moms during those first weeks of maternity leave.
- Sleep. Sleep when your baby sleeps. No. Really. Try to do this! Don’t feel guilty about housework. Your sanity is more important. Folding the laundry can wait.
- Eat. As a new mom, I have the tendency to focus so much on feeding my baby that I forget to eat, or I end up eating junk food. It’s imperative to eat healthy, well-balanced meals regularly. By the way, if you want to visit someone who just had a baby, the nicest gift you can give is a meal. Whether it’s store-bought or home cooked, they will appreciate it.
- Bathe. Take care of your hygiene every day. A quick shower or warm bath can rejuvenate you. Trust me, you’ll feel better even if you don’t get a chance to leave the house.
- Exercise & Breathe. Get out of the house every day if you can. Have some time to yourself. Go for a walk, run an errand, go shopping. Give yourself some breathing room, enjoy a chance for some alone time. When your spouse is home from work or you have a friend who can watch your little one, switch off and take some time for yourself.
- Socialize. Try not to isolate. Call family or friends every couple of days. Join a mom’s group. It’s easy to forget that there is a whole world out there when you’re focused on your baby.
- Get Help. Postpartum depression is real. I have experienced it and it can happen to any new mother. If you notice changes in the way you’re feeling or have any symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor and get a referral if you need one. Know that you’re not alone. Let your family and friends know that you need help with everyday tasks too. You can call on your network of support simply by reaching out to your loved ones.
- “Appreciate and enjoy your baby.” At my baby shower, a family member said to me, “I wish I had taken more time to hold my baby. I got so caught up in ‘she needs to take a nap, then, I need to feed her’ [I wish I had spent time] to hold her just for the sake of holding her.” I enjoy cuddling with my daughter and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to just be together like that.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Do you have any self-care suggestions for new moms? Please share your ideas in the comments below. I suppose part of motherhood is remembering to be kind and forgiving to yourself as a new parent. There are many joys in raising your first child, just as there are many challenges. It’s up to you to find that healthy balance and what works best for your family. I’m still figuring it out for myself!
October 1 marked the five-year anniversary (yuck, there has to be a better word for this than “anniversary”) of my mother’s death. The grief of losing my mother is something that lives with me every single day, but it’s not something I easily discuss. In fact, a friend who has recently suffered a loss asked me how long it took me to get over my mom’s passing. I told her I’d let her know when that happens. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to write about the great sorrow and pain my siblings and I faced having to make some wretched decisions as well as suffer the loss of the person who was most influential in our lives, but not today.
My mom had many health issues, but also, I think, her health was affected by how much time she spent as a caregiver. You see, my mom had five kids, cared for my father for eight years after he fell ill (while her youngest children were still adolescents), and cared for her elderly mother who lived with us for the last eleven years of her life. She was always taking care of someone but usually not herself. This, sadly, seems to be a common problem among caregivers in our society, and our society is full of caregivers.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, “65.7 million caregivers make up 29% of the U.S. adult population providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged.” The Caregiver Action Network indicates that a caregiver is anyone who cares for loved ones with chronic conditions, disabilities, disease, or the frailties of old age.
Caregivers can help with anything and everything from shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, giving medicine, going to the toilet, bathing, dressing, eating, to providing company and emotional support. As MedlinePlus states: “Caregiving is hard, and caregivers of chronically ill people often feel stress. They are ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you’re caring for someone with mental problems like Alzheimer’s disease, it can be especially difficult. Support groups can help.”
November is National Caregiver month, according to the American Society on Aging. So it might be the perfect time to start thinking of ways to look out for any caregivers you know (including yourself if you are one). Just about all the organizations linked to in this post have resources for caregivers and family and friends of caregivers. You may also wish to try some books such as: The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook, American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Family Caregiving, Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide. Remember, caregivers in our lives spend so much time and energy on others, like my mother did, we should try to help them, especially when it comes to taking care of themselves.
Whether acrimonious or amicable, divorce ranks among life’s most traumatic and life-altering experiences. Divorce means grieving multiple losses while simultaneously balancing all the other areas of your life that have suddenly been thrown into a tailspin. Financial crises, legal problems, and custody arrangements are just a few of the headaches divorce can bring. On top of that, your day-to-day responsibilities and obligations don’t disappear just because your world is falling apart.
Divorce can be devastating, leaving even the strongest and most level-headed among us reeling. According to psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe’s Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), a questionnaire created to identify major life stressors, divorce is ranked among the the top two of stressful life events, second only to the death of a spouse or partner. Elizabeth Bernstein, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, reports that it takes a solid two years to recover from a divorce or similar loss, and to find your new normal.
Self-care is essential as you deal with your divorce. Why is self-care so important? Because the high levels of stress experienced during this time can wear down your body and leave you at higher risk for health problems. Focusing on your complete wellness and practicing regular, nurturing acts of self-care can increase self-esteem and foster a sense of control during a time when you may feel helpless.
It’s important to be patient and gentle with yourself throughout the stages of divorce. Some days, it may take all the energy you have just to get out of bed and take a shower. Other days, you’ll feel stronger and braver; those are the days you may want to add simple healthy habits to your self-care routine.
- Sleep. Dealing with divorce is exhausting, so this is very important. An old fashioned mug of warm milk with a sprinkle of nutmeg or a cup of chamomile tea can help to relax you and make it easier to fall asleep. A soothing bubble bath can also encourage sleep and ease aches and pains. “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure,” Sylvia Plath famously wrote, “but I don’t know many of them.”
- Move. Amble around the block or shake your groove thing in the privacy of your living room. Go ahead, no one but your cat knows that you fancy yourself the next Dancing Queen and the cat’s not talking. Physical activity can help to discharge negative emotions and soothe stress.
- Eat. That is, eat well. You’ve heard it all before– increase your intake of fruits and veggies, consume lean proteins, and drink plenty of fluids. Fuel your body with nutritious foods. Stay away from the processed stuff and try to avoid making a regular date with Ben & Jerry or Sara Lee every Saturday night.
- Get out. Speaking of Saturday night, get out of the house for a night out! Take a Sunday morning Zumba class, or a Tuesday afternoon book club. Divorce may lead to severed social ties and feelings of isolation, so you may have to work extra hard to step out of your comfort zone and make new connections. There is a link between social connectedness and enhanced health and well-being. Doing something fun with other people can provide a healthy outlet for all that stress. If you’re feeling brave you can even try groups like Meetup.org to find a variety of local clubs, fun activities, social events, and support groups.
- Find your bliss. Do something for yourself. Reinvent yourself even. Now is the time to get in touch with who you are. Rediscover old interests or explore new activities. Howard County Library System is a treasure trove of educational resources, with books and DVDs on subjects ranging from watercolor painting and organic gardening to mountain climbing and wine appreciation, in addition to a wide variety of instructive and enlightening free classes. As George Eliot wisely said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
- Get Help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek out professional help from your physician or a mental health care provider. Remember, recognizing when we need help is a sign of strength. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
These tips are a friendly reminder of the things you can do nurture yourself during or after a divorce. Nothing can make the stress of divorce magically dissipate, but focusing on simple, small acts of self-care can increase your feelings of control over your circumstances while at the same time enhancing your health and elevating your sense of well-being.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and is not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.References
Bernstein, Elizabeth. After Divorce or Job Loss Comes the Good Identity Crisis. Wall Street Journal, 2013.
Tennant, Victoria. The Powerful Impact of Stress. School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, 2005.
McLeod, S. A. (2010) SRRS – Stress of Life Events – Simply Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/SRRS.html