Self-Care Through the Holidays

If I’m not careful, every year by mid-November, my good self-care habits and intentions fly out the window as I slog away at work and try to fit one more thing into my schedule. But with each trip around the sun, I have become increasingly sensitive to stress, and my body, mind, and spirit cannot handle being ignored.

For instance, if I work past lunchtime, instead of eating when I’m hungry, my blood sugar dips low and I’m tired, dizzy, cranky, and get a headache.

If I stay up too late hunched over my computer–to get just one more thing done–I have a difficult time falling asleep and whatever sleep I do get leaves me feeling not very well rested.

If I fail to move my body and meditate because “I don’t have the time” my joints get sore and creaky, my outlook is negative, and I feel stressed, out of shape, and have low energy.

But it’s true that we all have so much to do and so many places to go this time of year. So how can we have a satisfying holiday experience while still practicing good self-care habits?

What To Do?

There are two ways that I can think of to have a holiday season that aligns with who you are and how you want to feel and still leaves room to take care of yourself and enjoy this festive time.

1. Ask for what you want and need. For example: maybe you could ask a spouse to make dinner more often, ask the kids to step it up with household chores, ask a friend if she could help you decorate for a party.

2. Say no and let go…of the idea of the “perfect” holiday. In order to slow the season down, you’ll have to say no to some things. Maybe you can bake 2 kinds of cookies, not 10. Maybe you can sign up for one charity event, not three. Maybe you don’t need to put up quite as many lights outside as you usually do. Maybe you get Chinese takeout on Christmas Eve instead of that huge Italian dinner you make that everyone loves, but leaves you exhausted. (I’m looking at you, Mom.)

When I was younger, I wanted to give my kids and family the perfect Christmas experience. The month of December was a blur of church events, recitals, and activities that left me with little time for self-care.

I always stayed up late on Christmas Eve wrapping gifts or doing last minute preparations. I’d get up early, serve homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, have my whole family over for dinner around 2pm, followed by a 5pm dessert open house when extended family and friends would come over. I would be dizzy with exhaustion the whole day and couldn’t wait for it to be over!

Then one year, I was actually sick with a fever, but still had to do all the things. That did it! My idea of a perfect Christmas had made me sick. So I smartened up and began to do less and ask for help more.

Questions/Thoughts To Design a Better Holiday

We are a just a week away from Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., which hurls us into the craziness of the commercialized Christmas season. Rather than live the season the same way year after year, what if you really did things differently? I invite you to sit with yourself and ask yourself these questions and then shape the next month in a sensible way that will leave room for self-care, wonder and delight.

Write down your idea of a memorable holiday season: how would you feel, what would you have time for?

Which holiday traditions do you or your family most look forward to each year? (Baking cookies with the kids or with friends, advent readings, attending a religious service, caroling, dinner with family…)

What things could you let go of this year?

What does your self-care routine look like during the holiday season?

What would your ideal daily and weekly self-care routine look like during this time? Be specific.

In order to have a ___________________ holiday season, one in which I take care of myself, enjoy the festivities with my loved ones, I need to: (Hints: ask for help from partner, kids, don’t sign up for as many events/activities, etc.)

Don’t Put Yourself Last on the List

As you’re thinking about the next month, make sure you make yourself a priority. No, this is not selfish! Women especially can struggle to take care of themselves. But guess what? You need to take care of yourself for you and for your family’s sake. Don’t wait to see what everyone else is doing before you decide when you can “fit in” self-care.

Have you ever heard that story about the rocks and sand in the jar? If you put all the sand (unimportant, trivial matters) into the jar (your daily schedule) and then try to fit in the rocks (the priorities) you can’t do it. But if you put the rocks into the jar first, you can fit the sand around them. Your self-care is a rock. Put it into the jar first.

These are my Everyday Self-Care 7

1.Move your body 

2.Drink enough water

3.Eat healthy food

4.Spiritual Practice (examples: prayer, meditation)

5.Get enough sleep/rest

6.Do something you enjoy

7.Practice gratitude

OK, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you are designing your holiday season this year. 

Thoughts and ideas on having your healthiest, most satisfying holiday ever!

