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How to Come Out Stronger After Heartbreak

“And when I thought ‘I can’t go on,’ the universe expanded, mother earth hummed and the moon whispered, ‘Yes, you can’.” ~Wicked Words

Heartbreak. The feeling that so many of us would pay big (BIG) money to skip through. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard (and heard myself say), “I just want to skip this part and fast forward to when I feel better.”

I fell in love unexpectedly, but when is it ever expected? I had just gotten through an awful breakup and this perfect man for me fell from the heavens. He made me feel safe, loved, and so happy.

We were so alike sometimes, it was scary! I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I still had some demons to work through from my previous relationship, and he was nothing but patient with me through it. I finally had my love who also turned out to be my best friend.

He’d call me his “future fiancé” and leave me the sweetest love notes. I thought my heart could explode from feeling so happy.

After some time, the love of my life didn’t want to be in our relationship anymore for various reasons.

This person I thought I was going to marry was sitting next to me on the couch telling me he didn’t want to be with me. He’d rather be alone then be with me. How’s that for a stab at your insecurities?

I felt out of control. I was angry, I tried to negotiate, I cried, I panicked—all the phases of grief. The way I acted, you would think someone was dying, but in fact those who have attachment issues feel like this when someone leaves us—it feels as if someone has died.

We get used to being around this person. Our person, our best friend, our lover who knows us the best is gone, and everything is different. We feel lonely. We feel unworthy.

We feel as if we’re going to go crazy without this person. At one point I was so attached to him that I had several panic attacks over not being able to change his mind. I felt like my world was ending.

I couldn’t understand why this was happening. I later realized I was codependent on my partner (and previous ones). I didn’t know how to be happy without them in my life. This had happened too many times to count, and I was sick of hitting rock bottom every single time.

I remembered how happy I was in my relationship, and I wanted that happiness back and was going to do whatever it took to get it.

After several attempts to convince him to reconsider and being denied multiple times, I fell into a deep depression. I blamed myself for everything that happened and went over every single thing that I did wrong to make him leave.

I remember being in such pain that I would constantly cry on the floor wrapped up in my thoughts; nothing else mattered.

One day, as I was in a state of panic and depression, my family and friends were calling and trying to help me get out of this hole that I had gotten myself into. I heard them, but it wasn’t working. No one could help me, and nothing that anyone could say or do could take my pain away. It was up to me.

I didn’t want to die, but I wanted an escape from the pain. From my mind. I wanted someone else’s life. I would look at other people in the grocery store and think about how normal they looked. If only I could have that, to actually feel normal and have a normal day like everyone else was having.

I felt so alone. Even though many people said they understood, at the time, it didn’t feel it. I constantly asked other people if they could relate. This would help.

I took anxiety medicine just so I could sleep for a while and not think about what was going on. But waking up made it even worse. I would wake up and remember that the love of my life had decided that a life without me was a better one.

After being on the ground multiple times, many phone calls to my ex, and much rejection, I was exhausted. I was out of options and I was tired of feeling out of control, like I was on the verge of losing my mind at any second. I had to make a change. I had to survive. And it was up to me only.

When I was constantly searching for help, I looked for books and articles online that could help me understand myself better and why I kept hitting rock bottom after breakups. I found many insightful things, and my friends and family helped me so much with their wisdom.

Below, I want to share the advice my family and friends gave to me, what resonated with my heart and helped me get through this tough time, and how I not only got back to myself but came back even better.

Know that you are worthy.

When someone leaves us, we feel rejected or abandoned, and we believe it’s because we are unworthy. We believe we are not good enough to be loved, because if we were, our ex would have stayed.

You are worthy before you even take your first breath. Other people’s actions have nothing to do with our worthiness. The most important love we can receive is the love from ourselves. When you are feeling rejected, nurture yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself comfort and love.

Take it hour by hour.

My mom always told me to take it hour by hour. I would tell my friend, I’m going to make it till 9am today and that’s all I’m going to focus on. And I made it. Then I said, next,  I’ll make it till 10am, and I made it. I always lost count when it got close to lunch, and before I knew it the day was over!

When we start thinking too far ahead into the future it can be very overwhelming. I love to plan and control, so this is a tough one for me. But I know when I start feeling anxious, it’s because I’m trying to control the future. This is a time to focus on the present and trust that if you take it day by day, you will get through this.

Remind yourself that you will always be okay.

For me, the worst parts about heartbreak were the panic attacks and anxiety. I would begin to think about the fact that I wasn’t with my person anymore and then ask a bunch of questions that only made me feel worse. Why did they leave me? I won’t survive if they date someone else. What if I’m not okay without them? Before I knew it, I was down in a spiraling hole that made me physically sick.

I had to ask myself what I really feared. It all boiled down to the same theme: that I wouldn’t be okay; that I would feel extreme pain. I wouldn’t be okay because someone wasn’t there? So that meant my well-being and sense of security was dependent on someone?

If my sense of security was dependent on someone else, that meant I would never truly be secure (no matter who was in my life). I would always have to rely on others for my sense of safety. The reality is I am the only person that can make myself feel secure. I will always be there for myself even when no one else is.

One of the best pieces of advice my mom gave me was to create a solid foundation within myself, as she had done. My stepfather said you have to get to the point that no matter what tragedy comes your way, you know you will be okay. So when my panic would begin to kick in, I would breathe and remind myself that I would be okay no matter what happened.

I had a habit of letting my thoughts take over me, so this took practice. After a little time, I felt a solid foundation within me. I felt resilience and strength that would always remain. I knew that whatever life threw my way, I could handle it.

Believe that good will come from this.

When I would begin to spiral into a hole of overthinking and anxiety over what had happened, I would remind myself that this was happening for a reason. This was very hard to take in, but I kept telling myself this wouldn’t be happening unless something great was going to come out of it.

Thinking back to all of the times that I hit rock bottom, I remembered the good that came out of those situations. My best growth came out of those times. Why would this time be any different? I decided that I would end up with the absolute best, no matter what.

Find an outlet for your pain.

I angry write. I scribble and cry, write in big and small letters, write in gibberish, cry more on the pages and then feel super dramatic when I see teardrops falling on the paper. And if I write really horrific things then sometimes I’ll burn them.

What is your outlet for pain? Running? Boxing? Screaming in a pillow? Punching pillows? Dancing it out? Do whatever your heart desires. Having an outlet for your pain will make you feel so much lighter.

Accept love.

During one of my low points after a breakup, one of my good friends painted my nails for me. It was such a loving act that I didn’t even ask for! Every time I would look down at them, I would feel beautiful and be reminded of how amazing my friend was for doing that.

My other good friend brought me dinner one night. What a blessing! Food is one of the things I neglected during my dark moments. In what areas do you feel you neglect yourself? Could a loved one help you with this from time to time?

Change your thoughts, change your mindset.

Notice when you start to think of your ex, memories, the breakup, etc. How are these thoughts making you feel? Notice when you feel sad or mad, it’s mostly because of a thought you had. How do you change this?

We tend to replay what happened during the breakup or memories of the relationship. Switch your thoughts to something that feels better like a good memory you have with your friends, or visualize a dream coming true every time a negative thought comes up. This will replace the negative feeling with something that brings you joy.

Create new habits.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this and finally I can actually vouch for it: It takes thirty days to create a habit! I began practicing yoga and meditation every day. I listened to podcasts and inspiring videos when I got ready in the morning. (Helpful hint: pre-save podcasts, so you don’t waste time searching in the morning).

I never really believed people when they said exercise makes a difference to your mood, but it actually does! And to my hormones too, bless them. Before you know it, these habits become so easy. It will make you feel in control of your life and you’ll feel amazing.

Practice gratitude.

Gratitude has so many benefits. Gratitude helps me when my head is looping with negative thoughts, when my mind chatter is just too much, and when I’m having a pity party.

I like to write down what I am grateful for every day, no matter how tiny or big. It changes your perspective, it puts you in the present, and it changes your energy! A gratitude journal is also great to have. You’ll start to notice so many things about your day that you can look back and smile on.

Date yourself.

This is the best time to learn more about YOU. What do you like? What do you like about yourself? What would you like to improve? What do you like in a partner? What is a deal breaker for you?

How do you act in different situations? What are your thought habits repeating to you? What are some of the activities you do that make you happy right now? What are your dreams? This is your time.

Choose grace.

I don’t know about you, but I am a recovering perfectionist. If I haven’t 100 percent moved on from something, I think I’m not doing enough to get over it. Healing takes time! Give yourself grace because it is the loving thing to do.

Would you keep asking your best friend why she isn’t over her heartbreak yet? No! That would be unloving, she needs grace. Feeling impatient with your progress or beating yourself up? GRACE. Just cried for hours on the couch even though you’ve had two amazing weeks? GRACE. Behaved in a way that you later felt bad about? Those are old habits arising, my friend—GRACE. Even as I write this article, I need to remind myself to have compassion for my healing.

Heartbreaks feel like the worst feeling in the world, but they end up being our biggest opportunities for growth. Heartbreaks make us fall in love with ourselves again after hitting rock bottom.

Instead of wanting to “fast forward” out of this time, take it day by day and remember your heart is expanding, your strength is becoming your foundation, your grace is beautiful, and that you have many wonderful things to look forward to.

About Lauren Bolos

Lauren lives in Florida and loves to write in her spare time. She likes to journal & write poetry and fiction. She wants to be able to help others that are going through heartbreak. This is her first article to be published. You can visit her blog at asimplejoy.weebly.com/

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The post How to Come Out Stronger After Heartbreak appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

Why Hope May Not Be Helpful in the Face of COVID-19

I know, this might sound pessimistic, but hear me out…

“I hope that this whole COVID-19 thing goes away soon so we can resume our regular lives.”
“I hope this quarantine will be over soon!”
“I hope that things will go back to how they used to be soon.”

You may be thinking or hoping these things. But recently I’ve been pondering the possibility that COVID-19 may actually never go away and we may have to learn to adapt and live with it. It may be like influenza—seasonal, with a recommended shot and a new virus that becomes a part of our lives.

We don’t know when the quarantine will be over, and even when we’re given a specific date, that date keeps getting pushed further and further back. I am seven weeks into quarantine and I am just about to go stir crazy. The bleak reality is things will not go back to how they used to be. Ever. And that makes me feel disheartened, discouraged, and sad.

But when I am able to be mindful and sit with these feelings and thoughts from a non-judgmental place, I am able to see that I was clinging to the past and how things used to be. At the same time, I was being hopeful about the things in the future.

The cause of my suffering: wishing for things to be different than they presently are. I am reminded that this is what mindfulness is all about—being in the present moment.

Living in hope prevents us from living in the present. It stops us from accepting what is, right now. Hope puts us in a perpetual future mindset.

“I’ll be happy when…”
“The moment x changes, then…”
“If only… then…”

How many times have you said, “I’ll be happy when I get a promotion, own a house, buy this fancy car, marry the perfect partner, fill in the blank”? I know I have said these things many times. But that’s like marrying a person for their “potential” instead of accepting them for who they are right now. We all know how that plays out…

I’m not saying that having hope is a “bad” thing, or not to have any hope. Maybe it’s what gets you out of bed each day or helps you stay motivated. Maybe it’s something to look forward to, and if it helps you in some way, then great. It’s great as long as it’s helping you take action and not just keeping you in a waiting state.

A waiting state based on external circumstance, an unforeseeable future date, or potential “something” that may or may not ever happen, is not helpful. Clinging on to this type of hope is not helpful.

What if instead we said…

“I don’t know if this COVID-19 thing will ever really go away, but what can I do right now to make my life feel more normal/regular?”
“This quarantine is still not over. What can I choose to focus on and do right now?”
“This pandemic is literally changing and impacting so many areas of my life. How can I use this opportunity to grow, reassess, learn new things?”

From this shift in mindset, you are empowered. You have clarity, you can make choices, you can act, you can choose—when you accept the situation as it is right now, giving it permission to exist instead of wishing for it to be different. This reduces our resistance, reduces our suffering, and allows us to operate from a mindful place of clarity.

Perhaps we can then cultivate something called “wise hope.”

As Zen teacher Joan Halifax says, “Wise hope is not seeing things unrealistically but rather seeing things as they are, including the truth of suffering—both its existence and our capacity to transform it.”

We can either be frustrated with the current situation, thus suffer, or we can accept it for what it is and focus on what we can do right now.

Personally, I know that if I stay in the “wishing things were different” mindset and after weeks of isolation (and who knows how much longer) I can easily go downhill into oversleeping, laziness, binging Netflix, eating absorbent amounts of ice cream, and not keeping up with self-care.

These things can quickly snowball into decreased mood, increased negativity and anxiety, unproductivity, and even depression. I know how easy it is to slip into that, and I don’t want to go there. Rather, I consciously choose not to go there. It all starts with how I reframe my thoughts through acceptance and then take action.

Hope: “I hope that this whole COVID-19 thing goes away soon so we can resume our regular lives.”

Acceptance & Action: “I don’t know if this COVID-19 thing will ever really go away, but to make my life feel more normal during isolation, the action I’m going to take is to keep my daily routine. That means going to sleep at a reasonable time, setting an alarm even on weekends, getting fresh air and sunlight on my patio, meditating, eating well, stretching/practicing yoga/doing pushups, showering, and prioritizing self-care. I know that even on days I don’t feel like doing these things, I have the power to choose. I can choose to not do these things and feel crappy/unproductive/lazy, or I can choose to continue my daily routine because I know it increases my overall happiness and well-being.”

Hope: “I hope this quarantine will be over soon!”  

Acceptance & Action: “Although I hope this quarantine will be over soon, all this extra time is such an opportunity! I can finally start reading that book that has been on my shelf for the last year, take that online course I’ve always wanted to take, make bread from scratch, deep clean my house, and study online marketing! I re-assessed my 2020 goals that I had set out earlier in the year and made a ‘to-do list’ and a ‘want-to-do’ list that I can work toward given the current situation. I have been able to complete some of the things on my ‘want-to-do’ list and it has brought me a lot of joy.”

Hope: “I hope that things will go back to how it used to be soon.”

Acceptance & Action: “Things will not go back to how it used to be. We are always changing and growing because if we are not growing, then we are dying. We see this all the time in nature. A plant never stays static; it is either growing or dying. There is no in-between. So every day I am choosing to live, which means I am choosing to grow. I am taking this time to reflect on what has worked for me in the past, and how to make it better, releasing what hasn’t worked for me and/or changing direction. What a beautiful opportunity to press the RESET button!”

Although this quarantine may be frustrating, boring, lonely, stressful, fill in the blank, it can be an opportunity to reset, transform, grow, change direction, and reinvent yourself. Which will you choose?

About Yurika Vu

Yurika Vu is hosting a free 1 day “Self Love” day where she interviews 5 of the top experts in Self Love! If you struggle with confidence, worthiness, and self acceptance- these short videos teach you simple practical skills you can incorporate right away to start increasing your confidence! Opt into “A Mindful Self Love Day” at https://themindfullifesummit.com/self-love/.

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The post Why Hope May Not Be Helpful in the Face of COVID-19 appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

Why Journaling is the Best Thing to Do During a Crisis

“The difference between despair and hope is just a different way of telling stories from the same set of facts.” ~Alain de Botton

When I was told that the man I loved had a terminal illness, I instinctively reached for my journal. When I was asked to evacuate my home ahead of a category-5 cyclone three short weeks after his funeral, the first thing I threw into the back of my car was a large box with my journals.

That was nearly a decade ago.

Last month, when I stood in front of the empty shelves at my local supermarket, I was surprised to be instantly back in the grip of the fear and panic I felt during the crisis I had braved almost a decade ago. So I did the most logical thing. I took a deep breath, located the stationary aisle—which thankfully was still fully-stocked—and I bought myself a large new notebook.

The next day, as the world prepared to go into lock-down, I missed the chance to return to my partner and my home in Vietnam.

Depression and anxiety promptly came to visit, threatening to turn my self-isolation into another painful chapter of my life. But I know that I am more resilient than I think I am, and I instantly turned to my number one coping strategy. I opened my new notebook and started writing my Covid-19 journal.

This is a challenging time for all of us, and we are all affected in different ways by this global pandemic. I don’t know how my partner and I will cope with the challenge of having to conduct our relationship across closed borders, via Zoom and Messenger, with no certainty when we might see each other again.

But I know that writing will be there for me, as it has been during every crisis I have been through. Regular journaling has trained me to be my own therapist. Writing things down is an act of self-care. It’s like opening the door to my heart to see what’s in there and allowing myself to sit with all of it.

Writing through the grief of my husband’s death and the aftermath of a natural disaster, I learned that we can cultivate resilience by allowing ourselves to experience our feelings, both good and bad.

As I learned the hard way, writing builds resilience because it allows us to process, release, and make meaning of challenging events and complex emotions.

Writing things down during a crisis is not only helpful as a way of processing and releasing our emotions—it is also a way to document what is happening as it unfolds.

This strange and unprecedented moment in time sometimes feels like the world is collectively writing a new chapter. There is the official narrative, there is an abundance of alternative narratives floating around the internet, and then there are our personal narratives and the ways we as individuals cope with this crisis.

