The art of a healthy venting session.

Who doesn’t love a good venting session?  It can be sooo therapeutic.  Unfortunately, not all venting sessions are created equal.  Why is this?  Venting sessions often require some boundary setting ahead of time.  Does that seem extreme?  Have you ever been on the end of a venting session where the vent-er told you something so traumatic you felt icky and possibly even a little triggered?  You were ambushed.  My guess is the venter didn’t set the stage first, see if it was a good time for you, or think about what gory details they could omit before they opened their mouths.  (FYI in this post when I refer to “venting sessions” I will be more focussed on ones where potentially sad/traumatic info is being shared, not so much a venting session about traffic, the subway, or a bad haircut.)

I’m not even going to pretend that I’m an expert venter.  In fact, I have witnessed the face of the ambushed vent-ee following a story I was processing and thought to myself, “Yeah I think I just gave them nightmares, crap….”  Regardless of the field you work in or how you spend your days, you are going to be exposed to some rough stories and experiences.  Some of us need to process by verbally working it out, and if this is your mode of processing I’m right there with you.  However I think us verbal processors could do with some reminders with how to respectfully process with one another.

There are times when you may not be able to wait for supervision, or a coffee date with your BFF or an evening catch up about the day with your partner.  So when a difficult story presents itself you may suddenly rely on the person who is around you in that moment to help you work it through.

Francoise Mathieu, author of “The Compassion Fatigue workbook” has a list of questions to as yourself before you lay into the gory details of a traumatic story.

She writes,

“Is this conversation a:

Debriefing? Case consultation? Fireside chat? Work lunch? Parking lot catch-up? Children’s soccer game? Holiday party? Pillow talk?

Is the listener:

Aware that you are about to share graphic details?  Able to control the flow of what you are about to share with them?

If it is a case consultation or a debriefing:

Has the listener been informed that it is a debriefing or are you sitting in their office chatting about your day?  Have you given them fair warning?”

Why are these helpful things to be aware of ahead of time?  Because often when you have just been faced with a particularly traumatic story, your self awareness and awareness of what others are experiencing is thrown out the window.  I’ve been on the train listening to people loudly process a rough sexual abuse story with children within ear shot (and no doubt some sexual abuse survivors as well.)  Had they paid better attention to their volume, and those who could hear them, they might have limited details or even decided to find a better processing spot that was not the subway.

As caregivers we want to make sure we are not spreading trauma by not having an awareness of our surroundings.  Additionally, folks will be more prepared to help you process something if you set the stage a bit.  If you are grabbing an ice cream cone talking about your weekend with a friend, set the stage before you “slime” them with your venting session.  ASK them if they are up for processing something first.  Be deliberate about the details you share.  If it’s an awful story involving abuse of any kind, spare folks the details if they are not pertinent to the story. Pay attention to their body language and facial expressions.  Are they squirming and looking like they want to run?  Check in.  This might not be the right person to vent with.

Vicarious trauma is real, let’s try to not be the instigators of it.

On the flip side, if you find yourself suddenly getting ambushed remember you have every right to take control of the venting session and state what your capacity is in that moment.  You do NOT have to be a victim of a vicarious trauma ambush if you are not a willing or able listener in that moment.  Just like all boundary setting, in may feel awkward to do initially.  But go ahead and be awkward.  We often give awkward moments way too much power over us.  You can’t pour from any empty cup, right?

Take care of YOU.

 

What’s your kiddie roller coaster?

I went on a roller coaster a couple of weekends ago at Coney Island. My free spirited friend promised me it would shake me up a bit, in a good way. You know, dust off the cob webs, make room for new ideas, that kind of thing.  Always game for a good “shake up” I picked the kiddie roller coaster. Heyyy, I’m new to this. Baby steps. But it still did the trick. In fact, I screamed so loudly the two pre-teens in front of us felt the need to check in on me afterwards. Well at least I’d like to think they were concerned, I suppose they were mostly curious who sounded like a slaughtered pig on a kiddie ride. That would be me, young ladies.

I hadn’t felt that kind of adrenaline rush in a long time. I walked off that ride so exhilarated!  While I was certainly not ready to then tackle the upside down roller coaster I suddenly saw the appeal these rides had.

