Music, a piece of resiliency

(This blog might be tough to read if you have suffered the loss of a young person.)

For any nurse our first death of a patient, whether we took care of the patient intensely or walked into a code situation, takes residence easily in our memories. At an instant, we can recall where we were, what we were doing and even details like the smell surrounding the experience. For me, not only do I remember my first death vividly, but my first death of a child was traumatizing and left me with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After this little one’s passing, I began not sleeping well. I dreamed about the bruises I saw on the little boy’s body. I judged everyone who yelled at their child at Target. It was becoming unhealthy quickly. I resisted going back to work. If I had been a drinker, I would have drowned my feelings with something liquid.

Realizing my career couldn’t survive another experience like the one I went through I began to work through my experience. I wanted and needed to continue to care for my patients and their families without being void of feelings and distrust. I needed to sleep without ugly dreams. During the next few months I developed ways to handle my grief. Over the years I have perfected my process. Every death hit me differently, but I have created routines around loss to help my grief. One of those routines is involving music.

Early in my career, I would turn to music on my drive home after loosing a patient. I would hear a song on the radio or on my playlist with a phrase or melody which would minister to me. I began to play that song over and over. I realized after a while something in my gut released. I would cry and be sad until I felt this sensation release within me. Some losses take longer than other, but no matter what, I keep the song playing.

The night before Father’s Day about 9 years ago I took care of a beautiful girl while her family said goodbye. In the midst of the loss her family would be giving the most precious gift to several other people. As heartbreaking as her story was, her family seemed to hold onto this hope. After caring for everyone involved, I walked her parents out of the unit and was allowed to go home. While I headed home I flipped on the radio. Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me came on. I sang my heart out. Because it was on my playlist, I sang it over and over until it sank in. It became for me her song, a little piece of her story etched into mine.

Music brings us together. Music helps us grieve and helps us celebrate. It’s the gift of connection and of unity. It’s the fight song of our favorite team. It’s the hymn which raises our spirits. It is the song we walk down the aisle to. It’s the song which takes us back to our childhood or away from the hard things in our lives. Music can bend our hearts towards each other when words break us apart. (Brené Brown talks about this connection in her book Braving the Wilderness. I highly recommend it!)

I flip my music to Miranda again. She is singing and tears are streaming down my face. The song reminds me of the patient’s room, her family, the experience and what I learned through it all. The song reminds me to pause and grieve the losses in my own story. It brings healing in the midst of life’s pain. It helps me settle down, refocus and gather my strength to push forward.

This is resiliency. Being brave enough to be moved deeply, process it and get back up to try again. It’s experiencing belonging even when it hurts and letting our stories be imprinted by others. It is playing the song over and over until our hearts are ready to move on. Maybe you need to be reminded of a song which helped you get back up and try again. Find it and enjoy it today!

-ST

Belonging: What Matters Most

The pressure to be productive can go right out the window this week. I realized after a stressful meeting where I felt distant and walked away not feeling like I belonged, that questioning my sense of belonging decreases my desire for productivity. If I feel as though I belong, I am more invested and the weight of my efforts, aka, work, holds greater importance. When I know I belong I’m more eager to show up and be seen. It’s easy to think that belonging comes from other people and the environments in which we work, but belonging comes from being our true selves.

Without a sense of belonging we can begin to feel discouraged, depressed and alone. A work for example, if we hear others have inside jokes or seem to be better friends with the boss, we can start feeling like an outsider and our ability to complete tasks will be hindered by the “aloneness” we feel. We might start to wonder if we are doing a good job or if we will get a bad review at the end of the year. We can start to believe the stories we are telling ourselves. These stories might be that we don’t belong and that others in the office are creating this problem for us. We can then start to live these stories into reality and actually start doing a bad job.