Our memories will fad —though we’ll probably always remember that toilet paper was the first thing that ran out during a pandemic—but by keeping a diary and writing things down as they happen, we create a record of this unique historical moment.

Writing is also a way to enter the creative flow, which is a great antidote to feelings of stress and anxiety. When we become absorbed in the process of writing, we momentarily step out of the chaos and the grief around us and into a safe zone of calm and flow.

For many of us, self-isolation brings loneliness. Writing can be a great companion in times of loneliness. My diary has always been my best friend during difficult times. Writing can also be a safe place to retreat to for those of us who are assailed by a sense of cabin fever as members of a household suddenly have to live in close proximity with each other 24/7.

It’s easy for conflict and irritation to arise in confined living environments. I think of my diary as my sacred space where I can say things I don’t dare to say out loud, where I can vent, rage and reflect and most importantly, where I enter into a dialogue with myself.

Here are some suggestions for starting your own Covid-19 journal:

1. Write about how you feel right now.

Allow yourself to give voice to feelings that you might be holding back for the sake of protecting others or because you feel ashamed.

Write about what feels particularly hard about this crisis. Begin by brainstorming words that describe your emotional state right now. Think of it as making an inventory of the feelings in your heart. You might even find that you feel stronger and calmer than you thought you did.

2. Write about a time when you overcame a crisis.

Remembering a time when you were resilient and got through a difficult emotional turning point will help you to believe in your own strength.

Bring to mind a significant difficult emotional experience. Make sure it’s something in the past that you can safely write about.

Begin to write about the experience in the first person. Bring the experience alive by giving concrete sensory detail, i.e. what smells, sounds and tastes do you remember? Maybe you want to make reference to the weather or the color of the car you drove. Use word pictures to get back in touch with the feelings you had during that time.

3. Write a diary.

Writing a diary about the current pandemic can be as simple as writing about your day. You may write about the things you did and did not do, the people you interacted with, the things you ate, the words you read, the news you watched, the things you did to care for yourself or the ways you allowed the news to affect your anxiety levels…

Write about anything you’d like to capture about this day. This could be a simple brain dump. Or you could focus on the quirky things that happened today. The things that only a month ago, you couldn’t have imagined doing right now – things like having virtual sundowner drinks or virtual cups of tea via Zoom with your best friends.

If you’re writing first thing in the morning, you might write about your dreams, the quality of your sleep, or about the day before.

Be sure to include sensory detail to bring your world alive, i.e. write about the flowers that are in bloom right now, the smells during your daily walk, the noises that you can hear through the thin walls of your apartment etc.

You never know, your Covid-19 diary may become the foundation of a memoir or something to leave behind for the grandkids.

4. Write to practice self-compassion.

In times of crisis, when we experience suffering, fear, or anxiety, it is important to give our hearts shelter. Self-compassion can help us feel less vulnerable and disconnected during this time of self-isolation. It’s also a great way to silence the voice of the inner critic who will be quick to tell you that you are poor at home-schooling or that you are a bad partner.

Think of self-compassion as being like a warm embrace. Or as expert Dr Kristin Neff says, like speaking to yourself with the same care and kindness you would use towards a good friend.

Write for ten to fifteen minutes about what you need from yourself right now to feel less vulnerable, less cranky, less anxious… or whatever you may be feeling right now. Another great way to use writing as a self-compassion practice is to write a letter to yourself from the perspective of a good friend, assuring you that whatever happens you’re loved and cared for.

5. Write a gratitude journal.

Gratitude is a secret superpower that helps to build resilience and happiness. Too often we focus on what we lack—and right now we lack a lot of things that we used to take for granted only a short while ago. Gratitude is a way of looking at what is abundant and good in our lives, despite the current crisis.

Writing a gratitude journal can be as simple as listing five things you are grateful for at the end of every day: your warm bed at night, access to drinking water, having a shelter etc.

Try to be more specific than just saying “I am grateful for my bed.” Tell your diary why you are grateful for having a bed, why you are grateful for the job that sometimes overwhelms you, or the kids that drive you mad during this pandemic.

A good way to get started with a daily writing practice is to do a short meditation to settle your mind and to get into stillness. Then set the timer on your phone for ten to fifteen minutes and simply write without stopping to think or edit, trusting the pen to lead the way.

I’ve kept a journal from the age of eleven, which makes me a seasoned diarist, yet during the current global crisis I am often feeling unfocussed and unmotivated.

I tell myself that that’s okay, it’s part of the process of adapting to our new normal. But I always try to capture my new normal, even if I only write a quick list of things that stood out for me on a given day. It’s a way to stay connected to my inner voice and to write this new chapter one page and one breath at a time.

About Kerstin Pilz

Kerstin Pilz, Phd is a writer, former academic with twenty years University teaching experience and a 200 RYT yoga teacher based in Vietnam. Sign up for her free 7-Day Writing & Meditation Course, relax with a free downloadable sound bowl meditation, or join her on retreat in Vietnam. Visit her website or connect on Facebook and Instagram.

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How to Appreciate Life (Even During a Global Pandemic)

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” ~John Lennon

When I was in my late twenties I went on a trip with my mom and brother to Scotland.

Though I was a bit trepidatious about spending so much time with my family, I was excited for the trip too. When it finally arrived, I couldn’t wait to see the gorgeous Highlands, tour ancient castles, and eat endless amounts of shortbread. When we got there, I did exactly that, and it was incredible.

But though I loved my mom to the moon and back, like many parent-child relationships, she also got on my nerves a lot. As the trip progressed, I found myself annoyed at how many pictures she took, her repetition of the same stories, and how late she’d sleep (and snore) in the mornings while I itched to get out exploring.

Lack of contact with my friends and a lack of personal space from my family had me crawling out of my skin with impatience and frustration.

I’d listen to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now each morning as I drank my coffee; his reminders to stay present in the moment (the “now”) reminded me it was pointless to “argue with reality” and wish I wasn’t where I was. But inevitably, by the end of the day I found myself counting the sleeps until I got to fly home and sink back into normal life.

What I couldn’t have known on that trip was that my mom would die of a heart attack mere months after getting back to the states. The pictures she was so bent on taking every five minutes would be her last few captures of earth; the conversations we had over hotel breakfasts would be some of our last mother-daughter interactions. 

I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I’d soon ache for her repetitive stories, miss shoving the pillow over my ears as she snored, and long for a “do over” of certain moments where I acted like a brat.

In the years since she’s been gone (and through a lot of self-work) I’ve forgiven myself for being human and wishing my time on that trip away—but that experience taught me that we can never take time, life, or the people in it for granted.

Though it’s easy to forget, life is always only happening in the present, and good old Eckhart Tolle is still right when he reminds me (repeatedly) of the power of now.

But however well I learned this lesson after my mom’s death, this feeling of wanting to fast forward into the future is one I’m noticing a lot lately, both in myself and the culture as a whole.

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused many normal parts of life to screech to a halt, and it sort of feels like life itself is actually halted too. After all, for those lucky enough to not be ill (or have ill loved ones), the changes to daily life seem like a giant “pause” button has been pressed on our world—like we’ve stepped into some dystopian movie.

When will I be able to go back to work?

When will we know that the curve has flattened?

When will I feel safe in a crowd again?

When will this be over?

When we watch those dystopian movies, we know that eventually we’ll be able to get up from the movie theater, throw our popcorn bucket away, and continue with regular life.

But this current version of the world isn’t a movie: it is real life, and though it feels anything but normal, there’s no one holding a giant remote keeping us on pause. Though the roads are empty and the grocery shelves bare, the calendar pages still fly by and each day that passes is one of a limited number we each have in life.

If losing my mom unexpectedly taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to wish life away, even when things feel bleak, overwhelming, or downright scary. Life is happening right now, and there are ways we can continue to live it while still holding space for the surrealness of it all.

In the spirit of being present with what is and making friends with even an uncomfortable reality, I offer you some tried and true steps for staying present with life—whatever it may be bringing.

1. Start your day intentionally

In the most normal of circumstances it’s tempting to start the day by grabbing our phones, and in the midst of a pandemic it can feel almost responsible to check the news at the crack of dawn. But unless we’re actually headed out the door at the very moment our feet hit the ground, there’s no reason to make a screen (or the news and opinions on it) the first thing that we see.

Starting our day with things outside our immediate reality can introduce panic, anxiety, and a frightening picture of what the future day or week might hold.

Before interfacing with the world, I’ve found that spending at least a half hour with just myself (and the family right in front of me) can ground me in the present and equip me with the foundation to face what’s going on elsewhere.

Within this time, I imagine how I want my day to go: How do I want to feel, respond, or show up to whatever happens? Yes, imagining the day ahead involves leaving the present—but in a way that lays a foundation of protection for each future moment that the day will bring.

2. Check in with what’s real

What’s actually real to me right now? Not what’s on the news, not what I wish were happening, but what is right in front of me?

I do this by asking myself: How am I feeling physically, emotionally, spiritually? I babble with my baby and “talk” to her about what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.

Though it is responsible to stay informed about community guidelines and general advisories about the current pandemic, checking in with our senses and what is truly real in our world can keep us from zooming forward into the imagined dystopian future.

3. Take off the productivity pressure and slow down

Regular life is often filled with lots of rushing: rushing to work, dropping the kids off, walking the dog, or getting that “thing” accomplished and behind you. Being quarantined has abruptly cut off much of that “hustle” mentality, but we sneaky humans find ways to hold onto our comforting (if unhealthy) habits.

One of those habits is the tendency to stay busy. During this “stay at home order” I’ve seen a productivity push emerge: a pressure to take this time to learn, create, accomplish, perfectly schedule your children, organize community initiatives, and do it all without physical support from your regular village.

If you’ve got the bandwidth to use this time in a “productive” way that feels good, more power to you— there’s nothing wrong with accomplishing when it comes from a place of inspiration or power. But if, like many of us, you’re struggling to do even the smaller tasks in life right now, I encourage you to reject this push for productivity and lean into the slowness that this time has created.

If it’s tougher than usual to get ready for the day, practice noticing everything about what getting ready for the day entails: “Right now I’m combing my hair, now I’m feeding the dog, now I’m getting into the shower.”

As you notice (and say) what you’re actually doing, allow yourself to just be doing that thing—not shaming yourself over the language you’re not learning or wondering why working from home isn’t as smooth as you thought it might be.

Leaning into slowness, noticing and staying with every individual action taken, and giving yourself permission to be overwhelmed (and likely slower than usual) is a key to staying present with life exactly as it is right now.

4. Be a time traveler

During the Scotland trip, I wasn’t particularly grateful for my mom, because being with her felt so normal: after all, I’d never not lived in a world with her in it. Now, however, I’d be so grateful to wake up to her snoring or to hear her re-tell the same story about Buford the run-away cow.

Because I’ve lost her, I realize how precious the time I had with my mom was—and the sobering but truest fact about life (in even the best of times) is that we will eventually lose everything.

Everything will someday be rendered precious, because the nature of our lives is impermanence. Though I doubt any of us will miss the fear or heartbreak of this pandemic, we just might miss the extra time with our family, the unique ways people have been kind to each other, or the incredible global connection we’ve experienced by going through the same thing at the same time as every other human on the planet.

Kind of like how we might be envious of our former selves that (mere months ago) were going to basketball games and brushing up against people in sweaty yoga classes, our future selves might someday miss these strange times, if only because we hunkered down and spent them with people who are no longer in our lives, or parenting children who are now grown and out of the house.

***

Though the experiences are decidedly different, I see some parallels between the sudden death of my mother and the current moment in time.

After my mom died, I kept trying to gather pieces of myself and fit them back together: I was waiting for the day that things would feel normal again. But my relationships, goals, and every thought going forward felt different…because I was.

Similarly, when the world, our communities, and individual lives return to what one might call normal, these things likely won’t feel the same. Our world will now be different because we are.

But rather than grasping at the familiar of yesterday or projecting into an imagined tomorrow—I hope you’ll join me in holding space for the mourning, destruction, and transformation that’s happening both collectively and within each one of us.

Yes, things are difficult at present, but as the great Ram Dass said, let’s be here now.

This—right now—is our life, and while we still have the choice, let’s decide each day how we’d like to live it.

About Melissa Pennel

Melissa Pennel is a life coach, writer, speaker, and podcaster living in Northern California. When she’s not making faces at her baby or playing laser with her cats, you can find her writing on her blog or talking about living with meaning on her podcast “Follow Your Fire: Life, Work, and Purpose” (available on her website, iTunes, Spotify, or Soundcloud.)

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Surviving as an Empath During the Time of Coronavirus

“When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” ~Fred Rogers

If you are a human on earth at the moment, you’re likely feeling the uncertainty and anxiety of living in the time of a pandemic. It’s not something we have seen before in our lifetime, so every step is a new one, and the end is unknown and nowhere in sight.

Everyone is coping in their own way. Some are fearful and anxious right now. Others insist on staying on the positive side. Still others are in denial and perhaps will feel the emotional effects later or when it hits their area. Or, more commonly it seems, we have some combination of all three at various times throughout the same day.

It’s all normal.

I have come to realize there is no right or wrong way to feel emotionally. Everyone is doing the best they can based on their own coping style.

As a recovering people-pleaser, I used to try to talk people out of their feelings, make them feel better by taking over responsibility for their emotions. Essentially, I had to fix them to make myself feel better.

This was my stress response. I picked up on the emotional energy in a room and tried to stabilize it. I am so glad I recognized this in myself, or I’m not sure how I would survive this time.

I realized the damage this did to me, and to my relationships. If I feared anger, I would walk on eggshells to prevent people from getting angry. If I took on someone’s anxiety, I had to do everything I could to help them so I could relax.

People have a right to be angry.

Everyone has the right to feel anxious.

It is not my job to judge how anyone reacts to life. It’s theirs.

It is my job to be a compassionate witness to their suffering and to my own suffering.

This is a hard lesson to learn when it almost cost me my health and my life. But during this time of the Coronavirus I am so grateful I learned it when I cracked the empath code.

If you find yourself taking on other people’s emotional energy to the point of depletion, and exhaustion and perhaps chronic health issues, read on.

Life as an empath can sometimes feel you are being tossed around in a tiny boat in an open ocean, with no solid ground. It’s a terrible feeling. So we struggle, we fight, we gasp for air, and occasionally come up to breathe for long enough to see the sun setting on the horizon.

That is what living as an empath can be like. Only the waves are crashing waves of emotion, sometimes ours, sometimes those of others. It’s unpredictable when the hurricane will come, so we hang on to the oars tightly most of the time… just in case.

We wonder how other people seem to live easier, to ride the waves smoother and leave storms behind as they head for calmer waters. Until we find out that we see and feel things differently, more acutely, and have to learn the skills to row efficiently, with the wind, and in the preferred direction.

Then life becomes smooth sailing. We can feel the wind in our hair, smell the ocean, and taste the sea salt on our lips.

Life as an empath can be hell. Or it can be a deeply sensory experience.

Before I cracked the code, I was in a lifeboat without a life jacket. I was going down fast.

Until one day I came across a test “Are you an empath?” Out of curiosity I took it and scored 100%.  I found another test.  Yup. 100 percent emotional empath.

I had never stopped to learn what the term “empath’ meant until that moment, even though I had been in the field of counselling for over two decades.

Now I knew why I used overthinking as a way to protect myself. Why I preferred being alone a lot of the time.  Why I found some people overwhelming and took on everybody else’s emotions. Why I felt responsible for everyone and fell head-first into people-pleasing just so I could feel better.  Why I suffered with so much anxiety and worry for others.

I felt like I had cracked the code to my life.

Now I could get in, understand why I was how I was, and set clear boundaries around myself.

I didn’t need new tools. I didn’t need to change. I was not a problem to fix. I was a human to hold and I needed to carefully guard who I was.

During this time when the world can feel overwhelming and too, too much, take time to understand yourself and your nervous system’s response to stress a bit better.

  • Notice when you feel anxious… where do you feel it in your body?
  • Notice where you are, who you are with, and what you are doing.
  • Breathe into the tight areas and imagine breathing out your compassion into the world.
  • If someone you are with is anxious, can you stay present and breathe? If not, take a break and find compassion for yourself.
  • Notice what you are consuming—news, stressful or needy people, violence in movies or TV; decrease and take lots of nature breaks.

When you learn to guard your own health and well-being above everything else, you give yourself a soft place to land in what can be a harsh world to live in. And you give others the same gift of a soft place in your compassion.

About Madeleine Eames

Madeleine Eames is a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, and creator of the Empath Sanctuary. Her mission is to help deeply feeling people move beyond burnout and harness the power of their empathy for success. You can find her at mindfullivingnow.com or on Facebook at Wise Women Empaths Wake Up.

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Why We Feel Lonely and What to Do About It

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” ~Lau Tzu

With social distancing measures in place in response to the new coronavirus, many of us have a lot more time on our hands, while also being isolated.

This may also mean you’re feeling loneliness more intensely than you’ve experienced it before.

This is a good thing! Challenges can help us to understand ourselves on a much deeper level than we would have if we weren’t challenged—precisely because our feelings are more intense.