The Art of Attentiveness (Wellness Wednesday)

This week, for Wellness Wednesday, I’m focusing on attentiveness. Charlotte Mason, my homeschooling mentor, called it “The Habit of Attention”. Many call it mindfulness. If you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with wellness?”, that’s a great question because it means you are paying attention and letting curiosity get the better of you!

What started me thinking about paying attention is this online class for HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) that I’ve been taking. I’m learning lots about how to thrive rather than simply survive as a person who processes life differently than most. I’m discovering what my strengths and weaknesses are as a person with this trait and how I can navigate the high levels of emotion that come with it, how I can conserve and replenish my energy, and how to ask for what I need. 

It’s kind of crazy that it’s taken me this long in my life journey to begin learning these things, but as the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And one thing that stands out from this class is that in order to implement my newly acquired tools and techniques, I need to learn to pay more attention.

It Starts With Me

First, I need to pay attention to myself. This is a bit of a challenge for me because I lived most of my life in a culture that was all about service to others. I still absolutely believe in service to others, just not in a way that leaves me completely out of the equation. Even Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, which implies self-love. 

I need to ask myself, “What do I need?” when I’m starting to get tired, upset, overwhelmed, etc., rather than to just keep going until I get to meltdown mode. And “Do I have this to give?” when someone asks something of me. If I’m already in a depleted state, I’ll be giving from a negative, resentful place. If I can live from a place of love and compassion toward myself, I’ll be much more loving and compassionate toward others.

Focusing on the Good in Others

Second, I need to pay attention to others. And by this I mean to focus on the positive qualities that each person has. HSPs can nitpick, obsess, and tend to focus on negative things, especially when tired and emotionally overwhelmed, which is a lot of the time if we aren’t paying attention to our needs. I need to make lists of the good things about those I love and know and repeat those things to myself and say them out loud to them. 

By sharing the things I admire and appreciate about others with them, it will encourage them and reinforce the truths about who they are in my own brain. When I’m with my husband, my kids, or my friends, I need to focus on their words, on their faces and gestures, and savor the moments we have together.

Nature

Third, I need to pay attention and connect with nature. Put on my shoes, step out the door, look, listen, breathe, feel, and notice. What do I see? What sounds can I hear? Does the sun feel hot on my back or the wind feel like it’s pushing me while I walk? What kind of bird is singing in the apple tree? Where is that tang in the air coming from?

Slow Down

And this is the kicker for me: In order to cultivate the art of attentiveness to myself, others, and to the world, I NEED TO SLOW DOWN!!! My smart husband is always telling me this and until I started this class, I inwardly resisted. “But I have so much to do! I’ll never get things done if I move around like a snail.”

During week one, the teacher said, “HSPs need slow mornings”. She said if you start the day off at a clip, your emotional brain revs up, is on high alert, and you quickly lose “energy points”. That explains why I’ve been tired within a few hours of waking up for most of my adult life.

At my teacher’s suggestion, I’ve begun a daily meditation and mindfulness practice. Waking up and meditating first thing in the morning has been a huge help to me this past month. I used to jump out of bed and start on my to-do list, but now I take a few minutes to pay attention to my breath and that sets the tone for the rest of my day. It’s training me to notice my needs so that I don’t overextend myself emotionally and physically. I can give to my family, work better, and still have energy left to enjoy life. And this is living well.

Books

Want to read more about slowing down and paying attention? Here are two non-fiction books on the subject plus a book of poetry that you might be interested in.

The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker

Lost In Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness by Esther de Waal

Thirst by Mary Oliver

Blend

And here’s an aromatherapy blend that will help you focus and cultivate attentiveness. Place drops in diffuser, fill with distilled water, and diffuse for 1-2 hours at a time. Best during the daytime hours.

1 drop Cardamom

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

If you would like to tell us how you’re learning to be more attentive, please share in the comments!

Moving Toward Morning

We just finished the first week of September and I feel all the things: a little melancholy that summer is waning, excitement for the start of a new season, and the sense that I am myself as this is my birthday month. Transitions–endings and beginnings blurring together–are always difficult, even when you are looking forward to the new.

I don’t know how the weather is where you live, but here in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, we are experiencing pleasant weather in the high 60s to mid- 70s (Fahrenheit). Although it still is warm, there is a tinge of a chill, and the nights fall a little earlier with each passing day. My daughter began eleventh grade this week, my stepson twelfth grade, and I am in my second month of Ayurveda school.

