Everyday Grace

thoughts and inspiration on emotional health by colleen p. arnold

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The Drama Queen’s Guide to Opening Up Without Bringing Everyone Down

As a therapist, I’m always trying to get people to open up to their friends, or make new friends with whom they can be honest. We’re social beings, we need each other, and countless studies have shown that people with a strong network of friends tend to be happier.

We have a couple of things working against us in learning how to create this network and use it, though. Maybe you heard from your parents that you should keep your problems to yourself, and you’re not supposed to talk to “outsiders” about what’s happening in your family.

Or maybe your friends seem to only want to have fun and laugh, and their eyes glaze over if you start talking about your problems.

Maybe you’ve opened up before only to have well-meaning friends jump in with their obvious solutions to your problems, – as if you haven’t already thought of them.

Closing yourself off from people who genuinely want to be supportive can make you feel lonely and isolated. But sometimes we forget that opening up to others is actually a skill that we need to learn. Here are some tips:

1. Know Your Audience

Trust the right people. If you find yourself consistently disappointed in your friends’ reactions, ask yourself why you keep opening up to them. Could it be you’re hoping to draw them in, make yourself feel closer to them by letting them in on your deepest, darkest secrets? Are you testing the friendship? Maybe you’re subconsciously convincing yourself that opening up is a bad idea by trusting people who are going to disappoint you, thereby proving your hypothesis that opening up isn’t safe.

Whatever the reason, open up to people whom you really feel to be trustworthy.  Don’t lay everything that’s going wrong in your life on a new group of people whom you’ve just met (unless it’s a group therapy session).

2. Timing is Everything

I probably don’t have to tell you that having a deep discussion or telling a friend what’s going on with you at a rave or a loud house party is a bad idea. Other bad times include: as your friend is walking out the door on the way to work; on the phone while you or your friend is at work; or when your friend is really tired and/or upset about something else.

3. Do It in Person, Not Over Text

Please, please, if you listen to nothing else, please believe me that you should not have any kind of emotional discussion over text. Texting is for “I’m going to be 5 minutes late,” or “I’m at the fountain in the quad.” It is NOT for “OMG I’m really falling apart….” kinds of talks.

For one thing, your friend is not going to be able to convey the support you’re looking for over texting, no matter how empathically they type. For another, really explaining confused and complex emotions is very difficult to do over text. It’s difficult to do in any kind of writing. Heck, it’s difficult when talking, so don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to communicate such things with a tiny keyboard and your thumbs.

4. Insert Some Positives

If you’re with a friend who accepts you unconditionally and loves you just as you are, great. They’ll probably be OK with a late night rant about how every single thing in your life sucks. When with everyone else, you can still be connected and receive support – but it’s a good idea to make sure you aren’t 100% negative in your sharing. Hardly any situation doesn’t have some light side, and hardly any stage of life is all dark. What blessings can you count? What are you grateful for? Be sure to balance your sharing with a few of these, and it will help you maintain your perspective, as well.

And even BFFs like to hear what’s going well, sometimes.  A friend of mine quotes something she learned from another friend, “”You can unload anything you want, but if you don’t share both good and bad, then you have to start paying me by the hour.”

5. Be Clear About What You Want From Them

If your friends jump in with problem solving, and all you want is some sympathy, you have to tell them that. You can’t get huffy, stalk away and sulk (Well, you can, but it’s not productive and it annoys your friends). It’s perfectly OK to say, “I know I’m whining, but I just need to vent for a minute.” Most friends will be relieved that you’re not making the problem theirs, and will be happy to sympathize.

If you feel like your friends are getting tired of hearing all your problems, maybe it’s time to ask them. You could be projecting your own discomfort with opening up onto them, and assuming that they’re more uncomfortable than they actually are.

On the other hand, maybe they feel like you’re complaining a lot without attempting to change anything. Either way, it’s a good idea to check in with them. But, be prepared for the answer and try not to feel too hurt. It’s actually the sign of a strong friendship that they can give you feedback without you reacting defensively. A friendship like that can make both of you feel safer and more supported.