Loneliness in not new. It was around long before COVID-19, and it will be here long after this phase of isolation passes. So, whether you’re used to feeling lonely, or if it’s something new for you, this is an opportunity to connect to your heart and growth. But first you need to understand the true source of your loneliness.

Alone vs. Lonely

Some of us can be on our own and feel very comfortable and peaceful, while others will feel lonely when they’re by themselves. Then there are people who feel alone and lonely even when they’re with friends or surrounded by people.

There’s a big difference between being alone and feeling lonely.

Being alone is simply being on your own.

Feeling lonely is your experience, which can happen regardless of whether you’re on your own or not.

What is loneliness?

Loneliness is a feeling we experience when we get caught up in judgments and insecurities about ourselves or our relationships.

You might feel lonely because you feel like you have no one to talk to, or no one understands you, because you feel different to everyone else. I resonate with that!

You might feel lonely because you deeply desire to connect with other people, even if just through Skype or Zoom, but maybe it feels emotionally unsafe to do so. You’ve seen how people can treat each other, or you’ve been hurt before, so now you’re not sure if you can trust people. I’ve been there!

Maybe you want to have deep and meaningful conversations with people, but all you get is shallow everyday chit chat. Yes, that gets tiring very fast! You’re trying to connect with someone, but you feel alone because there’s no depth of connection.

I’ve often wished people would either speak from their heart or just enjoy the silence.

Maybe you’re very sensitive to other people’s energy (which is a superpower, just FYI), but the only way you currently know how to manage it and feel safe is to be on your own, even though you crave connection.

Or maybe you feel left out because the people around you all like the same things, but you don’t.

Sports, Connection, and Fitting In

From my mid-teens through to mid-twenties, when many of my friends and the people I knew were starting to drink, smoke, and party, I really did feel alone.

I loved playing sports. The one that excited me the most was ice hockey. Growing up in Australia it definitely wasn’t one of our most popular sports, but I loved it! The speed, dynamism, intensity, and flow really brought something out of me. Now that I live in Canada, it’s everywhere.

This competitive team sport brought a sense of connection that also touched my heart. The feeling of relying on each other during a game made me feel much bigger than myself. Being connected on a deeper level, knowing how everyone would move or where they’d be on the ice without having to think about it, made me feel so alive and connected.

I have very fond memories of playing and training with my teammates—the intensity of emotion during a game and then the ability to let it go afterward.

But for me there was a split. I felt this sense of connection during a match or training, but then there was a loneliness that came after. Because I didn’t care for any of the usual post-game celebrations of drinking and going out to bars or clubs. I much preferred to come home after a game and relax and watch a movie.

Knowing they were all out after a game sometimes made me feel lonely. I tried doing the drinking thing a handful of times in an attempt to fit in, but it never stuck. I just didn’t like it! So I didn’t do it.

I’d sometimes go out with friends and just drink water while they drank alcohol. But this wasn’t much better, because I didn’t like what it did to people, and I didn’t like being around the energy of drinking.

So even when I did go out, I still felt alone because I just couldn’t connect on this level.

What I really wanted after a match was my quiet time.

I was still in my early twenties when I accepted that I just preferred time on my own, but it didn’t stop that feeling of occasional loneliness.

The interesting thing about feeling lonely is that you’re not alone in feeling it. Even though it might feel like that for you, it’s a common experience that touches most people’s life at some point.

Loneliness and Disconnection

When we experience loneliness, it’s only possible because of an underlying feeling of disconnection. We often associate loneliness with being disconnected from other people, which is true, but to understand loneliness, we need to realize that it all starts with how disconnected we are from ourselves.

When I’d come home after a hockey game while my teammates went out drinking, I’d feel lonely because some part of me wanted to maintain that feeling of connection with them. Part of me wanted to be able to do what they wanted to do (go out and drink), but at the same time part of me had no desire to do it.

As long as I judged myself for not going out with them, I’d feel lonely. I wasn’t accepting myself, which created a feeling of disconnection inside me.

But as I came to accept that I was different, and I liked time on my own and a quiet night at home, the feeling of loneliness started to fade away. This self-acceptance got me out of my head and back into my heart, where I could feel a peacefulness start to emerge as I simply enjoyed my quiet night stretching or watching a movie without any self-judgment.

Being quietly present with myself, enjoying what I enjoyed, brought a feeling of connectedness inside me—the thing I thought I’d get by going out with my teammates after a game.

This wasn’t one incredible moment of realization after which I never felt lonely again. It was a gradual process. There were times when I’d come home while my friends went out, where I’d still feel that familiar loneliness return.

But I’d gained an understanding of why I felt lonely—a disconnection from myself through a lack of self-acceptance. In times when the feeling of loneliness would return, if I’d come back to being present with myself the loneliness would again fade… like a muscle that needed to be strengthened.

When I reflect on this time in my life, I always find it fascinating to realize that my friends never judged me for not wanting to go out. I was always welcome to join them. They’d accepted me for who I was. It was only me who didn’t accept me, and that was a source of disconnection and loneliness.

Finding Connection

This doesn’t mean I became a hermit with no human interaction. Yes, I can feel very at peace on my own, but I also love connecting with people. You just won’t find me doing it in an environment where people are getting drunk.

I love having deep conversations. I love connecting and getting to know people. If I’m talking to you, I want to know who you are. I have a never-ending curiosity to understand what makes people who they are, and a sensitivity to feel others’ pain.

When we experience loneliness, there’s a wanting to feel connected and connect with others, but the disconnection inside us creates a closing in our heart, and we get caught ruminating about the thing we don’t have (connection).

The thoughts will fuel more emotional reaction and disconnection, which then create even more thoughts—a vicious cycle that can go on and on continually feeding itself.

And then when we encounter other people and have an opportunity to connect, we might not even be able to be present with them because we’re still caught up in our heads, judging ourselves and our experiences.

When we feel more present and accepting of ourselves, we can also feel a wanting to connect with others, but now there’s an openness in our heart.

Our heart is the part of us that feels connection. Connection to our self—the essence of who we truly are, beyond the dramas and stories that fill our mind—and connection to other people, animals, nature, and creation.

When we’re present and connected to our heart, we might be peacefully content on our own, or we may be inspired to go and connect with people. We don’t have to feel lonely to want to connect with people. The goal is to allow choices like these to flow from our heart.

If you’ve been through challenging or traumatic life situations that have left you feeling broken, ashamed, or otherwise disconnected from yourself, it’s possible you have a harder time connecting to your heart. That’s okay.

It’s also possible you have a hard time connecting with other people, perhaps because you’ve never felt a sense of belonging, and you live in a constant state of judgment and insecurity. That’s okay too.

If you start by creating a connection to yourself, it will be much easier to connect with others, and in the times when you’re on your own you won’t feel that same overwhelming sense of loneliness.

What can you do to connect with yourself when you’re feeling lonely?

Meditate

Meditation teaches us how to find a space of quiet inside our self. A simple stillness and acceptance.

We don’t realize the heavy burden and the impact of our thoughts and self-judgments until we have a moment of inner quiet. In the quiet we can comprehend the burden we carried because by contrast it’s not there.

Over the years of teaching meditation, one of the words I’ve noticed that people often express when they start a consistent practice of meditation is “relief.” A relief from the burden they didn’t realize they were carrying.

The quiet relief brings an opening in the heart and a feeling of connection. But remember, it does take practice (like learning any other skill).

Gentle yoga

I’ve always preferred very slow and mindful holding of postures. It allows us to bring our awareness into our body through being present to our physical sensations. Remember, loneliness is a feeling with its own sensations.

Often when we experience intense emotions we disconnect from our body, because we become caught in our thoughts (fueled by the emotions), which amplifies everything. Reconnecting to our body helps us to anchor ourselves into feeling—and it’s the feeling that will help slow the thinking (and overthinking).

Connecting our body through feeling (not thinking about it or judging it) helps shift us to a place of acceptance.

Follow the feeling

Take time to just sit quietly and be present with your loneliness. No judgment. Just feeling it.

If your mind wanders into thoughts, stories, emotional reactions, or dramas, just acknowledge that and bring your awareness back to the feeling of loneliness. This is where the practice of meditation is so valuable, because it teaches you the skill of how to simply be present.

If you can allow yourself to consciously feel and be present with the feeling of loneliness (not wallow in it), you’ll learn more about the source of your loneliness. It may not always be comfortable, but it’s about being present and accepting of what is actually there for you.

Be curious

With all that you do, approach it with an attitude of non-judgmental curiosity. This helps ensure you won’t be too serious or hard on yourself. Curiosity makes things more enjoyable.

And remember, you’re not alone!

There are other’s just like you (well, not exactly like you, you’re unique!), who have these same thoughts and feelings and who are experiencing loneliness as a result.

As you come to understand more about your own experience of loneliness, you’ll discover you understand more about others. Loneliness is inherent to the human experience and the world needs more people who understand.

Understanding is what brings us together. Understanding is a form of connection.

About Ben Fizell

Ben is a meditation teacher, “stillness coach,” and founder of the Peacekeeper Project, a community dedicated to impacting humanity by helping individuals quiet the mind and live from the heart. Ben believes stillness and sensitivity are superpowers available to anyone. Learn more and access a free meditation course at the Peacekeeper Project. You can also follow on Facebook and Instagram.

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How to Tame a Worrying Mind During Difficult Times

“Mental health is just as important as physical health.” ~Unknown

Our main focus during this challenging time is quite rightly on our physical well-being. But we shouldn’t forget about our mental health considering these are stressful times for all of us.

Will we get sick?

Will our loved ones die?

Will we have enough food to feed the family?

How will we pay the bills?

How long do we have to stay in?

Will things ever get back to normal?

So many questions, so many worries.

Worrying used to keep me awake at night. It occupied every space of my mind during every waking minute. I always felt on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I didn’t feel like I could handle life at all.

My life was like this for many years until I began to understand myself better. I healed my past traumas and learned to respond to myself in effective and compassionate ways.

Some of what I’ve learned has helped a great deal during this time of uncertainty and unpredictability. This has resulted in me experiencing great mental health with well-balanced moods, resilience in the face of challenge, and solid emotional regulation skills.

And let me tell you, I was pretty much the opposite extreme before, so these mental health secrets really do work. I want to share them with you so you too can benefit, because emotional well-being can help see us through the challenges that lie ahead.

Mental Health Booster #1: Be Present

When I used to worry and cripple myself with anxiety, I was caught up in my head. I followed every thought like a puppy chases a squirrel. It was too tempting, and I couldn’t resist it. One fearful thought led to another, and down the slippery slope of worry I went. I never landed anywhere pleasant.

Being caught up in my mind meant that I wasn’t present enough to pay attention to myself, so I didn’t know how I felt or what I wanted. I was just stressed out of my mind while staying stagnant in my life.

Being caught up in your head right now probably looks like worrying about your health or someone else’s, watching the news and feeding your mind with more and more scary updates. Maybe you can feel that you’re spiraling and your anxiety is increasing. Maybe you’re obsessively following the media coverage and forgetting about everything else.

These are examples of not being present.

Being present means being fully in the moment. It’s not being distracted but engaging with what is.

So instead of filling my mind with worrisome news, I tend to what is going on right in front of me. I may play with my baby, cook for my children, or take a warm bath. In this way, I am there both physically and emotionally, which helps me to stay out of my head.

During challenging times, I pay particular attention to any distress signals like shallow breathing, feeling shaky, or having a tight chest. I no longer see them as something additional to worry me but rather as signs that alert me to take a break.

I pause and get still. I start to be there for myself.

I reconnect with what is going on around me. I ground myself in my body. I focus on my breath.

I slow down. I get present.

Then the anxious voices in my heads, my little worry warts, begin to fade away.

Mental Health Booster #2: Feel and Validate Your Feelings

We all experience an increase in uncomfortable feelings during challenging times. If we have to stay at home, there are fewer distractions to take our mind off fearful thoughts and difficult emotions.

We can easily find ourselves overwhelmed by our feelings.

I remember many times in my life when it felt like the walls were closing in on me while something horrifically painful inside me was trying to break out. I felt hot and panicked. I didn’t know what to do and worried that I was losing my mind.

I had been avoiding and fighting my feelings for so long that I didn’t understand them. I feared them. I used all my energy and effort to suppress them, but every now and then, during challenging times, I couldn’t keep it up

The additional stress was simply too much.

One day I read that we were meant to feel our feelings. Wait, WHAT!?

Mind. Blown.

I had been fighting my feelings and running away from them all my life, and now I was being told that if I ever wanted to get better, I had to feel my feelings.

So I started letting them happen. It wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it because I realized resisting my feelings was what actually made it all so painful.

I learned that I had to stop telling myself that I shouldn’t feel how I was feeling, that I was being ridiculous, that I was too sensitive, and so on. I was invalidating myself. I was shaming myself for feeling whatever I was feeling.

I was making myself wrong for feeling all the time. No wonder I felt overwhelmed when experiencing something I had judged as shameful!

Invalidating our feelings is harmful to our mental well-being. It erodes our self-esteem and leaves us feeling broken and defective. It makes us disconnect from ourselves, and we begin to make all the wrong choices because we no longer know how we feel and what we want.

Staying mentally healthy during difficult times requires you feel your feelings and allow yourself to process them, which means not fighting or avoiding them.

It also means that you have to learn to validate your feelings. This involves you normalizing and empathizing.

You do this by telling yourself that it’s okay to have this feeling, and that any human with the kinds of thoughts you’re thinking or the kind of experience you are having would feel how you’re feeling. Tell yourself that it’s okay. That in itself is reassuring.

For example, most recently I have been experiencing fearful thoughts about the health of my loved ones. I worry that they’ll get sick, or worse. Instead of fighting my worry,  I validate my fears and soothe myself.

I can see that it’s perfectly natural to worry about losing those you love and that the anxiety I experience is a result of these kinds of thoughts. My anxiety is therefore perfectly normal considering the circumstances, and I don’t have to see it as a problem, which in itself is reassuring and decreases my anxiety.

Mental Health Booster #3: Engage with Something Meaningful

When we learn not to make our feelings problems, it creates the space we need to engage with something meaningful, something that matters to us, something that brings us joy.

And what is really important for our mental well-being during difficult times is to engage in something meaningful for us.

We can choose something fun, something silly, something creative, something lighthearted. We can come up with new projects or can focus on being productive in some way. We can improve our relationships by having some fun or being caring toward each other. We can play with our kids.

Whatever it is, choose something. Get present and engage with it.

It will take your mind off things. It will give you a break.

Don’t let a difficult situation confine and restrict you.

This isn’t about denying or avoiding the realities of a difficult situation. It’s about preserving the mental energy needed to deal with it in the most effective and compassionate way possible.

And a big part of preserving our mental energy and health is maintaining a sense of purpose in the face of a crisis.

This is something most of us have in common: We all want to feel that we are useful in some way, that we have a purpose, that we’re doing something valuable.

And there are so many different things we can do to have that experience. But in order to do so, we need to have space in our minds, which requires us to practice being present, to feel our feelings and to validate them.

I hope that these three mental health boosters help you as much as they have helped me. I am grateful to you for reading this, as this is my meaningful contribution that allows my mind to focus on something I find valuable and enjoyable.

About Marlena Tillhon

Marlena helps people who struggle in relationships, due to codependency, insecure attachment, and unresolved trauma, develop and change in ways that allow them to finally get the love they need. She works as a psychotherapist, relationship coach, and clinical director and loves to connect on Instagram or via her Love with Clarity Facebook group and page. She is an expert in human relationships and sees them as the lifeblood of a meaningful existence.

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What I Learned About Love and Grief When I Lost My Cats

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~Anatole France

Unconditional love.

The thought of my cats envelops me with warmth whenever I think of them.

Why? Because we’re so connected. It’s an ethereal thing. Beyond words. Beyond reality. Beyond rationality.

When I’m holding them, I feel so spiritually connected. They stretch out as I start to scratch their backs, signaling that they like it. A welcome sign I should continue.

They stare with their mysterious eyes. Their stares are hard to read. Yet, they tell you a lot of things. They open the flood gate of emotions. Me to them and back. They don’t need to be able to speak. I can understand those tiny meows. Those sighs. Even those imperceptible smiles. And all because of the special bond we have.

The inner joy they provide is incomparable whenever I play with them.

They may not be as active as dogs, but it’s the sweetness that melts me.

The moment I touch them, they start to meld their bodies into mine, telling me not to let go.

Sometimes they are aloof. Their snobby attitude makes me laugh. Especially when they demand something and I withhold it. I stare back. I tell them “No.” Yet their eyes impinge upon my soul. Saying “no” for long is not an option.

When I’m not feeling well, they know. They lie down next to me. They stay quiet next to me. They try to take away the illness. They’re sharers and carers.

It’s a bliss being with them! It seems to be mutual. Indeed, I can’t last a day without my fur babies. Nor they, me.

A Month to Forget

Then came that dreaded month in 2013. In October that year, my two most beloved babies died.

I was devastated. My grief was instant. It was raw. It hurt like hell.

I started to question the concept of goodness and the fairness of life. How can the universe be so cruel? How can humans cope with the onset of grief that can come upon us so suddenly? Will our lives ever be the same again? Can we ever recover from the all-pervading feelings of grief and get back to those blissful feelings of unconditional once again?

