Posts Tagged ‘self-care’

Cooking with Cast Iron

That is absolutely someone else’s beautiful cooking–but the cast iron is even cooler with food in it. ūüôā

I got a set of cast iron pans from various family members for Christmas–from the darling tiny egg pan to the big-daddy grill pan. ¬†These pans are my first venture into the world of cast iron cookware. ¬†And at first, I will admit that I was a little intimidated. ¬†Cast iron is not quite the same gig as your average non-stick pan. ¬†Cast iron has rules. ¬†Cast iron needs care and attention. ¬†You can’t fill a cast iron pan and leave it to soak–unless you are fond of the taste of rust.

I noticed in the first week or so that I was kind of dodging the cast iron. Mind you, I asked for the cast iron.  This was an experience I opted into.  But I found myself overwhelmed by the idea of the cast iron care steps: let it cool, scrub it out, dry immediately, warm and add slight coat of oil to build seasoning.  And so I waffled for a bit.  But finally I decided to dive on in.  I challenged myself to only cook with my cast iron for a week.  No backsliding to the old, beat-up pans that I had.  In fact, I threw away several damaged pans, just to avoid the temptation to use them.

And I realized something interesting.  When I was using the cast iron daily, I started to really appreciate the routine that felt so overwhelming at first.  With each use, the cast iron is better seasoned, so it is easier to cook in. I appreciate how it translates the heat from my old electric stove into a smooth and even cook surface.  I like the process of tending to the cast iron when it is cool, the satisfaction of feeling as though I am investing time in something my kids might cook in in 20 years.  I like the way the neediness of the cast iron keeps me present and connected to this daily task.

What I recognized is that the cast iron is taking me through a regular mindfulness practice.  Because it requires some routine care, I have to show up and engage when I cook with cast iron.  I have to pay attention as I go through the process of cleaning up and putting my kitchen in order.  I have to be present for the routine tasks.  And there is a richness in mindfully participating in that routine.

Now, maybe you don’t want to sign up to cook with cast iron (but it’s amazing!). ¬†That’s fine. ¬†However, I would invite you to be curious and challenge yourself to find some things in your life that create a mindful experience for you. ¬†That force you to slow down and participate, instead of rushing through to the next challenge.

I’d love to hear what your “cast iron moments” are. ¬†Please feel free to share in the comments.


Happen to Something


I was recently talking with a client who is dealing with some very difficult PTSD and depression concerns. ¬†She was describing her sense that many of her goals have been interrupted, and her struggle to take any action since she couldn’t see how it would connect to a goal.

I think the feelings she described are true for many folks who have been affected by illness or trauma.  When life is severely disrupted, when the things we thought we would be doing begin to feel out of reach, it can be hard to see why we should bother engaging at all.  We struggle to see the point.

What I have learned is that sometimes, when we are in the dark, action and engagement are the point.  Trauma and depression are emotional experiences that provide us with a constant litany of all the ways that the world is dangerous or that we have failed.  In a misguided effort to protect us from pain, depression and anxiety can tell us that we should just not bother trying anything.  Here are some common messages you might be getting from your depression or anxiety:

  • It’s just going to backfire anyway.
  • I have already missed my deadline to do this, so doing it later will still feel like a failure.
  • Nothing ever works out for me.
  • I don’t deserve to succeed.
  • Doing this small self-care won’t get me a job (finish my degree, fix my relationship, etc.), so why bother?

When my clients share thoughts like this with me, I remind them of two things.  First, that we can appreciate the work our depression and anxiety put in on trying to protect us from harm.  That is true. What is also true is that depression and anxiety will use lies to try to reach that goal. They will lie using pieces of truth.  And the fundamental lie that they will tell is that lack of action keeps you safe.

Lack of action doesn’t keep you safe. It keeps you stuck. ¬†So, today I am going to invite you to engage with your life in some small way that brings you joy. ¬†I know that you may be facing pain and challenge. ¬†I know that the future may feel too complicated to face. ¬†So don’t face the future. ¬†Don’t worry about where your action is taking you. ¬†If the struggle to understand how this makes change is keeping you frozen, step around the struggle. Do something because you can and because you like it.

Today, this moment, do something that you love. ¬†Happen to the world instead of the world happening to you. ¬†It doesn’t have to be huge. ¬†Cook something delicious. Stand in the sun. ¬†Do a 5 minute lovingkindness meditation. Snuggle your pet. Watch something funny. Take a long shower. Do something that you can start, even from a place of darkness, something small and manageable. But happen to the world. ¬†Happen to yourself. ¬†Create a ripple of joy and connection.

