What Does it Mean to Live Well?

What does it take to live well? First it takes an awareness that there is something flat and off key and you know it could be better. Maybe it is prioritizing an important relationship that you realize is stagnant. You could jump start that, you don’t have to wait for the other to make the first move. Or it could be that you finally ran out of excuses for not beginning that exercise program, and you know you have to start. And why not now? And you do. It might be time to take that first step to reconnecting with your spiritual life that you left behind when you left your parents’ home. You remember there was something essential and mysterious that touched you deeply and opened your heart. Maybe, a realization arises and you pick up the phone and make an appointment for a physical because you have been low on energy for far too long.

A flash of insight peaks through and you know that it is up to you to define and discover what it means to live well. Live well no matter what circumstances are present.

Deep bow of gratitude to the brave participants in the initial offering of a new program, Cultivate Health, Learn to Live Well with Cancer. A circle of people came together from the comfort of their homes to share in this webinar, to reflect, discuss and engage in thought provoking questions and exercises around what it means to each of them to live well.

Throughout the 6-week program each person was invited to engage in and reflect on several areas vital to living with more ease and wellbeing. These included stress management strategies that prioritized working with habits of thinking and ways to challenge the negativity bias. Taking stock of social connections in order to define relationships that empower and energize rather than drain vitality and create stress. The latest research on ways to improve quality of sleep were discussed, as well as unlocking the vividness of the sensory world; participants discovered what a valuable resource our senses are.

Expanding vocabulary for feelings is a way to be with them that puts them in their proper place. No need to get swept up by emotions. This happens less when all feelings are acknowledged and can be just what they are, here, felt and then gone. You learn that feelings are temporary. This changing nature of life naturally led us to talk about death.

We reflected on ways to plan for and talk about desires for the end of life. When you relax the heart to the inevitable reality of death, a flood of energy creates a renewed sense of urgency for living. Knowing what you value is the foundation for what matters most.

It was a deep dive into patterns, barriers, aspirations, and the always present yearning of each of our beautiful, beating hearts.

Don’t wait, the time to live well is in the present. Not someday when all things are mapped out, certain or perfect. All an illusion. Life awaits your attention. Life is calling you to Cultivate Health and Live Well NOW.

 

The Pain of Perfectionism

The Pain of Perfectionism

The drive and need to be perfect is an obsession, particularly in society where looks are everything, mistakes can’t be tolerated and the impulse to blame is paramount. This is highly stressful and takes enormous energy to maintain. No wonder exhaustion and burnout are on the rise.

When the primary focus is on accomplishments, the continual striving  leaves little room for joy, wonder, or connection. When what is valued is accomplishing things, striving for more takes on added significance, leading to pushing yourself beyond what is truly necessary. You have completely forgotten you are a human being not a human doing. It is draining to feel under the gun in this way, and yet the escape route remains elusive. There is disconnection from what is truly meaningful.

Use this mindful checklist to see if you might be suffering from the energy zapping trait of perfectionism. This will take honest self-reflection, a willingness to look at habits and a desire to release the grip this has on you.

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Caring for Your Emotional Life

Where do emotions come from? Many of our emotions have to do with things that have happened in the past; situations, experiences, memories, or anticipating the future. Emotions also arise from how well we are regulating our body budget; an accounting of our bodies’ energy needs and what our brain predicts this means for our future. This is a cornerstone of the mind/body connection.

All emotions count, so it’s important to acknowledge  the full range of your emotions.

 We each experience emotions differently. How you create your emotional self-care plan will differ based on how you do or do not acknowledge your emotions. Gently turning toward your emotions, letting them surface, feeling and acknowledging them and then letting them go is the healthiest thing you can do for emotional care, and it’s not always easy. Those emotions you do not acknowledge show up in unexpected ways that may surprise you.

Since you are the one in charge of your emotional self; emotional self-care will depend on the practices and strategies you engage in. These should support and honor your emotions, connect you to your experience, and allow you to make meaning. Use this mindful checklist to create your personal emotional self-care plan to support emotional wellbeing.