How can the source of my joy now be the source of my sorrow? How can it be that the reason for my existence is now the reason for my annihilation? How is it that my cure is now my pain?

Ironic, isn’t it?

Life is unfair.

The joy that is given to any of us is always temporary.

You may say I’m exaggerating. It’s just a cat, a pet, an animal. You can always replace one with another one.

But I tell you, that’s easier said than done. For those of us who are animal lovers and who are by themselves, having a pet is like having a miniature human. Many people won’t understand this. It may be difficult to comprehend. Hard to accept. But yes, our animals can replace humans for comfort and reassurance in many instances.

But that’s life. That’s how the circle of life evolves. One is birthed, one dies. It goes on and on and on. And it’s up to us to accept it and move on. At some stage we need to release. To let go. Otherwise we can get caught up in the devastation of loss and grief.

That’s how grieving is. It is so painful. More painful than the loss of an object or career. It goes beyond physical pain. It’s a forever thing as a piece of your heart goes with them.

Grief almost killed me.

But I realized that it’s just a phase. It’s a doorway toward a better place. It’s a key to unlock your hidden courage.

Sometimes, you have to undergo grief. To release the negativity and allow positivity to enter your life. As they say, you have to empty out so one can pour more love in.

More than a painful phase, grief can teach you lessons that will add to the missing puzzles in your life. Lessons that will make you stronger; that will make you a better person. That will eventually bring strength and resilience.

And while on this painful journey, I pondered upon these lessons that changed how I look at life.

Lesson 1: Cry if you must.

Never say sorry for crying your heart out. Most of us feel ashamed when we cry. We don’t usually like others to see us when we are crying. Society taught us that crying is a sign of weakness.

Definitely not.

It’s an outlet for your emotions. To cry is to release all the negative feelings that are killing your soul. Isn’t it that after crying, we all feel better? As if a huge stone was lifted out of our chest?

That’s what I learned when my cats died. I cried. I cried a lot. I cried every day. I almost cried everywhere. Whenever I saw cats, tears would fall from my eyes. I allowed myself to be drenched in my tears. It just seemed natural at the time.

Until the sadness is gone. Until my eyes ran dry. Occasionally, I still cry whenever I remember them. But I was never ashamed of my crying.

Lesson 2: Every being is precious.

“Don’t be a fool, it’s just a cat!”

“Don’t waste your time on those animals.”

“You can always replace them.”

These are some of the things I heard people say as I grieved. People smirked. They didn’t laugh at me outright. They thought I was insane to grieve for those beings.

“What makes them less of a precious being that I should not grieve for them?”

That’s what I wanted to shout to those who were mocking me at that time. Because for me, every being is precious. Human and animals alike. For me, whoever—or whatever being—made me feel so loved and special, is as precious as a human person.

My cats, they were so generous in letting me feel the love, the warmth, the joy. They made me feel special. Isn’t that enough proof that these beings are precious?

And because of them, I learned to see the value of each being. Whether it’s another person, my neighbor’s pet, an old person, or a child. All of these beings are precious. They all play an important role. They all add value to my being.

I believe that every person or animal we encounter throughout life adds something to our life. All those you bumped into on your life journey create an impact. They create a ripple effect that multiplies into bigger ripples, until all those who are in your circle feel the impact. We are all joined in some way, even if we don’t recognize it.

Lesson 3: Reality bites.

I was in denial for quite a time. I kept convincing myself that I’d be fine and that I’d get the hang of it.

But the moment I was home by myself, the silence almost killed me.

Where are those naughty meows?

Where are those tiny fur babies cuddling at my feet?

Where are those eyes staring up at me demanding attention?

The thought of these memories haunted me. There’s this big hole in my heart that seemed to widen as the days lingered. Indeed, reality bites. As days went by, the pain got more intense. The feeling of missing them tore me apart. Reality certainly had bitten hard.

In a painful situation, denial can make you feel good but only temporarily. Denial does not alleviate the reality of what is. It will bite you so hard and so deep that it can’t cure pain anymore. Sooner or later, you need to face reality. Feel the heartache.  Feel the overwhelming pain and sadness of loss of part of your soul. But you must not let the venom of reality kill you. You’ve got to allow a cure to surface.

Lesson 4: It’s okay not to be okay.

You don’t owe anybody an apology just because you don’t feel okay.

In the midst of this painful phase of grieving, life had to go on. I needed to go to work. I needed to go out. I needed to do my chores. And, I needed to continue breathing.

There were times I survived the day being okay, but there were times that I was stopped by the dreaded feeling of being not okay. How I wished I could just feel these things when I was safely at home. Or, during the night before I went to sleep, so that no one could see my weakness.

Most of the time, this feeling paralyzed me, to the point that I could not continue my work or what I was doing at the time. Sometimes I could not speak. If I pushed myself to socialize, I ended up offending someone. Good thing my loved ones understood what I was going through.

I tell you, it’s okay not to be okay. You’re not the only person who has felt this. Acknowledge it if it comes. Welcome it with open arms. Then allow it to dissipate in its own time

But here’s the thing. The feeling of not being okay will eventually be temporary. By all means immerse yourself in the feeling, but do not allow yourself to wallow in self-pity, such that you cannot recover.

Lesson 5: Grief itself is medicine.

People tend to ignore this stage. When they’ve lost a loved one, they act as if nothing has happened. They act as if they have already recovered. Well, it’s okay to have that attitude. But I tell you, it is better to allow yourself to experience grief.

Grief can be your healing pill. Just like a pill, it tastes awful at first, but as you progress, you’ll get the hang of taking it. Somewhere in your subconscious, it will register that the pill of grief really is medicine, and that it is good for you to experience what life offers in emotional enrichment. Until such time as when you’ve reached the recovery stage, and you no longer need the pill.

That’s why I acknowledged my grief. I was aware of what I was going through. I acknowledged its presence every day. And then one day, I just woke up healed and refreshed.

Lesson 6: Grief is temporary.

If there is one thing that is permanent in this world, it is “temporary.” True, isn’t it?

The reason why I allowed myself to undergo grief is that I knew it wouldn’t last forever. I thought it was just a stage of life that I had to pass through.

For those times I missed my cats, and I suddenly felt bad, I somehow knew it was a temporary feeling. For those times I saw people playing with their cats, and I would suddenly feel the envy, somehow, I knew that feeling was temporary. For those times that I can’t help but think of my cats, and I want to isolate myself from the world, I recognize that it’s temporary.

Grief is temporary. Sooner or later everything will fall into its proper place. Sooner or later you’ll get through. However, “temporary” can be a short time or an eternity.

No Matter What, You’ll Get Through

The road to recovery may be long, but there’s no other way to bypass that road. I even told myself that I would never let myself have another cat again after that dreaded loss.

Days, weeks, months passed.

Four months later, I found myself cuddling two fur babies again. They’ve been my medicine to full recovery.

I find myself back to my old self. That person who loves to nuzzle cats. That person who finds joy playing with cats. That person who regards cats as family.

I just realized that’s how the circle of life evolves. We lose some, we gain some. We love, we hurt. We become pained, but eventually, we receive healing.

I realized that I needed to embrace life as it is. Even if I take things into my hands and try to manipulate an ending, pushing myself against the tide, I will always be swept back to where I should be. Life settles these things for you.

This is grief.

This is how you lose a beloved.

This is how you fall and stand again.

Grieve if you must. It’s part of life. Of growing. Of moving forward.

And all will come to pass.

And unconditional love? Oh, it’s there again. Together with my two new cats.

About Celine Healy

Celine Healy is a stress and wellness specialist at Wellness That Works. Her five-step model for a holistic body/mind approach to wellness is based on the premise that you need to change how you respond to stress first, then deal with the other layers after that. Celine is passionate about implementing simple, easy and natural remedies to whole body/mind wellness. Celine lives in Australia with her two cats.

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What to Do If You Can’t Forgive

“Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction.” ~Rumi

“I know I should forgive but I can’t.” I squirmed in my seat as I said this to my teacher.

I said this immediately after I explained all that I’d experienced during our meditation exercise.  In the meditation I’d had a vivid recollection of the constant verbal and emotional abuse I’d received from my dad.

It had been ten years since I’d lived at home, but I was still angry, still carrying all of those emotions from years ago. Instead of telling me all the virtues of why it’s important to forgive, my teacher asked me one question.

“Are you ready to forgive?”

“No,” I said.

“Then don’t.”

When he said that I burst into tears of relief.

At that time in my life so many people had been telling me about the virtues of forgiveness, suggesting different methods. When they’d see my resistance to forgiveness, they’d just tell me the same platitudes over and over again:

 Forgiveness isn’t about excusing the other person’s behavior.

 Forgiveness is for you not the other person.

 Forgiveness frees you.

I intellectually understood what they meant. But I still couldn’t do it. I didn’t know why I couldn’t. I had started to feel guilty and shameful that I wasn’t able to do this one thing that so many people agreed I should do.

My teacher giving me space to not forgive gave me the permission to observe myself and my pain without judgment. This meant I could explore the subtle feelings and beliefs that I didn’t even know I had. I uncovered my resistance by asking myself:

How was not-forgiving keeping me safe?

At the time I was a perfectionist and was excelling in my career. I had risen quickly through the ranks of my organization because I pushed myself hard and did a great job.

At the same time there would be moments where I would go into extreme procrastination. I had learned that I procrastinated because I felt like what I should be doing was going to harm me. I stopped and went into avoidance mode whenever I was afraid that I was going to experience burnout or if I thought I would fail and be rejected.

I looked at my reaction to not forgiving my dad in the same way. I was avoiding forgiveness because something about the idea of it made me feel unsafe.

I sat down and wrote about why not forgiving my dad was keeping me safe. In my journaling I was surprised to see that I felt safe with the power I had in not forgiving.

Through a family member who had told my dad I wasn’t willing to forgive him I’d heard that he was upset that I didn’t. That knowledge, that small thing that I had control of when I hadn’t felt in control of anything regarding my dad, felt like vindication.

I wrote deeper:

Why was it so important for me to hold that power? 

I realized that inside of me was still a teenaged girl living in the experience—she hadn’t graduated high school and moved out. She was still in that pain right now. In this moment. And that feeling of power was the only thing keeping her together.

It was shocking that I could feel her so strongly in my body. Mostly in my chest and in my stomach. The feeling was heavy and like sand  I couldn’t leave that girl feeling powerless while she was still actively in the moment of pain. I had to give her something to hold onto so she could survive.

I didn’t try to correct my perception or be more positive. I just listened to me. I finally connected with the depth of pain I had been feeling all along and how often it was there without me even noticing. I wasn’t used to connecting with my body  I wasn’t used to listening to myself without judging.

My teacher asked me if it was okay if instead of forgiving my dad if we released the energy that I was feeling from my body. I said yes, so he led me through a guided meditation.

In it I took several deep breaths and visualized that I was sending all of my dad’s energy and the energy of situation through the sun and back to my dad. By moving the light through the sun my dad would only receive pure light back, not any of the pain he’d projected.

I then took back my own energy, my authentic power, whatever I felt had been taken from me or whatever power I felt I’d given away. I visualized that energy moving through the sun and being cleansed so that all I received was my own pure light.

Then I visualized all the other people who had heard my story or actually witnessed what went on with my dad letting go of all their judgments and attachments, like streams of light rising into the sky.

After the meditation was done my body felt good. I felt lighter. I didn’t feel a part of me was caught in the past.

Suddenly I had a strong urge to forgive my father. And I did.

Over time I found that I still had more forgiving to do, but it was easier. I didn’t have to be convinced to forgive, I naturally wanted to.

What helped me the most when I couldn’t forgive was finally recognizing that forgiveness is more than making a mental choice and saying words. Forgiveness is a decision that’s made with the body and the soul. It comes naturally when it is ready. 

If you just can’t forgive, I invite you to explore what worked for me:

1. Accept that you aren’t ready to forgive and trust your decision.

2. Ask yourself how not-forgiving is keeping you safe and listen to your truth without minimizing or correcting your beliefs.

3. Be present and feel where those beliefs are still active in your body,

4. When you are ready (and only when you’re ready) releasing the energy that does not belong to you and reclaim what does using the process I wrote above.

When we are willing to stop forcing ourselves to do what we ‘should’ do and actually listen to our truth in the moment, we expand our capacity for healing in ways we can’t even imagine.  Including forgiving the impossible.

About Candice Thomas

Candice Thomas is the author of the book The Success Sense: Intuition for Entrepreneurs and Professionals. She teaches leaders how to use their own intuition to create tangible positive results in the world. Using her signature programs, her clients have achieved life-changing results and learned how to be spiritually connected and complete.   Candice has been featured on the Mind Love podcast, Elephant Journal, Thrive Global, Bustle, Brit+Co and other media. For more information visit https://candicethomasintuitive.com.

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Autoimmune & Coronavirus: Beating the Panic & Fear in All of Us

“The problem is not the existence of stressors, which cannot be avoided; stress is simply the brain’s way of signaling that something is important. The problem–or perhaps the opportunity–is how we respond to this stress.” ~The Book of Joy

For the past few weeks, I took pride in being able to keep fear at a distance.

My motto was “Don’t let the fear in. The fear makes you a vulnerable host to coronavirus.”

Since I have Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune condition, I know about stress and how it harms my immune system. Stress steals energy from the necessary functions my body performs to keep me alive. Fear adds stress to the body.

As I drove up to the parking lot of my favorite grocery store, people were gathered outside—and the store wasn’t open, yet. My sensitive nervous system scanned the environment and registered that something was wrong.

This wasn’t normal. I came here daily, and I had never seen this before.

People weren’t talking, they weren’t smiling, and they gripped the handles of shopping carts like they were ready to claim a Black Friday deal.

Approaching the store, I squeezed my way through to the last remaining shopping carts. People frowned at me as if I was trying to cut in line. I smiled from behind my face mask, hoping my eyes communicated that “I am here with you—not in competition with you.”

As the door opened to the store, people stampeded in. It was like a race: ready, on your mark, get set—GO! People scattered across the store to retrieve items like their lives depended on them.

Standing at the entrance in shock, I barely noticed the nice employee standing there. Smiling, he offered me a disinfectant wipe as if to say, “It is okay. We will keep you safe.” For a moment, his smile calmed my senses.

As I made my way to the meat aisle, I felt my adrenaline surge. Will they have my ground meat? What if they don’t have my gluten-free staples? What will I eat with my restricted diet if they are out of my life sustaining products? What about prunes?

In a brief second, I went from smiling at a kind man to fearing I would be unable to go to the bathroom and eventually starve to death. In the moment, this situation seemed more life-threatening than the Crohn’s disease I battled daily.

My motto, “Don’t let the fear in,” was submerged in the chaos around me.

After securing my groceries, minus some of my favorite items, I took a deep breath and made my way outside and to my car. Sitting in the car for a few minutes, I noticed my heart pounding and my hands were shaking.

The fear and stress were already registering in my body as physical symptoms.

“Oh no,” I said to myself. “My immune system is already compromised, and now I am stressing it even more. This is placing me at greater risk for illness!”

Thump thump, my heart rate called for my attention.

Noticing my heart rate, I felt warm and sweaty as I panicked about the panic.

I was stressing about the stress.

When I got home, as I opened my front door, I was greeted by my new kittens, Pawso and Samba. Just weeks ago, I was their foster mama and now I am their forever family. These kittens weren’t “my plan,” but they are teaching me to accept that life can have a plan of its own.

I watched them pounce and tumble together. I could hear their purrs. Relaxing my tight grip on the front door, I observed them playing and acting as they normally do.

My house was normal; it was safe. I had nothing to fear in this present moment.

There are many times in my life I adapted to changes that didn’t go according to my plan.

Coronavirus certainly isn’t to be compared to kitten adoption, but how I adapt to changes in my routine and monitor my stress levels are the same. Change always brings some degree of stress.

I wouldn’t be human if fear didn’t affect me. As soon as I entered the grocery store, it filled my senses like the overflowing shopping carts.

Just like coronavirus, fear is contagious too.

But there is a difference. Only a percentage of us will contract coronavirus. Nearly everyone seems afflicted with fear.

My history of trauma makes me primed for fear and stress. My body’s warning system is primed to react to any indication of danger in my environment. It doesn’t know the difference between a traumatic event that happened twenty years ago and a present trigger.

Simple things like people gathered outside the grocery store, a deviation from the normal routine, triggered my body’s familiar response to trauma. To me, this was a traumatic event.

As I settled back into my routine at home, I realized that even though fear and stress were around me, in the space of my own home and in the respite of my own body, I was in total control.

The days that followed I developed a plan to feel empowered over coronavirus and fear.

1. Make my priorities clear

My plan is changing minute by minute, so I need to be flexible, but I am clear about my priorities.

My health comes first, and during times of crisis, stress reduction is critical. Normal day-to-day stress can strain my immune system, but now stress levels are at their peak, so I must be more vigilant than ever with my self-care.

Life as I know it is going to change.

Today I must find my new normal and trust that I have adapted to a broad range of changes in my life—from new kittens to the potentially life-threatening diagnosis of Crohn’s disease.

I am still here and alive to share about it.

