“What’s up this week?”- How to quick plan to reduce stress and anxiety

Amidst my toddler yelling incoherent jargon, mental fog from pre-coffee wake up, and a sink full of dishes, a lightbulb went off. No, not the one in the ceiling light—that happened last week and is still burnt out—it was the light that flickers when one has a moment of brilliance.

Holding so many things inside my head was taking up so much mental space, and Lord knows I don’t have much of that left anymore since having a baby. Mommy brain is real.

My mind is always so busy spinning in circles, trying to remember events, appointments, and lists that I find my anxiety is frequently running high. But this morning was different. Today I decided to try something new. After my kid was settled in his high chair with breakfast and the Keurig was heating up, I pulled one of the rarely used magnetic note pads off the fridge and grabbed a pen.

I named the page the first thing that came to mind: What’s up this week?

Then I began to make bullet points. Things like Go to Costco and Put away laundry were things I wanted to get done, while Schedule dr appointment and Clean bathrooms were things that needed to get done. At first I didn’t differentiate between need and want, I just transferred the swirling thoughts from my head onto the paper to get them out.

The list wasn’t that long or life-changing, but it gave me a sense of direction for the week and could guide what I would do next. It helped me feel organized, clear-headed, and, most of all, sane. That’s huge for any busy woman.

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Feeling in control of your day and week is never easy, and what I do find to be very easy is to let things get out of control pretty quickly. Sometimes it feels like everyone else but us is dictating our lives. For me, a little basic organization reigns the control back in. A few minutes of tidying in the morning and evening, basic lists, and a paper calendar with everything going that sits open on the counter top are a few ways that I’ve found to keep sane.

These methods work for me, but might not work for you. What other basic organizing could you do? Chore charts assign a specific cleaning task to a specific day, ensuring everything gets done in a timely fashion. Family calendars on the fridge with color codes to each person may let you plan ahead so that your life isn’t a last minute rush. One mom I know writes everything on sticky notes and creates an orderly grid on her fridge that allows her to quickly find important things to do, appointments, and future scheduling. So easy, but something I never would have thought of myself.

Making lists or charts might seems like the last thing you want to do on a hectic Monday morning, but planning the week ahead before it starts is guaranteed to make you feel in control and capable of taking it on. With a cup (or two, or three) of coffee in hand, of course.

 

What are some ways you’ve found to help keep yourself organized?

On aging and grace

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“You look great for your age!…. Whatever, um, age you might be.”

Did you just call me old?

I stared at the teen something girl in the clothing resale shop, perplexed for the first time as the reality that I wasn’t in the “20-something” category anymore sunk in.

Up until this point, I didn’t really see myself that differently from any other 20-year old. And now, unintentionally (I hope), this girl was basically telling me that my style isn’t “teen” enough to buy, my clothes bought too long ago to purchase and resell to today’s discerning youth.

Why was I so rattled? I don’t particularly want to dress as a teenager—those crop tops and printed pants aren’t really my thing anyway—nor do I want to behave as a 20-something year old anymore. At night, I’m too tired to start getting ready at 9 pm to go out. By that time I’m getting ready for one thing only: bedtime. I don’t recover the same way after a night out of drinking (not that those kinds of nights happen much anymore). I don’t really get Coachella, or any summer festival in the blazing hot sun.

I think what this experience really showed me was who I am becoming. A little over a year ago I became a mother, and a few months after that I turned 30. With these changes brought so many other things, from postpartum depression, self-reinvention, blogging, and a self-confidence and security that I never had as a teen or 20 year old. So much has changed in my life.

I take my belly ring out for the last time, it’s pink jewel catching the sunlight as I put it away in my dresser drawer, the glint almost seeming like it is winking at me as I shut it away, another chapter in my life closed.

I smile to myself. I don’t dress the same or wear the same size I used to. I spend a lot of the day crawling after a toddler and wiping dirty hands, doing laundry and dishes repeatedly. My favorite scene isn’t at a bar, but instead is watching my son and husband play. My favorite activity isn’t very social; it’s the quiet moments when my baby boy—although not so baby anymore—grins at me and flings his arms around my neck for a big hug that warms me to my very core.

