Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gifts That Can't Be Wrapped

If you're looking for gifts that touch the heart, consider one of the following variations of The Gift of Yourself:
  • The Gift of Time - Who do you know that would appreciate regular visits from you?
  • The Gift of Reading - A senior, a child, someone who is bed-ridden - reading is one of those things that unites and transports.
  • The Gift of Listening - On the phone or in person...turn off your cell phone, the television and the mind chatter and listen with your heART.
  • The Gift of Assistance - Who can you help? Perhaps something comes easily to you that your friend or family members find difficult?
  • The Gift of Acceptance - gifts, person, time, situation.
  • The Gift of Forgiveness – others and yourself. This includes letting go of guilt – an emotion that keeps you stuck.
When you give freely and without resentment, you also give to yourself. Your heart rhythms smoothen out, which means that the chemical composition is different....and that's good news!

A smooth rhythm sends signals to your brain indicating that all is calm, all is bright. (Okay, I had to insert that - it is Christmas, after all!) This means that the stress response is not activated. You benefit with better emotional, mental and physical health. Those positive changes also leave their mark on your loved ones and the planet. Why? Think about how you are when you feel good. Are you more magnanimous? Do you get more things done? Are you able to ignore the petty things?

When you are able to see your heart rhythms change in response to how you think and feel, how you think and feel becomes a very powerful agent of change.

Conrad Hake, a generous San Franciscan, pleasantly surprised me last year with a gift that touched my heart. You can see it here:
  • The Gift of Music - See how well he does with his piano playing!:)
From my home and heart to yours Merry Christmas! May you travel safely and be surrounded by moments (big and/or small) of love, peace and joy.

Image courtesy of Robson Talaveiras.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mirthful Monday - Like Lightning!

My friend's cousin volunteers at one of the branches of the Humane Society. She related this anecdote:

"So, I did my shift today at the Humane Society. They call those poor adoptees all sorts of weird names, so I didn't really think much about the name 'May Bolt'.

When I opened one cage, the crafty little cat shot out and hid underneath the kennels. Despite much cajoling on my part, and meowing on his, he refused to come out."

When the vet assistant came to help me out, she said, "Didn't you read the warning?"

"What warning?" I asked.

MAY BOLT!

Image courtesy of  Sande Hamilton.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Tis the Season to be Jolly...Or Is It?

'Tis the season to be jolly, or is it?

For a child growing up in the home of an alcoholic, any holiday season is fraught with painful memories of years gone by, when the season was anything but joyous.

Even as an adult, living away from the situation, the alcoholic can still have a strong hold on how one perceives the holidays. For many years, I was unaware that just turning the calendar to “December” was enough of a trigger to cause my body to go through 1400 chemical reactions.

These reactions produce a host of side-effects which can leave you feeling anxious, worn out and unable to enjoy life. Their purpose is to prepare the body for flight or fight. Untransformed, they can impact your memory, decision-making and problem-solving skills. They are not to be taken lightly. Cortisol, “the stress hormone”, and one of the 1400 hormones that is secreted during times of stress,  is connected to a variety of serious illnesses , many of which do not show up for decades.

Merry-making is ramped up during this season of peace and joy, which makes it difficult for the alcoholic to avoid the drinks scene. Despite vowing to abstain or limit the alcohol intake, there is extreme pressure to consume. “Aww, c'mon, one drink won't hurt.” “It's the holidays. Live a little!” For someone who is addicted, it doesn't take much encouragement before they're raising a glass or the bottle.

This type of atmosphere is tough on everyone. It creates a state of hyper-vigilance or acute awareness, where one is always alert, wondering when the next big explosion will take place. One can cycle through a myriad of emotions:
  • Disappointment - “Not again.”  
  • Hope - “This year it will be different.”  
  • Anger - “Why can't this stop!”  
  • Blame - “If only I were prettier/smarter/better/more lovable....”
Living in an alcoholic home means that there is a lot of conditioning that takes place, often at a young age. The amygdala, a small gland in the brain that is responsible for emotional memory, vividly remembers the feelings associated with past events. In prehistoric times, it allowed you to learn that the sabre-toothed tiger was a threat to your life and that you had to beware or be eaten.

In an alcoholic home there is repeated exposure to fear-producing events, thus causing a strong association to things that remind you of that time. As you go through life, the amygdala continues to look for matches and when it finds something that is close enough, will prepare your body for the stress response – flight or fight. The trigger is often imperceptible – it could be the sound of someone's voice, ice in a glass, a certain expression on someone's face or the sight of a particular decoration. It could simply be the turn of a calendar page.

