Making a Change

Making a change

Stress is not a bad thing. In the right amounts it can motivate us to take action, accomplish tasks, and even improve performance. When stress is chronic or to a degree that interferes with functioning, though, it may be a sign that change is needed.

I frequently help my clients to better manage their stress, and I have found the model of  the “Four As” of stress management to be very useful: Avoid, Alter, Accept, and Adapt. When acceptance will simply prolong and increase the stress, when altering the situation hasn’t worked, and when adapting will change you in ways that are in conflict with your values and fulfillment, avoiding or removing yourself from the stressor may be the best option. Make a change!

Avoidance usually gets a bad reputation. And, to be fair, avoidance of stress often leads to stunted growth and development. If you never get up in front of a group of people to give a presentation just because it is stressful, you may not be advancing in your career. On the other hand, staying in an unrewarding and even punishing situation can lead to negative health effects, stress disorders, and even depression. Avoidance used excessively may be the easy out and counterproductive, but when removing yourself from a stressor is the best option, it takes courage to belly-up and make the change.

Know when to make a change!

My own example of making a change came several months ago when I found myself in a job that was unfulfilling, restricting, and did not support my values. I had been unhappy for years, but I had reasons for staying – mostly financial. Finally, after many discussions with my wife and a long period of planning, I began taking steps toward making a change and leaving the position.

How did I know it was time to make a change? The position no longer aligned with my values and priorities. I did not have the flexibility I needed to nurture and attend to my family relationships, nor did I have the time, opportunity, or freedom to pursue my own personal interests or professional development. I found myself so consumed with stress that it took all of my free time just to unwind from it. In short, my values and priorities were being challenged and my growth was being stunted.

Resigning from a secure, full-time position for a more flexible private practice was far from easy. It took careful planning, lots of support, and an abundance of courage. In the end, making a change was not the simplest judgement to make,  but since that crucial decision, it has led to less stress, greater life balance, and more opportunity for success.

My challenge to you is to reflect on your own life stresses and ask yourself, “Is it time to make a change?”

-Alex

Journal Prompt: Pick one source of stress in your life right now and review the Four A’s of stress management. Which approaches will lead to the best outcome for you? What values or priorities are being threatened by this source of stress, and what values and priorities will be nurtured by taking the approach you’ve decided on?

 

52 New Things

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By January 2019, I may be french braiding hair while baking bread from scratch, researching self defense tactics, and identifying regional bird calls.

Now let’s go back to 2018 for a minute. Instead of making the usual New Years’ resolution that I end up abandoning midway through January, I decided to make a list of 52 things that I’d like to learn this year. I’m not looking to be an expert at everything or to try to conquer the impossible…it’s more of an exercise in stimulating curiosity and reminding myself of how capable I am.

Some gems from my list:

#2: Brew Coffee
It’s easy to rely on our loved ones to do simple tasks rather than learning how to do them ourselves. One thing that is slightly embarrassing that I still don’t know how to do on my own is to brew the perfect pot of coffee. I don’t drink much caffeine (it makes me bounce off of the walls), so Alex is the one to brew this morning elixir. When his parents stayed with us over Thanksgiving, I realized how nice it would be have fresh coffee waiting for my beloved in-laws.

#18: Learn the basics of coding
In a world where two year olds know more about the iPhone features and my high school students are creating apps, I often find myself wanting to know more about the world of programming and computer science. I’ve had an account on CodeAcademy for a few months but have yet to dive into this mysterious world.

#32: Memorize a poem
A good chunk of my list has to do with creativity and culture. Do you remember when you memorized “I never saw a purple cow…” as a child and thought you were a genius? Imagine having a beautiful composition committed to memory. Do you have any favorite poems? The poem recited at the end of the Netflix show Godless is absolutely breathtaking.

#45: Attend Body Pump
Many items on my list include things that I will need to rely on others for. My friend Dana is a fitness enthusiast and raves about her Body Pump class. We used to joke about me (the girl who is proud of 30 minutes on the treadmill at an incline of 5) joining her for a class. Guess what? In 2018, I will be joining and completing a Body Pump class with Dana. Love or hate it, I’m making myself get out of my comfort zone, which is an important part of growth and self care.

I’ll keep you posted as I continue my journey of 52. Whether or not I check everything off my list is not the point….it’s about the process of expanding upon what I already know and experience. A month in, I already see a difference in my motivation to learn, see, do, hear, and seek. Bring on 2018!

xo,

Moira

Journal Prompt: Make a list of 10 things you would like to learn this year. What’s on your list? How do you connect attaining knowledge to self care? 