If you’re willing to share how you happened to the world, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. ¬†If you need some help getting started–click on that appointment button to the right.

How Does Joy Move You?

I run into a dilemma with many of my clients. Maybe it’s a dilemma you have faced too. Here’s how this goes. I know, from current research (piles of it, by the way), that one of the most effective things my clients can do to cope with and reduce anxiety, stress, or depression is to participate in some form of regular exercise.

And when I ask about exercise, I get a range of responses.  Some of my clients have a regular exercise that they do and enjoy.  Some had an exercise that they enjoyed before they got sick, or lost their job, or went through whatever struggle has brought them to me.  Some were traumatized by grade school gym class, and view exercise as a thinly-veiled form of torture.  Some just see it as another chore to try to cram into their already-overflowing schedules.

So the idea of exercising is one that is often connected to a series of complicated emotions. ¬†Three of the big emotions that get linked to exercise for many folks are guilt, fear, and grief. ¬† ¬†Let’s unpack those a little bit more. ¬†Guilt is one of the most common responses to the idea of exercising–nearly everyone has a “should” about their own exercise experience. ¬†Many of us have also had moments of feeling physically inadequate or shamed, and so exercise has taken on a “monster under the bed” quality. ¬†We know we are supposed to do it, but we are pretty sure it will hurt, or we won’t do it “right.” ¬†And, some of us have had wonderful relationships with exercise. ¬†Then an injury, illness, or simply life getting crazy got in the way of that relationship, and now we think of exercise with an emphasis on what used to be–and that reminds us of a painful loss.

In the last year or so, I have encountered an idea supported by several physical therapists I respect. ¬†And that is the idea of moving away from trying to exercise, and moving towards a goal of joyful movement. ¬†This means that we start to think about the fact that our bodies are designed to be in motion. ¬†That motion doesn’t need to fit our traditional model of “exercising.” ¬†That motion doesn’t have to happen at a gym. ¬†That motion doesn’t require that you “feel the burn” or break a sweat. ¬†Instead, you might dance in your kitchen (this is a favorite of mine), or play with your dog, or take a turn on a swing set. ¬†That motion might in fact help you feel more comfortable in your body instead of as though your body is failing.

So, I’d like to challenge you to break out your creative thinking and find some ways to move joyfully through your life today. ¬†Feel like sharing? ¬†I would love that. ¬†Need some help finding your joyful movement? ¬†We can talk about that.

You Are Allowed to Want Good Things

When you have faced a loss, whether it is the death of someone you love or the loss of simple, uncomplicated health, there are many steps in the process of grieving that loss. ¬†I talk with clients at all stages of the grieving process. ¬†We explore complicated and frequently uncomfortable feelings. ¬†And one feeling comes up over and over again–it is one that most of my patients have some degree of shame or self-blame about. ¬†They label this feeling “jealousy.” It is the feeling of intense pain when you are faced with someone who has the thing that you have just lost. ¬†This could be a healthy person complaining about sore knees to someone with arthritis. ¬†It could be a co-worker upset over difficult morning sickness when you’ve just had a miscarriage. ¬†It could be a friend talking about a tough¬†moment in their relationship after you have been through a painful¬†breakup. ¬†Any of these situations can lead to a sense of intense longing for your own lost state, and even some feelings of anger or resentment at the person who has those things–especially if he or she seems to be taking them for granted.

Now, most clients discuss this with me reluctantly. ¬†They see the “jealousy” as a shameful thing. ¬†They understand that the happiness of others does not take away from the happiness available to us. ¬†And “jealous” is a feeling that we often expect ourselves to outgrow when we leave puberty. ¬†They are doing some considerable self-blame & shaming, and I think they expect me to join right in.

I have engaged people about this issue many times, and I try to remind them that they are allowed to have all of their feelings, even the difficult ones. ¬†It is particularly hard to own feelings¬†that have baggage attached. ¬†And “jealousy” definitely has baggage. ¬†We feel guilty. ¬†We feel ashamed. ¬†We feel childish. ¬†We feel dark. ¬†All of those feelings pile in on top of the pain of our grief, and they can be entirely overwhelming.

