Monday, October 27, 2014

Speak Now!

Another from a series of pieces I wrote while in a writer's group. Like my "Get Stubborn with It!" there is also a "call to action" style in this piece.

Speak Now! Stop holding the peace.  You know what you want to say, yet you don’t say it. You tell us, “He doesn’t know what I want. . . . She won’t give me what I need,” when really you just need to open your mouth and fucking Say It Already.   Stop with the “He should have known.  I shouldn’t have to say anything.”  What, is your beloved a mind reader, galactivating the universe through a collapsed space-time continuum?  Highly doubtful. It’s time to give up the “he should know.”  Fuck that.  Spit it out.  How fulfilled do you want to be in your life?  How much do you really want to get what you really want? How long do you want to wade in the cesspool of dissatisfaction, building case after case against your beloved? How many hours have you spent painting illusions of mediocrity when you could have found the greatness in your connection?

And maybe you don’t know what you want, then start with, “I don’t know” and keep talking.  Explore the possibilities.  Say the things that feel scary, squeaky, that creak out of the marrow of your bones and bleed into the air.  Get vulnerable.  You have nothing to lose.  Seriously.  What, your pride?  It’s on the high road to explosion anyway.  Might as well go for the slow-air squeeze while you’re still vaguely in control.  And hey, you might even get what you want.

And maybe you did speak.  Or maybe it was a demand.  If don’t get what I  want, then . . . then what? Maybe you just need to state what you want and go from there.  Maybe it should be, “What I’d really like is . . . “ And then see how you can set your partner up for success.  How can you both win?  How can you get what you want and your partner feels joy over collaborating with you to make that happen?

Or do you like setting up your partner for failure?  Do you want to see them mired in darkness?  Are you playing that small that you would both lose in this game of love?  And then you can go back to your fantasies of find the perfect mate, but never succeeding.  Of course, you won’t succeed.  You’re not yet playing a game where all the chess pieces are one color on the same-colored board, and each move has you become delightfully embroiled in a deliciously perplexing problem.  After all, you can’t lose if you’re playing on the same team.

So step it up.  Raise the bar.  Get out of your own way and speak your truth.  Set your beloved up to listen to you in the way that you most desire: with openness, compassion, generosity.  Then get vulnerable and share your desires.  Expose the places that feel dark, so you don’t have to sit in them all alone.  It’s an honor to be there with you, to be so trusted that you come to me, bare to the bones, as small as a child.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually glow in the light of love that you have created together instead of that endless drone of complaints.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