First of all, it’s totally ridiculous. It’s insane that we can be whipped through the air like that and actually be ok. It reminds us we are ALIVE.  It can (literally) shake us out of a fog. It can force us to let go and laugh maniacally!

Second, talk about practicing mindfulness. When you are riding a roller coaster it’s hard to think about anything else. You are present in that moment. Experiencing the terror and excitement of being flung around, but present in it.  Not thinking about the bills you have yet to pay or that awkward interaction at work.  Nope just in the moment exhilaration.

Third, when you do something that is out of your comfort zone, it’s so satisfying knocking it off the list of fears. In my case, most rides terrify me. So it was (dare I say) powerful, to be able to tackle a fear so quickly. This fear could be addressed, completed and done within less than a minute. Yes there was the time it took to convince me to go on the ride, but once the persuasion was done, it was go time.  Conquering fears like that, is contagious.  It makes you want to see what else you can overcome.  Especially after you get such a rush of endorphins.

My point is, take my friends’ advice and shake things up. It doesn’t have to be at Coney Island, although I recommend it. Whatever your version of the kiddie roller coaster is, go for it.  Surprise yourself.  But don’t overthink it.

One of the best things I’ve done this year is tell my thoughts to quiet down when an opportunity presents itself.  Opportunities are way more interesting than my fears or worries.  I’d guess it’s the same for you too.

Take care of YOU.

Ugh.

I’ll be honest folks.  I’m not feeling very inspirational or self care-y today.  It’s April and I’m still wearing my winter coat.  This makes me real grumpy.  Also I’m craving all of the cheeses.  Blocks and blocks of it. And my feet HURT.

Ugh.

On days like today I have to remember a couple of things. My grumpiness and body aches are all clues.  When I’m at work I tend to turn down the volume on my physical and mental health needs, but today I muted it.  No bueno.  Yes I had to pay attention to the needs of others at work, but that doesn’t mean I needed to ignore myself entirely.

I went into caregiver mode, which basically means autopilot.  I didn’t pee, despite needing to for wayyy too long.  I felt a headache but didn’t attend to it, until it was a tad too late.  I realized I was hungry by the time I’m STARVING.  And because water was not physically brought to my parched lips, I didn’t remember to drink it.

When I get flung into the express lane of a busy day, it takes a lot to make me stop and check in with myself. I get into the mindset of  “I just have to get through this day.”  But is that the life I want to life?  A life where I am just trying to get through it? No.  It isn’t.  I will have moments when I absolutely need to hustle, and others where hustling is not a necessity in the moment.   It’s time I started noticing the difference.  Operating from a place of stress and ultimately exhaustion is not sustainable.  It’s just not.  It’s no way to live.

Now don’t worry, I’m not beating myself up over here.  I’m just seeing my day a lot clearer.  I forgot to pay attention.  My physical body just felt a little neglected and staged a riot around 5 o’clock.  Fair.

We aren’t always going to be rocking our self care worlds.  We are going to have days when we forget to hydrate, or eat something green, or walk 10,000 steps, or rest, or unplug, or connect.  But tomorrow is another day, reset that button and start fresh tomorrow.

You in?

Take care of YOU.

 

 

 

 

Self-care is not for weekends only.

This weekend, I was exhausted.  My body wanted to nap, and then nap some more.  This meant that the energy I needed to get all my many projects done that I was “saving for the weekend” was non-existent.  It’s frustrating, right?  The weekend (or your time off) finally comes and all the things you’ve saved for when you are free, are now available to you, but all you have the energy to do is veg out and nap.  Or is that just me?

So I looked back on my week and started assessing what the issue might have been.  Why the total exhaustion?  Ohhhhhhhh, right.  My calendar showed that every day after work my life was filled with activities.  Did I want to do every single one of those things, YES! Did I have the energy for them?  Oh wait, no not really…

Shonda Rimes wrote a book called “The Year of Yes.”  The book chronicles her recognition that “no” was a lot easier for her to say than “yes.”  When she was called out on it, she made a decision to say yes to things.  Especially things that challenged her out of her comfort zone.

I have had a similar problem but in the other direction.  I have often said “yes” to more things than I have the energy for.  Additionally by saying yes to so many things I haven’t made a lot room for activities that challenge/excite me.  In my case, this requires me to put myself on my own calendar.  I rarely cancel plans on others, but I will cancel on myself easily, especially if I don’t designate time for myself.  Admittedly, the first time you put yourself on your calendar, it may feel a little weird.  Do it anyway, and keep your date with yourself.