Image courtesy of: Andy Bernay-Roman


How Do You Know it’s Love?

In my office, seeing as many 20-somethings as I do, I see a LOT of infatuation disguised as love. Most of the time, clients think they’re in love with someone with whom they’re actually infatuated.

I find it very difficult to tell someone, client or friend, that what they’re feeling is infatuation rather than love. First of all, they don’t believe me. Second, they tend to feel offended, as if being infatuated with someone is something to be ashamed of. But mostly, I think they’re disappointed. Infatuation sounds so shallow and temporary. They really WANT to be in love, and what they’re feeling is so strong, they figure it must be love.

How do you tell the difference? It’s not easy, especially since true love often starts out with infatuation. That’s the fun part – you think about this person all the time, you might fantasize about a future with them, you get all wiggly inside when you’re near them. You’d like to spend all your time with them. Your desire is strong, and your hands (among other body parts) want to be touching them all the time. You’re feeling giddy and happy – life is great.

Infatuation is quick and easy. It doesn’t take much work. Hopefully, the other person is infatuated with you, too. (If they’re not, what you have is a crush). You enjoy how much you have in common and are fascinated by the differences. Infatuation is awesome, fun and short-lived. You can prolong it by not having much contact with the other person (i.e. some long distance romances can never get beyond the infatuation stage).

True love is reciprocal. You can’t really “love” someone from afar, it has to be a dynamic interplay between two people to count as love.* (Again, if you do love someone from afar, what you probably have is a crush).

True love means you know the other person well and intimately. You know their faults, their lives and their histories. You know what makes your partner difficult to live with as well as what makes it worthwhile to be with them. You know what sets them off, and you know what makes them feel loved.

True love lasts through struggles. You’ve been through tough times with this person and know you can make it out the other side together. You know how to talk about your inner life, and you care about your partner’s inner life.  You trust this person, and you do your best to be trustworthy for them.

True love takes time. It’s a deeper connection than infatuation. You both care deeply about how the other feels. You are entwined in all aspects of each other’s lives, and you’ve met his/her family and friends. You face the world together, as partners. Everything else orbits around the two of you in the center.

Infatuation is fun. True love isn’t always fun, but it’s always worthwhile. And once you’ve had it, it will be easier to tell the difference. I’m interested in your opinion – what are other ways you can tell the difference between infatuation and love?


*or the three of you…etc. Yes, I think you can be in love with more than one person at once. As long as it’s consensual on everyone’s part and there’s no secrecy, who am I to judge? But that’s probably a whole different post…. 

Image credit: nyoin on Flickr

5 Ways to Tell if Someone’s NOT Your Friend

We’re still on the theme of making friends and creating lasting connections. Many people in their 20’s (and older) come to realize that the people they’ve hung out with for years, whom they called “friends,” aren’t really friends.

Of course, there are different levels of friendships. You can be acquaintances, or even friendly, with lots of people. I believe that for the most part, people are good, honest and caring. But the ones you let into your inner circle really need to be trustworthy. Here’s a short list of how to tell who isn’t:

1. You always get drunk (or stoned, or otherwise anesthetized) together. If you’re friends with someone, you can do more than one thing with them, and you enjoy being around them when you’re both sober, too. The tricky thing about these people is that when you’re both high, you might easily mistake them for friends and even think you love them.

2. They talk crap about people behind their backs but are friendly to their faces. If they do this to others, it’s a fairly safe bet they’ll do it to you, too.

3. Somehow, you always end up listening to their problems. This is a tricky one, because friends do listen to and support each other. But it has to be reciprocal. If you find yourself always listening to their drama, but they don’t seem to have time for yours, they’re not really your friend.

4. They try to change you. I don’t mean your stylish friend who has a really good eye and is great to go shopping with. I’m talking about the people who try to get you to listen to their music and are crushed when you don’t like it. Or, those who keep trying to get you to get involved with their hobbies, their sports and their travels even after you’ve explained you’re not interested. It’s one thing to want to share something they love with you, but if they can’t handle that you have different interests, they’re not looking for a friend, they’re looking for a mirror.