20 Tips for Reducing Anxiety

Photo by Mariana Zanatta -
 licensed through Creative Commons
Tip#1: Exercise
Tip#2: Hydrate
Tip#4: Your Caffeine Intake
Tip#5: Monitor Alcohol Intake
Tip#6: Monitor Refined Sugar
Tip#7: Plan Your Menu
Tip#8: Work with Your Mind
Tip#9: Scan your Body
Tip#10: Complete Unfinished Emotional Business
Tip#11: Meditation Practice
Tip#12: Get Massage or Body Work Done
Tip#13: Relax Your Body through Heat
Tip#14: Talk to a Professional
Tip#15: Emote!!
Tip#16: Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Tip#17: Anxiety and Young Children
Tip#18: Get Outside!
Tip#19: Get Distracted
Tip#20: Less Screen Time
Through my own experience, anxiety can be very debilitating. At first I didn't even realize what was happening. I was overwhelmed with nausea, insomnia, hot flashes. I thought it was my hormones even though I'm nowhere near peri-menopausal. I went through hormone and thyroid testing until my doctor suggested I take an anxiety workshop. The workshop itself was only the beginning of my journey around anxiety. Over the past two years, I've uncovered many tidbits that have not only had me feel less anxious, but virtually eliminated my anxiety altogether. Whenever I start to get a tinge of it in my body, I immediately turn to the tips below and am able to work through my tension without it escalating.
Throughout my journey, I also knew I wanted to work through my own anxiety without any sort of medications. My discoveries took a few years, but over time, I've realized that they work. I'd love for others to benefit from my hard-earned tips. Please let me know if they do.
Lastly, I am certainly not a doctor or therapist. I'm a working mother, wife, and friend who has gone down into the hells of anxiety and returned to tell the tale.
Photo by Mariana Zanatta - licensed through Creative Commons
Do at least 15-20 minutes of sweat-inducing exercise each day. You don't need to get to the gym; sometimes that's even more stress-inducing. You can find a short amount of time to walk - perhaps from your car to work or work to your car. You can put on music and boogie wildly around your house. You could do yoga or jump rope, find stairs to climb up and down.
I discovered a fabulous app called You are Your Own Gym. Sometimes I do 16 minute sweat-inducing workouts that require ZERO gym equipment. My 3 year old sometimes tries to get in on the action, too! There's not yet the toddler or preschooler version of You Are Your Own Gym, but I hope Mark Lauren creates those.
Photo by The Shopping Sherpa - licensed through Creative Commons
I've found that hydration is really important for my body. When I'm not hydrated, my body simply doesn't function as well, and that means it's more receptive to stress in my life.
I know everyone is different, so I don't have specific quantities to recommend. I truly think it relates to your physical constitution, time of year, and how much exercise you're getting. Instead, I recommend drinking enough water (not herbal teas or other drinks) to feel well-hydrated (pee should be clear or light straw-colored).
If you are feeling dehyrdated, add emergen-c or nuun electrolytes (no sugar in these). I always try to keep the sugar content down, so double check sugar quantities on drinks like gatorade.
The second piece of this is that when I don't sleep well, I find I want to reach for more caffeine. If I still limit caffeine but hydrate really well, I find I actually have more energy. It's definitely something for you to experiment with.
Tip#3: Sleep!
Get enough sleep. How do you gauge that? I find if I'm constantly waking tired, then I look at my sleep. If I'm constantly getting six hours a night, then I know it's not enough. Chronic sleep stresses out my body and makes everything more difficult.
If I'm suffering from insomnia, then I look at a few things. First, how much caffeine am I drinking and when was my last caffeine intake? Secondly, am I getting exercise? Exercise almost always makes me sleep better. Thirdly, am I hydrated? Again, my body can't relax well when I am not hydrated. Next, I look at what's going on in my life. See my tip below about unfinished business. What conversations do I need to have? Lastly, if I can't actually sleep, then I focus on relaxing my body. Look at my meditation tip. I absolutely love the free iPhone Yoga Nidra Lite app. Sometimes I plug myself into it and listen to it over and over - which usually has me fall asleep. At the very least, it relaxes my body.
How much caffeine do you drink? If you're feeling anxious, slowly wean yourself off of caffeine. Move from coffee to black tea to green tea to white tea. Each incremental change will lessen your caffeine intake. If you're looking for good substantive substitutes, try Rooibos (red tea) or Revolution Tea's Honeybush Caramel. Both are delicious and full-bodied.
Photo by Toshiyuki IMAI licensed through Creative Commons
How much alcohol do you drink each day? International drinking guidelines suggest drinking no more than one serving of alcohol a day and two servings for a special occasion. In addition, alcohol and anxiety have been linked in many studies. So, while you might think that 3-4 beers is going to help you out, it does backfire in the long run. In addition, as I see it, drinking alcohol doesn't actually mean you've done the work you need to do in order to work through your anxiety. The real work is around taking care of your body, monitoring your stress, and guiding your mind out of negative ruts.
Check labels whenever possible and monitor your refined sugar intake. You'd be surprised at how much sugar is in processed foods! While you can get immediate short-term energy from sugar, you also get the backlash - fatigue and sluggishness post-sugar. When your sugar levels skyrocket and plummet, your body can release adrenaline and cortisol which cause anxiety. So, as much as possible, stay away from sugar. Notice when you are craving it, and try to fill in the gaps with fruit (which also contains natural sugar, but is still a far sight better than refined sugar).
A little bit of menu-planning can provide many rewards. First, by planning 5-6 dinners in advance, you can make a grocery list, buy ALL of the ingredients, then know you have everything to make what you need. Secondly, you can actually make sure you have fresh food in your house. Thirdly, when your body is in a state of stress, it is always helpful to put healthy food into it. On the one hand, fast food is fast. On the other hand, it's not nearly as healthy as the food you can make at home. I personally love to visit Skinny Taste and Epicurious for simple recipes. When I eat better, I feel better, and that always helps with my anxiety.

