Happy Birthday To Me!!!

It’s my birthday!!! That’s right. Today is my birthday and I’m going to treat myself, like I always do on my birthday. I loooove celebrating my birthday.  I throw my own birthday parties, take the entire week off of work and splurge on myself. I treat myself to things I usually don’t do…… ultimately I truly enjoy my birthday.

In looking back to how I’ve celebrated in the past, I now see that I’ve celebrated so much on my birthday because I celebrate myself so little the other 364 days of the year. A one-time quick celebration doesn’t actually help the 70 hour work weeks and constant stress.

But this year, I don’t feel the need to take a full week off of work or disengage from the norm in order to relax or celebrate. I’ve been thinking about it and I believe it’s not because I don’t want to enjoy my birthday. Believe me, I love me some me and I love celebrating me! But I think the reason I don’t feel the need to retreat is because I’m actually taking pretty good care of myself.

So what is good self-care? Most people can’t answer that because we are too busy living our lives to take proper care of ourselves. The best way to implement good self-care is with consistent daily habits. Here is a list of some good ideas for self-care. These ideas seem very simple and you may be tempted to roll your eyes or move on to the next blog because you don’t need to read this. But there’s a reason I’m writing about this. Because as simple as it may seem, we just don’t do it. So here goes……….

1) Eat food that is good for you. Most of us cringe at good food because we automatically assume that we won’t enjoy it. Eating is one of my favorite hobbies but I have slowly made changes that have been extremely beneficial. A small change like juicing in the morning for breakfast or snacking on almonds instead of candy can make long-lasting differences.

2) Work-out. Exercise is one of the most underrated types of self-care. Just a quick walk in the morning or at lunchtime can help clear your mind and help with chronic medical problems. We all know that exercise releases endorphins but research also shows that exercise increases production of serotonin and norepinephrine which reduces depression and stress.

3) Go to bed. Getting good sleep is an important goal. If you’re consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep then you are sleep deprived. Make it a point to stop whatever you’re doing and go to bed early. Or close your office door for about 15 minutes and take a power nap.

4) See a doctor. We make sure that we take our kids and our pets to the doctor but we don’t see the importance of it for ourselves. It is important to set aside time to get the medical attention you need. Prevention is much easier than treatment.

5) Unplug. Some people have a weekend away with no electronics which is amazing! You may not be able to do that but simple strategies like screening your calls, turning off your computer and phone for an evening will help you to unplug and unwind.

6) Compliment yourself. Take time out of your day to really appreciate your physical beauty, accomplishments, values and talents.

7) Do something fun. That might be reading a book, going to a museum or splurging a little on yourself. Life is too short not to have a little fun!

8) Take time off of work! ** this is my favorite one** Statistics show that Americans use only 50% of their vacation time. I hate to burst your bubble, but you are not that important! If you skip a day at work, the sky isn’t going to fall. And you’ll probably be more productive in the long run if you take time off occasionally.

If you’re doing all of these, you are taking very good care of yourself. If you’re not, then pick just one to start with and go from there. Remember, how you treat yourself sets the standard for how others will treat you.

Emotional Fitness

“Let go of your stress and smile!” shouted the aerobics instructor over the loud music as she cheerfully encouraged the class to follow her lead. My first couple of negative thoughts were, “Are you kidding me? I’m lucky I made it here, and I’m not in a good mood because I’m really behind on several things that I had to set aside just to make it to class!” I won’t go into detail about my other negative thoughts but suffice it to say that I was tired, irritated, and stretched beyond capacity. As I mustered through the workout I wondered, “How did I let this happen?” I’m usually very good at time management but somehow I slipped this time around, and I was not in a good place.

Have you ever been there too?  You know, where your thoughts are racing a million miles a minute, time is running out, and it seems there’s absolutely nothing you can do to catch up???

As I looked around the room, I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing. There were a few individuals who looked intense—those who were at the front of the class—but others seemed to actually be enjoying themselves in the moment. I’m usually part of that latter group but not today. What happened?

Thinking back over the week, I began to realize where I detoured: I watched a little extra TV a few days, I volunteered to help a friend at the last minute, and one night I stayed up late surfing the Web. While none of these things are detrimental in and of themselves, when added together they inevitably worked against me. Although I had fun doing each of them at the time, in the end I paid for it—dearly. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place.

Yet right on time my compassion reflex kicked it and as I sent myself positive messages (“You made a good choice to focus on your health,” and “You are getting back on track”), I felt my mind and body slowly begin to let go of the anxiety and tension, and I was able to focus on the workout with thoughts of getting healthy and feeling better. Once I realized I didn’t feel so stressed, I began enjoying myself and wouldn’t you know it—I actually smiled. I guess the aerobics instructor wasn’t too far off after all.

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Reflecting back later that day, I recalled two important life skills: boundaries and mindfulness.

While exercising relieves stress and keeps us physically fit, practicing boundaries and mindfulness results in improved emotional fitness. When we establish healthy boundaries, we inevitably protect ourselves, which enables us to be responsible stewards over such things as our time. In turn, having healthy boundaries frees us up to practice mindfulness—having the capacity to be present in the moment and to connect with our senses and the environment around us. Good self-care not only includes taking care of our physical bodies but also requires active management of our emotional health. When we make both priorities, we ultimately safeguard our well-being which results in a manageable and balanced life. Are we always going to be perfect in practicing good self-care? No, my account above shows anyone can make a mistake from time to time, but the key is to recognize when you begin to take a detour and then take intentional steps to re-route yourself back to the skills that will help you to restore your emotional fitness.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!