5. They flake often, with many excuses. The excuses are often good ones – ones you can’t argue with (or verify). You may even catch them in lies but they can come up with some convoluted explanation about why it’s not a lie. They somehow fall short of really making it up to you or taking full responsibility for their actions. If you find yourself saying, “That’s OK, I understand,” a lot, you need to rethink how much you can count on this person. Of course, sometimes people really do have lots of complications in their lives, and you can still be their friend. But if it seems to be never-ending, with one thing after another for a long period of time, or if you start noticing that they avoid taking opportunities to improve their situation, you might need to distance yourself a bit from their drama.

Not everyone is trustworthy, and trusting the wrong people is a really common mistake – we’ve all done it.  But if you start noticing these signs, let them inform your inner compass and just watch. You don’t necessarily have to call these people out and create a fight, but it might be wise not to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with them.

Image Credit: h. koppdelaney on Flickr

Why You Care What Other People Think (and Why That May Not Be All Bad)

ImageI hear a lot of people worrying “I care too much what other people think.”

First off, do you know what we call people who really, truly don’t care what others think? Anti-social psychopaths. So stop judging yourself. We’re social creatures, and the way we learn appropriate social behavior is that we see others reacting to us when we’re inappropriate. If we’re normal, we take that feedback and adjust accordingly. It’s a good feedback loop.

However….part of growing up is developing an identity and deciding what kind of person we want to be and what kind of life we want to create. And we don’t want other people making those decisions for us – especially as we get older.

What we have to realize is that almost everyone has their own agenda, which is usually to make themselves feel OK about their decisions. When others are judging you and your actions, it may be because they’re not OK with their own actions and are therefore using their judgments of you to make themselves feel better.

George Carlin had a great line about this: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” It happens in parenting, too. Have you ever noticed that parents with stricter rules than you are control freaks, and parents with less strict rules “don’t know how to say no?”

The end result is that you’re going to get judged. That’s what people do. Deal with it. People who are more rigid than you are will think you’re a slacker. People who are less rigid than you will think you’re uptight. The only people who will think you’re perfect are the people who are doing it exactly the same way you are. And there’s no one who is going to do everything exactly the same way as you, so the bottom line is, no one is going to think you’re perfect all the time.

So….how do you stop letting the judgments of others dictate your behavior? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. What would I do if no one had to know? Let’s say you live in a bubble where you didn’t have to deal with anyone’s reaction to your decision. Would you drop out of law school and go weave textiles? Would you wear leggings and flip flops because they’re comfortable? Answering this question will give you an idea of where you authentically stand on an issue.

2. Do I agree with the people who might judge me? Let’s take two women with small children. One really doesn’t care how she looks as long as she’s comfortable. The other is the put-together, attractively styled mom who I have to admit I’ve been guilty of judging before, because I’m more like the former. But, both ways of being are perfectly legitimate.

The first might ask herself this question and conclude: “No, in fact, I don’t want to spend much energy deciding what to wear and doing my hair. It’s just not that important to me right now.” The other might think, “I know my friends think I’m vain. But it makes me feel happier and more productive when I know I look put together, so that’s what I’m choosing to do for myself. It’s how I take care of myself as a mom.” Both of these mothers should feel comfortable with their decision. Their decisions are authentic and honest.

But if these two women were considering office attire, it might be different. For example, someone who’s been accused of dressing too casually at the office might conclude: “These people have been in business a lot longer than I have. They think that wearing a suit reflects a certain amount of professionalism that’s important for clients to see. They may have a point. “

In another example, how about: “I’m sorry Mom and Dad are furious with me for not coming home for Christmas, but we have to be fair and spend at least one holiday with my in-laws. We’ll be with Mom and Dad for 2 weeks this summer and I think that’s fair.”

Or, “Mom and Dad are furious with me for not coming home for Christmas. They’re putting me through college and I haven’t been home in a year. They may have a point.”