While I’ve had this discussion many times, it was during a recent talk with one of my sisters-in-law that I got a new perspective. ¬†We were sitting with a family member in pain, and my sister-in-law said this sentence:

[tbpquotable]”You are allowed to want good things.”[/tbpquotable]

And that sentence perfectly captured what I have been trying to reach with clients all along. ¬†What has been labeled as “jealousy” may not be that at all. ¬†Yes, it is a feeling of pain when you are confronted with those things that you have lost. ¬†But instead of being jealous, maybe your pain and hurt are simply another aspect of grief. ¬†Maybe you just feel the pain of wanting to have something good, something that has currently eluded you.

And you are allowed to want good things. ¬†You are allowed to want a body that is healthy, or a relationship that is healthy, or the experience of becoming a parent. ¬†So, we can talk on other days on how that wanting can take us off track (hint: it’s important not to get trapped in a story of “what should have been”). ¬†But for today, consider this. ¬†Maybe you aren’t jealous. ¬†Maybe you just want something good–and you are allowed to want good things.


Image Credit: Brave Girls Club

Reconnect With What You Love

I have had several conversations in the past few weeks with folks who were really struggling. ¬†And when I asked them what they were doing to take care of themselves, the common theme in their answer was that they had gotten disconnected from something they love to do (exercise, paint, etc.). ¬†As I listened to them, I realized that I was feeling their pain. ¬†I’ve been disconnected from something I love too.

I began blogging over five years ago.  What started as an exercise in trying to provide good online content (and maybe build my business a bit in the process) rapidly turned into something that I loved doing.  I moved from monthly posts to weekly posts, to even more frequent posts.  I realized that writing is an important outlet for me.  I feel like I am providing a service to my clients and those folks who may not be able to be my clients because of distance or other constraints.  Sitting down to write focuses me on the work that I do, and helps me clarify my professional purpose.   And I just love to do it. During my busy years, I was writing 50-60 original posts a year.  This year, I have written less than 20 posts.

There are some valid reasons for that. I’m doing more at school with my kids. ¬†My practice has been incredibly busy. ¬†My work hours are limited during the summer.

But I think there are also some insidious self-sabatoging reasons. ¬†Some reasons linked to my internal messaging about what I¬†should be able to accomplish with my hours. ¬†Some reasons that tie into the tendency to try to hide the shame that I feel when I don’t live up to my goals. ¬†Or a struggle¬†to admit that I still feel shame when I don’t live up to my goals.

Because I know better than that. Right? ¬†I wrote two years ago that we deserve self-care¬†no matter what. ¬†I have written post after post about restarting something after we’ve been interrupted. ¬†I know this stuff. ¬†I teach this stuff.

And the truth is, we have days or weeks or months or years that getting reconnected is a struggle. ¬†That we try to restart and can’t quite get there. ¬†That we haven’t managed to reboot. ¬†Or maybe we tell ourselves ¬†that we’ve had enough chances to restart. ¬†That we were supposed to have figured it out already. ¬†I know that I have heard some of that messaging this year.

So here is another truth. ¬†I love to write. ¬†And I will continue to write. ¬†I’d love to write at least one post a week. ¬†But I’m going to continue to write even if I am barely scraping by at one post a month. ¬†Because I love to do it. ¬†And that is a good enough reason. ¬†I don’t have to write often enough. I don’t have to be profound enough. ¬†I don’t have to meet any predetermined rules about how I participate in something that I love. ¬†I love to do it. ¬†And that means that I am allowed to write whenever I can make the time to do so. ¬†No matter what the little shame demon says.

Are you missing something that you love? ¬†Has it been out of your life for a while? Is your shame demon keeping you from re-engaging with that love? ¬†Whether it is writing or moving or art or performing–I hope that you do something this week that you love. ¬†Want to share it in the comments? ¬†That would be amazing. ¬†Want some help getting reconnected? ¬†Let me know–we can work on being human together.

Is it Time for a Break?

One of my best mental health breaks is getting outside.

Next Monday, August 24th, I’ll be joining the #BCSM (Breast Cancer and Social Media) community again for their Monday night tweet chat. ¬†Our topic is going to be “mental health breaks.” ¬†I’ve been kicking this idea around in my head for a while, and one of the things that has come up for me is that many of the clients I work with in the office, as well as people that I interact with in health communities really struggle with the idea of taking a break.

Living with cancer can be a consuming experience.  It can feel like a full-time job to manage early treatment, and a very different job to cope with ongoing fatigue, chemobrain, and other long-term treatment effects.  In addition to that, cancer and other illness can be like an earthquake in your relationships and work life.  It makes a lot of sense that trying to create mental health breaks can feel unattainable or like a chore.