Self-care is not a weekend/time-off thing.  It’s a 7-day a week thing.  It has to be, to be effective.  Practicing self care at work and after work sets the stage for your longer stretches of time off.  Look at your calendar from last week.  Whether your rolled into the weekend exhausted or refreshed take notes on what worked or didn’t work.  How much of your time was spent on others?  Do you see yourself anywhere on your calendar?  Depending on your personality type and where you get your energy (being alone or being around others), aim for a week where what energizes YOU is sprinkled throughout the week.

One added bonus of peppering your week with self care energizers, is that when the weekend comes, there’s not as much pressure to make it everything your week wasn’t.  Instead you can just continue where you left off.

So that’s my goal for this week.  You in?

Take care of YOU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A letter from the perspective of your self-care worst…

If you wrote a letter to someone you cared about from the perspective of your self-care worst, what would it look like?

Perhaps it would look something like this…

Dear friend,
I am so fortunate to have you in my life!  If you follow my example, you too may live a life of self-neglect!  Allow me to share my hopes and dreams for you.

I hope you believe the hype about what society considers to be beauty so your self-esteem is in the gutter well after your teenage years.

I hope you take care of everyone first and leave the scraps for yourself so you feel depleted constantly.

I hope you never ask for what you need or want so you never get it.

I hope you eat crappy food regularly so that you get sick easily and remain in a state of lethargy.

I hope you never take vacations and feel the excitement and relaxation that comes with taking a much needed break from your daily life. I encourage you to instead resent others for taking vacations.

I hope you judge others and focus on feeling superior and better than them so that you will be someone no one wants to be around. Ever.

Be sure to ignore your physical health and disregard any health concerns by never going to the doctor or exercising.

Please don’t ever assert your opinion about anything you feel strongly about so that people will treat you like a doormat, and you will believe that your opinion doesn’t matter.

Lose touch with close friends so you will have no one to reach out to when times get tough.

I hope you forget to make time for you and your partner so that your connection feels blah and loveless.

I highly encourage you to numb out on TV and social media for years on end, and never dare to take a risk or step outside of your comfort zone.

I hope you never take sick days when you’re sick and please brag about how much you don’t do for yourself so you can remain a martyr for as long as you’re living.

Follow my example and you too, can live this life!
All my love,
Your dear friend

……….

What would your version of this letter look like?  If this was triggering and yes maybe a little dark, pay attention to what areas seemed especially painful and look at this as areas where you can improve your self care journey.  Would you want this life for your children/best friend/godchild/grandchild/niece/nephew/partner/spouse?  Be an example of self-care by your actions not just your words.

I encourage you write your own letter and see where it takes you.  Where you find areas for improvement, be kind to yourself.  We are all ever-evolving and learning.

Take care of YOU.

P.S. Please note I got the idea for this letter from the incredible book, “An Invitation to Self-Care” by Tracey Cleantis.  If I could make this required reading for everyone I know, I would.  So please go buy it!  Also big shout out to to her for being so gracious in allowing me to put my own version of this letter out into the blogosphere.  Thank you Tracey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impressing your (former) teenage self.

One of the joys of growing older is blowing the mind of your inner teenager.  Society loves to distract you by focusing on the “negatives” of aging.  Well I call bullshit!  You have worked hard over the years to become the person you are!  Don’t let yourself become distracted.  Celebrate your accomplishments.

If you’ve been a tad brain washed over the years and can’t remember why your current age is working for you, think back to your teenage years.  Do you remember feeling total humiliation by everything and everyone?  You were convinced that pimple on the tip of your nose was going to be all anyone would EVER be able to talk about, forever and ever. We all forgot about your pimple.  Do you remember not being able to talk to your crush without turning purple with embarrassment?  My guess is you’ve since managed to hold a conversation with someone you’ve “crushed on” since then.  You might even be married to them!  (And yes, hormones did have an influence on all these things, but they were not the only factor.)