3. Believe you can tolerate disapproval. No, really, it’s not going to kill you. If your relationship with whoever you’re worried about is strong enough, it will survive differences in opinion. If it isn’t strong enough, do you really want to live the rest of your life doing whatever this particular person thinks you should do? If you have thought through your decision, stand strong. You’re making your best guess about the right road to take, and that’s the best any of us can really do.

How Grownups Make Friends, Part II (5 Tips for Introverts)

1. Get out there. We all need our alone time, but you’re not going to meet new people in your living room. Be places. Get out of the carpool line, park a few blocks away and walk to pick up your kids. Notice the other parents. Make eye contact and smile. Take your kids to birthday parties and instead of dropping them off and leaving, stick around. Go to events. Accept invitations. Eat in the cafeteria instead of at your desk.

The “mere exposure effect” says that the more we see something, the more we like it. So the more your neighbors, co-workers, etc., see you out and about, the more positive feelings they’ll have toward you. Let people become used to seeing you and recognizing you.

2. Start conversations. This is the hardest thing for us introverts. But if you’re in close proximity with someone, there’s ALWAYS something around you that you can comment on. “Thank goodness it’s not raining on us as we stand out here.” “The clouds are beautiful today.” “Wow, look at that headline on the magazine in the grocery store.” “Where do you get your son’s hair cut? It looks great.” “Did you hear what he said about _________? I didn’t quite catch it.” Don’t sweat it if it turns into a short interaction and not a full conversation. If you have several short interactions with the same people, they will turn into conversations.
Try to stay positive. Unconsciously, people attribute traits to us based on what we say about other people or things. If the only thing you can think of to say is a complaint or something negative, try to insert humor into it. Making people laugh is always a good way to connect. Smile! Remember, other people are nervous, too, about starting conversations. Make it easier for them by asking questions they can easily answer (most people love to talk about themselves), and they’ll remember you as a friendly, kind person.

3. Join Groups. Most bookstores (the ones that are still around….sigh) have book groups for different interests. Meetup.com is a great place to find groups based around an interest. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Make sure that the groups are based on something you’ll enjoy even if you don’t find someone to click with. Sometimes activities are worthwhile to do just for the sake of doing them. Plan activities and invite people you think might be interested. One thing that’s worked for me is planning to do something I already planned to do, like visit an outlet or take a short hike, and inviting one person who might be interested to come with me. If they decline, nothing’s lost because I was going to do it anyway.

4. Be Selective. Talk to as many people as you can, but be selective about those with whom you pursue friendships. Make sure you’ve enjoyed those conversations, and that you have a feeling the person might be trustworthy. Pursue those who say nice things about other people and don’t talk behind people’s backs (remember – the way people treat others is the way they’ll eventually treat you). Choose those with similar interests. Friends of friends have great potential because you already have something (or someone) in common.
5. Courage! Fight your urge to run and hide. You don’t have to turn into a complete extrovert to make friends, but if you make a goal to do one thing each day that connects with someone new, you’ll be well on your way to making new friends without too much stress. Take a break and congratulate yourself for each new step you take. It does get easier with practice, I promise.

Zen, Sad Movies and Depression Relapse

Acceptance and non-resistance is a basic tenet of many spiritual traditions, and it appears it may have a biological component as well.

One of the more unhappy statistics about depression is that it has a very high rate of relapse. If you’ve had one Major Depressive Episode, you’re about 5 times more likely to have another one than someone who hasn’t. Add to this the “kindling effect,” or the probability that you will need a higher dose of medication to relieve relapses than you did initially, and it can be, well, depressing.

But not everyone has a relapse, so is there anything we can point to that separates those who relapse from those who don’t? Like almost everything in psychology, there’s no definitive answer, but there is interesting research that suggests that how you respond to sad situations can prevent a relapse. Cognitive psychologists have long known that how you respond to situations is key and Buddhists have long suggested that acceptance of pain is the path to enlightenment and the resistance of pain only leads to suffering….and these MRIs of brain activity certainly seem to support that.

Researchers took patients that had been diagnosed with Major Depression, but were in remission, and scanned their brain activity while they watched a sad movie. Then they tracked those patients and recorded who had a relapse down the road and who did not.