I have to forego some of my passions—ballroom dancing at the studio—but I can and will replace this with other passions.

Maybe now is the time to rekindle some of my past passions, such as playing my piano.

I need to make a plan. This includes taking extra supplements to boost my immune system and monitoring my overall health in conjunction with my healthcare team.

2. Orient to my present surroundings

When I returned from the grocery store, my stress level was elevated. As soon as I saw Pawso and Samba, I was reminded that I was not at the grocery store. I was home.

Pawso and Samba instinctively know when there is danger. When I got home, they were playful and content.

When I oriented myself to their clear demonstration that “It is safe, let’s play,” it brought me into the present moment. I, too, was safe.

I learned at a young age to view my environment as unsafe

My history of trauma naturally alerts me to the potentially scary things in my surroundings.

My history of trauma doesn’t draw my attention to the safe cues around me.

Knowing this, I have to be mindful and identify the things in my environment that are safe because this calms my body’s stress response.

What we focus on changes how we feel.

During my trip to the grocery store, I recalled only one indication of safety—the employee’s warm smile. There were other indicators of safety, but I was too stressed to notice. Instead I became a part of the shopping cart frenzy. In reality, all of us went home with enough food.

Realigning with signs of safety is essential because when I focus on danger, this elevates my body’s stress response. This is not healthy for my already compromised immune system.

3. Remember my resiliency

Many of us with histories of autoimmune disease and trauma have already survived a lot. Our complex histories have taught us how to prioritize and adapt.

These universal life skills can help us cope with change whether it is adjusting to two furry friends in the home or developing a plan to reduce coronavirus risks.

Health crises like coronavirus are traumatic not only because of the real present threats but because they remind us of what we have already endured with past health crises.

I don’t want to “go back there,” and cannot imagine having more symptoms “stacked” on my preexisting ones.

The mere thought of hospitalization terrifies me, and I don’t want to die.

I check in with my thoughts regularly.

I try not to describe myself as “high-risk,” because I want to feel strong.

I want mental immunity in addition to physical immunity.

My thoughts have significant influence over my health.

For some people, coronavirus has introduced new lifestyle restrictions. Living with autoimmune disease, I feel like my routine is mostly the same.

I am always hypervigilant about washing my hands, wear a mask in crowded public places, and restrict my travel and social engagements during busy times like holidays. I have a balance of working from home and in the field.

Taking precautions feels normal to me.  I don’t want any virus, regardless of origin.

The biggest obstacle is my mind and my perceptions of what is going on around me. The fears I carry about the “what ifs” and the events I imagine might take place in the future can wreak havoc on my well-being—far worse than any day-to-day adjustments.

My mind is my greatest inconvenience right now.

4. Adhere to restrictions beyond sheltering at home

I have to restrict my intake of the news and social media, because I am sensitive to the fear and stress. This is good self-care—a balance of being informed without getting overly focused on content that weakens my mental immunity.

For me, just one hour of late-night television is enough exposure, because at the bottom of the screen I can see the scrolling updates about coronavirus.

One to three social media check-ins per day and I get my dosage of updates on current events.

Sometimes I have to tell my friends I don’t want to talk about the coronavirus and instead suggest we share memories and laugh. “Laughter is the best medicine” might be cliché, but laughing increases happy chemicals that result in positive mood and well-being.

5. Remember that social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation

“No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love.” ~Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Our society has become increasingly disconnected as face-to-face communication is replaced with screens. We need human contact. It is necessary for survival. Right now, we need our social connections more than anything.

Yesterday I walked outside and had a delightful conversation with my neighbor across the street. We may have been yelling, but there was no question we respected social distancing. It felt great to have human connection.

I hold in my heart how much better I felt when I noticed the man smiling at me in the grocery store. It calmed me instantly.

This is my focus—the healing power of relationships—the greatest boost we can offer to our immune systems.

6. Be kind

When we remember that we are all in this together, suddenly we focus our attention on the positive events taking place around us. This orients our brain and body to safety and calms our stress response.

Making a difference is empowering. It reminds us how much influence we still have over our lives even when scary things are happening around us. Helping others has a positive effect on our immune systems.

Now is the time to find creative ways to give back to our communities. For example, consider fostering for your local animal rescue organizations. Not only do animals offer stress relief, companionship, and the healing power of relationship, but they are one way to give back while sheltering at home.

When I smile at the people in my community providing services to those of us sheltering at home and I say, “Thank you for your services,” I feel at peace because kindness reminds my body and mind what is most important.

7. Find the sparkle in every situation

Even though I have been mandated to stay home, I can see a sparkle of light that is always there if I open my eyes. Sitting at my desk, I look around…

Among the confines of these walls from which I am told I should not venture far, is the home that I helped build. This home is a reflection of my values, my beliefs, and is abundant with intangibles to comfort me.

My home is abundant with love from my family and pets and offers me a sanctuary to be my true and uninhibited self. In my home, I have the space to truly be with me.

This is the only moment in my lifetime where I have been given permission to stay home, take care of myself, and am not asked to give reasons why. This is the only moment in my life where my health and safety have been deemed most important by the entire world.

Maybe I needed a mandate to stay home and notice that I am exactly where I always wished I could be—and here I am.

About Casey Hersch

Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, author, and founder of www.lightyoursparkle.life. She specializes in integrative treatment models for chronic illness by bringing awareness to the connection between our physical and emotional bodies. Our passions are at the center of health and ballroom dance and pet companionship are vivid examples. Inspired by her own struggles with autoimmune illnesses and trauma, she educates about empowerment and how to build individualized healing plans.

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How I’m Finding Hope in the Pandemic

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~Joseph Campbell

It’s hard to believe the state of the world we are in. It feels like 2020 has become the plot of an apocalyptic movie.

A microscopic virus invades planet earth targeting human beings. As mass numbers of human beings retreat indoors, wildlife begins to flourish. Slowly, continent by continent, the human bacteria is eliminated. Only the strongest of the species survive and mutate, creating a new breed of homo sapiens. Finally, planet earth can breathe.

Who would have ever thought that something like this would stop the world in its tracks? (Well, Bill Gates, apparently.)

I’m ashamed to admit that my weekly screen-time phone report was up 73 percent last week, and I highly doubt I was the only one. Anytime I reached for my phone, I was pulled down a rabbit hole of news reports with terrifying headlines, live videos around the world, reading new laws, catching up with hundreds of WhatsApp and Facebook messages. I could not concentrate on anything for longer than a second, and my regular meditation routine was thrown out the window.

Anxiety is a beast, and it’s been thriving in this type of environment. My little anxious dog-brain is running around in circles with all sorts of horrible scenarios.

I had the next six months of my life meticulously planned and lined up so perfectly: completing my placement at the hospital, working part-time, graduating from school, getting married in Canada. But everything seems to be floating now, held in the air, and I’m just waiting for the pieces to drop.

There are people I know who have it so much worse. They’ve lost their jobs, are forced to move out of their homes because they can’t pay rent.

Not to mention the people who are actually sick with Coronavirus, how terrifying that it might be. Living in make-shift hospital tents, being tended to by nurses in hazmat suits, their families praying they will make it out alive. Or those who are dying of something else entirely and can’t have visitors to say goodbye on their last days alive.

The repercussions of this are far-reaching and heartbreaking. It’s been devastating for so many of us, and my heart feels a culmination of pain from everywhere.

However, amongst all the pain and chaos, there is a silver lining: we are all united. We are literally all in it together; whether you live in a small village of Afghanistan or in an upscale neighbourhood in California. The entire world is working together to help each other, to fix this mess.

The power of love and community can be seen with touching videos of people singing to each other on their balconies and rooftops in Italy. Or people leaving messages in my mailbox letting me know that they can pick up groceries, or medication if I’m sick.

The virus knows no status, no religion, no ethnicity. Under this, we are all equal, we are all just human; fragile and mortal little creatures.

When faced with a pandemic, we get to see the meaninglessness of so many things in our lives. The superficial fancy clothes and expensive cars, what does that give you, ultimately? How much importance does that have right now? Or the planning and planning and saving for ‘later’ when what if there is no later? The working in jobs we hate, with people who infuriate us because we’re too afraid of change, or too afraid to fail?

It is a highly stressful and volatile time, there is no doubt about that. I am not going to sit here and tell you how you need to remain positive and grateful and blah blah blah. Feel whatever you feel, allow it to run its course. It’s absolutely normal to feel powerless and afraid, and you are certainly not alone. In fact, you could not be less alone in your state of mind right about now.

But it’s also important to remember that human beings are resilient little creatures—that means you. Yes, you reading this right now. You are a resilient being and this is going to make you stronger.

Imagine the creativity that will emerge during this time of quarantine? Imagine the art, the songs, the writing, the stories, the incredible ingenuity that will be born from this time?

We are resilient beings and our minds can run far and wide. We might feel the fear and anxiety, but we can also feel creativity and compassion. This is a time for humans to reanalyze the world we live in. To take a break from the rat race that is society and find something authentic and true within ourselves.

The story of humanity will not end with us being annihilated by the coronavirus, we will overcome. But maybe, and hopefully, what will die out is an old stale form of society.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for humankind to make a more sustainable world, not only for the planet but for us humans too.

Maybe it’s a sneak peak of a world where we’re not just another cog in the wheel of a giant corporate machine, but a place where we can bring our true humanity, our innate gifts. This virus has forced to reconsider everything, and the leaders of our worlds are struggling to handle it all. This is precisely where change happens.

Every day is a new day and in today’s world, we cannot predict what will happen in an hour, let alone tomorrow. Now is the time to rest and incubate your mind, allowing it to bask in its own creative juices. It’s a time of unprecedented change. Allow that resilience and creativity that is innate you to spread.

The world is waiting.

About Kimberly Hetherington

Kimberly Hetherington is a Canadian writer and practicing Transpersonal Art Therapist based in Sydney, Australia. Her website, Life After Elizabeth is a tribute to her sister who died in the fall of 2013. The website is about healing after loss, self-discovery, ending the stigma of mental illness, and exploring how we can be the best version of ourselves we can be.

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

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How Being in a Toxic Relationship Changed My Life for the Better

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars.  You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~C.S. Lewis

My ex and I split up about five years ago. We had been married for seventeen years, and after that long, I figured we were home free, as far as lasting marriages go. Needless to say, when it happened, I was devastated. Over all those years of being a couple, I had lost a big part of myself. Without that relationship, who was I anymore?

I was terrified of being alone, which led me to start exploring the dating world much too soon.

I dated a really nice guy that I just wasn’t into and we became friends. I dated a guy (once) that freaked me out and taught me never to get in a car with a stranger. I dated a guy that ghosted me. Finally, I dated a guy that I thought was my soul mate. He nearly ruined my life.

When I met him, I wasn’t all that into him. He seemed too quiet for me, but he was cute and after a few dates, I started to really like him. We were both mid-divorce, and we had a lot in common. We could talk for hours. He was thoughtful and offered his time and affection freely.

After a couple months, he changed. He became very quiet and contemplative, and the conversation waned. He was always lacking in energy and never wanted to go out and do anything fun, which was totally the opposite of me. In a healthier mental state, maybe I would have seen the red flags.

We connected on a deeper level though, when he did talk. We were both in search of meaning in our lives. We were both trying to make sense of it all. I felt like we had this deep bond unlike anything I had experienced in a partner before. We both struggled with depression and with finding our places in this new life after divorce.   

I needed someone to fill the hole that my ex-husband had left, and I wanted connection so badly. People told me I had to learn to be alone and get to know myself again first, but I didn’t want to hear that. The only thing I wanted was to feel whole again, and at the time whole meant being with someone. 

As he grew distant, I tried harder and harder to get attention and affection from him. And, of course, the more I tried to get the affection, love, and attention I so desperately wanted, the more he pulled away.

I felt like I was drowning in a rushing river, trying desperately to grasp onto something—anything—that would help me fill the void left by my failed marriage. I wanted him to treat me like he loved and cared for me, and he was just not willing to do that, or maybe he just wasn’t capable.

The constant fishing for him to say the words I wanted to hear and to make me feel how I wanted to feel was exhausting and unbearably frustrating. I couldn’t understand how someone could be so selfish when I was giving so much.

We’d been together for about five or six months when he started having debilitating anxiety accompanied by suicidal thoughts. One night, when he was afraid to be alone, I rearranged my schedule with my kids so I could stay with him to make sure he was okay. He ended up feeling like he needed hospitalization to stay safe.

I stayed by his side the entire time, and when he was admitted to the inpatient program, I visited him every day, without fail. I rearranged my days so I could be there for him. I was practically existing to be needed by him.

As he was preparing to be released from inpatient, he was afraid to be alone in case his anxiety worsened and he started having suicidal thoughts again. He asked if he could stay with me, which was tricky since I have two kids who were going through this difficult time of divorce as well. It wasn’t ideal, but in my state of needing to be needed, I was ready to help him however I could—whatever it took.

His parents ended up coming to stay with him, so that measure wasn’t necessary, but it also meant he didn’t need me anymore.

All of his attention was focused inward and on getting better, and not at all toward me or showing any appreciation for the sacrifices I was making for him. Let’s be clear—this is how it should have been, and I know that he absolutely needed to take care of himself, but it made me crazy.

I wanted him to love me like I (thought) I loved him. I just couldn’t see that he was not in a place where he could really love anyone. That hole I was trying to fill just kept getting wider and deeper.

When he was hospitalized, it almost normalized the experience for me. He got a break from life for a few days and I basically dropped my life to save his.

Maybe he’d do the same thing for me, and maybe he’d finally give me the attention I craved. Maybe, just maybe, I could start to fill in that big hole in my heart. This was, of course, a subconscious line of thinking at the time, but in hindsight, I can see that I was grasping for any shred of validation from him that I was worthy of his love. 

I was severely depressed. I had thrown myself so hard into this relationship, and I wasn’t getting anything back. I ended up being hospitalized too because of the depression, pain, and hopelessness I was feeling.

He spent a little time being supportive, but he didn’t drop everything to be there for me like I did when he needed me. He only came and visited me once.

I had never felt so alone in my life.

The relationship had grown to be so dysfunctional that I had lost any shred of sanity that I had left. Looking back, it feels a little embarrassing that I stayed in this place when everyone I knew told me to get out. I wanted the relationship to work—at any cost.

He broke up with me right before Christmas that year, which was also completely devastating to me.  I didn’t take it well, and I hated him for it.

To make matters worse, in the new year, he texted me to tell me that he missed me. We started hanging out again and maintained a “friends with benefits” kind of relationship. How dumb could I be?? 

Again, I was there whenever he needed me, at great cost to my own well-being. I held on to this shred of hope that maybe things would work out. Somehow, someday.

His depression and anxiety eventually flared up again, and he took some time to go to North Carolina to stay with his parents for a month while he attended a partial hospitalization program.

We stayed in contact the whole time, and toward the end of his stay there, he talked about how he was starting to feel like we should get back together. I was still in heart hole-filling mode, so in my mind, it was like things were finally coming together—this was why I had stuck it out so long, after all, right?

When he came home from North Carolina, we didn’t really talk about “being back together,” but it sure felt that way. It finally felt nice—like I had wished for, for so long.

And then one day, everything changed.

I invited some friends over for my birthday, and he was supposed to help me with the food, but he was late. Really late. I tried calling him multiple times with no answer. As I hung out with my friends and tried to make fun conversation and pretend nothing was wrong, I felt hurt, unimportant, unworthy, and small. When he finally did show up, something was odd about him. When he left that night, I went to kiss him, it felt forced and awkward.

Later that week, when I pressed him on it, he told me he was on a date with the woman he knew would be his future wife.

After one date we were over. Like a switch flipped.

After one date, he was exclusively dating another woman whom he would marry someday, and he didn’t even apologize, explain, or get how crappy all of it was. 

I was so angry, but I was also blindsided, hurt, and I felt like an idiot. I had given so much of myself for him, and he treated me terribly and without care. The rest of the details aren’t necessarily important, but in the end, I told him to f* off and that I didn’t ever want to see or talk to him again.

All of my hurt was finally starting to turn into something useful—anger and self-respect.

I think I needed anger to leave that relationship behind and realize how much better off I was going to be without him.

I didn’t really start to heal from the pain of my divorce until after this moment, and I didn’t really date for a while after that.

I reconnected with friends I saw much less of when I was dating him. I reconnected with myself. I learned how to be alone, and how to appreciate that time.

I learned what I want and need in a relationship.

Most of all though, I learned that I am worthy of love and I deserve someone who wants to give back. I learned that I shouldn’t settle for less than someone that wants to be an equal partner in my life.

Despite how horrible that time was, I am so grateful for the experience because of  how much I learned about myself and grew during that time.   

We were just two people who were struggling with where we were in life. We weren’t right for each other, but we were put in each other’s path to teach each other something.

He ended up getting married to the woman he was with when he was late to my birthday party, and I am so thankful that she ended up as his wife and not me.

I like to believe that he really is a good person that was just going through a tough time when he met me. I do wish him the best. We all deserve that, right? I could even go so far as to thank him for the things he helped me learn.

The lessons that came out of this very painful experience are many, and I want to summarize them so that you, too, can learn from my mistakes. I hope you find these helpful.