Where do your thoughts go? Notice if you are looping on something that stresses you out. This means, are you having the same thoughts over and over and over again? Consider memorizing a short mantra (expression) that you can run through your mind instead of focusing on something that is stressful for you. I find a short mantra derails the negative thoughts and makes me feel a lot better.
A mantra can be something simple like a phrase from the bible or a short poem that you find inspiring. It could be an inspiring quote from someone you know or a famous person. Whatever it is, start reciting it silently (or out loud, if you need to!) when you find your brain is on the hamster wheel again.
Here's a great page with complete instructions in passage meditation and some sample passages. Some of the passages are pretty long. I find that 2-3 regular length lines are a good start. If a passage is too short, your mind can get bored and multi-task. If it's too long, it can be burdensome.
Throughout the day, do body scans. Where is your tension? Breathe into it deeply. Several times. Allow your body to let go. Don't be paranoid about the stress, instead be grateful. Your body is giving you important information about the world outside and inside of you. Perhaps you find certain situations or people stressful. Now is the time to breathe into that tension and then let it go.
Throughout the day, I take a look at where I have stress in my body and when it happens. Does it happen when I'm speaking to specific people? Do I need to resolve anything with them? Does it happen in certain locations? What are my associations there? Where is the tension in my body? What does it feel like? Tight? Tingly? Hot? I put my attention there, try not to resist anything, and then breathe and let go. With each millimeter of stress I release, I congratulate myself for letting go.

Here is a method for letting go of stress. Take a deep breath and fill your lungs. Hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly exhale. At the bottom of the breath, hold for 2-3 seconds, then slowly inhale. This is one cycle. Do 20-40 cycles, and I guarantee you will feel more relaxed and grounded afterwards.
What conversations and unfinished business do you have with people around you? I often feel that "unfinished business" weighs us down and stresses us out. Take time to make a list and see what people you need to talk to. See what conversations approaches you must have and where you are nitpicking. If you are unable to talk to that person, then write him/her a letter. Let go of what isn't serving you!
Consider a meditation practice. Some meditations are minutes long (like passage meditation) whereas others could last 30 minutes or more. One meditation practice I like is an iPhone app called Yoga Nidra Lite. It's free and contains a 10 minute meditation. In fact, I liked it so much, I actually bought the full version which has 30, 20, and 10 minute variations. Check it out:Yoga Nidra App
Photo by spookytw licensed through Creative Commons
Get some massage, bodywork, or acupuncture done. For discounted bodywork, check out:
*Community acupuncture for dirt cheap.
*Massage schools for discount massage.
*Look at groupon/google/Amazon local deals for discounted bodywork.
If you can't afford it, create your own massager! Use two tennis balls taped together. Put them side by side and tape together with duct tape or filament string tape to make a tennis ball back massager. Here's a great tutorial on how to make a tennis ball back massager. After it's made, Lie on the ground on top of the balls and run the balls up and down your spine (alongside your spine). The balls have perfect placement to release stress. A single tennis ball used between you and a wall can also be great for working out knots.
If you can't get to a hot tub or take a bath, use a hot water bottle or heating pad. Sit down and use this on your back to help you relax. The name of the game is letting go of stress. I find it really helps me to unwind. Sometimes the heat also has me ONLY focus on the heat and nothing else that's going on in my mind.
This is also a great way of doing a meditation. The heat is relaxing, your mind is focused on it, and you are able to actually let go of the outside world. This is really key in working through anxiety.
Consider talking to a therapist/counselor/social worker. I found it invaluable to work with a social worker throughout my anxiety. She was absolutely amazing in listening and reframing my challenges. I no longer felt so alone, plus I got some good tips about working through my busy life as a full-time working mother, wife, friend, and daughter.
Many cities have low-income counseling available if your funds are limited. Also check your insurance to see what they offer. At the very least, check out this anxiety handbook. It has many great exercises for you to pinpoint what's going on in your life and why you are experiencing anxiety.