It’s Been Awhile…

Photo May 30, 7 57 45 PMHello and Happy 2018! With the new year we often find ourselves reflecting on our lives and things that we have done well, let slide, and aspirations for the future.

In the spirit of honesty and moving forward, Alex and I let our jobs take over a bit in the past few months and weren’t doing our OTHER job of proper self care and taking time for regular reflection. We aspire to share more and share more often with you through this blog, and look forward to seeing what the year brings.

Are there any particular self care topics you would like to see us cover this year?

Journal Prompt: In reflecting on the past few months, what have you done well? Let slide? What are your aspirations for the near future? 

xo,

Moira

Self Care = Finding and Using Your Support System

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Call your people. Make plans with them. Your mind and spirit will thank you.

In the busy days of back to school craziness (I work as a high school counselor), I have once again been reminded about the importance of reaching out to my core group of family and friends who know me, listen to me, and accept me for who I am.

It is easy for me to fall into a habit of coming home from work, lying on the couch for “just five minutes” and then not having the energy to do the things I want to do, like go to the gym or call a friend to catch up. This often creates the vicious cycle of feeling disappointed with myself for not accomplishing what I wanted to, yet not taking action to change it.

This Thursday, feeling drained from a demanding work week, I was reminded of how therapeutic it can be to just talk to someone who gets it. I texted my former coworker to see if she could meet me for happy hour and was thrilled when she responded immediately that she was free and would love to catch up.

We spent two hours that afternoon venting, laughing, and confiding, and I was so energized when I got home that I even did some much-needed cleaning around the house. Sure, texting and interacting with people through social media can be a way to catch up, but there is something so fulfilling about actually talking to someone in person.

This is your friendly reminder to nurture those connections and to reach out to someone today.

xo,

Moira

Journal Prompt: Who is in your support system? In what ways do they give you strength?

P.S. Are you having trouble identifying some key people to go to for support? Check out this article about how to build your support system.

5 Ways to Fight the Sunday Night Blues on Steroids (Alternate Title: How to go Back to Work After a Long Weekend)

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Greetings and Happy Labor Day! I hope you found some time to relax this weekend while clutching onto the last bit of summer (anyone else crying about the pool closing?). I am having a fantastic weekend but am noticing that ominous, anxious feeling that comes after a long weekend off… the Sunday Night Blues on steroids.

Yes, the dreaded back to work after three glorious days off. How do we cope? If you’re struggling with the thought of going back to work tomorrow, try these 5 ways to practice some extra self care. You deserve it!

  1. Stretch as soon as you get up. If you’re like me and wake up stiff and achy most mornings, this is a great way to loosen up and to relieve any tension or stress that may build up. I really like these 5 stretches…give them a try and see how you feel.
  2. Listen to a morning meditation while you commute. There are plenty of great meditation apps you can download such as Insight Timer (my personal favorite), Buddhify, and Aura. Pick one and find a short meditation that you can stream while driving or sitting on the train. Alex does this every morning on his way to the office and finds that when he arrives at work he is more serene, calm, and ready to take on whatever the day may bring.
  3. Add some pizzazz to your water bottle. Do you have a cucumber in your veggie drawer or a mint plant you always seem to forget about? Add some to your water! Even doing something this small will add variation and excitement to your normal routine. Plus, adding something yummy to your water will make you want to drink more of it, which means you stay more hydrated. Hydration means more energy. See where I’m going with this?!
  4. Plan an exit strategy. Even though most people don’t work on Labor Day, there always seems to be more to do after a long weekend off. Plan something to make sure you leave work on time, whether it’s scheduling a phone call with your bestie, getting a pedicure, or meeting your partner for happy hour.
  5. Go to bed 30 minutes early. The best thing you can do for yourself to continue to recharge is to get enough sleep. I know that catching up on Insecure and Bachelor in Paradise is important…but do yourself this favor and snag some extra Zzzz’s. Your body and mind will thank you.

Wishing you a low stress and peaceful day tomorrow!

Journal Prompt: Reflect on your long weekend. What are you grateful for? 

xo,

Moira

 

A Return to Gratitude

Bourne Pond 3.JPGSometimes we need a reminder to return to the things we’ve done in the past to take care of ourselves emotionally now. This week I had planned to post a follow-up to Get Outside! following an amazing backpacking trip with my brother in the Lye Brook Wilderness of Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest – we had a great time bonding over some of the things we love to do outdoors like hiking, fly-fishing, and just being out in nature. A few days following our return, though, my brother experienced an acute medical condition that proved challenging to treat and ultimately required surgery. While waiting anxiously for updates as he went through the process of diagnosis and treatment, I was reminded of the need to fall back on a perspective of gratitude when life throws something difficult and unexpected your way. Rather than attempting to push myself through writing something about our time outdoors, then, I decided that I would instead post about the benefits of gratitude. This decision to share openly about my own story and what I have been actively doing to manage it feels like a more authentic expression of myself.