I’ve seen this play out in the workplace. Let’s say we have a coworker who has become increasingly grumpy and makes comments about “being left out”. Let’s call this coworker Jane. Jane used to contribute to the team. Now, she makes life miserable for everyone. She is late most days, seems to leave early because no one will tell her not to and does just enough work to get by. She goes out of her way to avoid the group dynamics. Decisions get made without her because she has “something more important” during scheduled staff meetings or chooses to finish a project at the same time as group huddles happen. Although Jane’s lack of productivity is annoying to the team, and the boss isn’t addressing it, the lack of team participation is the factor driving the frustration. The coworkers know they can’t, and honestly don’t want to, help improve her sense of belonging and she outwardly blames the team for pushing her out because “I don’t feel like I belong”.

Other factors can play into the lack of belonging in the workplace. Personal health and wellbeing can also be parts of it as well. If we are struggling at home, work can begin to bear the same issues. Difficult seasons, like a pandemic, can add to the feeling of isolation. More people are working from home. This can be isolating and create a lack of belonging just because there are different demands. In one of my own previous work experiences if I wasn’t always around the boss I would feel forgotten. Someone else could quickly get the boss’ full attention. If this is your experience, working from home would only exemplify this. You can’t just pop over to the boss’ office mid-afternoon to check-in. I expected my boss to solidify my feelings of “belonging”.

This week I went to my favorite Brené Brown to learn more about belonging. I found this amazing YouTube Podcast: Brené Brown SECRETS For HEALING YOURSELF & Making An IMPACT In The World |Lewis Howes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbsRU-crgsc, last viewed 02/04/2021). The conversation Brown and Howes has is about true belonging and not about trying to fit in. Brené says belonging “never asks us to change who we are, it demands that we be who we are”. Fitting in is “betraying self for other people and that’s not sustainable,” said Brené Brown.

The podcast goes on to talk about vulnerability and courage. To be who we are we must find belonging in ourselves, and then share this with the people around us. This is courage. To work in a group environment, to be willing to own our mistakes and to go back to work the next day takes guts. It takes resiliency. It takes vulnerability. The coworker who makes work life miserable or the boss who seems disconnected can be a road block to our sense of belonging. If we wait for the team to show up before we show up we are depriving ourselves of finding our own belonging. It might be easier to just get by, to just do what we need to do for a good review, but we will feel exhausted at the end of every day. It will become increasingly hard to go back to work every day.

Allowing ourselves the grace to belong without needing external circumstances gives us permission to show up. Showing up can give us that sense of belonging we long for. This perspective and practice takes greater courage than checking a box on the to-do list. It is work which can lead us to job satisfaction, and gives meaning over content with the work we produce. Whether we are noticed for our productivity or not, being willing to show up and be ourselves will energize us. It will help us find our best selves.

May you rest this weekend and show up on Monday with a new sense of belonging.

-ST

The Balance of Productivity

Let’s talk about productivity. It may seem odd to talk about this before jumping into resiliency, but we are laying a foundation. The Oxford dictionary defines productivity as: the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. I have heard a person is often measured by their level of productivity in the workplace.

The author of Radical Candor, Kim Scott, talks about people’s productivity around work. Some people work best and most productive in 30 hours while others thrive on 60 hours a week because they love to work. When doing a self evaluation, she talks about the importance of not comparing ourselves to others amounts of time we put into something when the productivity is the same.

Self-Evaluation: I love being productive. I am also driven. The Oxford dictionary defines a person who is driven as: relentlessly compelled by the need to accomplish a goal; very hard-working and ambitious. This is me, until it’s not. Let me explain. I wake up at 7 a.m., pull my goal planner out, set high expectations for the day and off to the races I go. I work, tirelessly until 10 p.m., if necessary. I have a list of tasks completed and have moved to next steps. I feel great, happy and ready for the next day. The next morning comes and I am sluggish. I have decreased will to have another day like that again so soon.

On productive days I thrive in the middle of things. I want to feel needed. I get in a grove and pour everything into it. Then, I get tired. My inner critic starts marching in and I forget to take a breath. I end up discouraged and not wanting to do anything the next day. When the next day comes I spend hours evaluating “how to make my life better” and attempting to be emotionally fit. I run on full speed for 15 hours in the name of productivity, but I’m burning myself out in the meantime.