The patients that were more likely to have a relapse had a lot of activity in their frontal cortex while watching the sad movie. The frontal cortex is associated with high level thinking, but also rumination, or obsessive thinking about bad events and feelings. The patients who did not have a relapse had more activity in the back of the brain, associated with visual processing. These patients were thought to have more acceptance of their feelings and less judgment towards them.

One of the best supervisors I ever had told me, “It’s your job to teach clients to have fewer judgments towards their feelings and more curiosity.” That was incredibly powerful for me to hear, for myself as well as for my clients. Although in therapy we often spend a great deal of time trying to figure out why we feel a certain way, sometimes you just have to accept it, flow with it and have faith that, like everything else, it will change into something else. Ironically, it seems that being able to do that is a conduit to actually helping it change.

 We who have faced Major Depression often feel like we’re constantly looking over our shoulders for the dark cloud to return. I have nightmares where I’m falling back into the hole, only to wake up and be relieved to find that the nightmare isn’t real. It’s natural to be afraid that when we’re in a blue mood, it’s a sign of a relapse. So what can you do to accept
sadness and not resist it?

  • Use a mantra. When I find myself over-thinking my moods, I like Hildegard Von Bingen’s quote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It’s not a profession of false optimism, it’s a repetitive mantra based on my faith that this too, shall pass. Maybe you need a single word, like “Peace,” or “Faith,” or even “Om.” Anything that will counteract the over-analyzing we tend to do can work.
  • Remember that everyone has sad times. It’s a necessary part of the human condition, and can function to make you appreciate the good times more. The good times will come back…they always do. Just because you’re feeling sad is no reason to panic.
  • Wallow. One trick I suggest to my clients who are terrified of their sadness is to wallow in it for no more than half an hour. Set a timer, and just feel as sad as you possible can for that half hour. Letting yourself tolerate the feelings for a set amount of time can teach you that you can do it, and they won’t drag you down into the black hole again. If you start feeling less sad before the half hour is over, fine. Tell yourself “OK, I guess that’s the end of that,” and be done with it. I also recommend this to people who feel guilty or afraid of self-pity. Go ahead and wallow in it for half an hour. Most people can’t keep it up for the whole time, and  move on.




Original source: Norman A.S. Farb, Adam K. Anderson, Richard T. Bloch, Zindel V. Segal. Mood-Linked Responses in Medial Prefrontal Cortex Predict Relapse in Patients with Recurrent Unipolar DepressionBiological Psychiatry, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.03.009

Fantasies of Being Thin

From way back when I was a little girl to my early 30’s, I had a very definite idea of what I wanted to look like at my wedding. I imagined walking regally down the aisle in my tall, elegant sheath. When I actually got engaged and tried on wedding dresses, they didn’t look anything like what I’d imagined. I looked in the mirror and realized that I had failed to take into account the fact that I was only five feet tall and rather busty. Either I had been imagining that the act of putting on a wedding gown would cause me to grow 7 inches and lose several cup sizes, or I was imagining someone else in that wedding dress instead of myself.

I had to reassess myself and my body, and go find some different, less sheath-like gowns, and realize that even on my wedding day, I was still going to be the shortest adult there.

What do you imagine life will be like after you reach your goal weight? I am a huge believer in visualization, and in the past I have visualized myself at whatever weight or size I deemed at that time to be “thin.” But sometimes visualization can work against you, as evidenced by the things I seemed to think would happen when I could wear those size 6 shorts:

  1. I would spend a lot more time outdoors.
  2. I would be far more graceful.
  3. I would kayak and go camping regularly.
  4. I would be tanner.
  5. I would be happier.
  6. I would be calmer.
  7. I would be smiling most of the time.
  8. I would stand at the edge of cliffs and not worry that the wind might be pressing the dress against my protruding stomach.  (???… I think I must have gotten that one from a magazine spread.)
  9. I would be good at sports.
  10. I would look more tousled and sexy in the morning instead of caffeine-deprived and drooly.