Unless you are aware that you are reacting to a trigger, you can experience a wide range of less-than-seasonal feelings which can include:
  • depression
  • regret
  • loneliness
  • anger
  • fear
For me, the awareness that my amygdala is looking for a match, of which the Christmas season means plenty, has made an impact upon my healing. Now that I know that a lot of the negative feelings are side-effects to the stress response, I can usually catch them in time and transform them with heart-activated feelings.

I know that the changing of the calendar no longer means "danger". I also know that the Christmas gatherings I now attend do not end in fights, nor does anyone end up in tears. I do not have to scan the faces of my loved ones to see what kind of mood they're in and how I should react in light of that mood.

This has been a process of learning and growing and one that I continue to use on a daily basis. It also helps to know that I can have an effect on my “internal pharmacy” by choosing my thoughts and emotions. When I choose to activate positive emotions, I know that I am changing my heart rhythms – the smoother the heart rhythms the better I feel. The better I feel, the better I do. When our mood changes for the better, all the little things that bothered us fall away and we live our lives in a way that is resourceful for us. We make wiser decisions and we are in a better position to share the gift that is ourself with others.

In an old pattern of thinking and feeling? Consider the fact that you've noticed what are you are doing and that you are looking to make some changes by replacing your old behaviours with new ones. That's a big step in itself and one that is worth appreciating and celebrating. Be patient and stick with it, the rewards are well worth the effort.

If you're interested in developing some emotional management skills, please send me an email.

Is there instance in your life where, now that you look back upon it, unbeknowst to you, the stress response was triggered?

Image courtesy of Carlos Aguiar.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mirthful Monday - What the Quack!

This is just too good not to post!

When things aren't as you typically expect them to be, there often is an element of surprise - and delight!

As a car was pulling out of the parking lot on Saturday, I saw what I thought was an orange beak peering out of the driver's side window. Sure enough, a second glance confirmed it.

What did I see? Something that brought a smile to my face. There, nestled alongside the driver and the car door, was a white duck! (Where is my camera when I need it?)

I can safely say that it's not every day that you see a duck going for a weekend drive! (I don't even want to think about the ramifications of having a duck wandering about one's car.)

Perhaps you can postulate a theory as to how this domestic duck came to be a passenger in that car?

Have you had an "I can't believe I just saw that!" moment?

Image courtesy of deFig.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Yet Another Ten Sneaky Little Health and Well-Being Tips

  1. Watching television? Use the commercial break as an exercise break. Do a few sit-ups, leg raises or stretches.

  2. Thinking about going swimming, for a walk or to the gym?  Don't. Just gather the things you need and go. Too much time spent in thought often leads to not! Paralysis by analysis.

  3. Keep some healthy snacks in your car. If you are delayed and your blood sugars take a dip, you're far less likely to hit the nearest drive-through window if you have some options in the car.

  4. Read food labels. If you can't pronounce it, restrict your intake of it; it's usually a manufactured food. (Sounds like an oxymoron to me!)

  5. What are your food rules? If you make some simple ones, you'll find it's easier to stick with them when the going gets tough. For example, you may wish to have a dessert day where you can eat any dessert you'd like or no eating after dinner.

  6. Sunglasses. I don't wear my sunglasses at night! But, I do wear them in rain, sleet and sun. Not only do they prevent UVA and UVB damage, but they also provide invaluable eye crinkle wrinkle control.

  7. Laptop not! There is conflicting research as to the safety of having a laptop on your lap. I prefer to err on the side of caution and work with the laptop as far away from sensitive organs as possible.

  8. Are you in bed, cosying up to a nice, hot.........computer, cell phone or other electronic device? Make the bedroom an electronics-free zone. Sleep cycles are interrupted by the allure of checking your email one more time before bed or the buzzing of an incoming text message. Each time you respond you are forging new neural pathways, entrenching a habit, that may seem innocent enough in the beginning. Set up some rules about who is the boss of the electronics. Hint: It's you, not the electronics!

  9. Too much retail therapy leading to buyer's remorse (stress)? Create a time-out zone for your new purchases. Place them in a special spot and wait it out. After a few days, you may find that you aren't really in love with that bejewelled sweater or that you don't need those blue suede shoes, after all.

  10. Practise stress transformation as you go about your day. How do you stop the cascade of 1400 chemicals that are released during stressful times until you can get to the spa, the gym or the bathtub? Learn techniques that you can apply right when you need them.
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    Image courtesy of Vangelis Thomaidis.