My life is never been regulated by one job, I tend to focus on immediate needs of the work or the people around me. Do I have photos to edit, a project to finish for my nursing job or does someone need me for something? I am a 2 on the Enneagram, if you are wondering. I will drop almost anything if I feel I can be invaluable to someone or a situation. I can do all this in one day when I’m not wearing my nursing hat. I rush to accomplish everything on my list because the next day I am scheduled at the hospital for a full 12-hour shift. The third day I may be catching up at home or on appointments. This has created a habit of up and down expectations of myself around productivity.

I have come to realize that I operate like a nurse even on my days off. A nurse has her day set by policy and procedures, medication times and patient needs. The day is marked by things getting accomplished. A great nurse adds some goals into the day in hopes of encouraging the patient to conquer the day. After a long shift, it’s time to rest and get ready to go back for the next scheduled shift. This is how my brain is wired. I operate like a nurse everyday. I have my tasks and I push through until the end of the day. I have no boundaries and wonder why I can’t take a break.

Anyone outside of shift work may have different work patterns, but I believe no matter what work we do, we can loose balance in the name of productivity. Balance for me means giving myself grace to not have to press through every day to get more work done. It’s the permission to enjoy the work of my labor. It’s choosing what “winning” the day looks like every day. Sure, some days are busier than other days. Giving ourselves permission to fill that space with grace when we don’t accomplish everything is key. It is how we will learn to rest. I’m speaking to myself here, but I hope this also gives you permission to create this balance for yourself as well.

When we find the need for resiliency, the balance we have found between productivity and rest will be essential. If you are a leader in your company, modeling this balance is a great way to care for the emotional health of your team. I just enjoyed some sessions at the CultureSummit.co this week. One tip around balance was to email the team saying something like “We just had a big project finish and I’m going to take Friday afternoon off. I encourage you to do the same.” This is giving permission to your team to rest because you are modeling the behavior. Just food for thought as you find this balance for yourself.

I’m going to practice some balance by having an unplugged Sunday. I hope you enjoy some rest this weekend as well.

-ST

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My Never-Ending Challenge of Rest

During this pandemic I have heard two things. The first was that there was a lot of boredom, a lot of TV platforms to choose from and the discovery of ordering groceries on-line. The second thing I heard was others was that work became busier than ever. These differing stories weren’t from nurses who were or weren’t working (yes, that really happened depending on where we worked). These drastic differences were reported based on whether someone could work from home or if the workplace shut down due to CoVid-19 safety measures.

I began to wonder if those who worked from home ever really got away from work. I know in my experience with running my own business I have to set boundaries (which I am terrible at) to leave my office and engage in my home life. It’s easy to just run back downstairs and do a “quick” thing only to get sucked in and forget time.

So here is my challenge with rest. Growing up I was taught and practiced the Sabbath, a Judeo-Christian tradition. The Sabbath started in the beginning of Creation, as written in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. It is a day of rest, a day modeled after God’s day of resting after 6 days of creating the world. The instruction for a day of rest continued throughout the Old Testament, the first half of the Bible.

So, this was my understanding of rest. When I was little stores were closed on Sunday. I didn’t work a traditional job on Sunday through college for “religious choice” because it is the day of rest. By college I viewed Sunday as my day to do church stuff, catch-up on life, hangout with friends and to study for Monday’s test. I never really learned to rest as a young adult.

Post college during my in-patient hospital career I grew accustomed to working on Sundays. Hospital work never stops. I didn’t work every Sunday, but I worked enough to get used to it. When I started my business as a family photographer, sessions are easier to schedule on the weekends. Sure, I would save time for church, but often rushed out right after for a session. I “needed” to work on Sundays, which became normal, I never took a day to rest.

I had decided before the 2020 quarantine hit I would focus on taking a day of rest. I started asking myself questions. How do I get more done during 6 days so I can rest without loosing out? Should I turn down work in order to rest? And a more difficult question…what do I do to rest?