I eventually realized that if I really wanted to kayak regularly, I should go do it now instead of waiting for some magic number to appear on the scale. Turns out I enjoy the random kayak trip, but it’s not something I even want to do regularly.

I’m never going to tan. I’m an Irish redhead. Deal with it. Losing weight is also probably not going to make me less of a klutz or make me smile all the time. And even when my mother weighed 95 lbs., she had a potbelly that I inherited, and really, how often do I stand on the edge of cliffs in filmy dresses?

Take a good look at what you imagine life will be like when you reach your goal: What parts of your fantasies are realistic (finishing a ½ marathon, having more stamina) and what parts aren’t (being so much more satisfied with your life’s routines than you are now). What’s your version of suddenly turning 5’7”?

Imagine what it’s really going to look like when you reach your goal. What’s your routine going to be like? If you’re focusing on increasing healthy habits and decreasing unhealthy ones, it should look pretty much the same as it does now. Live as if you’re already there, and stop waiting for the magic day when the scale says what you hope for. Research has shown repeatedly that focusing on weight loss doesn’t create lasting results – but changing lifestyle habits, being healthy and loving your life right now does.

Also posted at: Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans

Online Collage-Making with Oprah

I’m a huge fan of collages. I’ve done them for almost every large goal I’ve had. I’ve actually moved boxes of old magazines kept for cutting and pasting from one apartment to another and finally to my garage (until my husband made me get rid of them, which is fine because there are always new magazines…and now, the cool thing called the internet). Collages help you visualize your goals and get your left brain involved, and I believe that the more of your brain you involve in a plan, the more likely that plan is to be realized.

Oprah has a tool on her website now where you can peruse lots of Getty stock images, without the cluttering magazine buildup, and create your own dream collage. Here’s mine: I included my four pillars to living my value-centered life: Live Simply, Nourish Your Connections, Accept the Light and the Dark, and Believe in Your Calling. A friend of mine thought about where she wanted her life to be as she approaches a milestone birthday. I’d love to see some of yours! You’ll have to register with the site if you aren’t already, but you can make as many boards as you like.

The Gifts of Salad and Sunlight

I went through a fairly significant depression in my early thirties. I’m sure I could write a book describing the journey and the hell, like so many have. But two of the memories that stand out most significantly for me during that time are not painful ones.

For the first few months, I had a very hard time eating. Not only had I lost my appetite, which, believe me, was VERY unusual, but the idea of solid food actually made me sick. There were few foods my stomach could tolerate, so I survived on soup and toast, as much as I could, for at least a month. I lost over 10 lbs. in that first month, which was significant on my 5’ tall frame.

About 3 months after what I call “the initial meltdown,” I was back to eating normal foods, but my appetite hadn’t really returned. I was at my internship eating a salad I’d brought from home. I remember it so well – green leaf lettuce, crumbled gorgonzola cheese and honey Dijon salad dressing. I have this very clear memory of sitting at the table in the kitchen, it was dark and cold out, and I realized I was enjoying my salad. It tasted GOOD. Not just adequate and not just less than nausea inducing, but GOOD. I was ENJOYING it. It was literally the first time in those three months that I was aware of enjoying anything. I’d been hanging on by my fingernails, coping and functioning (minimally), but the realization that I could enjoy something again felt like a gift from God. I actually got tears in my eyes sitting in front of that salad. The gift of feeling positively about something was huge.

The second memory happened about 6 months into the depression. I’d started medication and the really difficult periods were fewer and farther apart, but I still felt fragile and rocky. I drove to work that morning after about a week of very rainy, gray weather. The clouds had parted and the sun was shining. The sunlight streamed through the trees as I drove down Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, and it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I’d never paid much attention to the weather before, so the effect the sunlight had on me surprised me. I can still see in my mind the corner I was stopped at, the houses that shone in the light and the green leaves filtering the bright streams of light.

I would say these two events are two of the most profound in my life – and the reason is precisely because they were such ordinary events that, in spite of being so ordinary, produced euphoria. I expected my wedding day and the days my children were born to be important, and they were. I did not expect a salad and sunlight to become my symbols of rising out of darkness, and it’s the very ordinariness of their existence that make them so potent.