Take inventory. What drains you? Look in this order; people, home tasks, work tasks, community. Teasing apart obligations  from those that are based in self-imposed shoulds can bring clarity to how you spend your time and with who

  • Consider people; do they bring life to your life or do they bring you down with negativity and criticism? Are they doom and gloom and gossipy or do they have a positive outlook and generous spirit? Stress and emotional reactivity are contagious and it’s easy to get swept away with negative emotional energy. Your time is limited, choose wisely the people you spend time with.

  • Homes tasks; look carefully at what really needs to be done and what would be nice to get done. The house doesn’t have to be spotless all the time, just because you can fix the plumbing doesn’t mean you have to. Let things be easier at home, it’s better to spend quality time with your family playing a game, communicating face to face or watching a movie together than holding yourself to a too high standard

  • Work tasks; this is a bit trickier, but still doable. What is absolutely necessary and what can you say no to? Learning to set boundaries is an essential skill of time management and emotional self-care. If this is an area of difficulty for you, reach out for help with a life coach or mental health provider, your physical and emotional health will thank you.

  • Community; it feels good to share your gifts and skills in the community, but not if it comes at the expense of your emotional health and wellbeing. Use discernment regarding what you want to contribute versus time available. Just because you’ve done something in the past, does not mean you need to keep doing it now.

Be honest as you self-reflect, what really drains you?

What brings you energy? Again, look in this order people, home, work, and community. Identifying what brings energy and making room for those people and activities gives a positive boost to emotional self-care. Emotions are transmittable, both positive and negative so it’s time well spent to reflect on who, what and where brings energy to your life.

Take time to pause. This doesn’t have to be a big deal, it can be as simple as stopping and taking a few conscious breaths, opening awareness to body sensations first, then to what’s around you and in that moment acknowledge that you are okay right here, right now. Learning mindfulness meditation helps you become aware of the gap you can step into and honestly see what is happening.

Manage sleep. Often overlooked, but of vital importance, sleep is needed for restoring the body systems to homeostasis. This in turn gives you resources for acknowledging all emotions and responding rather than reacting to them.

These are just a few ideas for emotional self-care, and a good start. To learn more about specific emotions and corresponding mindful checklists continue reading past blogs posts and gain further insight into ways to care for yourself and your emotions with self-compassion and honest self-reflection.

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by my self.”

– Brian Andreas

 

 

 

 

Mindful Checklist: Stay Present in the Middle of Overwhelm

It’s that magical time of the year when twinkle lights tickle our fancy and an air of excitement and expectation swirl through each day. Holiday season brings out the best and worst. Sometimes we fantasize about just skipping the whole thing and heading to a warm beach or lake and pretend its summer again. The thought floats through the mind, “wake me up when it’s over so I can get back to my  routine.”

Feeling overwhelmed arises at various times of life, but increases at the holidays. Expectations increase at work, home, school, and community, and sweep you up causing a disconnect from what is most important. Some of these expectations are real and some are self-imposed. It’s valuable to create time to pause and consider what is necessary versus what would be nice.

One thing to be on the look-out for is the energy that overwhelm brings. One side of the overwhelm coin can be  high energy that feels addictive as you go and go some more, and keep going never pausing to take a breath. This can also be contagious when you gather and hear everyone swapping stories about how busy they are. This energy can also be transmitted  when you compare yourself to others and then try to keep up.

Another side of the coin, is paralysis, where the feeling of overwhelm stays inside your thoughts and keep you from acting. The to-do list gets longer and longer and yet you can’t find the energy to take action. This is highly stressful!

The feeling of overwhelm shows up in many facets of life during the holidays; family, finances, traditions, travel, eating, drinking, and friendships. If left to exist outside awareness, it can lead to stress related illnesses.

Overwhelm does not have to be par for the course at the holiday season. What can you do to stay grounded and connected during this season of increased expectations? Use this mindful checklist and discover ways to remain present and true to intention of the season, the payoff might be increased joy.

  • First things first; take a few slow deep breaths, paying attention to the exhale as tension is released from the body.