At the same time as quarantine hit I returned to inpatient nursing so occasionally work on Sundays. I decided to make Thursdays my day of rest. This lasted two weeks because my girls were still in school and I am not good at saying “no” to certain things. I then tried to determine what brings joy and fulfillment and do only those things on a single day to make it more like resting. I was trying because I knew my mind, and maybe my body, needed a down day. Guess what? Fun things still take work, planning and determination. I wasn’t succeeding.

With my new nursing job I had planned to work less at the hospital so my business could flourish. With quarantine my business, family photography, had to take a break as well. I found myself hanging out at home, doing on-line school with my girls and sitting on my porch swing trying to regulate my mind to this new reality. The 2020 quarantine only accentuated my discomfort in the idea of rest.

Prior to the pandemic if you had asked me what I do to regain or sustain resilience I would tell you I go to coffee with friends, go for a run, invest in lots of people, photograph some babies and travel whenever possible. During the pandemic I had to find new things like reading more, learning more about the world around me and investing in new areas of growth. I love church, but church was at home in my jammies. I spent time being quiet. I slept more and ignored things that I needed to do.

Now, a day of rest isn’t a tradition to check off my list. It’s just plain wise and a part of my resiliency. It’s an opportunity for my body, which carries my stress in my shoulders, an opportunity to recover. Rest allow our hormones to become more level. It also allows us to return to a better state of normal. Our stress cycles, when next activated, won’t put us over the edge as easily. It also allows us to enjoy the fruit of our labor. (More on this soon.)

I may have found new ways to rest, but I’m still not great it. I am trying though. There is too much to say about rest and slowing the hustle of life for today. The thing I do know about myself is that rest has to be scheduled. I will never just decide to stop working or to go to bed early unless I fall asleep reading to my girls. I have to make the decision to allow myself to rest and carve out the entire day for it.

As I blog through this year I’ll talk more about rest. Remembering to be mindful of rest is going to be key in this journey. Maybe you are working more now that you have a home office or maybe you want to stop resting and get back to work. Wherever you are in the mix, start processing if you rest, how you rest and notice when you need to rest. Just like the habits we talked about the past two weeks, we need to look for the rest cues in our lives.

If you want more right now, I found this great blog: https://www.becomingminimalist.com/resting/

Hope you have a restful weekend.

-ST

My 3 p.m. Habit

Intro: This week I spent the time working on determining the “cue” for my 3 p.m. slump and down spiraling mood. Author Charles Dihugg talks about this in his book The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business about determining the cue first before changing the habit. Here is my journaling:

Saturday, January 9, 3 p.m. I had been working on a project and watching a football game with family in the afternoon. I felt tired, but the world wasn’t ending. I could have taken a nap, but I was too busy to think about this habit I needed to figure out.

Sunday, January 10, 3 p.m. I had a photoshoot. It was short shoot, but just enough time to set my mood to be forward thinking. Earlier in the day I was in bed, crying. I was tired and frustrated. My house was a mess and I felt behind. My girls were tired from their sleepover the night before so they snuggled in for a nap. I grabbed my favorite mug and filled it with coffee before an afternoon meeting, and grocery pick-up prior to my session. I am not good at taking a day off. I decided this will be my next priority.

Monday, January 11, 3 p.m. I was in a meeting, doing my best to listen to understand what was being said. I was tired after the meeting, but I had grabbed coffee prior as a treat and pick me up. Since I was actively doing something productive, I didn’t take time to think about my emotions.

Tuesday, January 12, 3 p.m. I didn’t sleep well overnight. My mind was racing after a challenging evening. My 4-year-old woke me up in the middle of the night and my alarm clock came too soon. Coffee was a must to start my day. Self-care has been needed today. My slump came as I drove to my friend’s house for a play date with our children. I downed my coffee on the way and walked into her house needing the pick-me-up of friendship.