Change is good. Change is healing. Change is revealing to who we really are, what is important to us, and who we want to be. Bring on the changes. I am ready for them.

On being lost– and finding myself– over and over again

Okay, so I’m a little lost. I just finished watching Kung Fu Panda 3 with my toddler to try to pass the hours in between naps because I’m sick and feeling like hell and needed some help from an electronic babysitter (yeah, yeah, bad parent, I know). Have you seen that movie? It was actually really good, and I mean in an enlightening kind of way. That fat, dumpling eating panda finally found the answer to the question he’s been searching in three movies for: Who am I? I can relate on all of these…although I guess I’m not a panda, but maybe the rest are true.

I’ve been on a personal quest for a while now. Years maybe. I’ve written about finding my path and my calling, about being lost and finding myself again. Many times I’ve been really close or think I’ve found who my true self is, but then she slips away and my future plans are illusive and out of reach yet again. Maybe it’s just all the changing hormones talking, but motherhood has changed a lot about how I view life. One thing I’m realizing is that even though I love to completely immerse myself in motherhood and be satisfied in that alone as my calling, there’s still something that feels uncompleted. The last puzzle piece is still missing.

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Why is it so hard to figure out how to combine what you love with your future calling? I keep seeing all these other women put something together and then watch it take off as an enormous success. In reality I’m sure that doesn’t happen for a lot of people, but seeing the successful ones sometimes inspire me, but also can inspire feelings of being…well…a loser. Why can’t I do that? I think to myself, What do they have that I don’t?

It’s not about what I’m lacking, though, it’s about my own journey. This is what I keep telling myself. I thought there was one destined path, but maybe there are many options, and the way that the end looks keeps changing. Why? Because we keep changing. I’m undoubtedly not the same person I was 2, 5, and definitely not 10 years ago. My priorities have changed. My viewpoints have changed. My relationships have changed. So why would it make sense that my destiny would still be the same?

Instead of focusing on making my future successful, I should focus on how to make the now successful. Granted, both types of success are important, but wishing and wanting one over the other is leaving me feeling me depleted, and defeated. What are things I can do right now—or what am I already doing—that make me a success? Focusing on future goals is okay, but not laying the foundation in the present is like trying to win a gold medal in the Olympics without ever training. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’m going to work on things in the present in order to make my future a success. Who I want to be relies entirely on working on the person I am becoming from day to day. What might be helpful in shaping my “self” right now, the woman that will be the present in the future? It’s hard to know, exactly, but these five steps sound like a great start…

  1. Make a list.

I love lists. Not everyone does. But a good list making session gets me all giddy inside. This list is different though. This list contains successes in day to day life right now. What am I doing well? What am I proud of? What makes me happy? It’s important to mark accomplishments and start seeing patterns of what brings joy.

  1. Create vision

I can’t get somewhere if I have no idea how to get there. There are two elements to record here. The big picture (goals) and action steps (how to get there). If I say I want to be a writer as my goal, that’s great, but then what? By saying I want to be a writer so I will write three times a week and submit my work to online publishers twice a month, I can have accountability and a reliable tracking method to chart my progress.

  1. Learn from the past.

There are no mistakes in life, only learning moments. The good thing about the past is that that is where it stays: behind us. It may be really difficult to learn from, but going through things for a reason can help shape the person we become. What are the teachable moments from the past that are important? What are things to never repeat? What are things that really worked out in the end? Don’t repeat what didn’t help personal growth, and do repeat what did.

  1. Don’t obsess.

I sweat the small stuff. I make every minor detail major. These aren’t traits that I am proud of. The outcome is that I ruminate over and over again about not only every [perceived] failure, but also every potential opportunity. I plan and plan and plan, but never actually start. I find enough viable ways to go wrong that I never allow anything to get started off right. There’s a difference between being thorough and obsessing. Being thoroughly prepared allows for being thoroughly ready, while obsessing just creates a lot of static that never forms a complete picture.