  • Notice if you complain or voice feelings of overwhelm to friends and family. This could be a sign you are off track.

  • Notice if you compare yourself to others.

  • Be intentional. This applies to eating, drinking, shopping, spending, family, travel and community and work obligations. This means being in touch with how you want to be in relationship to these things rather than unconsciously reacting. Setting intention in this way will set your brain to seek out what you intend.

  • Be kind to yourself. There are increased expectations that impact your schedule and take more energy.

  • Get plenty of sleep. A crucial and often overlooked resource.

  • Set boundaries and say no. Easier said than done, but you can pause and decide if this is truly something that you want and/or need to do. The key here is the pause. Ask yourself, “what do I want to contribute and experience?  Do I have the time and the resources?  

  • Notice if you are trying to take care of too many people. Friends, family and co-workers are often more capable than we think they are.

  • Remember the intent behind the season. It is a time of celebration and reflection. Make room in your schedule to listen for silence.

“Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us. “ - Marcus Buckingham

Mindful Checklist for Pausing; Step Into the Gap

 

Pause. Right Here. Right Now. When you stop, and pause you make room for yourself to be in life. You contact yourself and see what you think, feel, need, and desire. The pause allows you to care for yourself and honor your experience.

It is said that  pausing is the beginning of all healing practices. So, when you step into the space that pausing allows you begin to heal yourself of strife, anxiety, and overwhelm.  You release tension in the body even if only for a moment. This is not easy to do because you are either being pushed along in life or find yourself rushing into life, and both instances create a push/pull dynamic that is exhausting. You are caught in the middle of life.

Contraction and tension become the norm as you work hard to take care of all that needs to be cared for.  This dynamic is unsustainable and creates a pervasive sense of unease and sometimes dissatisfaction. This stressful pushing and pulling is the on ramp to adverse health conditions. Give yourself the gift of learning to pause. Use this mindful checklist to stop, contact, breathe and make room for you to move through life with more ease.

  • Stop, literally slow down to a complete stop

  • Take a breath; deep inhale and slow continuous exhale. Do this a few times.

  • Know that you are here; feel your feet on the ground and the weight of your body.

  • Look up and out to the world; take in your surroundings with all of your senses. Notice what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, be in this experience.

  • Bring a slight smile to your face. This sends a message to your nervous system that all is okay.

  • Experience a sensation of settling within the pause; a feeling of being grounded and present.

  • Proceed after the pause, knowing you have stepped into a gap inside the busy day and allowed yourself a full stop.

  • Ask; what is it like to be present even for a few moments?

“Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

Guillaume Apollinaire

Mindful Checklist Gratitude: Freshen Up Your Thanks

Mindful Checklist Gratitude: Freshen Up Your Thanks

Thanksgiving now behind us, we are left with an uplifted spirit from pausing to say thanks and gathering for connection and tradition. We can help that experience linger with an intention to notice, pause, and say thank you. Gratitude can be a way of living every day, and is a foundational component of resilience.

 Gratitude is good for your health, both physical (immune system booster) and emotional (increased optimism and joy). The good news is it can be cultivated.

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Mindful Checklist Friendship

Mindful Checklist Friendship

Friendship, communing with another human being, especially when you feel seen, heard and understood is one of life’s rich and affirming gifts. We literally need one another. Friendship puts the soft edges on rough corners and we are worn smooth by friendly connections and belonging together.

Social support, such as friendship, is powerful medicine. Research shows that those with challenging and life-threatening illness rank social support in the top 9 factors that contribute to healing and thriving.

Use this mindful checklist to take inventory of your friendships and connections to consciously acknowledge their meaning and impact in your life.

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When Cancer Comes

   When Cancer Comes

There is a poem by Mary Oliver, When Death Comes that has called to me for the vivid picture it paints of facing into death; of embracing the hardest thing we will face. When anything difficult arises in life we tend to feel victimized, afraid and withdraw as the first response without having a fuller picture of our capacity to respond and adapt. This poem gives us a map. The first few stanzas are:

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

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