Wednesday, January 13, 3 p.m. I was feeling tired all day while I worked. In hindsight I wasn’t feeling great. Around 3 p.m., after working my tail end off, I lost my energy. I continued to work, but it was noticeable. The world wasn’t ending, but I didn’t have any momentum.

Thursday, January 14, 3 p.m. I was back at work and having a great day. I felt well and full of determination to do my job with energy. My work was life-giving and full of hope. I did not experience a slump. Three o-clock came and went and I realized the slump hadn’t happened. I realized my slump happens mostly when I am at home or when I don’t have anything productive to do.

Today, Friday January 15, I realize this week has been emotionally tough. I took care for myself this morning and refocused my attitude towards gratitude. In review, it appears my habit of an afternoon coffee comes from allowing my emotions to become negative. I may feel overwhelmed, tired or sad and I race to make myself feel better. I heard it said this week on a podcast “my emotions are not my boss”. This hit me to the core. Without realizing it, I allow my emotions to become my boss in the afternoon.

This coming week, I am going to change the way I do business with my emotions. I want to be the boss of them. I can choose to dwell on other things such as gratitude, joy and goodness, especially in the afternoon. To make a new habit, I need my brain to rewire by consciously making decisions instead of allowing the old pathways in my brain to continue.

What about you? Is it time to look for the “cue” in a habit you want to break? Being aware of a habit has been eye opening for me. I encourage us to make sense of why we do what we do so we can start making new habits of self-care and resilience. Maybe start a journal to record what cues you have around the habits you do without thinking about or the habit you want to break. A little step in the right direction, even just becoming aware of the decisions we are making, will help us when times get tough.

Next goal: learn to rest. If you are driven like I am, learning to rest can be a negative goal. Or resting might be easy and you want to make the goal of moving something forward in your life. We will talk about both. Let’s look at the healthy reasons to rest first. Can’t wait!

-ST

Creating New Habits

Let’s talk about habits. How do create them? Why are some habits easy to start and keep and other habits just take me a day or two to unlearn? I decided to look into this more this week.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business, talks about his habit of an afternoon cookie in the cafeteria at work in his promotional video. After extensive time of getting a cookie every afternoon, he wanted to break the habit. Let’s be honest. I have habits like this I want to break, but I don’t even notice that I do them. Instead of just substituting a piece of fruit or a carrot for his cookie, he wrote a book. Just kidding, he went on the adventure of learning how habits work. He says he learned that habits have “a cue, a routine and a reward”. In his adventure he took time to determine what triggered the urge. He determined the time of day when the urge started. He also had to determine the reward.

The reward of the habit doesn’t mean it’s the habit itself. Duhigg started doing the same routine while interchanging the cookie for something else. He attempted walking around without getting a cookie. He attempted eating something else at his desk. He learned that the reward wasn’t the cookie. The reward was socializing with colleagues. Once he learned about the habit, he changed it to have a better one. Around the same time every afternoon, he gets up, walks around to talk to a friend in the office and then goes back to work. The reward of visiting with a colleague is the same, just without the habit of the cookie. (You can enjoy this video as well on http://www.charlesduhigg.com and find his book there or on Amazon.)

Because I like to dig more, I found out the science of what is happening in our brains. I found the interview with Charles Duhigg from NPR. The interview included this. “Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into a sleep mode of sorts.” – the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. https://www.npr.org/2012/03/05/147192599/habits-how-they-form-and-how-to-break-them (last viewed 01/07/2021)

What I gained from this is that when we make decisions we use one part of our brains. Once those decisions are in repeat it moves to a part of the brain which doesn’t have to think or make decisions. Habits forming initially takes decisions and this can make patterns harder to form. We may have formed behaviors with rewards we haven’t had to decide over for years.

Let’s talk about one of my habits. Around 3 p.m. every day I go into a slump. I determine the world is ending and I loose my energy. In looking at the cue I learned it started when I worked night shift three days a week. I would nap in the afternoon, get up to eat and drink coffee in preparation of staying up all night. I would often dread the long night and worried about missing out on whatever was happening in the evening with my friends. On the days I wasn’t working I wouldn’t nap. Around 3 p.m. I would feel a slump and rush to get coffee as my reward for my sadness.