  1. The “That’s not it” approach.

My friend Debbie has a fantastic approach that she has been following her whole life. She calls it the “Nope, that’s not it” approach. Instead of picking one direction and forcing herself to fit its mold no matter what the cost, she tries many things until one suits her. Pottery? Nope, that’s not it. Grant writing? Nope, that’s not it. Tutoring? Nope, that’s not it. There’s nothing wrong with finding out that something may not be a right fit and moving onto the next, but it’s silly to waste time forcing something to fit.

I might never find that exact thing out there that will my “it” thing, but there are so many possibilities of what I could be, what I could create, and who I can help in the world.  By focusing on what I love and what brings light and joy to my life, I am okay with going along for the ride.

The art of mastering kindness (Especially when you want to drop kick that son of a…)

Why is it so hard to be nice?

I am not sure that human kindness is an innate feature. After all, way back when, if you were too kind you might get eaten. Being nice and favorable isn’t a survival mechanism. Selfishness is. And no I’m not talking about when you were back in middle or high school, I’m taking about early human evolution. Still, some kind of bonding must have occurred between these early humans, lest we wouldn’t have sociability or the innate need for companionship.

I read an article recently about a mom who is trying to teach her child about kindness and friendship. She tried to explain to her daughter that not being mean, or being indifferent, isn’t the same as being nice. I really started to think about this. Being indifferent to someone isn’t the same as being nice, or kind, to them.

So what is it, then, that makes kindness…kindness?

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Kindness takes an extra degree of effort. It takes those extra few seconds to hold open a door, to ask a crying stranger if they are okay, or to organize a donation event for a food bank. So often we hurry through our day and, usually selfishly, just try to get to quittin’ time so that we can retreat back to our caves for food and quiet. I get it, though. The last thing I want to do after caring for my baby all day is to do more. I want to be alone and cherish my solitude. But I try to include small acts of kindness in my day and evening, because it is good for the heart. Do you ever do something for someone else and just feel good about it? That good feeling must be why the cavemen continued to be kind even though it could have meant a detriment to their survival. Maybe we haven’t really changed all that much, after all.

Kindness takes caring. In this crazy day and age that we live in, self-preservation is the name of the game. A lot of people have the mindset of “me, me, me,” and, I hate to say it, that the younger generations are even more so. It seems like they never grow out of that MINE stage—a never ending parents’ nightmare. Are we losing the art of caring for one another? Possibly. The number of individuals who volunteer has been declining for over a decade. Why? Some suggest that the emergence of the social culture online takes place of personal interaction, thus cutting off our exposure to seeing those who may need help most. Whatever the cause, it is a trend that I believe will decrease our empathy for others and foster selfishness and isolation in younger generations.

Kindness takes patience. Living near a big city, I experience my fair share of major traffic. Even on days when there really shouldn’t be traffic, there can be major backups that make a short drive into an unnecessarily long one. Before, I had no qualms about letting some choice words fly, or honking my horn to ensure that the moron going under the speed limit knew of my ire. Lately, when I let the f-bomb fly, I look in my rearview mirror and see my little baby looking back at me. I instantly feed guilty, even though he can’t understand such vocabulary yet. I imagine, though, that he understands tone, and I find myself apologizing for my bad behavior. If I want to set a good example for him, how can I have such a short fuse for something so insignificant as someone who didn’t merge properly? If my baby has taught me one thing, he has taught me to have the patience of a saint. The more patience I have, the calmer I feel, and the less angry outbursts [that raise my blood pressure a few notches] I have.

Kindness doesn’t expect reciprocation. Have you ever held the door open for someone or let someone cut in front of you on the road, and when they didn’t say thank you or give you the “thank you” wave you found yourself saying “You’re welcome!” in the most sarcastic tone you can muster? True kindness doesn’t mean getting something back. It requires giving because giving is good and the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter on what scale we give, we should act because it feels right. Granted, if you are on the receiving end then puh-lease wave a thank you; kindness is expressing gratitude, too, ya know!