And all of that is why making space for breaks matters.  When your body has taken huge hits, and so much of your experience has been wrenched out of your control, it becomes really important to focus on what you can control.  And investments (big and small) in your overall mental health are definitely under your control.

So let’s look at some of the reasons we aren’t getting these mental health breaks.

Reason 1:¬†I don’t have time to do that stuff.

Baloney. ¬†Mental health breaks don’t need to be a week-long vacation. or an hour of meditation. ¬†Not that either of those are bad. ¬†You can give yourself a mental break in under one minute. ¬†Try focusing for 10-12 seconds on a sensation of comfort, connection, or pleasure–the taste of your coffee, the sound of kids laughing, the warmth of a favorite blanket. ¬†For that 10-12 seconds, really immerse yourself in how good that moment feels. Try to identify how you are seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling that goodness. This is an exercise that neuroscientist Rick Hanson calls “taking in the good.”

Reason 2:¬† Treatment has taken up so much of my time, energy, money, etc that I don’t have any resources left over to take care of my mental health.

It can be easy to think of mental health & self-care as luxury items, but they aren’t. ¬†Not only are they absolutely essential to our overall health, but you can take a break for your mental health in ways that don’t take up more of your resources. ¬†You can change your scenery (get outside, get to a lovely indoor space, add a plant to your desk or bedroom). ¬†You can move around–even some gentle stretches can begin to release endorphins & lift your mood. ¬†You can breathe–3-5 deep breaths are enough to reset a stressed out-brain.

Reason 3: ¬†It’s not fair to my spouse/kids/family/friends/employer if I focus on me. Isn’t that selfish?

Nope. No way. Not at all. Not even a little. Self-care is not selfish. ¬†Focusing on mental health actually helps you be a better partner, parent, friend or co-worker. ¬†Just think about how you act and feel when you are exhausted or upset. ¬†Is it your best self? Can you make good judgments and extend compassion? I can’t. ¬†I need to have a basic foundation of rest, self-care, and mental health time outs, so that I can be the best person possible in my relationships. ¬†Taking mental health breaks helps me (and you) to be the person that others count on. ¬†Without those breaks, we are all more brittle and likely to, well, break.

This is just a tiny sampling of how you can challenge the blocks to your own mental health breaks.  Want more? Join us on Monday night for the #BCSM Community tweet chat.


Step to the Side

So many of my clients are facing really big challenges. Physical challenges, relationship challenges, emotional challenges, challenges of anxiety and more. And it’s not unusual for me to hear them talk about about feeling overwhelmed. Trying to manage their challenges has got them worn out. They have more going on than they can juggle and they are not sure what to do next. And because their difficulties aren’t taking a break, they don’t feel as though they ever get a break. Even when there isn’t a current crisis, it feels like one is lurking just around they corner, and they feel like they need to remain constantly on guard.

Does that sound familiar?

If it does, maybe this tool will help you too.

When I am sitting with a client who is feeling completely bombarded by difficult situations, anxious thoughts, etc., I invite them to take a few moments to practice this visualization with me. So I’ll invite you to do the same thing.

Step To The Side:

First, take a few moments to sit as comfortably as you can. Try to be sure that your body is well supported by the chair or sofa you are on. Then, allow your breathing to become even and steady, bringing a consistent flow of oxygen into your body and brain.

When you are feeling comfortable and supported, when your breathing is calm and even, imagine a river. This is a pretty large river, large enough to gain some speed as it moves along. Now, imagine that, as you round a curve in the river you see a waterfall. The waterfall isn’t enormous, but it is large enough for a grown person to stand underneath it.

Now imagine that you are standing in the center of the waterfall. The full force of the river is crashing down on and around you. It is loud, and overwhelming. In fact, it feels as though it could knock you over and sweep you downstream. The middle of the waterfall represents today in your life. Staying there can be scary.

You can’t stop the river from flowing.

You can’t stop the water from crashing over the falls.

But you can step to the side of the river.

You can observe the falls without being in the center, at least right now. You can know that the difficulty you face is real, without sitting in the middle of it. You can step to the side and enjoy some room to breathe, to feel supported, to take a break.

This isn’t about denying the difficulties you face. Instead, stepping to the side allows you to gather your strength for re-entering whatever challenge your river of life brings you.

Try It On

I would guess that you, like my clients, have had moments where the realities of your life feel like that river trying to sweep you away. So, I’m inviting you to step to the side today. Have you had a moment when you were able to step to the side? Please feel free to share in the comments. Need some help getting there? Just click that button on the right hand side.

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