I had noticed this habit (3 p.m., slump, coffee, life was okay), but chocked it up to a low blood sugar issue. I stopped working the night shift and if I was busy during 3 p.m. I would be fine. When my oldest started kindergarten I picked her up at 3 p.m.. I had purpose and the reward was seeing my daughter. My slump seemed to go away. This year, school ends earlier and I went back to the night shift. The same slump returned.

Maybe you have a similar habit you aren’t aware of. I have to determine what cues the habit. This is my next step. I know the world isn’t ending. I can drink less coffee, but I need to change the cue. I am going to focus on the cue this week and I’ll get back to you. Meanwhile, check out the promotional video I found, maybe read Duhigg’s book. It is definitely on my read list.

More and more I am convinced (and will keep talking about it this year) that the habits we have can help bring us back to a place of resilience when the tough stuff hits. When we don’t have to think about the helpful and healthy things we do every day, we can more quickly return to a place of peace and rest after experiencing a stress cycle. (I can’t wait to share what I am learning about the stress cycle in the next few weeks.)

Let’s work on the goals and habits which make every day healthy. Once we do, we plunge into resilience. See you soon and have a great week!

-ST

Finding your New Year Resolution

Happy New Year! It’s 2021 and hope is in the air. It might be possible you plan on setting a resolution. It’s an American tradition, however, unless we have appropriate goals our resolutions may not make it past January.

Before we can talk about resiliency, let’s talk about goals. Goals give us a sense of direction. Accomplished goals give us something to celebrate. When we accomplish a goal, no matter how big or small, we get a small dopamine hit. This can keep us motivated, but our goals need to be manageable so we can accomplish them often.

Donald Miller in his course on life planning (Business Made Simple) talks about this concept. For example, instead of making a resolution to workout every day at the gym for an hour and a half, 30 minutes of cardio and 60 minutes of lifting weights, but would have to join a gym, fit into workout clothes and find time in your already busy life, set appropriate goals. Start with choosing to walk every day for 5 minutes. This is accomplishable. When we miss a day, the consequence isn’t as great. When we complete our 5-minutes walk, check it off our list and feel great about our accomplishment, we are more apt to do it again the next day. We will most likely walk for longer than 5 minutes and our dopamine hit can keep us motivated. Over time, the habit will be formed and can be built upon.

Resiliency starts when we choose goals we could accomplish. This year my larger goal is to be healthier at the end of the year than I am now. Adding my desire to grow in resiliency I have decided to be more consistent in my yoga practice in the next 6 months. My smaller goal is to practice yoga at home five days a week for at least 10 minutes. (I’ll share with you how it goes.)

Accomplishable goals help our minds and bodies find consistency and routines for when we have a rough day. On a low day, it is easier to get back to a routine and accomplish goals when they are part of our daily life. This year, in preparation for resiliency, let’s choose goals we can incorporate every day.

Looking forward to celebrating accomplished goals and successful resolutions with you by the end of 2021.

-ST

Wrapping up 2020 – New Goal for 2021

Day 350-

I started the year excited to blog about my journey of overcoming anxiety. Not every day has been successful, but identifying my anxiety before my head starts spinning has been a win. I more quickly recognize my fears. 

One of the exciting aspects of this 2020 year was the expansion of my world. I have been in health care for the past 16 years. I have learned about burn-out and resilience in my work as a pediatric ICU nurse. I have lead trainings on self-care and created guided journaling for colleagues. I am passionate about resilience. As I have been more involved at my girls’ school and stretching myself to understand more about my community and our nation’s politic, I have realized the topic of burn-out has become a part of every industry. There is work-trauma and added stressors, especially in a year of a pandemic, which can capsize any individual. 

Mental health needs are increasing. We as a society seem to be are talking about anxiety, stress and loneliness more often. We may feel alone in our stress, but the data of increases in anxiety say otherwise. (We will talk about the data soon.) We are not alone in the experience stress has on our minds and our bodies.