Being nice is not indifference. Being nice takes more.

Think about one act of kindness that you can do today. Maybe if we had more people who were willing to take a few minutes to do good, we wouldn’t have as many problems as we do. Maybe you can be that one that helps change things, even for just one person for just a minute. You never know how far your good deed goes.

So yes, I’ll hold the door open for that person who walks by without a second glance, and still smile and say “You’re welcome!”, and mean it.

STOP explaining yourself!

“No, but because I just…”

“Yes, because I thought…”

“I didn’t know, I was trying to…”

What do all of these phrases have in common? All of these sentences are not giving a definitive answer, begin an explanation, and are the beginning of the unraveling of your confidence. They are statements we often use when trying to explain ourselves. Have you ever said something similar?

Why is explaining yourself such a bad thing? Typically, it is because we lack confidence in our answers or actions, and feel like we have to explain why we behaved the way we did, or why we chose or said something. We have to validate to an outside party why what we did was the right (or wrong) thing, instead of just saying a yes or no. We are so afraid of being judged by what we did or said, we often explain ourselves—unrequested, I might add—to another person or group to ensure that they know why we are right. Explain why we are smart. Explain why we hurt someone’s feelings. Explain why I made the decision to be a stay-at-home-mom. Oh, oops, that’s just me?

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I notice myself explaining even in the most simplest of situations. “Would you like to make a donation of $1 to blah-blah charity?” “No,” I say, then ramble on about how this is actually my third time at the grocery store this week and assuredly I have already donated more than $1 earlier this week. What I should say is a simple “No” and leave it at that. I’m sure the cashier actually doesn’t care if I donate or not, or make judgements about the customers that don’t donate when they probably could afford it. Or maybe they do. Either way, it’s not my problem. Right or wrong, my choice is my choice.

I’ll give you another example, a tougher one. Have you ever RSVPed “no” to a wedding? Super awkward. One year, we elected not to go to an out of town—out of state, actually—wedding. The reason shouldn’t matter, but I’ll explain it to you anyway and completely contradict the point I’m trying to make. Like many 20-somethings, we went to a lot of weddings. A LOT. While great fun, they are usually greatly expensive. Especially when the weddings were rarely held near us. When another invite came in through the mail, we decided that financially, and just exhausted-ly, that we couldn’t do it. We declined. But we sent a gift!

I felt even worse when that thank you note for the gift came in, and the friend had written “Wish you could have been there! We missed you!”. While I doubt they actually noticed our absence on the most stressful/blissful day of their lives, I internally recoiled at the words. I felt so bad. I wanted to call and explain myself, lest their good feelings towards us remain permanently scarred! But I didn’t. We had made our choice, and I’m sure the friend was just being kind in his note.

If I actually stop and think about why I explain myself so much, it is because I feel worried about being judged and criticized. Surely if they understand my thinking, they will agree with me. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what someone else thinks of my decision. Lest I sound like your mom, it is “Because I said so, that’s why!” You definitely don’t have to be so blunt, but next time you give a “yes” or “no,” listen to yourself say what comes next. Is it an explanation? How do you feel? Insecure? Uncomfortable? These kinds of situations may happen most while we are at work or talking to family or friends. Any strife in these relationships cause even more self-doubt and anxiety, prompting even further self-explanation.

This year we elected not to travel for Christmas, and celebrate our baby’s first Christmas at home. Instead of just saying “No” when asked if we were traveling, I found myself explaining (again) why I wasn’t coming, citing the most rational of reasons (cost, crying baby, stress, crying baby, lack of crib/car seat/stroller, crying baby…). It turned out that it didn’t matter what I said, my family would still be disappointed I wasn’t there. And that’s okay! I was disappointed I wouldn’t see them, too, but our choice was our choice. End of story. Period. Fin. And, gulp, they would just have to deal with it.

At the end of the day, we have to live with our decisions and as long as we can do that, the responses of others really don’t matter. If you’re like me, you really really hate causing hurt feelings or conflict, so you bend over backwards to avoid it. It turns out that when I do this, I end up being the one with the hurt feelings or anxiety. So pointless.

