The holidays can be incredibly busy, and sometimes just thinking about them starts to make us feel stressed. There’s planning, purchasing, preparing, maybe traveling and hosting, and navigating relationships and expectations. All of this, of course, is on top of our usual responsibilities as parents and family members.
In times like this, when we know we need to stay energized and avoid getting overwhelmed, we can try to include moments of mindfulness into our days. The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be beneficial even in small doses, and it doesn’t require that we drive somewhere and sit in silence for 10 days. Mindfulness really means slowing down, being aware of what is happening in the moment, and paying attention to our thoughts and reactions without judgment. Mindfulness is something we can practice in many different situations, even when we are walking or eating…or in the bathroom! Research shows us that integrating mindfulness can benefit our physical and emotional health, our productivity, and the way we approach others in relationships.
The whole point of the holidays is to get to spend quality time with family and friends. How do we keep that intention while avoiding the stress of trying to get everything done?
Below are a few simple strategies for integrating moments of mindfulness into our days:
Slow down. Getting ready for a gathering or travel can feel like a scattered race. In these times I find myself losing things, sticking the milk in the cupboard by mistake, and generally feeling overly activated. Sometimes just repeating the words “slow down,” and encouraging our bodies to follow (e.g., taking slower steps around the house and cutting back on multitasking) is helpful. Other times we might need to cue ourselves to “stop and take 3 slow, focused breaths” before moving to the next task. There is a lot to get done in a short amount of time, but the cost on our bodies and emotions of anxiously running around usually isn’t worth it.
Find a moment to take a break…alone. One of the benefits of being in a larger group for the holidays is that someone might be able to watch your kids for a second if you need to take a break. Maybe your break will come while you are showering and getting ready, or maybe all you can do is sneak away to the restroom. While you’re alone, use that moment to take some cleansing breaths and note how you are feeling. If you find yourself stressed or anxious, remind yourself that it is just a moment, and it will pass. If you find yourself joyful, note that and try to take a mental picture of what is happening so you can savor the positive emotions.
Observe and enjoy for a minute. While everyone is gathered around the table or talking in the living room, sit back and (surreptitiously) be the observer. What is happening right now? Notice some of the good things happening around you (e.g., your kids are engaged in an activity with a family member, everyone is enjoying their food), and take a second to just revel in this moment. Acknowledge how nice it is to have this moment; sometimes the simplest observations of gratitude are the most powerful.
What are your mindfulness strategies for the holidays?
Gratitude seems to be everywhere these days — from journals to books to posters and pillows. There’s a good reason for the focus on gratitude, since research shows that it’s one of the most powerful strengths we can cultivate. Being grateful is good for our health and mental health. People who practice gratitude regularly (for example by keeping a gratitude journal) have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, and they report more joy and positivity in their lives. Grateful people also tend to be more generous and compassionate. Gratitude helps us affirm the goodness in our lives, which has positive effects on our ourselves and the people around us.
The speed and hustle of each day often makes it hard for me to remember to feel grateful, even though I know that in my heart I am deeply grateful for so much in my life. I also know that by the time I get myself to bed at night the last thing I feel that I have the energy to do is start journaling, or writing a letter of thanks to someone.
So how can we go about being more grateful, especially in our busy lives? How can we cultivate gratitude in a way that is meaningful, yet easily integrated into our day?
Recently I discovered a simple strategy that helps me to be more mindful about my gratitude. I discovered this technique when my husband and I took the kids to their first movie. We had been talking about this upcoming adventure with the kids for days, talking about what it would be like and what we would eat at the movie theater, and how they needed to be good to ensure that they would get to go to the movies (yes, it served as a bribe at times :).
The morning of the movie outing was completely chaotic. No-one wanted to get dressed, we were running late before we had even started getting ready, and everyone refused to act happy and excited. There was sibling-to-sibling fighting, parent-to-child nagging, and parent-to-parent frustration. With each threat I delivered that we weren’t going to go to the movie I realized that my words had become completely empty. By the time we finally got in the car, I was thoroughly annoyed, and the only thought that kept running through my head was a self-pitying: “so much for trying to do something nice.”