Cry. Yell. Scream. Let go of stress. Don't hold it in. This all burrows down into your body and stays there . . . until you are willing to let it out. Find a place to let go, be that in your car, into your pillow, or outdoors in some remote spot. When you are there, let 'er rip. Don't be shy. Likely, no one is watching you.
Do social activities leave you feeling energized or depleted? Add or take away as needed. Sometimes we feel totally obligated to attend events, see people, and socialize. For some of us (like me), I can come away feeling depleted and overwhelmed. For others, NOT getting out means feeling lackluster and anxious. If you're not sure where you stand, check out a Myers-Briggs test online.
Having young children can be amazing and exhausting. If they are just learning to crawl or walk, you're on the go as much as they are. As another mother said to me, "So much joy; so tiring." If you have young children, consider books like The Preschooler's Busy Book or The Toddler's Busy Book to help keep your children occupied when you need a break. Also consider - if you can afford it - helpers like you might find through Urban Sitter and for odd jobs, Task Rabbit. Lastly, find out where the closest parks and playground are, so you all can get outside.
Photo by Sweetplove
Get outside and if possible, go to nature. Check out the parks in your neighborhood. See where the closest lake, stream, river is. Are there trees nearby? Go to them. At the very least, feel the wind on your face instead of being inside all day. I find if I can get away from the craziness of the city, my whole body relaxes. If it's possible to take my shoes off and walk on the earth or grass, then I try to do that, too.
This may sound like a strange suggestion, but sometimes we are so caught up in our anxiety that it's hard to snap out of it. In these cases, I find that watching an uplifting movie like Up can actually be helpful. That movie in particular has always left me feeling better than when I started watching it.
Another possibility is getting out and seeing some live performance. Goldstar has some great discounts and a weekly email.
Screen time is stimulating, there's no doubt about it, and these days, we spend a lot of time checking our phones and tablets and computers.  There's less down time.  Take some time to become conscious of how much you're checking your screen, then make some choices.  Start with meal times.  Stop checking your phone then.  Think about bedtime.  At least an hour before sleep, turn off the screen.  Take a bath.  Stretch.  Read a book.  Journal.  Find something else to do that just isn't so "on."

I'm Going for Less Screen Time and More Choice

It's lunch time, and my three year old is sitting peacefully munching on a sandwich.  It's one of those rare moments when I feel like I can catch my breath.  I'm not slathering almond butter on sandwiches, unstacking the dishwasher, or trying to throw one more load of laundry in before I get to sit down to eat.  Then I feel the pull.  It doesn't occur as a conscious, Let's see what's going on in FB-land; moreover, it's this magnetic sensation emanating from my phone.  Certainly someone has texted me in the last 15 minutes.  Another email coming in?  What about the provocative yet annoying conversation about gender on FB? And then I remember that we have a new family agreement: no screen time during meal times.  Thankfully, this feels more important than actually checking my phone - and truly, I don't have any urgent messages coming in that I know of . . . So I sit with my son and we eat and banter, and life feels a little bit more spaciousness than before.  If you're reading this, and you're one of those people whose life is chockerblock full from moment to moment, then you can appreciate this.

When did life get so full?  And how does having a smartphone/tablet/laptop seem to fill life up even more?  How we can teach our kids about having more spaciousness and choice in their lives?  Where does it begin?  I think it begins right here.  Now.  It begins with actually turning off the phone and not answering the pull to check check check. I think it begins with the following:

Create a vision about what you want around screen time. What does that look like?  Why even do this?  If it doesn't bother you, then there's no point in changing it. If your friends, family, loved ones have complained, then you might reconsider what you're doing.  If you're always feeling "on," then you might reconsider what you're doing.  If you want to be pulled in fewer directions, then you might reconsider. 

When do you want to be pulled away by your phone? How often? And for how long? Get specific and make a plan.

Start with noticing.  When do you check your phone? In line? In the bathroom? (David Sedaris has a great piece on this.) When you eat?  While driving? At stoplights?  With friends?

The second part of this is noticing when it's work-related.  With so many people working part-time or full-time from home, it's easy to have few boundaries around work-related phone-checking. You might consider actually setting up work hours from home otherwise you can be on the clock practically 24/7.  You might also have focused hour chunks of e-mail only time.  Social-media only time. 