You are strong, smart, and capable. You make the right choices. Own your actions. If you always do and say what is right and what you believe, you won’t have to explain yourself. Your words, or lack of them, will speak for themselves.

Why I’m actually happy to be turning 30

I never thought I’d actually say I am happy to be turning 30. But here I am, days away, and I can’t help but feeling at peace about the number.

I’d always imagined what my 30 would look like. A couple kids that weren’t under the age of 1, successful career, and a big house with lots of money (can you tell I was a little materialistic in my teenage years?). Once I turned 21, however, I started dreading the next decade marker. Thirty meant old. Thirty meant my days of partying were over. I was so in love with my 20’s and being young that I couldn’t foresee anything good from getting older. The years crept on, as they tend to do, and 30 was getting closer, and my apprehension grew.

I spent my 20’s with my loving husband by my side, partying, traveling, and trying to figure out who I thought I was, and what I thought I wanted to be. I just couldn’t capture that all-important (at the time) career I was lusting after. Still, I loved 20’s and didn’t want him to leave, so I clung to him desperately.

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But then something miraculous happened. I had a baby. Much later than I thought, I might add. I say miraculous because conceiving, growing a human, and birthing him is truly a miracle. I didn’t realize all of these things until I was in the midst of it and reading everything I could get my hands on. The timing had to be just right, the bodily conditions perfect, and then the 8 weeks after conception were a time of prayers of please please stay. The “oops” baby mothers made it look so easy to achieve; I didn’t know that it wasn’t. As it turns out, all my husband had to do was sneeze and I was pregnant. Okay, the second sneeze worked. We were #blessed that way (did I really just #? Ugh okay I did).

Now that my little guy isn’t so little anymore—I mean he is, but growing so fast!—and I have almost completed my 30th trip around the sun, I’ve made a few realizations I wasn’t expecting, like that

I am much more able to live in the present. When I was in my 20’s, I loved myself. My anthem was that little known song that goes kinda like “I’m a badass bitch, bitch, bitch.” But for some reason, I was still insecure. I longed for the past. I couldn’t live in the present, let alone create my future. All of that has changed. That girl in her 20’s was still good, but this woman is great. Mostly because

I know who I am and I like her. A lot. The anthem may not have changed, but my self-confidence sure has. And not just in my view of my new mom body (rolls anyone?) but also who I am as a person. I like who I am. I like that I am strong. I like that I don’t take any shit anymore. I like that I am done with making excuses. This is who I am, and I’m happy to report that people seem to be responding (positively!) to her. It’s not just that, but there is also this brand new part of me that was birthed with my son. It turns out that

I love that I am a mother. Motherhood was never really on my career agenda. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted kids. Maybe getting closer to 30 also activated that little ticking clock that some women have—baby baby baby BABY. Now that I’m a mama, I’m a little obsessed! I’ve written about how motherhood has changed me, and how I get a little lost in motherhood. I said it before and I’ll say it again, I love who I found there. Motherhood has a way of changing people. For me,

I’m a kinder, gentler, and more patient woman. And that’s not half bad! I think it allows for better bonds with everyone in my life. I’m also able to see a lot more clearly. If someone or something isn’t worth the time and energy, I am prepared to put some distance there, whereas before, I just held on and couldn’t let go. I’m just realizing as I’m writing this, that that statement is a pretty good metaphor for my 20’s. I just couldn’t let go. The past, the old friends who I’ve since outgrown (and vice versa), the relationships, and most importantly, the ideals of what I thought my life would be. As it turns out, my life isn’t at all what I imagined it would be,

My life is better than I’d ever imagined. I didn’t know I could be capable of so much love—I’m basically shooting rainbows and sparkly hearts out of my eyeballs! I didn’t know I would find my passion for helping women in my experience of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and motherhood. I didn’t know I could be this happy. I didn’t know I could just be. But I still realize that

I’m still not perfect. Life is about growing and changing and getting stronger, much like the maple in my back yard. It’s not much fun to be like the rocks that are always the same shape, color, and hardness (bor-ing!). But I’m okay with that. I can now look forward to the changes instead of trying to keep everything the same.