On gratitude, a couple of years ago I accepted a challenge to track my gratitude daily for 7-10 days. Each day I listed three (3) things for which I was grateful that day. At first it felt a little awkward. I felt silly when my source of thankfulness came from something as trivial as, for example, getting to eat my favorite food. Other days my reflections felt more meaningful. For example, when I listed a family member’s words of encouragement as a source of gratitude, I felt supported and cared about by others. Ultimately, carrying the practice of gratitude forward over a full week helped me to establish the habit of looking for and noticing things to be grateful for, and has given me the confidence to always be able to find something positive in my life when things are tough.

Plenty of research on the benefits of gratitude can be found by doing a simple google search, including research on the psychological health benefits of gratitude by Dr. Robert A. Emmons Ph.D. But many people do not need convincing; the health benefits of gratitude have become so accepted that phone app developers have been working to make it more convenient and easily integrated into daily life.
If you feel the need for any more evidence or explanation, try the challenge for yourself!
Journal Prompt: List three things for which you are grateful each day for 7-10 days. As an alternative, try journaling about any of these 5 questions from Dr. Alice Boyes.
-Alex

Staycation = Self Care

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It’s mid-August. Summer is winding down, the kids are getting ready to go back to school, and we’re all left with some feelings of regret for how we could have spent our time. If you, like most of us, can’t jet off to Aruba right now but are pining for one last summer hurrah, may we suggest a staycation?

Self care means giving yourself a break from the monotony of everyday life once in awhile–when you change your routine you can change your perspective and gain newfound appreciation for the little things. Taking a day to explore somewhere nearby allows for leisure and relaxation without the time, money, or planning associated with traditional vacations. Staycations also mean an opportunity for spontaneity–opening yourself up to new and unexpected experiences.

Ask yourself this question: “If I was visiting [insert where you live here] on vacation, what would I do?”

When Alex and I visit a new place, we love to explore by visiting local markets, spending time outside, people-watching, and eating and drinking local fare. I’m going back to work tomorrow after six weeks off, so a staycation felt like the perfect way for us to connect and refresh before routine sets in.

Some tips for a fantastic staycation: 

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Breaux Vineyards in Hillsboro, VA.

Choose your location. We are fortunate to live near Virginia wine country and decided to check out a winery we had never been to before. Bonus: 35 minute drive through the countryside and very little planning involved.

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Baguette, brie, anchovy, purple basil, cherry tomato. Wash down with wine. Repeat.

Pack a picnic basket. We went to our local Farmer’s Market and grocery store to procure some of the deliciousness you see here. Not pictured: dark chocolate for dessert and coconut water for rehydration.

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Stimulate conversation through games or activities. This is our favorite picnic game and we always learn something new about each other. I learned that Alex cannot wait to be an old man and plans to continue fly fishing for the rest of his life.

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Relax, people-watch, and enjoy your surroundings. Remember when we talked about how staycations can lead to unexpected experiences? It just so happens that the winery we went to was also hosting a bluegrass festival! We loved sitting on our blanket listening to banjo-picking, bearded musicians and watching little kids run around in circles dancing to the sweet tunes.

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Be in the moment. When you’re on a real vacation, you’re not thinking about all of the things you have to do when you get home. Same rules apply for a staycation. We spent some time walking through the vineyards, feeling the warmth of the sun, and reconnecting with each other. Oh, and that mountain view? Pretty spectacular.

Journal Prompt: If you were visiting where you live on vacation, what would you do? 

xo,
Moira & Alex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Comfort Zone

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Wading through the bay and trying not to think about all of the creatures I might step on, I feel the paddle sliding through my sunscreen-greased, sweaty hand. I grip the paddle board and slowly hoist myself onto the board and up on my knees. I can’t tell if the board is shaking from my quivering limbs or from the tiny ripples of the water. Either way,  I have to stand up. It’s time.

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As someone who usually errs on the side of caution and has a genetic predisposition for anxiety, my “comfort zone” is a pretty big space. I like knowing what I’m getting myself into and plan for a variety of outcomes in a given scenario. When it comes to physically challenging activities in unknown places, I feel especially timid. In the past few months I have done some soul-searching about why I have these boundaries and small ways I could push them. Have you ever noticed how doing something really small to challenge your normal boundaries can actually translate into feeling more confident and capable (insert self care siren here)?