This year the stress factor for most of us has elevated and stayed elevated. Generally, before 2020, I would guess that the pattern for most individuals is when stress elevates we adapt for the short time stress exists and then we recover. This is the model which works under the fight or flight mechanism we innately have in our brains. Normally, this mechanism only needs to sustain for a short period of time before we return to a normal state of peace and rest for our minds and body. This year, however, the pandemic stress hasn’t gone away.

The stress from 2020 continues and it’s possible we have experienced stress upon stress. For a lot of us we haven’t returned to a normal state of peace. If we don’t find a new “normal” for our mind and body, we will stay at a high level of stress. This is unsustainable and opens the door for burn-out to come into play.

In the midst of 2020 I have taken what my training around resilience and burn-out as a front line worker and applied it to stress around on-line learning for my girls, the disappointments as vacations were cancelled, and the drastic financial decreases in my business. I have pushed myself to grow and to find new normals in all these areas. I have more to go, but in 2021 I want to take you with me as I blog about burn-out, resiliency, stress reduction, and self-care. I want to help you grow in your response to gratitude and joy, two antidotes for burn-out. 

Anxiety does not have to be our end story. We have the power to change how our minds work and we have an opportunity to get-up every morning to face the day. No matter where we work or what our situations are at home, we can work towards finding peace and decreasing stress for the betterment of our health and well-being.

I cannot wait to get started on this new goal of 2021. I wish you peace over this holiday season. Thank you for joining me on my journey around anxiety.

Isaiah 57:14

And it will be said; “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”

-ST

The Mud of 2020

Day 318-

I was headed over a the Loveland Pass close to home and I couldn’t see. My windshield was covered by muddy crud. 

As I left for my short trip to our Colorado mountains last Sunday I checked to make sure I had what I needed. Gas. Check. Water. Check, A snack. Check. Camera. Absolutely. About an hour into my journey I headed towards the largest pass of my quick trip. The road was a bit sloshy with dirty snow and my window filled with grim as other cars kicked up the grey snow.  I began to wash my window and the suds fizzled to nothing. I was out of windshield fluid. My windshield wipers aren’t at top performance. This just accentuated the problem.

The road was becoming icy in spots and the temperature outside began to freeze the dirt onto my window. I quickly became unable to see. No amount of dry swishing of my wipers could do the trick. I needed a solution, quickly.

This 2020 year has often felt like my muddied windshield on a mountain pass. At times I have felt paralyzed by what seemed to be lack of vision or perspective. I started 2020 ready to conquer the world and make changes for the good of my and my family’s life. I was on the road I need to be on, but, like so many of us, the view became covered by outside circumstances. 

I began to consider my options. I could pull over and trying to wait it out, but without the right tools, I might not get moving again. I could use my water to clear my view, but this might not last long once I got back on the road. I could charge ahead, hoping the window will take care of itself. I knew the road was the right one, but charging ahead could lead to others running into me or me into them. I could throw up my hands and give up, but I don’t think we need to talk about that option. 

As I quickly processed options, I noticed at the bottom of my windshield a small clear spot. I could see where I was going just enough to stay in my lane and see if ice was on the road. I clung to this slice of clarity and pressed forward.

The pass includes a tunnel. I went through it preparing for icy conditions, slow semi trucks and a steep road. I could feel myself tensing up as the opening to the tunnel appeared. To my relief, the sun was out. Through my passenger window I could see the view. It was gorgeous, the highlight of my day. A good rain would have cleared up my problem, but I would have missed the view.