The third part is why do you check you phone?  Aside from work, is it for entertainment purposes? Informational?  Desire to feel connection (i.e. social media)? Educational? To get off?  This is a great place to notice the reasons behind what's pulling you. (It might even be the oxytocin rush you get from checking your phone.)

Elimination Communication.  You parents know what that means. In this case, it means choosing to eliminate specific times when you are checking your phone.  For obvious reasons, the car is a good beginning. Secondly, I'd recommend meal times. Here's an interesting overview of studies that have been done relating to families and meal times

Here's what we do in our house.  Ringers are turned off, and phones are placed in a different room - or at the very least off the table.  This means, our attention is not pulled away by the swoosh, ring, or ding of the phone.  This also means we don't or won't spontaneously look up king python images or figure out if snakes really do eat other snakes (note: we're on a snake rampage right now).  It can wait.  

Punishments and rewards.  For my husband, checking his phone during meal times means he can't drink milk.  If you knew how much he loves milk, you'd get what a sacrifice this could be.  You need to figure out what this means for you and your family.  No screen time later?  A screen time money jar?  A phone stack?  A large enough sum of money that goes to a friend if you break your promise? If you make it through a week without checking, then a treat? 

Consider alternatives. Now that you're not checking your phone or looking at a screen, what will you do? How about "15 Conversation Starters That Don't Suck"? Or exercise? Or simply sitting quietly and enjoying every mouthful of food that you eat?  

It seems to me that screen time today is what TV used to be for me growing up.  My parents certainly set limits on it.  Watching "The Incredible Hulk" or "Dukes of Hazzard" was a treat, not an entitlement.  The challenge right now is that screens can be used for so many things  not just pure entertainment.  It takes extra vigilance to notice when we default into using our phones and let it control us, not the other way around.  I certainly notice when I am constantly being pulled.  I notice when I'm not constantly checking my phone and how much more spacious I feel.  If nothing else, I know this is how I want my son to feel: to know he has choice, not obligation or entitlement, and to know he can feel open and spacious and creative without needing to be part of the hive mind (hive mind: probably a new blog post entirely).  For now, I'm going for less screen time and more choice.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Get Stubborn With It! The Relationship Manifesto or A Doctrine of Stubbornness

You want your relationship to work? You don’t know if you should stay together?  Get stubborn.  Stop the whining.  Take a stand for your commitment.  It doesn’t matter if you made it near an isolated lake with five thousand humping frogs in chorus or in front of two hundred of your closest friends and relatives.  You made it.  You spoke your word.  Is your commitment that small that you would leave now that things have gotten hard?  And by hard, I don’t mean, “We’re fighting over domestic duties again.  We’re not having enough sex.  We wish we had money”.  By hard, I mean your soul has been gutted from your body and you’re looking for a triple-soul-bypass.  That’s hard.

We’re in a time when people have lots of friends, lots of lovers, lots of relationships, sometimes at the same time and sometimes serially.  We pride ourselves for having “tribe” and “community,” but when it comes to dropping naked to the core and sitting in the fire with someone, we shy away.  We whine, It’s too hard.  It’s not supposed to be like this.  I say, Fuck that.  Get more stubborn.  Get real about why you’re not with someone.  If you like your freedom, great.  But if you want a partner, stop the bullshit, and start loving someone when the fiery hormones of lust subside, when the first honeymoon year has gone by, when you’re wondering how you managed to find the person who touches you in the best and worst possible ways.  Then you make it work.

And maybe you are making it work.  Maybe  you are still rising up into it day after day, hour after hour.  You’ve gotten stubborn.  You’re asked yourself what you really want to create with your partner.  You’ve asked yourself,  Where are the dark places?  And I ask you, What abyss have you fallen into and have you crawled out of it yet?  Are you wading in the shit?  Are you willing to get clean and then get dirty again?  Because in  relationship you’re guaranteed for both the good and bad times to cycle in and out.