I’m turning 30, but that doesn’t mean anything does it? It’s more about turning into the person I’d always dreamed I could be but didn’t know how to find. Hello, you, you’re a badass bitch….

Why wait on January 1? An action guide to enact your resolutions.

It’s a few days into the new year. The Christmas lights are down, decorations put away, and holiday magic now lies dormant for another year. There is almost something peaceful and restorative once everything is over. As a Christmas fanatic, I can assure you I’m one of the first to turn on the Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving and play it until the songs are tired of even themselves. But after the stockings are neatly folded and the ornaments carefully wrapped and put away, I find the end of the holiday season almost cathartic. A fresh start to a fresh year.

I always tend to laugh at all the people making resolutions on January 1. They have such big plans for the year ahead. Inevitably there is always “eat healthy”, “exercise”, and a “be more”/”be less” on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love goal setting. I think it is an important thing to do for yourself, and evaluating and revising our goals is how we grow and see evidence of that growth as a person. However, setting these arbitrary goals that tend to only last a month or so seems like an ineffective use of our energy. Lord knows there isn’t enough of that around to waste!

What is it about the new year that drives us to, sometimes desperately, try to change ourselves? Maybe it is because there is nothing like the feeling of that fresh first day of the first month on a brand spankin’ new calendar, especially if the year behind you was difficult or long. Maybe it’s because now feels like the right time to become someone else, especially if we don’t like who we have been. Maybe it is because of a birthday, marriage, divorce, baby, or some other catastrophically good or bad life event.

Whatever the drive is, it is great to set goals. I think it is important, though, to recognize that goals are a work in progress, and need continuous evaluation, changes, and restarts through the year. We cannot just rely on a date on a calendar to set and work towards goals (although it’s a great place to start if you haven’t yet!). We also need to rely on our ability to constantly change, improve, and refocus.

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How do we set these goals? When goal setting, it is important to differentiate goals from action steps. “I want to be happier this year” is a great goal, but what does that look like? What does that feel like? How will you measure this? It can change from person to person. Some action steps might look like this:

Goal: Be happier in 2017

Measure: Less stress, more inner peace, accomplish three personal projects

Action steps:

  1. Sign up for (and attend!) yoga class to learn how to meditate and control physical stress.
  2. Set aside one hour both Saturday and Sunday for personal projects (writing one day, painting the other).
  3. Set aside 20 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday to pick up the house (less clutter and mess = less stress).

Here we can see several things. We can see the actual goal in mind for the year. We can see how movement towards this goal will make us feel (calmer and more tranquil in mind and body), and we can see specifically how this goal will be accomplished.

I have a bad habit of making lofty goals for myself—Painting! Writing! Exercising!—but end up getting so overwhelmed by my goals that I don’t know where to start and quit before I even begin. My failure is not because I tried and it didn’t work out, it was because I didn’t even begin! What is that cliché phrase? You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take?

Look, no one is perfect. Life is hectic, and things happen. To be really honest, I (and maybe you, too) won’t accomplish every single step and every single goal this year. Or you might discover that downward dog really sucks and you hate your ass in yoga pants and drop the class. That’s totally fine, too. As we change, goals change. The more I try to force something to be resolute, the more I get angry and resentful at it. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for just starting. Begin the process. Frequently, I find that once I get started my motivation increases and I accomplish, and follow through with, a lot more.

My first goal I’m making a relatively easy one. I hope it is, anyway. I want to live in the moment more, and primarily I plan to accomplish this by putting my phone down more and not living through social media. I don’t want to miss a moment with my handsome son or that wonderful big guy that married messy ol’ me. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m addicted to technology. I have a zillion other goals, so I should probably follow my own advice and start making those pesky action steps.

Step 1: Walk awaaaaayyyy from the computer…