I made it to the gas station safely and filled my windshield washer tank to the brim. I realized this quick interruption of my life represents how 2020 has been for me. Here is what I have learned:

  • I know where I am going, the view just got muddy from exterior issues.
  • I could decide to be too anxious to go on, but I would have never made it to my destination.
  • The mud (life’s situations) wasn’t the problem. My inability to deal with the mud was my problem. I could have been upset with how other people kicked up the mud, but I choose to focus on keeping myself pulled together. I kept everyone around me safer that way.
  • It’s important to look around to enjoy the view. I would have missed the best part of the drive if I had not taken my eyes off the difficulty momentarily. It reminded me where I was going and how much I desired to be where I was going.
  • I have to go one step at a time. Sure, I slowed down to be safe, but I still got to my destination.

As I take time to enjoy the view, 2020 has been one of the most transformative years of my life. I have pushed myself to find small clearings in my window. I have tackled anxiety and put habits into practice to help diminish it. I have enjoyed where I am going as a person despite the mud on my window. There is plenty of mud still, but I know it will not last forever. This too shall pass and we will get to clean the window soon.

May the rest of your 2020 bring perspective and peace.

-ST

Comparison

Day 307 –

Have you every stopped abruptly during a social media perusing and wondered how your day was going so wonderfully until that moment? This happens to me often. I began to reflect this past week on how social media can cause a down spiral of my mood. Why, I wondered, does my day need to be interrupted by an overt case of anxiety when I choose to be on social media. I came to the conclusion that my mood changes when I allow comparison to come barging in and social media accentuates this.

This diary blog of overcoming anxiety has induced me to pause more quickly when I recognize my anxiety. Now redirecting my thoughts around my triggers is my new challenge. I want my anxiety triggers to become easier to identify. I have realized many triggers in the past, but comparison is one I still don’t see coming.

Anxiety looked different than when the pandemic first hit. My children may come home to do school soon and I won’t burst into tears this time. My activities might be cancelled, but I have fewer places to go now. I suffer less disappointment. Our vacations have been constantly cancelled this year, so we have already resigned to stay home for the foreseeable future. I cram fewer things into my life and I am grateful when I get a few hours of uninterrupted work time in my office. Life seems simpler some days for sure. Life seems simpler, that is, until I jump onto social media and thoughts of comparison show up.

Some of my triggers in the past have been money, health, the status of the world and life seeming to move forward without me. I have learned that there is never enough money, but somehow there’s always enough. Health is not a guarantee, but we usually make it through another day without thinking about it. Our world seems to be in upheaval, especially now, but it only triggers me if I participate in certain conversations, or when I am caught off guard by watching the news or looking at social media. Life continues to move on whether we join it or not. I have found that whether I worry or not, it doesn’t change a thing about the external world around me.

This year the antidote of anxiety has been gratitude. When comparison is the root cause for my anxiety, celebrating others has become my antidote. In my new on-line photography course I talk about celebrating other photographers instead of feeling defeated when someone else seems to win the day and posts amazing photographs. When a photographer is creative and is courageous they share their work with others. Celebrating each other has been the only way I have found joy in the midst of comparison.

Growing up, celebrating others came from my need to be notified. Being kind and being generous with my words brought generous words back to me. Once I learned this about myself I test my motives more quickly before offering gushing words to celebration. Are my words genuine? Are my words for the benefit of others or for my own attention? The balance between celebrating others to decrease the comparison game and celebrating others to look awesome doing so can be tricky. Testing motives can also be difficult when we discover that our motives are rooted in the wrong ambition.

How do we celebrate others with the right motives? I have found that we must choose to celebrate others for their benefit. When I celebrate someone else, even if I don’t tell the person directly, I acknowledge the creativity they are expressing. I am acknowledging that they are allowed to create and to thrive in what God has given them. I can leave comparison at the door and move forward in my own creativity. I allow the celebration of others to propel me toward greater levels of creativity in my work, in my relationships and in my ambitions.

In a practical way, as the holidays approach and more perfect family photos show up on social media, remember to celebrate what you see. Let’s challenge each other to not let comparison affect our day. Behind the scenes we all have messy lives and a photo is quick snapshots (1/125 of a second or so) of perfection. Obtaining those moments is hard word and worth the celebration. In doing this, maybe we will be a little less anxious and a lot more gracious with ourselves and with others.

-ST