You Are Absolutely Worthy of All the Love

You deserve the world, even if you have to give it to yourself. It doesn’t matter who you are, you deserve love. Yes, you. And if you are with someone who doesn’t love you like you deserve to be loved, you should look elsewhere, or even better, within.

Move on. For real.

Figure Out How to Love Yourself First

It’s been said that you can’t really love anyone until you learn to love yourself. I don’t think you can really truly accept and feel love until you learn to love yourself first, either.

What’s more, when you learn to love yourself, you don’t need another person to fill any emotional holes. You are already whole all on your own. The love you find when you are whole is a different kind of love, and it’s beautiful.

How do you learn to love yourself? Start by simply being with yourself. Fill the hole with your own care and attention. This will lead to respecting yourself, which in time will lead to valuing yourself.

You Have Value as a Person

Part of your journey in life is seeing that you are worth making the trip. It might be hard to see, but you most definitely are.

If you are with someone that can’t see how valuable you are, you’re with the wrong person. You have unique talents. You are beautiful, and you are amazing. There is someone out there that will see it. But you have to believe it, too.

Every Experience in Your Life Has Something to Teach You

I bet if you look at all of the challenging experiences in your life, you can find at least one thing you learned from each. If you don’t agree with me, I can almost guarantee that you’re not trying hard enough.

It’s through challenges that we grow. If I hadn’t had this difficult experience, it wouldn’t have led me to my current partner, who loves me and supports me more than I could have ever dreamed of. I learned so much about relationships, and myself, that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned, and who knows, I might not have been ready to meet the love of my life.

Letting Go Can Be a Beautiful Thing

Letting go is hard.

We want what we want, and it takes a lot of trust to walk away from a sure thing when you don’t know what the future will hold.

It’s hard to accept that sometimes what we want isn’t the best thing for us. But you have to trust that by letting go you’ll open up to better things.

And sometimes the best thing for you is to simply to live without a person who isn’t good for you.

About Kortney Rivard

Kortney Rivard is a life coach and photographer living outside Washington, DC.  As a former aerospace engineer who found herself wanting a more fulfilling life, she is dedicated to helping women who want more out of life rediscover who they really are, figure out what they want and find the confidence they need to go get it.  Read more about her work at www.kortneyrivard.com.

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14-Day Meditation Challenge: Put Down Your Phone and Be

“Meditation is the ultimate mobile device; you can use it anywhere, anytime, unobtrusively.” ~Sharon Salzberg

I came home from my doctor’s appointment last week and rambled off three to four different things that were happening in the world as a result of the coronavirus. By the fourth item my wife asked me to stop. She said please tell me something good.

I told her that my doctor said my pathology report came back negative. That the procedure on my neck had removed all cancerous cells. (A very good thing!) We shared a hug and a smile, and then I was back on my phone looking to see if anything else had changed in the world.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been glued to your phone the past couple of weeks, mesmerized by what’s going on. I’ve been swiping right (to get to the news) thirty to forty times per day, probably more, and it’s been making me crazy.

Many of us are now in isolation from a virus that is changing the world as we know it at incredible speed. That’s why I think it’s important to spend less time on our phones. 

Yep, you heard me correct. Less time. Even if it’s just ten minutes less per day.

Now more than ever it’s important to spend time doing something that’s grounded in reality rather than fear and panic. I’m not saying that what’s happening isn’t real, it’s very real, but a lot of us are getting over amplified by the ridiculous amount of information at our fingertips, and it’s taking us to a place of panic and fear.

That’s why I want to challenge everyone to fourteen days of meditation. Why? Because meditation is grounded in reality.

It’s just breathing. Breathing in and out like the waves of the ocean.

It’s you experiencing your thoughts for what they are—just thoughts—and then coming back to your breath. It’s you taking a break from the craziness of what’s going on and getting centered.

I present this challenge to you gently because I know a lot of us have been affected in one way or another. Heck, I just found out that a job I was supposed to start today has been pushed back for a month and a half. That’s money that my family was counting on.

I can get angry and I can scream and shout, but what good is that going to do me.? It is what it is. Instead, I can meditate. However scary it may be out there, we all have this beautiful opportunity to check in with ourselves and rise.

I’m not saying don’t inform yourself, but at the same time you don’t need to be glued to your phone. We have to remember to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. Then others. Hence this challenge.

Take this time for you. Ten minutes a day.

Put down your phone. Don’t swipe right and get sucked up into the news like I’ve been doing. Don’t turn on the TV and check out for an hour or two. Use this time, which we all have, to check in with yourself.

And who knows? Fourteen days might lead to a long-term habit—one that will make you a better person and make those around you better.

Imagine a world where all of us do this. Where we ground ourselves in reality, checking in with our bodies, and we breathe and let our bodies send safety messages to our minds rather than our minds hijacking our bodies with fear. This is the vision that kept me up most of last night.

Meditate and let your body remind you that everything is okay. Breathe in and breathe out knowing that right here, right now, just for this moment, everything is okay.

Remember, we are full organisms. Everything that we are thinking and think we are feeling has an associated physiological response. Sit with the knowing that despite whatever your mind is trying to tell you or whatever life stresses are coming your way you are completely safe in this moment right here in your body.

I’ve never asked this before but I’m asking it now. Please send this on to someone you know or share it on social media. I believe this is important to all of us right now.

Take this challenge. Give yourself this gift.

About Zachary Goodson

Zachary is a writer, a coach, and a heart-centered entrepreneur who loves helping others. His writing focuses on his experiences around holistic health, inner child work, addiction, recovery, spirituality, and fatherhood. His coaching is devoted to helping people experience deep fulfillment in relationships, career, and life.  You can connect with him at zacharygoodson.com.

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If You Think People-Pleasing Is Being Kind…

“I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod; my shadow does that much better.” ~Plutarch

People-pleasing can seem Iike a way of connecting with others. We believe that if we keep people happy, then they’ll like us and want us around. While it may be true that pleasing others will win us approval and a place in their lives, changing and editing ourselves can’t create the connection we long for.

We confuse people-pleasing with kindness. After all, aren’t we, as people-pleasers, described as too nice? People-pleasing can be seen as giving of ourselves to put others first, but people-pleasing isn’t the kindest way to treat ourselves or the people around us.

Honesty is Kinder than People-Pleasing

My friend, Amy, would occasionally invite other people to join us without letting me know. I’d arrive at the park or the coffee shop and find myself unexpectedly part of a group.

To Amy, this wasn’t a big deal. She was generous about introducing me to new people and for her it was genuinely the more the merrier. I, however, prefer one-on-one interactions to groups, and I really dislike being surprised in social settings.

The thing is, she never knew it bothered me because I never told her. I was so worried about making sure she liked me that I pretended to be happy about these surprise additions to our outings. I told myself I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

Unfortunately, the result was that I resented the other people and didn’t give them a fair chance to see if we might also become friends. It undermined my trust that Amy really saw me and valued my friendship. It reinforced my belief that I wasn’t good enough for someone to want to spend time with just me.

When I wasn’t honest about how I felt, it wasn’t kind to anyone involved. I knew Amy to be a caring and thoughtful person. Most likely she would have been glad to let me know when she was extending additional invitations and to check in about what I wanted for a particular meet-up if only I’d been honest about how I felt.

When we people-please, we say and do things that aren’t really true for us. We may accept an invitation that is inconvenient or agree to do a favor we resent doing. We might claim to want to eat at a certain restaurant or do a certain activity even though we’d actually prefer something else.

We may keep our opinions and beliefs to ourselves unless we’re sure they line up with those of the person we’re trying to please. We might base our decisions—from what clothes we wear to what jokes we laugh at to what career we pursue—on what we think will win approval. We may hide how the other person’s actions are impacting us.

None of these things are honest. We’re not being kind to others when we try to manipulate them into liking us instead of letting them really see us.

We get tripped up because honesty can feel unkind if we think it will disappoint someone or make them unhappy. Of course, honesty can be used in an unkind way. People will say intentionally hurtful things and then justify their cruelty under the guise of honesty, but we can be honest with kindness.

When we are honest in our relationships, we give others a true representation of who we are. We are clear about what we will and won’t do, what we do and don’t want. When we are honest we build trust with others that they can take us at our word and learn to see ourselves as a person who can be trusted.

Presence is Kinder than People-Pleasing

When I spent time with Amy, I worried a lot. I watched to see how many cookies she ate before helping myself to another. I worried about whether she was offering tea just to be nice or whether she’d actually be disappointed if I didn’t want to try the new blend she’d been sent as a gift.

I avoided conversation topics where I wasn’t sure we’d agree. I was cautious when answering her questions about what I was up to. I’d offer only a glimpse and then try to gauge her levels of interest and approval before sharing the next little bit.

The thing is, I wasn’t able to relax and just enjoy spending time together. It was obvious to her that I was trying to do things the way I thought she wanted me to. She tried to reassure me that it was okay to be myself, which was embarrassing for both of us.

I appreciated Amy’s ability to ask thoughtful questions and how encouraging she was about anything I did share with her. The main things I remember about the time we spent together, however, don’t tell me much about who she is. I remember more about what I said and did because my focus kept turning to how I was measuring up.

When we engage in people-pleasing behaviors, we watch the people we hope to please for cues about what they want and need and who they expect us to be. It can seem like we’re being very present with them because we’re paying such close attention.

Too often, however, our attention is strategic—we’re using it to meet our own ends instead of really engaging with them as people. We watch for how each thing we do or say is received and use that data to continually adjust ourselves to be more pleasing.

What if, instead, we approached our time with another person with curiosity—seeking to know them for the joy of knowing another human being? Curiosity requires presence—being open and welcoming to what is there instead of what we expect to find. One of the kindest things we can do for someone is to set aside our expectations and see them for who they are—and that includes ourselves.

Trust is Kinder than People-Pleasing

It didn’t matter how kind and encouraging I believed Amy to be, I didn’t trust that she would want to be my friend if I ever let her really see me. I didn’t trust that relationships could survive disappointments, differences, or disagreements. I struggled to believe that anyone really wanted to know me and that I would deserve their friendship if they did.

When I didn’t trust that Amy would want to be my friend unless I went out of my way to please her and I didn’t trust that I was worthy of her friendship, it made for an uneven relationship. I saw her as better than me and was trying to control her perception of me so I could keep a place in her life. Our interactions were based on my striving to please instead of on two humans seeing and supporting each other.

People-pleasing is characterized by a lack of trust. We people-please because we don’t trust that we are good enough to be wanted just as we are. We don’t trust others to see the value in us and treat us well unless we always give them what they want or stay within the parameters of who they expect us to be.

A kinder approach is to cultivate trust. As we unhook from people-pleasing, we build trust in ourselves. We develop trust that we can meet our own needs and that we can express our preferences with kindness. We learn to trust that we will be okay if not everyone likes us and that there are new opportunities even after disappointment.

There is also kindness in trusting others. When we choose to trust someone, we give them a chance to see and support us. We open up the possibility for a mutual relationship.

Trust others and trust yourself to build a relationship that is genuine and satisfying for you both. Some relationships will not survive if we cease people-pleasing, but those relationships were not built on true kindness to either person. Invest in relationships that are based on kindness instead of control—where you can know and be known.

Consider your closest relationships. Are they a space where you are honest, present, and trusting? If not, what gets in the way? How can you bring a little more honesty, presence, and trust into your relationships this week?

About Johanna Schram

Johanna Schram is a certified life coach and writer who supports fellow humans to stop the people-pleasing and start trusting themselves. She helps people recognize their inherent worth, express themselves with courage and integrity, and connect deeply in relationships. Learn more about Johanna and get access to the free self-trust library at johannaschram.com.

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Trauma Can Make Us Sick: How I Found a Key to Healing

“Our bodies contain our histories—every chapter, line, and verse of every event and relationship in our lives.” ~Caroline Myss

I could hear my teacher talking, but I wasn’t listening. Staring at the math homework in front of me, I couldn’t get the sound of my heartbeat out of my head.

Two times two equals, thump thump, equals thump thump, four.

The more I focused on my heartbeat, the louder it became. I could even feel beating in my chest.

Noticing the clock, I had ten more minutes before my mom would meet me in the school office. We had a meeting scheduled with the school nurse. I dreaded it.

Was I in trouble?

If so, then why was I meeting the nurse and not the principal? Besides, I was an A+ student. I never got in trouble.

At the sound of the bell, I made my way reluctantly to the office. As planned, Mom was there. The school nurse, a small woman with a huge smile, met the both of us.

“Come in,” she said, as she motioned in the direction of her door.

I looked over at my mom and she looked at me, shrugging her shoulders. We were both clueless about the purpose of this meeting.

“Uh huh,” clearing her throat, Nurse Smith broke the ice…

“Let’s get to it. Casey, you are too thin. It concerns me.”

Looking at my mom, she said, “Mom, do you know why Casey is losing so much weight?”

My mom quickly described our diet and how she prepared meals for me, “balanced and complete.”

“Is Casey seeing a doctor?” Nurse Smith followed up.

My mom, in an agitated voice said, “When necessary we go to our family physician.”

Looking at me intently, Nurse Smith patted me on the shoulder,

“Okay, Casey, you eat more of your mom’s good cooking and get some weight on you. I don’t want to see you back in my office until you fill out a bit.”

This was one of many incidents where people, including professionals, noticed something physical about me, made assumptions, but never asked me about my experience.

No one asked me about my perceptions of my weight.

Did I notice changes in the way my pants fit?

Did I notice changes in my desire to eat?

Instead, a band-aid approach—eat my mom’s great food—was recommended, and I was sent on my way.

It was assumed that if I ate more, my weight would increase.

Was eating more also the solution for my fast heartbeat?

Apparently not.

Months later, during a physical education drill, my teacher confirmed my rapid heartbeat. My teacher was not only concerned, but I was banned from taking physical education classes until my heartbeat was “normal.”

Saddened that I couldn’t take a class that I really enjoyed, no one, including my physicians, offered me any solutions. After wearing heart monitors and complying with many tests, I was diagnosed with tachycardia. This is a medical term, or as I like to call it, a fancy name for not knowing the cause for elevated heartbeat.

The Importance of our Thoughts, Feelings, and Perceptions

I went through most of my young adult years being diagnosed with a number of conditions based on my physical symptoms and observations of my outward appearance.

No one inquired about my internal environment—my thoughts, feelings, beliefs.

No one asked me about my life either.

What was it like for me at home?

What kind of relationship did I have with my parents?

Did I experience any stress, or even understand the meaning of stress?

Did I feel safe and cared for physically and emotionally?

Needless to say, my mom’s excellent cooking didn’t make me gain weight. I continued to lose weight. My heartbeat continued racing too.

It wasn’t until my mom took me to see a psychologist that I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. The real reason I was losing weight: I was very ill.

It was during therapy sessions that the psychologist pointed out I would not gain weight or begin to repair my relationship with food until the conflict between my parents remitted.

She was absolutely right.

The psychologist made a connection between my weight loss and conflict in my home.

The focus wasn’t on my diet as the cause. The focus was on the emotional turmoil in my life.

This was the first time anyone connected my physical symptoms to stress in my environment.

Trauma Can Make Us Sick

At the time of my weight loss and rapid heartbeat, my parents were going through a tumultuous, and by my view, traumatic divorce. Conflict was normal in my home, and I was a classic “child the middle of this conflict.”

As my parents argued over their lost relationship and years of service to each other, I was lost in the midst of their problems.

Divorce is one of many traumatic events people can experience.

Any event perceived as threatening, disempowering, helpless, or out of control is a trauma.

Trauma contributes to physical symptoms in the body.

In other words, one of my traumas—my parents’ divorce– made me sick.

After years of therapy, I came to understand that anxiety is a mental health condition. Anxiety can present with many symptoms, one of which is tachycardia, or a rapid heartbeat.

I was relieved. Suddenly the reasons for my rapid heartbeat made sense!

Animal Instincts Keep Us Safe But Can Make Us Sick

When a person’s perception of safety is threatened, the body goes into a natural response called fight-or-flight. Like an animal in the wild who is about to become prey for another, the body mobilizes a response to react and protect.

People who live in traumatic environments experience threats frequently. Just because we aren’t going to really be eaten, the body doesn’t know the difference, and it mobilizes to save us just the same. Increased heart rate is a side effect.

I did not perceive my home as safe. The conflict between my parents was traumatic. My body didn’t know the difference between an animal getting ready to eat me or any other threat.

When my parents argued, my body mobilized a fight-or-flight response, which caused my heart rate to increase. Anxiety, living on edge, and fearing for what was going to happen next, became a way of living for me—even when my parents weren’t arguing. This explains why my heart rate was elevated even while I was at school doing something I enjoyed.

Making Connections That Help Us Heal

I am grateful I saw a psychologist at such a young age. She planted the seed for bringing my awareness to connections between illness and trauma.

However, for decades following these sessions, no one else made these connections, and gradually I forgot about how intertwined our physical symptoms are to our histories of trauma and stress.

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease, that I was compelled to go back through my life and connect the dots in hopes I would find answers to aid in my healing.

Sure enough, I didn’t have to look very far to discover physical symptoms that were preceded by a traumatic event in my life.