I continued with my unpleasant, frazzled feeling as we bought our tickets, used the bathroom, and bought popcorn. We sat down, switched places a few times, and then sat down again. The kids threw their jackets at me and started asking for treats. As the lights went down I was still turning off my cell phone, gathering jackets and reaching for a tissue. The first preview came on and I was so busy with still trying to get settled that it took me a moment before I looked over and noticed that my kids were frozen, their eyes glued to the screen. I stopped moving around and watched their beautiful profiles as they stared ahead. I stared as my youngest laughed out loud at something in the preview. I watched as my oldest sucked on a fruit snack, eyes staring straight ahead at the screen. I glanced at my husband who sipped his soda and winked at me. I was flooded with a warm wave of love and gratitude.
I suddenly thought, this moment is good. That’s it. The moment was good. The moment before wasn’t, and I had no idea how the next one would be. But that moment was good.
Since that morning I have been trying to remember to name my gratitude in this, easy simple way. This moment is good. Sometimes I realize the moment is good when we are playing Uno together, or when we are laughing as we come into the house after a walk around the neighborhood. I won’t lie — I rarely name the good moments in the morning. But gratitude isn’t about pretending there aren’t hassles and stressors in our lives; it’s about recognizing what is good. What I love about this strategy is that it also brings my awareness to the moment — the only moment I have — the present.
This moment is good. Name it, use it, share it!
This post was originally published on hopefulmama.com on June 1, 2016.
Remember Pandora from Greek mythology?
Pandora was the first human created by the Greek gods who unleashed all the evils into the world when she opened a box that Zeus told her not to touch. Just as she realized that evils like greed, jealousy, anger, and plagues were flying out into the world from the box, she quickly closed the lid, catching one last thing before it could escape. That last thing, of course, was hope.
Psychologists have been researching hope for years, providing evidence that it is a useful, positive strength that everyone can apply to their lives. The most popular hope theory, developed by psychologist Rick Snyder, suggests that hope is about having goals for the future and navigating obstacles as you actively work towards those goals.
We all have goals, whether they are small (“I want to work out today”) or large (“I want to put more time into my relationship with my partner”). Inevitably, obstacles come in the way of these goals and sometimes we can get off-course. Hopeful people have the mental energy to stay focused on their goals, and they also find avenues to get around obstacles.
Hopeful people seek support from others, problem-solve, or tell themselves positive statements to keep them motivated. Sometimes they even modify their goals. Either way, they are able to pick themselves up and find other ways to tackle their challenges and keep moving ahead. Research also shows us that people who are hopeful are more satisfied with life, have higher academic achievement and are better able to manage physical and mental health concerns.
The beauty of hope is that we can teach it to others, model it for our kids, and work on building our own hope each day. How many times have you encountered an obstacle on the way to a goal? This is pretty much an hourly occurrence for most humans. We spill cereal in the morning, we’re running late to drop off the kids, we feel tired after a bad night of sleep, or we’re experiencing conflict with someone.
Obstacles are prominent in everyone’s lives, and being hopeful gives us a road map for how to navigate them and move towards our goals.
Below are some exercises to develop your hopeful road map:
1. Spend some time each day thinking about your goals. Try to identify the short-term goals that you want to get done that day, as well as the larger goals that you would like to work towards over the next days and weeks. Try to make sure they are realistic but don’t be afraid to dream big as well.
2. Talk with important people in your life about your goals, as well as theirs. Describe the obstacles that are coming up for you and brainstorm ways to support one another as you navigate the challenges.
3. The next time you face an obstacle, pause for a second and recognize it as such, reminding yourself that everyone faces obstacles towards the goals they want to achieve.
4. Consider how you want to model hope to your children. How do you want them to see you handling obstacles? Don’t be afraid to say your hopeful thoughts out loud (for example, “Okay, we can’t find the right building but we are going to ask for help and we’ll be able to find it. We’ll figure this out.”)
5. Periodically review your goals and see which need to be revised. Think carefully about which goals stretch you in positive ways, and which might not be realistic. Remember that part of the joy of hope is that you can adapt and create new goals if you need to!
This article was originally posted on hopefulmama.com on October 21, 2015.
Yes, the Fall semester is upon us. Summer is over and despite all my best intentions to come up with a summer plan to be super productive, I don’t feel like I got enough work done. Now I need to quickly finalize my syllabus, attend college and department back-to-school meetings, and start responding to the emails about reference letters that have already begun to fill my inbox.