How I start my day determines how successful the rest of it will be, so I wanted to talk about morning routines. What does yours look like? Mine varies quite a lot. On Sunday, my wake-up time depends on whether my husband and I have a music gig or not, but most of the time I can sleep in.

Monday through Wednesday during the school year, I get up to drive my daughter to school. My choice is to either get up at 7 and launch directly into making breakfast/coffee/tea, and then drive her to school, or I can get up early at 5:30ish and meditate, journal, practice visualization and affirmations, exercise or do yoga, shower, and then start making breakfast, etc. The latter is my ideal.

Even the rest of the week–Thursday through Saturday–if I get up early and get all of those important soul-nourishing pieces of the morning done before the rest of the house wakes up, I feel amazing! I have a positive outlook, feel confident, and am ready to face the day. This way I can begin work, meet the needs of my family ,etc., without resentment or trying to figure out how to squeeze in a workout.

It might seem crazy to contemplate getting up an hour or two before everyone else. That obviously means going to bed earlier. As a certified lifelong night owl, it is challenging for me to stick to this. And I am not religious about it. If I don’t have a good night’s sleep, am not feeling well, or if I go to bed late because of work or a special occasion, I don’t get up super early and I don’t beat myself up about it. But as soon as I can realistically get back into my morning routine, I will.

So my hat is off to you if you’re already an early bird and rise before the sun to do what you need to in order to make your day a success. But if you’re like me and are still moving toward your ideal morning, that’s great too! The best thing is to ask yourself why would you want to do this and then write down a good long list of reasons why. The more reasons you have, the more likely you will continue working toward your goal. If you can display your list of reasons somewhere visible to motivate you, all the better!

Design the morning that works for you, at this stage in your life. And like I said in my Facebook and Instagram Lives on this topic, please, if you’re a young mom with a baby or toddler, or you’ve got an elderly parent or sick family member you are caring for, or anything else that is super demanding, this is not the time to begin a new routine, to get up early, etc. Be extra gentle and kind to yourself and take time for yourself when you can.

This particular advice comes from this episode of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happier Podcast: In order to get your family on board when you are starting new habits, be consistent! They will get used to it sooner if you stick to your routine.

And since I am always looking for ways to share what I learn about aromatherapy with you, here are two diffuser blends that are great for mornings. They are motivating, positive, promote confidence, perseverance, and a bright outlook.

Morning Blend 1:

1 drop Basil

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Lemon

Morning Blend 2:

1 drop Tulsi

2 drops Cedarwood

3 drops Orange

Alright, I’d love to hear about your morning routines: what works, what doesn’t, and what new habits you’re incorporating into your life this September.

Starting Over with Habits

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I know when I’m productive. I love the rhythm of daily practice once I’m steadily engaged in healthy habits. I thrive with the structure as well as the encouragement I feel from the momentum as I build on a skill day by day.

You know how life tends to derail us all at one time or another. And for me, when one habit falls by the wayside, I feel so much like a failure I tend to let others slip out of focus as well. Before I realize it, I let weeks go by without doing the things I know keep me sharp and challenge me to greater things.

Here is a list of some habits I have made my own:

Morning Pages

Bullet Journaling

Practicing Piano

Blogging

Gratitude Journaling/Being Thankful

Exercise

Reading

Taking supplements

Walking

Taking Photos

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After a season of upside down, I am returning to a sort-of normal and incorporating these back into my daily life. It makes me feel like I’m a worthy and useful human. Getting up early, going to the gym, doing Morning Pages and updating my bullet journal, and generally accomplishing good and healthy things help me function well throughout my day.

If I know I exercised, I can check it off my list, plus my body is less likely to feel stiff or sore if I got my heart rate up and body warm with cardio, did some resistance training and stretched afterward. If I took my supplements, particularly my B vitamins and my probiotics, I’ll have more energy and digest my food better. Practicing piano relaxes me when I’ve been writing or working at some other task for too long. Getting outside for a walk when I’m stressed or just to think a little brings me new perspective and reminds me how small my problems are when think about the vastness of our planet and space. Making time to read, fills my mind with other people’s voices, points of view, stories and ideas, so I get out of my head and learn. Practicing gratitude helps me rise above the melancholy I tend to fall into as an INFJ.