I heard a song the other day wherein the singer sang about his wife - questions she hadn’t asked and he wished she had, deep moments of tenderness and disappointment they had shared together and I thought, Where are all the other songs about the complexity of relationship - not just first love or firey breakup, but the meat.  The work.  The depth.  Who has crawled down into the underworld and returned, like Orpheus, with triumph and loss?  

I want to know the tragedy of your tale and also the brilliance.  
I want to know your stubborn heart said, Fuck it, I’m not giving up.  
I want to know who is a champion of love when they felt like a loser.  
I want to know what you did when you felt like all was lost, yet somehow you found your way back to your beloved, through sleepless nights and joyless days.  
How did you do it?  
How stubborn did you get?  
What mantra did you repeat daily, hourly, sometimes every minute, to cross back over the River Styx and say Fuck you to Hades?  
What song did you sing to weep through your tears or burn through your anger - to make it back through to your lover?  

Did your friends “have your back” or did they suddenly tell you that they had thought you two were better off apart anyway.  

Fuck them and get stubborn.

Did anyone tell you that relationships are totally made up?  That you can have the relationship you want?  This is not some school boy dream of hot for teacher, but two individuals who have vision and decide what they want together.  Did anyone tell you you should never compromise for love?  Are they in a relationship and how long has that one lasted?  You don’t want to compromise, then marry yourself.  You will be your own perfect love.  No one is a duplicate and if they were, would you really want to know their exact move, exact desire, exact action, word, thought, dream all of the time?  Or do you want to revel in the differences that exist between the two of you?  Marvel at the possibility that new perspectives can and could open up for you?  That you don’t have to be stuck in the same routine, eating oatmeal and drinking coffee every morning.  

You say, So what if I like my oatmeal and coffee in the morning.  And I say, That’s one meal.  Do you want every meal to be the same?  Hell, no.  And that’s why I want you to tell me where you’re different, where the differences feel like scintillating questions and where they feel like  worrying nails, nagging at the corners of your brain because there will always be differences.  What you do with them is get curious.  And when you can’t get curious, you get stubborn.  

Then there are the times when you simply need to get creative.  You’ve looked through the books.  You’ve gone to the therapist.  You’ve talked to your friends, your mother, your colleagues.  Sometimes when you’re at your wit’s end, you get stubborn and the creativity flows.  the “what if we did . . . “ comes in.  The crazy ideas are there.  Talk about them.  Use them as a starting point for something else.  The first ideas are usually not the best ones, but they’re something.  Anything.  Don’t just think outside of the box, destroy it.  Think trapezium, rhomboid, tetrahedron, then get creative and don’t stop.  

You might be asking yourself, okay, so why would I want to get stubborn?  What’s in it for me?  Why burn my ass in the fire?  Relationship is the chance you get to strip down naked to your core and find out what mettle you’re truly made of.  Relationship is the opportunity to get as close to another human being as humanly possible, something you haven’t felt since you were born and lay nestled in your mother’s arms.   It’s a chance to find out where your edges really are and find out how malleable they are.  It’s chance to set boundaries, then re-visit them, and set them anew.  It’s a chance to give your word and hold it again and again like an anchor in a restless sea when you feel unmoored, anxious, restless within yourself and ready to jump ship.    It’s a chance to surrender into fear, sadness, anger, joy, and love more deeply than you’re ever felt.  And if you’ve never felt those that deeply, true intimacy will give you that chance again.  It’s a chance to let someone else melt under the weight of their own being while you still hold them perfect and human and in turn, watch yourself shatter into bits,  have someone help you pick up the bits and solder them back together one by one.

Those are the diamonds amidst the coal.  Some are obvious.  Some rest below the surface.  Some require a pickaxe and stubborn effort to reach, but through the blood, sweat, and tears, exists a world of possibility.  It’s yours for the taking if you want it.  The question is, How badly do you want it? What are you willing to do to have it? And when you get it, what will you do?  Bend like a broken willow near a stream, or take the strongest stand you’ve ever taken for you, your beloved, and perhaps the world.

7 Reasons Women Don't Want to be Called Sexy (And 3 Ways to Know if She Does)

Embed from Getty Images -- Originally published on The Good Men Project. In the age of #metoo, how do men handle random interaction...