It would be easy at a time like this to become sour and start to dread the semester, especially because we know it can be intense. In some ways, semesters are like marathons, where you give more for 15 weeks than you probably ever would during a normal “run.”
If the semester is like a 15-week marathon, it seems like we should be psyching ourselves up with positive thoughts, rather than pessimism and negativity. No-one starts a marathon thinking “this is going to be so awful,” right? They probably think it will be hard, they’re up for the challenge, and they’re going to do their best.
As I look ahead to my marathon of the Fall semester, I’m going to do all I can to start the race with a positive attitude. I’m not expecting that every day will be positive, or that I’ll be able to maintain my positivity through all of the challenges, but I want to at least have that as my starting point.
Below are some strategies for starting the semester off on the right foot:
Intentionality – Rather than watching the semester fly by like a kite being dragged by the wind, I’m going to be a little more intentional about my planning. First, I’m going to try and stop my work early (in other words, not when I’m already 10 minutes late for the daycare pickup), and “take stock” for a second. What priority tasks have to be accomplished the next day, and in what order should I tackle them when I arrive to the office? I’m also going to schedule a coffee or lunch meeting with a colleague every few weeks because I know that type of break will help me stay energized. And if I don’t put something on the calendar in advance, it will be November before I remember to even think about doing it!
Focus on Positive Colleagues and Conversation – I love venting as much as the next person, but I realize that after a while it can bring me down. Not to mention that I can also start to spread my own negativity and bring others down. My goal for this semester is to complain a little less, and to try and get extra time with those colleagues who lift me up (see Intentionality above). I’m also going to adopt one of Dr. Christine Carter’s 19 ways to reduce workplace stress: Stop talking about how busy and stressed I am. Dr. Carter reminds us that the more we talk about being busy (even if it’s just in our head), the more we’re actually training our brains to believe we should be freaking out.
Mix Things Up – There are positive things I sometimes want to try but hold back from doing because they sound like they will be too complicated, take up too much time, or adjust the family routine in some challenging way. Ironically, it may be just those things that I need in my month or semester to stay positive. Exercising early one morning while my husband gets the kids ready, scheduling a monthly get-together for drinks with a friend, using that gift card I got three years ago for a massage, or trying a new craft or cooking class. Why not treat one of these like an experiment in my life, and see how it works? Will it be disruptive or time-consuming? Maybe. Will it help with my self-care? Maybe. I’m guessing I’ll really enjoy it and it will give me that burst of positivity I might need, but I won’t know until I try…
What will be your strategies for starting Fall with positivity?
This article originally appeared on hopefulmama.com on 8/28/16.
Teacher gifts have been delivered, goodbyes were exchanged, and now the school folders and backpacks have been emptied. Summer is here! Another set of adventures awaits us as a family in the next few months, but I still cannot believe the year is over.
As I look at the artwork, class books and writer’s workshop stories, I have to admit that my heart aches a little.
How did it go by so quickly?
Did I appreciate it enough?
Did I notice all the growing and changing that was happening?
Each year speeds ahead and I hurt inside, even though I am simultaneously happy. It is confusing, this nostalgia: it reminds me of loss, but at the same time it highlights change and growth. I get tearful as I think back to an earlier time that can’t be recovered in exactly the same way, yet I am often smiling underneath the tears.
I’ve realized over time that this nostalgia is reminding me of something important. A little aching about the past is actually affirming that something was good and beautiful. Maybe it wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t appreciated at every moment, and yes, it went by too fast and will be missed.
Still, it was good and beautiful, and our lives are better because it was once there.
It’s been a year since our daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come as a family. At the beginning it was so daunting—we didn’t even know that celiac disease was an autoimmune disorder and we didn’t understand how complicated the risk of cross-contamination would make cooking and eating out. To top things off, our daughter had signs of another possible autoimmune disease, which is common in people with celiac disease. Our learning curve was steep, but the good news is that we learned and adapted. Even by the first six months, things started to feel more manageable and we could see that we would be able to tackle issues and situations that seemed like obstacles at the beginning (you can find my article for parents who feel overwhelmed by a new celiac diagnosis here).