During the yearly beach vacation with my extended family, I happily observe my cousins and their kids dive through the crashing waves and paddle board along the shore of the bay. It’s not that I’m afraid to engage, per se, it’s just that I’m comfortable where I am, with my toes planted firmly in the sand. When my sister told me that she and my cousins were taking the kids paddle boarding, I told her to count me in.

As you can probably tell from the triumphant pose the mystery paddle boarder is striking in the picture above, I did it! I won’t go into all of the details about the before and during–the most important takeaway for me was the after. Even though most people would probably paddle board without a second thought (basically everyone I was with and their five year old kids), to me, the feat of actually standing up on the board and meandering my way through the ripples of the bay was like completing a marathon. Beyond the adrenaline and pride coursing through me, my family was SO proud of me. They know me and accept me for who I am, and wouldn’t have been disappointed or even said anything to me if I didn’t end up paddle boarding. But let me tell you, when I stood up and paddled away, I heard my cousin Peter yelling to my sister “MAEVE! She did it! Take a picture!” Paddling outside of my comfort zone not only fostered self-confidence, it reminded me of what an amazing support system I have.

I found these articles really interesting about one’s comfort zone and how there is a level of “optimal anxiety” which leads to all sorts of positive outcomes like increased productivity and creativity. There also is a point at which pushing oneself too far outside of the zone can be detrimental. Check them out and leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!

The science of breaking out of your comfort zone

10 ways to step outside of your comfort zone

Journal Prompt: How can you push yourself out of your comfort zone this week? Write about how you feel before and after this experience.

xo,

Moira

One of Those Days

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Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel “blah” and unmotivated? Those days where your normal tools don’t seem to be working? I’m having one of those days today and really don’t feel like journaling. Or mediating. Or exercising. Or phoning a friend. Even gazing at my fresh vase of sunflowers as I write this isn’t improving my mood.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes self care means giving yourself a day off. Not making yourself feel guilty for not unloading the dishwasher. Taking a nap on top of the clean laundry. Eating a frozen meal even though you have fresh vegetables that need to be used up. Looking up wayyy too many Game of Thrones memes. Plopping the kid in front of the TV for an extra 30 minutes.

So, instead of finishing my blog post about getting outside of your comfort zone (hopefully to come later this week), I’m going to watch Grantchester on Amazon Prime and look at pictures on my favorite Instagram account, foster_kittens.

Journal Prompt: What is one way you can give yourself a break today? 

xo,

Moira

Get Outside!

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The very first thing I think of when I think about self-care is the outdoors. There’s so much research on the benefits of being in nature, whether it is the depression-fighting benefits of being in green and blue spaces, or the stress-relieving effect of exercise, or the mental focus impact of being in the moment out in the wilderness.

If you’d like to read more about this, Psychologist Jill Suttie, PsyD summarized some of the most significant research brilliantly in this article in UC Berkley’s Greater Good Magazine.

This importance of being connected to nature makes sense. When it comes down to it,  on a philosophical level, we are nature; we are animals, developed out of the processes of the natural world, who evolved alongside other natural processes. Somewhere along the way, though, we have gotten so good at controlling and manipulating our environment that we may have lost our connection to it.  Living, working, traveling, and playing in our manufactured spaces, we have become increasingly disconnected from each other and from the natural world… sitting alone in our windowless offices or staring at each other silently from behind our windshields while stuck in traffic, we may be inadvertently making ourselves less well. This is just not how we were made to live!

To me, the key to reconnecting with our natural environment and getting the most self-care benefit out of being outdoors is finding the way in which we most enjoy being in nature. For me, revisiting nature in it’s purest form is backpacking out in the wilderness. For you, is it jogging your favorite route?… Taking a drive in the countryside with the hood down?… Playing an outdoor sport like golf?… Enjoying a scenic visit to a local winery with friends?… Playing in the backyard with your children or pets?… Or is it just sitting at your favorite spot outside on the back patio?

As for me…when I can’t get out into the wilderness and I need some mental clarity and creativity, like when writing this blog post, I secretly put in my earbuds and plug into my favorite nature-sounds playlist on Spotify!

Journal Prompt:
What is your favorite outdoor place or space? Maybe it is a place from your childhood, a favorite vacation spot, or just a place that you love getting out to on the weekends. How does being in this place impact your self-care?

If you’re feeling stuck with this prompt, try this activity instead. See the section: Distancing Yourself From Your Emotions.

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