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Do you have a list of habits that help you live better? I’d love to hear from you!

Day 19: Flow and NaNoWriMo

 

1CBABC93-BDCF-4020-B2F9-85382DB7E6CEAccording to Wikipedia, “In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.” ( Read more at wikipedia about Flow. )

And that’s what I got into today. Four or five solid, uninterrupted hours of totally absorbing, fulfilling and satisfying work throughout the afternoon gave me such a sense of accomplishment. Mostly because I haven’t had this lately and have felt frustrated about it, it felt particularly great. I sewed continuously and everything worked. or once, no stitches to pick out, no epic fails. I just made lots of cute things and cut out shapes for more.

Although I haven’t read his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World yet, I’ve heard Cal Newport interviewed on Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative Podcast and know I struggle with focus and steering clear of distractions. This book is on my Kindle and I need to read it ASAP.

Here is a blog post by Srini Rao about Flow and Deep Work and ways he has oriented his own life toward this way of working.

Speaking of Flow and Deep Work, I am gearing up for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I need to announce my novel on their site soon and am petrified. Has anyone ever participated in this or attempted it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on flow and deep work experiences and anything you know about NaNoWriMo.

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Day 14: Order and Beauty

9c50a14f-319f-453f-a8ae-7a94fd42fc4e.jpegEver since I moved here, I’ve been wanting to tackle the tiny back room off the kitchen. It’s kind of like a screened-in porch because it isn’t heated, but it has four windows and a large closet, wooden floors and cute wooden steps leading up to it.

It was filled up with boxes and packing material Alan saves for when he has to ship his paintings somewhere. And it had random things his kids had outgrown or he no longer had use for.

I’ve always thought it would be great to have a writing desk, chair and an arm chair or two with a few lamps, a small table and a stack of books. Oh, and an area rug as well.

Sometimes when Alan’s working in his office, which is the room next to the library, with his music on, and his son is in his room overhead with his music on, the library feels sandwiched between cacophony. If I’m trying to think, I need a quiet place to do that in.

So today, we pulled everything out of the room and closet. Alan decided what needed to be saved, what could go up into the attic, what was junk, what should be recycled and what could go to goodwill. I dusted, sprayed, wiped, swept, vacuumed and mopped. Most likely, that was just the first few layers that I removed because he hasn’t used the room all the years he’s lived there. (Over 13.) But it is much cleaner now.

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I set up a diffuser with lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree essential oils to freshen up the room, sprayed the chair with an essential oil spray I made and tacked up some fairy lights around the windows. Sage from the garden is drying on the window sill, a stack of books sits on the side table and the change is amazing. Every time I walk by I can’t believe how inviting it feels already.

 

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I still need to paint the room, the steps and railing in the spring, pull all the weeds around the steps, plant some tulips and daffodils and some perennials, etc. But we did it! We made it a space that fosters relaxation and creativity. I’ll be sure to show the progress here on the blog as it happens.

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Day 11: Daily Rituals and Songwriting Goals

I’ve read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work , or at least a good chunk of it. I was fascinated to find out how famous creative people ordered their lives. They seemed more human, more accessible and less god-like.

I am currently re-ordering my life, finding my balance and figuring out how to be a thriving creative. My current set of habits or rituals upon rising are: coffee, gym and writing, crafting or practicing music throughout the day.  This is all in-between chores and errands and caring for my kids.

Because I’m taking part in this month-long Write 31 Days project, I am blogging at night. This feels last minute. I’d like to change that and begin blogging mid-morning. And as far as music goes, when Alan and I have a gig, we always practice at least once the week of. So we need to this week (AKA tomorrow).

In addition to practicing our covers, I know we need to write music. It’s been looming on the horizon for a while, but the reality has landed. We need to do it NOW. There are several venues we would like to play in that will only allow originals performed. So I’m wondering if we can come up with 28 songs for a two-hour show. We currently have two written.

If we aim for January, that’s approximately nine songs a month, or about two per week. No pressure! No problem! Needless to say, I am brainstorming and writing down phrases, titles and recording snippets of melody. It’s time to make this happen.

What are your daily rituals and goals?