Empowered by this information, I knew I had found the answers to my healing.

My only task was to find a professional: a physician, healer, or licensed mental health therapist who could help me integrate my life with my symptoms.

Once there is an awareness of the connections between illness and trauma, it is possible to find resources.

Functional medicine physicians, somatic therapies, alternative modalities, and sensorimotor psychotherapists are just several of many options which look at healing as integrative.

You Are an Expert on Your Body

I have explored many therapies and I continue to improve. However, I believe healing is a lifelong process. I have to be continuously aware of how sensitive my body is to stress. After all, it had a lifetime of programming to be geared for fight-or-flight.

When stress is in my life, my body will often have physical symptoms. Sometimes simple interactions with colleagues are enough to trigger my body’s threat response.

Living with Crohn’s disease has many challenges. True healing began when I recognized that my past history of childhood trauma laid a foundation for disease in my body and continues to contribute to how the Crohn’s Disease shows up.

Now that I have this awareness, the possibilities for healing are exponential. The more I support my body in healing from trauma, the more my physical symptoms improve and the stronger my immune system becomes.

Needless to say, it isn’t an easy journey. But never lose hope.

Even though conventional medical models continue to separate physical from emotional, solutions are plentiful. This means that people like you and I must brave the terrain, making connections about our own bodies and lives and seeking treatments that offer this integration.

In many ways, we have to educate our physicians and healers about these connections. As we are experts on our own bodies, we hold many answers to our own healing based on a lifetime of living with ourselves.

No one knows you better than you know yourself.

About Casey Hersch

Casey Hersch, MSW, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker, author, and founder of www.lightyoursparkle.life. She specializes in integrative treatment models for chronic illness by bringing awareness to the connection between our physical and emotional bodies. Our passions are at the center of health and ballroom dance and pet companionship are vivid examples. Inspired by her own struggles with autoimmune illnesses and trauma, she educates about empowerment and how to build individualized healing plans.

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3 Approaches to the Coronavirus (and Which Is Smartest)

“Don’t try to calm the storm. Calm yourself. The storm will pass.” ~Buddha

As we all now know, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has been spreading globally. It is a serious threat, less because of the raw numbers involved (as of March 22, 2020, there are less than 340,000 known infected cases with a global population of over 7 billion people), but more because the trajectory is dangerous, the spread is exponential, and the growth occurs very quickly.

The virus contained would not have been that big of a deal. The virus spreading is a big deal. It is now clear the virus is spreading far and wide quickly.

The main issue is that the hospitals in affected areas don’t have the capacity to treat the huge spike in coronavirus cases.

We have already seen this in Italy: People are dying because there are not enough ventilators and other medical resources to keep them alive.

Yogically, we are trained to make decisions from a place called “neutral mind.” There are three yogic mind centers: positive mind, negative mind, and neutral mind. Ideally, we activate and use all three minds, but the best decisions come from a place of neutrality. This neutrality helps maintain balance.

Below is an overview of these three mind states and how they might influence your decisions relating to the coronavirus.

The Negative (or Protective) Mind is given for survival. It is reactive, protective, and searches for potential danger. It is sensitive to pain, and it seeks to shield you from the forces that may disrupt or destroy.

The negative mind might say:

-I’m buying toilet paper, bottled water, face masks, surgical gloves, and rations for the next six months. I’m hiding all these rations and developing a plan to fend off my neighbors. If I hear that hospitals are short of face masks and surgical gloves, I’ll ignore it. I need to keep these things for the future. Things are probably going to get ugly—I need to take care of myself first and worry about my community later.

-The virus is increasing in my area, so I’m going to leave and go outside the city to sit things out for a while. And if the new place gets too many cases of the virus, I’ll leave there too. My plan will be to stay a step ahead of the virus and leave whenever I notice the number of confirmed cases is getting high.

-I’ll check the local and national news from the big mainstream sources every hour to get an update on the spread of the virus. I’ll update my Facebook feed each hour with whatever I learn. And I know if I add lots of exclamation marks, more people will read what I wrote, so I’ll make sure each post starts with READ THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!

-I know the virus can travel through the air, so I will stay indoors with the windows closed and the blinds down until the virus is contained. Despite the fact I have a private, enclosed backyard, I won’t use it or even look at it. You just never know…

It is easy to see how our negative mind can spin out of control. The worldwide spread of the coronavirus is extremely serious. Panic and over-reactivity are not just counterproductive, they are potentially dangerous.

Hoarding resources when others are in dire need may cost lives. Undermining government efforts for containment is dangerous and may cost lives. If free movement hasn’t been taken away in your area, it means you need to be even more diligent and responsible about your actions. Your poor judgment may cost lives.

The Positive (or Expansive) Mind searches for pleasure, fulfillment and possibility in how you can utilize things in your experience. It is constructive, risk-taking and active.

This mind might say:

-Self-isolate/shelter-in-place means I can work from home. Apart from that, I can still go out and do my regular things.  I’ll try to rally my running group for a run and since most restaurants are closed, I’ll invite my friends over to my house for dinner. If I do this right, shelter-in-place can be a great socializing tool!

-I feel 100 percent fine. There is no way I have the virus. And if I get the virus, then I get the virus. I’ll risk it. I’m healthy and young, so I’m going to carry on with my business as usual. Vulnerable people should stay in, but since I’m not in that category, I’m going to take a more relaxed attitude.

-I don’t personally know anyone who has the virus. I understand it is an issue, but I don’t think I have it in my community or my social groups. And keeping our mental well-being is important too. I’m going to continue to hold my events until someone I know falls ill.

In the environment of the coronavirus, the positive mind can be dangerous. It is important to understand the big picture and how your positive mind might actually endanger other people during this period. We are in the middle of a serious worldwide crisis battling an infectious disease. It is everyone’s job to get educated, accept the reality of the situation, and exercise personal responsibility. Lives are at stake.

The Neutral (or Meditative) Mind is the mind that judges and assesses without attachment in relation to your own purpose and reality. The Neutral Mind observes the actions of both the Negative and Positive Mind and judges both in relation to your higher self. 

In order to maintain balance, this is the mind we need to use when making decisions. The neutral mind might suggest:

-I’m taking self-isolation seriously and not going out unless it is a mission-critical task. I’m keeping my immune system healthy, keeping a rhythm to my days, and staying as productive as possible. This too shall pass, but it might be months, not weeks.

-I’m studying the virus growth trends but not obsessively. I want to stay informed, but I understand focusing on bad news I can’t control over an extended period of time is bad for my immune system. Instead, I’m exercising extreme self-care. I’m eating well. I’m making my environment comfortable and nurturing. I’m working out and staying connected with people who are close to me through video and calls. In fact, I’ve even reconnected with some people I haven’t spoken with in a while.

I continue to be mindful of my news sources as I read about the virus. I’m not getting pulled into sensationalism by going to mainstream news sources to get an update on the coronavirus. That would be misguided. I’m triangulating sources between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and my own county or country’s health organization to stay current on the spread of the virus.

-When I get invited to do something by someone else, I remind them that I am staying in because I understand the gravity of the situation. I remind them:

  1. The fact they are “feeling fine” is irrelevant. The virus can pass asymptomatically (with no symptoms).
  2. The virus can live on surfaces in excess of seventy-two hours.
  3. The virus can pass through the air for over three hours.

I understand that unless I’m extremely careful, I might start the day without the virus and end it with the virus because of someplace I went or something I touched.

I don’t yell and scream at my friends who want to get together, but I help them understand the situation more clearly. And most importantly, I am staying in.

-I understand the virus can pass through the air, but I’ve done my research carefully and I understand I can go outside, alone, and maintain appropriate distance from other people. I’ll try to use my own yard as much as possible, but if I exercise the right precautions, I understand I could take a walk outside while minimizing my risk.

-I’m trying to find ways to be useful and of benefit during this period. Lots of people are struggling. I wonder if I can help them.

-I’m realistic this virus has ushered in a new way of life. I’m focusing on how I can succeed and thrive in this new environment. I’m researching new ways to do business online, and I’m using this time to sharpen my skills. I’m not focusing on when we can get back to “business as usual” because I understand there no longer is business as usual. I’m staying open and alert for opportunities that are heading my way as a result of this new world we are in.

I write this because I’m observing a lot of chaotic thinking and everything that goes along with that. There seems to be a worldwide mix of the negative mind in overdrive and the positive mind in denial.

The coronavirus also gives us a great opportunity to exercise more balanced thinking. Scientists predict more situations like this over the next decades from extreme weather and natural disasters, to widespread disease and epidemics. If we are going to survive and thrive in this new world we’ve created, we are going to need to learn to access, cultivate, and exercise our neutral mind.

Thank you for reading this. Stay safe.

About Lynn Ruolo

Lynn Roulo is an American Kundalini Yoga and Enneagram instructor living in Athens, Greece. She combines the physical benefits of Kundalini Yoga with the psychological growth tools of the Enneagram in her two books. She blogs about living in Greece and her journey from being a San Francisco CFO to an Athens yoga instructor. Learn more about Lynn  And she always likes to hear from you so you can message her directly at lynn@lynnroulo.com.

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How to Take Good Care of Yourself During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For more than a week now, I’ve been immersed in how to handle the pandemic that is unfolding all around us. By now, one thing is clear to me. We are either our greatest allies or our own worst enemies at such times. How we react makes all the difference.

One friend brought home a three-inch tome all about pandemics, determined to read her way through it. Another began advising everyone on how to correctly make homemade hand sanitizer. Still another insisted that by ignoring the entire thing, she was serving herself best. “There’s too much hype,” she declared. “I refuse to buy my way through this.”

And you know, she had a point. As did everyone else.

After my wife and I realized all of our emergency supplies were seriously old, we threw them out. A week before the Bay Area released a “shelter in place” order, we waded through the crowds of people at Costco. All around us, people were frantically loading their carts with toilet paper and bottled water.  The panic in the air was palpable. And we were not immune to the panic.

Like halfbacks snatching an intercepted pass, we emerged triumphantly with a hard-won six pack of disinfecting spray. It was handed to me by a clerk who spotted them hidden behind a forklift. Indeed, the people who worked at Costco were clearly being run ragged by the intensity of the crowds pouring into the place. All of them had the firm, polite efficiency of ER nurses practicing triage.

I came home determined not to panic, and yet found I was now glued to the major media. I couldn’t stop checking it hourly as if taking my eyes off of the situation could prove fatal. Finally, when I could take it no longer, I turned to a soothing activity—a jigsaw puzzle—and I promptly lost it.

As I sat there, weeping into my half-finished picture of the Grand Canyon, I realized the coronavirus has left me stressed out and immeasurably sad. Our world is, indeed, having a crisis and there will be more suffering ahead. Perhaps even a lot of suffering.

I simply couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. Taking a deep breath, I allowed myself to simply melt down as much as I needed to. I had a good long cry, and half an hour later I felt remarkably better.

Instantly, I became clear-headed enough to carve a path forward for myself. This one did not involve binge shopping, or massive media consumption. Instead, I developed my own COVID-19 Self-Care Checklist. For along with the handwashing and disinfecting, I find I must take care of my vulnerable, tender heart as well.

In fact, I suggest we all do. Here’s how I now proceed.

1. Limit media consumption to a sane amount.

Only you know what that means. But if you’re dreaming about media, leaping in in the middle of the night, or binging on it until you feel slightly sick, it’s time to back off. Such constant checking does give us a sense of control, but beware. Even though the news moves quickly, we do not need to consume media than a few times per day. Any more than that just creates more anxiety.

2. See friends regularly and often.

Yes, we’re supposed to avoid gatherings of greater than ten, but unless we have a shelter in place or lockdown order, we can still host a few friends and practice social distancing, staying at least six feet apart at all times. Have them bring their own beverage, and ideally sit outside. Disinfecting furniture, the doorknob, etc after guests leave is a good idea, as is copious hand washing for everyone. But fun is necessary too. I’d say our central nervous systems really do need a good laugh just about now.

3. Namaste nods work just as well as ‘foot shakes’ and elbow bumps.

Alternative greetings now abound as we’re no longer meant to hug. My sister suggested the Namaste nod, and I have to say, doing so when I greet someone makes my heart feel ever so much better. It feels right for these times somehow.

4. Walk in natural spaces.

I’m blessed to live in the Bay Area, where wonderful parks and beaches abound, and we can access them with walks, runs, and hikes even with our “shelter in place” order. Here’s what I love about going out into nature: there are no hard surfaces teeming with germs to hang on to, and it’s easy to keep that critical three to six foot distance from others.

Furthermore, a 2014 Finnish study found that strolling in a park or other natural setting for just twenty minutes provides significantly more stress relief than walking on city streets.

5. Have a good cry when you feel need to.

We all agree—this is a scary situation. One wants to “keep calm and carry on,” yet the cost of repressing our natural fear and grief is high. Far better to have a temporary meltdown, even in the privacy of our bedrooms, and then emerge clear-eyed and better able to cope. We will help ourselves and be better prepared to help others.

6. It’s okay to ask for help.

Sometimes asking for help can be small and personal. Maybe we need someone to watch our kids while we go for a stress-relief run, or maybe we need a hug from a family member. Ask for what you need, and you’ll serve yourself and everyone else in the long run. It’s time for us to get over our differences and support each other big time, just as generations before us have done in a crisis.

7. Take immune support supplements.

For some this is seen as useless, for others a godsend. If you believe some Vitamin C, or D, or ginger and garlic tonics—or whatever you take—will help you stay healthy, there’s a lot of power in that. My own preferences run towards zinc lozenges and Wellness Formula capsules. Why not? They can’t hurt and potentially can do us some real good.

8. Make sure your own emergency supplies are up to date.

I have to say, replenishing our own stock and getting it organized with a written inventory gave me a tremendous sense of relief. It dialed back my feeling of panic significantly.

If you can’t immediately purchase everything you’d like because supplies or your own funds are low, keep calm. For even now, as the Bay Area stays at home, we are allowed to grocery shop. I plan to gently replenish the stock in my nitrile gloves, mask in place, as the crowds deplete and the situation settles. I’ll also have my own little baggie of disinefecting wipes for the shopping cart if the store’s supply is out.

This situation is likely to last for months, and experts do assure us the food supplies will last in the US. So we simply need to work with it. Whether or not we are ultimately quarantined or will even have to use these back up supplies (the dehydrated potatoes, the cans of beans) is beside the point. They helped me feel like I actually had a modicum of control in hard times.

9. Be compassionate with yourself and others.

This is when people get tense, and tempers tend to run short. We often don’t perform up to expectations because we’re stressed. And yet, this is also when we need to practice loving-kindness towards ourselves and everyone else. We truly are doing the best we can, even if doesn’t look like it. So let’s give each other—and ourselves—a break. And yeah, expect yourself to be somewhat freaked out. That is very normal in a highly abnormal situation.

10. Ask yourself what you need right now.

This question is foundational, and it’s something we almost always forget to do. When you check in with yourself, you learn things that may surprise you. Try it right now. Put a hand on your heart or your belly, and close your eyes and silently ask. Your body will tell you just what she or he needs.

Do you need a long, warm bath or to stop your work at home and take a walk? Do you need to meditate? To sit down and play with your kids for a while, or get some good hugs? If you’re alone, do you need to Facetime a dear friend, or give your mom a call?

Whatever you need, do your best to honor that need. It will definitely serve you in the long run, perhaps even keeping you well as your own stress naturally lowers.

May my checklist help you relax and find your way back to loving self-care … even in such crazy times.

About Suzanne Falter

Suzanne Falter is the author of The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care. You can also hear her  on her podcast, Self-Care for Extremely Busy Women and on Facebook at the Self Care Group for Extremely Busy Women.

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How I Overcame My Relationship Anxiety and Doubts

“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in my life is to risk nothing.” ~Leo Buscaglia

It was the day after my boyfriend proposed and I felt sick with anxiety. I couldn’t understand this feeling. I loved my boyfriend; we were living together, and I didn’t want to break up with him, so why was I so anxious?

I googled furiously in search of answers. I worried this was a sign that the relationship wasn’t ‘right,’ and this made me feel even more anxious. I worried that it was my gut instincts speaking to me and I would regret it if I didn’t listen. But there was another part of me that didn’t want to leave the relationship. That was very confusing.

“Maybe I am just afraid to be alone,” I thought.

However, as someone with a tendency toward anxiety I also wondered if this was just another expression of that. Finally, after about a month of sleepless nights, worrying, and googling, I came across a forum that mentioned relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD) or relationship anxiety.

What is ROCD?

“Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which the sufferer experiences intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts about the strength, quality, and ‘true nature’ of their love for their partner. Obsessions in ROCD include a preoccupation with a partner’s appropriateness as a mate, overall level of attractiveness, sexual desirability, or long-term compatibility, and often arise in otherwise entirely healthy relationships.” (Center for OCD Los Angeles)

It gave me a huge sense of relief to know that what I was experiencing was indeed anxiety-related and I didn’t need to leave my lovely fiancé.

I took a relationship anxiety course and it was of enormous help to me. I learned so much about myself and am now able to enjoy my relationship again. I want to share what I learned in the hope that it will help someone else.