For me, depression was a transformative experience. Two small things, a salad and the morning sunlight, had such a profound effect on me that I never forgot them. Since then, I’ve been so very aware of daily blessings. The fact that the freshly washed sheets feel soft and clean when I get into bed is a blessing. The sound of the rain on the roof while I’m in my cozy bed is a blessing. Finding a Tikka Masala that isn’t too hot for my bland-Irish taste buds is a cause for celebration (FYI, Trader Joe’s is perfect).

For me, chronic emotional pain was the opening to happiness, because once I really let myself fall into the depression I’d been staving off for years, I was finally able to appreciate not being in pain – when it finally happened. I’m so grateful for every day I’m not depressed. I’m so grateful for all the gifts that my post-depression life has brought me. There are definitely times when I’m more tuned into the blessings of pleasure than others. But I try very hard to not forget how wonderful the ability to feel pleasure is, especially since I’ve experienced losing it.Depression actually made my life richer by letting me see the sacred in the everyday.

Jump Starts

In cars, a jump start creates energy in a dead engine. Every once in a while, I need a jump start. I start to feel sluggish, slow in mind and body, and it feels like everything is too tight – finances, my jeans, my family’s demands. I knew I needed a jump start when I posted on my Facebook page, “I could really use a weekend at a hot springs right about now.” Planning a weekend away is just not in the cards right now, so I thought about the smaller things I could do to get my mojo back, and two things came to mind almost instantly:

1. Exercise

2. Organize something

Exercise creates energy. Any time I’m feeling overly tired, I know I haven’t been exercising enough. I remember a doctor on the radio commenting that if they could put exercise into a pill, it would relieve the symptoms of most ailments better than any medicine available. That always stuck with me and if I ever feel like my physical well-being is less than optimal, I try increasing my exercise before checking in with the doctor, and most of the time, I feel better pretty quickly.

De-cluttering, for me, is another powerful way to increase energy. I find that the act of clearing away or organizing an area makes me feel productive and clears the way for new ways of seeing things. In Feng Shui, de-cluttering is a necessary step to inviting new energy into your life. My life gets cluttered very easily. I tend to keep things I don’t need, or might feel sentimental about, and then I get overwhelmed with the clutter and ignore it. My natural way of being is not simple and clutter-free, so for me, de-cluttering has actually become kind of a spiritual practice that I need to continually practice.

My husband agreed he’d be responsible for the boys that afternoon, which gave me a few hours. If I hadn’t been intent on creating energy, I probably would have taken a nap or done office paperwork. Which is fine, but I knew in my heart that I needed to stoke the fire a bit.

I would have preferred a walk outside, but it was raining buckets, so I pulled out the Wii Fit, informed my sons that it was Mama’s turn to use the Wii, and no, I wasn’t going to do a 2-person game so the 5-year-old could just put down the extra remote. (He parked himself next to the board the entire time, so I just told him this was my time to exercise, and reminded him that he was capable of getting a drink himself or he could ask his dad.)

I felt better quickly. The Wii Fit isn’t exactly running a marathon, but it’s fun and I know which activities I have to do to work up a sweat. I did about 45 minutes, which was enough to remind my body that it could do more than sit in a desk chair.

Then I put my earbuds in my ears, pulled up “This American Life” on my iPod, and went to work in the bedroom. In about 2 hours I’d cleared out four large garbage bags of sweaters, jackets and pants that I kept because they were good quality, but I never wore. I took photos of all of them (for tax purposes – we always itemize our donations and keep careful records). They will be delivered to a local clothing bank within the week.

There are a lot of things on my to-do list that I haven’t gotten to, and that’s fine. I needed to prioritize those tasks that would help me gain momentum and propel me into this week so I could tackle it with energy.

Look at your to-do list. Which of those tasks will create energy, instead of deplete it?  Sometimes it’s important to put aside that which is urgent and focus on that which is essential.

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