Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holidays are here!

Holidays are probably the most stressful time of year for most of us. It is a time when more people than ever are anxious about gift giving, worried about money, and/or are feeling lonely and depressed. Regardless of whether you are far away and alone, have lost a loved one, or are surrounded by loving family and friends, the holidays can take a toll on you physically, mentally and emotionally if you don't take care of yourself.

I always make it a point to take extra care of my physical body during the holidays. That's because I know that the added activity of having a second holiday job, attending parties, and worrying about money and family issues doesn't just affect a person mentally and emotionally. These issues really have an affect on you physically, so taking care of your body can fend off a lot of the mental and emotional fallout from holiday pressures. No matter how busy you are, find a few moments to stretch your muscles or take a brisk walk. Make it a point to make it to your yoga or exercise class, as moving your body releases endorphins that make you feel better emotionally.

When it comes to holiday eating, I'd say avoid sugar altogether, but I know how hard that can be when those lovely and naughty treats seem to appear everywhere, calling for just a taste. The problem with sugar is that it can leave you flat and tired after an hour or so, which can affect your emotions negatively and lead to a less than lovely mood. I recommend that you enjoy a little so you don't feel cheated, but do your best to keep sugary treats to a minimum. And don't forget the water. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and to throw off toxins that may build up in your system from holiday over-indulgences.

And most importantly, go easy on yourself. The holidays can really magnify the voice of our inner critic, especially when we feel we must live up to some expectation or another. So, this is a very important time to choose to give yourself a break and tell that inner voice that you are the one driving the car and it can sit in the back seat and be quiet. My friend, the truth is, you can't be all things to all people, so don't try. Live within your budget during this time and keep your gift giving to what you can afford. Scale back your activities a bit if you are feeling overwhelmed, and choose to say “no” to requests that you feel would add to your stress or consume too much of your time. Instead, add in those things that will relax you and relieve stress like a hot bath, a massage, a visit with a close friend, or an hour alone with a hot cup of tea and a good book. You'll be glad you did.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness not heavy stress. Choose to take good care of yourself during the holidays and you'll “stress” less and enjoy more.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What does it take to make you Happy?

This week, I have a question for you: What does it take to make you happy? Is it more money, spare time, good friends, a better job? Through my many years of advising clients, I have confronted a common theme regarding happiness. In fact, I've come across it so often that I've named it the “I'll be happy when …” syndrome. It is a very common expression that we have all said. “I will be happy when I don't have to get up at 5:30 am to catch the bus to work.” “I will be happy when my co-worker shows more respect for me.” “I will be happy when I get my new car.” And it goes on and on about a state of mind that remains in the future rather than in the here and now.

Happiness shouldn't be something dangling out there in the world of tomorrow or someday. It isn't a feeling to experience once something else happens. It is something to be experienced now, in this moment. While our anticipation or focus on the future is perfectly fine, connecting happiness to future events can cause us to miss out on any immediate opportunities for joy and fulfillment.

Happiness is more powerful when experienced as an immediate emotion than seen as a carrot to be sought after. Interestingly, many people find that when they place future conditions on happiness, even when those conditions are met, they don't feel the pleasure they had expected to. The key is to learn how to let go of the unknown future and the unchangeable past and allow the goodness of the moment to fill you with inner peace. The present moment is all that we have, and when you find meaning and satisfaction in the present, your future will take care of itself.

Happiness means feeling pleasure about what you have right this minute. In any given moment, if we try hard enough, we can find good and positive things to be happy about. Maybe it is simply that the sun is out and shining warmly on our skin or we are enjoying a nice cup of hot tea with a good friend. Or maybe after a tough day at work, we know we have done our very best, or we shared time with a child.

I hope that today you will acknowledge the many blessings in your life that make each moment a cause for joy and happiness. And I must warn you that happiness can be contagious, so you just might end up having a positive effect on those around you as well.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

How to Avoid the Holiday Blues

This time of year, visions of festive parties and gatherings come to mind. That's because we tend to have certain expectations of the holidays, which I feel are largely fueled by images from the television and big screen. When things don't turn out in this glamorous and lively manner, we may feel letdown. In reality, few people have lifestyles like those that we see in the media.

My friends often complain of experiencing empty and depressed feelings this season, even when they have lovely families and many dear friends. Over the years, I have developed some suggestions for coping with these feelings, which I'd like to share with you.

When feeling down, try contacting a friend you haven't spoken to in a while, attending a party with a close friend, or even visiting that crotchety old auntie who is probably secretly feeling lonely too. Choosing to get out there and be with people regardless of your situation can really help reduce feelings of loneliness.

The act of giving is also an effective way to lessen and even eliminate feelings of loneliness. When you choose to help others who cannot help themselves or who are less fortunate than you, you are connecting with your fellow man. Or even volunteering your time to your favorite charity can really put you back in the spirit of the holidays.

A final suggestion on my "avoiding the holiday blues" list is to take good care of yourself. Treat yourself to something special like going for a massage, indulging in your favorite hobby, or settling in with a favorite movie or good book. The trick is to lift your spirits and recreate your holiday in a way that is rewarding for you.

All my best wishes to you and your family for a lovely Holiday season!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Letters - A Personal Touch

In a world where technology, the Internet and email rule, many people have allowed their letter-writing skills to fall by the wayside. I find this sad because I remember when it was such a treat to reach into the mailbox and pull out a letter from a friend or family member and then to read what they've been up to and how they were doing. I really miss getting good letters but I refuse to accept that letter writing is completely dead!

Letters do something that quick social media posts often don't do. They provide a very personal and intimate communication between the sender and the receiver, one that has depth and personality. If you think about it, a good letter is basically a small essay with an introduction, a main focus, details and a closure. If you think about the topics you want to cover before you start the letter you'll write something more personal and friendly, and you'll likely not forget to include something you really wanted to share. By planning out your letter, I believe it will carry the energy of who you are and what you want to share far better than something dashed off in a rush.

Sending out letters is a great way to create a regular contact with distant friends and family members. A holiday or New Year's letter to family and friends is an opportunity to help those you care about catch up on your life and the lives of your family members: who graduated, who got married, when the new grandbaby arrived, as well as letting that person know you're thinking of them at a time when many people feel loneliest. You could truly make someone's holiday better with a cheery and informative letter.

If you have located someone you haven't seen in a very long time, like an old schoolmate, or a friend from your youth, sending a letter is a good way to break the ice all over again and let them know you are thinking of them even after all this time. A good reconnection letter can lead to a phone call and perhaps a renewed friendship.

I hope you still find time to write a letter here and there. There's just something wonderful about the tangible nature of a letter in your hand vs. an email on a screen. This isn't to say that electronic mail can't do something similar. I believe it can if only people would treat writing their emails to friends and families like they would writing a good old-fashioned letter.

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