The Difference Between Anxiety and Gut Instincts

My main concern before and after learning about ROCD was “What if this is actually my gut instincts telling me that I need to leave?” This is a scary question, and a very common one for sufferers of ROCD. There is also no definitive way of answering this question, which is frustrating. Anxiety hates uncertainty.

One thing that helped me was to remind myself that I have worried obsessively about lots of things for most of my life. For instance, when I was single, I wanted to know with absolute certainty that I would meet someone and be happily married one day. I would seek reassurance from friends and family and worry about it endlessly. This anxiety felt similar to that.

If I’d worried unnecessarily in the past, it stood to reason I could be doing the same thing in my relationship.

Fear of Conflict

The interesting thing about healing from relationship anxiety is that it seems to uncover different wounds for different people. In this way it can be a gift, as it triggers a lot of self-discovery and growth.

For me, it uncovered a fear of conflict and losing myself.

When I was growing up, I felt like I had to put aside my feelings in order to “keep the peace.” As a result, my adult relationships sometimes feel like a choice between losing the person I love and losing myself. I have had to learn that conflict can be healthy; it doesn’t mean a relationship isn’t right.

I used to find it hard to voice my opinions and needs in my relationship. I needed to test the assumption that conflict is unsafe.

Thankfully, I found that the opposite is true. You can’t have a healthy relationship with out conflict. My partner has strong opinions, he doesn’t let me off the hook easily, and we are very different in some ways, but I have never felt unsafe when we are debating an issue.

Without conflict we are either not being honest or sacrificing our needs, which can lead to the feeling of losing oneself.

Fear of Making the “Wrong Choice”

I love my parents and I know they did their best, but there are things about their relationship that I would not want to repeat in my own.

Often relationship anxiety is related to the first relationship we were exposed to. There is a myriad of things that we may have been witnessed in our parents’ relationship: domestic violence, infidelity, divorce, abandonment. It is easy to become hypervigilant about not repeating our parents’ mistakes, at least as we perceive them. Add to this is the idea of “the one” and our fear of missing out or “settling” and we have a recipe for relationship anxiety.

When my partner says something insensitive or we have a different view on things, I still feel anxious at times. But I am able to recognize that I am triggered and stabilize myself again. Sometimes this involves talking it through with him. But often I just need to take some time to process the emotions, to see what in my past my has been triggered, and practice some self-soothing.

Recognizing your particular areas of sensitivity can help you differentiate between doubts about your partner and old wounds being triggered.

Unhelpful Beliefs About Love

Our culture’s ideas about love are very unhelpful. We are brought up on Hollywood movies showing love as passion, desire, and finding “the one.” This is not a fair reflection of the daily grind of loving someone.

Sometimes we feel in love with our partners and sometimes we don’t, and that’s okay. The feeling of love comes and goes, but we can choose the action of love every day. Life gets busy, we all have annoying quirks, and sometimes we are tired and grumpy. This is not conducive to constant feelings of passion!

I have learned to watch the loving feelings ebb and flow. To enjoy loving feelings when they arise, knowing that when they are not there they will return.

I believe there are lots of people we could be happy with, not just one single perfect person. My partner is certainly not perfect, but he is a good person who I love and respect. We have lots in common, but we are also very different in some ways, which means we learn a lot from each other. I am so grateful that I didn’t throw away our relationship, as it is now one of the most precious things in my life.

If You Think You’re Struggling with Relationship Anxiety

If you are in a generally healthy relationship and you have experienced anxiety in the past, particularly when it comes to relationships, then there is a good chance that what you are experiencing is relationship anxiety. I encourage you to look deeper. Read more about it and perhaps see a therapist who understands ROCD.

Be careful of well-meaning friends and family who may suggest that if you aren’t sure, then it means you should break up. Many people, including therapists, don’t understand relationship anxiety. I would also suggest staying away from romantic movies and TV shows, as this will most likely lead to unhelpful comparisons.

There is no way of knowing the future and there are no guarantees in life. There is no way of knowing if our partner is 100 percent “right for us” or not. And if there was, I don’t think that anyone would pass the test, as we are all flawed in some way.

Loving is a risk, and there is no way of escaping that. Of course, that is scary! But in time we can learn to manage the fears and, in the process, become better at loving ourselves and our partners.

About Ella

Ella is a social worker who is passionate about mental health. She loves writing, hiking and watching movies. You can read more of her work at her blog Mind Balance Café.

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Deep Down You Know When It’s Time to Let Go

“Holding on is believing that there’s only a past; letting go is knowing that there’s a future.” ~Daphne Rose Kingma

One of the most challenging things in life is knowing when to let go—when to let go of a job, a relationship, a belief, a repeating thought, a situation… fill in the blank.

Most of us have defaulted to safety, which often means procrastinating and generally feeling stuck. While there’s nothing wrong with safety—it is, after all, one of our basic needs—we must learn to discern what is truly safe and what is safe for the sake of comfort and conformity, the latter of which ultimately leaves us feeling depleted.

“Safe” is a subjective term. What feels safe to you may not feel safe to me. For most of us, the unknown feels unsafe, yet as you may have heard, the magic happens when we surrender to the unknown. Chances are, if we are seeking more, longing for more, yet feel paralyzed to move because we feel “safe,” we are probably stuck.

I recently experienced one of the most challenging transitions of my life when I let go of a long-term relationship. It didn’t happen overnight. It all began with a nudge and a deep knowing that I felt stuck, yet all the outer signs evidenced a “good” relationship, and my mind wouldn’t let go of the idea that there was nothing “wrong” with it.

By societal standards, I shouldn’t have been complaining or contemplating, but I believe we all really want one thing: to thrive and experience change when it’s necessary for our evolution and joy.

Resistance and fear will try to tell us a whole lot of stories about why we should be grateful and stay put, but if there is an inkling, a nudge, a quiet inner voice that keeps nagging and telling us it’s time to go, then it’s time to release and move on. Even though letting go may not immediately make any logical sense, listening to that voice can bring new, fulfilling experiences.

This phase in my life has taught me that life is all about flow and movement, and that living, truly living, means that we are constantly changing and evolving. Living means being called to practice detachment to make room for new energy.

I also learned that when we don’t listen to that inner voice that says it’s time to let go, and sometimes screams it loud from our heart and gut, life will conspire to make us move, whether we want to or not.

If we wait long enough and dismiss our deep truth, life will make sure that truth comes out one way or another. Events and circumstances will happen that will cause us to move, and sometimes cause us to move at a rate that we did not expect or plan.

The biggest lesson for me was, do not wait for life to force you; check in daily and connect to the deep truth that overrides logic and analysis and simply nudges you along.

This isn’t easy when the voice of fear is loud and untamed.

Letting go is part of the human experience, but there are ways to minimize the impact of transition if we are mindful. Here are some actions I took and lessons and insights I learned during this transition that helped me embrace letting go. These can apply to any situation that requires letting go.

I took inventory of all the gifts from my relationship and sat in gratitude.

I reflected on how I could have shown up differently and more authentically.

I took responsibility for what I had contributed to the situation.

I promised myself that I would never betray my inner voice.

I embraced alone time often.

I constantly asked myself, “What do I need in this moment?”

I allowed myself to mourn and grieve whenever those feelings arose.

I allowed myself to have hard days and was extra gentle with myself during those moments.

I asked myself what part of me needed to heal so that I could hear my inner voice and override the fear-based thoughts that keep me stuck.

I indulged in a self-care routine and opted for activities that felt nourishing.

I kept a daily promise to myself, no matter how small it was.

I surrounded myself with people I love and with whom I feel safe.

I traveled and welcomed the energy of newness and curiosity,

I hugged myself a lot—it is so nourishing!

I got comfortable with patience and surrender—two great lessons that I needed to learn.

I embraced the unknown.

I learned that you can love that job, that person, that circumstance, and still feel a deep urge to move on.

We are all worthy of feeling fulfilled and nourished; that is the point of life

Sometimes, we just grow apart from that person, thing, or circumstance. It’s that simple, don’t fight it.

It is never about blame or shame; it is always about experience and experiencing life right where you are and where you are nudged to go.

It’s okay to say goodbye and still feel love and gratitude.

Nothing is ever wasted. Every experience has a meaning in your life.

Everything has a season—sometimes the season lasts a minute, sometimes it lasts years, but eventually there is a new season on the horizon.

Here is the thing, if we don’t listen to the voice that is asking us to let go, then we will never know what beautiful blessings await us on the other side—in the unknown. Our minds cannot possibly conceive what lies ahead.

I had to make room for new love and new energy, two elements I longed for daily. I had no idea what my life would look like, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that with newness comes great curiosity and joy.

If resentment, wonder, curiosity, longing, stuckness, and boredom seem to keep circling in your mind, it’s time to take inventory and ask yourself a very hard question: Is it time to let go?

Even if you don’t feel any “negative” feelings but feel a nudge, a knowing pushing you forward, listen and listen with your heart.

About Christine Rodriguez

Christine Rodriguez is a spiritual life coach dedicated to helping others transform beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that no longer serve them so they can create a life that’s aligned with their true desires and capabilities. To work with her, please visit miraculousshifts.com. You can find her on Instagram @Miraculousshifts.

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How I Overcame My Anger to Be Better for My Family

“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” ~Eckhart Tolle

As a special-needs parent, it feels that I am in constant anger and fight mode.

I am fighting with my children on the home front.

I am fighting for their right to get access to services.

I am fighting for their acceptance.

I am fighting for my children to help them make progress.

To be in constant fight mode can be overwhelming and exhausting.

In my weakness, I let my emotions get the best of me.

I lose my temper with my loved ones.

The One Thing I Regret Saying to My Daughter

A particular incident that took place many years ago stands out in my mind to this date.

The principal of my daughter’s school told me she was causing lots of problems there. Her behavior was disturbing her classmates, and many parents had complaints about it.

“We feel that this school is not suitable for her and it would be best to find her another school,” said the principal.

I fought with the school to let her stay. This was the third school we had to fight for her acceptance.

I felt that I was coming to another dead end.

After that meeting, I headed home and was greeted with an onslaught of screaming and shouting children.

Adding to that chaos, my daughter with autism poured out the contents of every toiletry bottle she could find into the bathtub. It is incredible how much children can do given one minute unsupervised.

At that very moment, I snapped and yelled.

“What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?”

“Why are you always wrecking the house?”

“Why can’t I have a moment of peace without you causing any trouble?”

“I did not sign up for this!” 

“I don’t want you!”

My daughter with little communication skills stood frozen. I saw fear in her eyes. She felt every ounce of anger I had in me then.

Why Yelling Further Delays a Child’s Development

When children misbehave, yelling at them seems like a natural response. We feel that when we yell at them, we get their attention, we are disciplining them.

None of us likes to be yelled at. When we yell at our children, they are more likely to shut down instead of listening. That is not a good way to communicate.

For children on the spectrum, yelling can be particularly detrimental, as it may result in them retreating into their own world and not engaging with other people even more.

The more we connect and engage with them, the more they can thrive and grow. Hence, yelling can never be a means to “discipline” them regardless of how stressful and frustrated we may feel at that moment.

Not Yelling—Easier Said Than Done

Trust me. No one understands this more than I do. When you are stressed and frustrated, releasing all that pent-up emotion seems like the only solution.

I struggle at managing my anger. There are so many times I find myself regretting the way I spoke and raised my voice to my loved ones.

With each angry word exchanged, I see my daughter retreating into her own world, and it pains me so much. Her mother caused all of that.

The truth is, I am not angry with my daughter for the silly things she has done.

It is not her fault.

My beautiful daughter is not making life difficult for me, she is having a difficult time.

For her sake, I’ve I had to find a positive way to deal with my anger issues.

I’ve needed to help myself so that I could help her.

Anger Is Just a Mask for Another Emotion

Anger is often a secondary emotion. It is a mask that covers a deeper feeling that I am unwilling to address.

Behind my anger are my fears, frustration, and insecurities.

More than often, my anger stems from my inability to control what is outside of myself.

I am unable to change the school’s decision not to accept her.

My daughter is unable to receive decent therapy support in our home country.

Instead, I have had to be my daughter’s therapist, and I felt insecure about my abilities to help her then.

All these overwhelming feelings of being frustrated, being unfairly treated, not being respected, triggered the anger inside of me. Unfortunately, my poor daughter had to bear the angry burns of her hot-headed mother.

How I Address the Real Meaning of My Anger

In order to manage my anger, I’ve needed to:

1. Acknowledge the emotion I am feeling.

What am I feeling now?

 I am feeling angry.

Telling myself that I am angry helps me to calm down.

It’s important to recognize and feel the anger in these situations. By addressing it, I am acknowledging that I matter, and it prompts me to take a deeper look at what is going on behind the scenes.

2. Identify the emotion behind the anger.

What am I feeling besides anger?

I am feeling rejected by what the school has done, and I am also feeling anxious about having the time to find another school for my daughter, or if I even can.

My anger is always trying to tell me something. Once I listen to it, I’m in a better place to understand the situation and move forward toward the healing process.

The more clarity I get about why I am angry and the more I acknowledge those emotions, the less my anger impacts me. By gaining more clarity, I can also find productive solutions to solve my problems.

How I Manage My Anger

1. Replace negative thoughts with more constructive ones.

I realize that my attitude affects how I interpret my circumstances. It impacts my thoughts, energy, and above all, the actions I take.

Much of my anger and frustration can be better managed when I practice reframing.

Instead of saying, “My child is a brat who doesn’t listen and is out to make my life miserable,” I try to say, “My child doesn’t quite understand what I’m trying to tell her. I need to demonstrate to her what she is required to do.”

By reframing my thought process and how I describe my children and my problems, I am able to see things with acceptance, compassion, and empathy.

2. Identify common anger triggers.

Identifying my common triggers helps me mentally prepare myself prior to the event.

I start by visualizing a typical situation and ask myself how I can respond to it wisely. The more I practice this visualization, the more I can react to such situations more appropriately.

It also helps to journal down what times and moments cause these triggers.

3. Practice some relaxation/calming exercises.

Using simple relaxation and calming strategies helps me soothe those angry feelings.

Some examples of common relaxation exercises:

  • Having a cup of tea
  • Using breathing techniques
  • Practicing yoga and meditation
  • Listening to music
  • Exercising
  • Using stress-relief tools (e.g. stress ball)

Since I’ve been practicing these exercises, homework and therapy times at home have been more pleasant for me and the children. Meditating for five minutes before homework takes away any lingering frustrations and stress.

4. Focus on the solution, not the problem.

All too often, when a problem occurs, I focus on the negative situation, and this puts me in a bad mood. I resolve more things when I focus more on the solution instead.

To start, I take the time to fully analyze the problem and make a list of possible solutions.

When I do this, I know I am taking proactive steps to improve our lives. I am focusing on what I can control instead of mindlessly reacting to my circumstances.

5. Find humor in the situation.

Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

Finding humor in a situation, even amid the most trying times, can be both relieving and empowering.

I was in the car when my daughter started screaming and crying suddenly. I stopped the car and asked her what the matter was; no amount of coaxing, hugs, and bribes {sweets} was able to calm her down.

I was feeling stressed with the situation, so in desperation, I made funny faces and fart noises at her. and she laughed hysterically. After a good laugh, my daughter explained that she was angry with me because I promised her earlier that I would bring her to the shop, but instead was driving toward home.

If I had responded in anger then, I would not have been in a position of empathy to help her, and the mystery to her emotional outburst would remain unsolved.

6. Take a time-out.

When I sense a wave of anger coming up, I try to excuse myself from the situation. Taking a time-out prevents me from saying things that I may later regret.

Finding a quiet area to cool down and practicing some of the relaxation exercises mentioned above has saved me on many occasions.

When the anger has subsided, I find it helps to think of what I may say before returning to the scene.

7. Practice forgiveness.

It’s difficult to find peace when we’re bottled up in anger and pain. Constant internal hostility saps away our energy both physically and mentally.

It helps me minimize the hostility within to see everyone like my daughter—not giving me a hard time, but having a hard time. It’s much easier to forgive when I consider that everyone else is struggling, trying their best, and sometimes falling short.

By forgiving, I accept the events for the way they are. I am letting go of any negative attachments.

By forgiving, I am taking control of my life by saying that this act no longer defines me, it no longer controls me.

By forgiving, I can finally find peace and move on with my life.

Learning How to Own My Anger

I have seen first-hand how my anger affects my family. It doesn’t serve them at all. Out of love and necessity, I will do whatever I can to be a better person for them.

Hence, every day in every way, I am making a conscious effort to control my anger before it controls me.

There will be days when I still mess up. We are all human and we will never be perfect.

I recognize my mistakes and acknowledge what needs to be done to improve.

Slowly but surely, I am getting there. I am, and will always be, a constant work in progress.

Is your anger controlling your life? What strategies have helped you work through and let go of your anger?

About Stephanie

Stephanie Weiderstrand helps parents raising children on the autism spectrum how to awaken their children’s gifts. She has a daughter with autism and ADHD and two other children with other learning challenges. She believes that the right connection and environment will bring out the best out of our special-needs children. If you have a loved one on the autism spectrum, sign up for Stephane’s FREE 7-day email course AWAKEN THE GIFTS OF YOUR CHILD.

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