To most adults it might not sound so hard to eat gluten-free, especially in today’s society. But if you add the fact that with celiac disease you have to ensure that cross-contamination doesn’t occur (e.g., the hot dog can’t touch the bun, everything has to be cooked in separate pots and pans, and anything fried has to be cooked in a dedicated fryer, which is very rare to find), it gets more complicated. On top of that, imagine if you were a kid. You might not fully understand why you have this illness, but you definitely know that you can’t eat like everyone else and you are different at EVERY event where food is involved. Pizza is the foundation of most kids’ events, not to mention cake, cupcakes and cookies, goldfish and pretzels. Yes, there are gluten-free versions of each of these, but what child wants to feel different and have to bring alternative foods to every party or get together?
Over the past year, I have watched my daughter navigate her new celiac diagnosis like a champion. I am so proud of her! She knows how to ask if food is gluten-free, and she knows how to manage it when she is often told that she can’t have what is being served. Sometimes she cries out of frustration when she gets home from a party, but other times she just rolls with it. As parents we constantly plan ahead, and we eventually figure it out. And more than anything, my husband and I have been absolutely in awe with how considerate so many teachers and other parents have been during this year. These people have helped us adapt to our new world, and they have gone above and beyond to ensure that our daughter doesn’t feel left out. In honor of Celiac Awareness Month, the end of the school year, and my daughter’s 1-year anniversary of her diagnosis, I wrote this post with gratitude for all those people who have made life so much easier for us and for our child:
Thanks for letting me talk about the celiac diagnosis and for not minimizing our experience
Any big adjustment or health concern is so all-encompassing, especially when it relates to your children. You are raw at the beginning and it feels like all you can think about. Even when you know things could be much, much worse, it still takes time to adjust. At the beginning my daughter’s health was on my mind constantly. I practically started conversations with strangers at summer parties by talking about the celiac diagnosis and food options. With my own friends, I know I talked about it all the time—about lab results and research, and how to handle upcoming events and situations. I’m so grateful to those friends, teachers and colleagues who let me talk about and process this new change in our lives. I’m also grateful to those people who didn’t minimize things by saying “at least there’s gluten free food everywhere now!” or “at least you know what she has!” Even though this is all true, I appreciate that our friends knew that any health adjustment can be hard, and that sometimes just listening is the most supportive thing you can do.
Thanks for asking questions about celiac disease
We’ve learned that to ensure our daughter’s safety, it’s much better to ask than just assume. We are constantly calling ahead at restaurants and asking questions once we get there. It’s amazing how much ‘fine print’ there is when it comes to food safety and gluten-free foods. For example, while there are many pizza chains that now have gluten-free pizza, if you call or read the fine print you see they can’t guarantee the pizza won’t be cross-contaminated and don’t recommend it for people with celiac. I am so grateful for our teachers and friends who have asked us before planning meals, and have let us know when they want to learn more about celiac disease. Also I’m so appreciative of those who are understanding when we explain what we’ve learned about celiac and the foods and practices we have to avoid. It might seem like overkill to most people, but once you understand the disease you realize what is required to manage it effectively and ensure safety.
Thanks for putting in the extra effort to help our daughter not feel left out
This is the one that makes me cry, every time. The mom I texted to let her know I’d be sending a gluten-free cupcake with my daughter for a birthday party who texted back to say she had already bought her some gluten-free cookies. Or the afterschool teacher who called to say she was planning a big cooking event and wanted to make sure she was using ingredients that our daughter could have. Or the family friends who bought chips for a BBQ that were all gluten-free so we wouldn’t have to worry about my daughter eating the wrong kind. None of this was required, but these gestures meant so much to us.
Thank you to the friends and parents who pull us aside before a get-together to let us know what is safe for our daughter to eat. Thanks to the daycare and school teachers who have asked to meet with us to learn more about celiac, and who have tried to ensure that our daughter doesn’t have to always have a separate snack or treat. Thank you to the friends who make their dishes with gluten-free soy sauce just so we know our daughter can have her favorite food. The list goes on and on…
Thank you ALL for going above and beyond. We would never expect that everyone would do this, but please know that it is so appreciated when you do!
P.S. The picture with this post is from a gluten-free ice cream party my daughter had with a few friends to celebrate how well she has managed her diet over the past year. Sometimes you have to splurge 🙂
If you are a parent of a child with celiac disease and have questions about our experience, please don’t hesitate to send me an email!