I encourage you to go back to those moments in time, because it will allow you to see your growth and your strength.  You are with yourself all day, every day, so it’s hard to see the trajectory of your inner growth the way that others can.  And often you may still feel like the insecure teenager that you were.  But guess what?  You’ve evolved.  I promise you.  And this deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.  It can also give you that push you need to get through the next challenge in life.  Because in the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, “We can do hard things.”  Adulthood has given us proof that we can get through hard times.  The proof is in our past.  As a teenager your past is limited.  You are “learning from experience” for the very first time.  As adults we have a plethora of memories to guide and direct us.

This doesn’t mean your inner teenager has left you.  You may still be triggered by the very things that hurt you way back then.  In fact, if those hurts have been pushed down for too long, they will inevitably resurface, and that’s ok.  Because now as an adult, you have the tools (or access to the tools) to handle this.  You can look at your pimply wounded teenage self with love, not hate.  You can hold space for yourself to work through the pain instead of beating yourself up for feeling emotions.

As adults we also know that we have the power to choose our thoughts.  I was reminded of this the other night.  I was having a hard time sleeping and then decided I would try to work through a problem I was having.  As the minutes passed I could feel myself getting more and more anxious and therefore less sleepy.  And then I suddenly had a thought; almost every time I’ve attempted to work something out at 2 a.m., it’s been a bad call.  I don’t think clearly that late.  Never have (thanks past memories for giving me a hand there).  So I consciously made a decision that I wasn’t going to “go there” in my mind for the rest of the night.  It wasn’t going to be productive or serve me.  Morning came, and guess what?  I was clearer, and less anxious when attempting to solve the problem.

So this week high five yourself when you notice your inner growth.  Be on the lookout for it.  It’s there, believe me!

Take care of YOU.

 

Setting boundaries fosters self-respect.

About every 2 months or so I need to remind myself about the importance of boundaries.  Boundary setting is imperative especially in caregiving work.  It’s one of the best tools in preventing burn out.  But it’s not up to everyone else to establish, that responsibility lies on YOU.  And unfortunately that’s usually the problem.

I’ve talked many times about the importance of speaking up and making your needs known.  But it’s very easy to write that sentence and much harder to ask for.  So let’s look at why it’s so hard to ask for what we need and/or establish boundaries.  You may be afraid of hurting other people’s feelings.  You may be worried that others will interpret your words and take it personally.  You may not even know what you need.  You may be annoyed that you have to ask for something in the first place and you wish people could just read your body language.  You may feel irritated with yourself that you feel drained by something or someone that seems to energize others. Or perhaps you have asked for things in the past and it didn’t go well.

If any of that resonates you are not alone.  Very few people excel at this, so don’t berate yourself and feel discouraged if you aren’t where you want to be.  Neither am I.  So let’s get better at it!

1.) Be direct:  There’s no point in being wishy-washy with others.  Boundary crossers need direct communication especially if the non-verbals or subtle hints haven’t been observed or respected.  Be clear in your ask.  And avoid phrases like, “Do you mind?”  “Is it ok?”  “I’m sorry.”

2.) Stick to your decision:  Boundary crossers are going to test how serious you are about this.  Do you really want that space or where you just having a bad day?  So firmly redirect them.  This is imperative the first few weeks after a boundary has been set, because it will get tested.

3.) Feel your feelings:  You may feel bad, weird, uncomfortable, and guilty when having to redirect someone initially.  That’s ok.  If it was easy you would’ve done this ages ago.  So instead allow yourself to work through it and forgive your missteps in the process.

4.) Start small:  Don’t go after the biggest hurdle in your life first.  Start small, tackling little areas of your life first and build on that.  For instance, I am not a huge fan of the group work text (and I’m on many different group texts).  But when my day is over, I often select “DO NOT DISTURB” on my iPhone.  This way I will still get any texts but can look at them when I have the mental energy to do so.

5.) Remind yourself why you set this boundary:  The reason will help ground you especially when it’s being tested.  If you’re not sure why you set the boundary, you will feel less inclined to maintain it.  So identify the need and root yourself in it.  You are honoring and respecting your needs by doing this.

6.) Use “I” messages not “you” messages:  When you address the boundary crosser be aware of your language.  Using “you” messages, like “you never” or “you always,” will put the person on the defensive instead of hearing your request.  Instead own what you need by using “I.” Ex: “I would like to eat alone today. I find having some alone time helps me recharge.”

7.) Don’t give a lengthy reasoning for your boundary:  Less is more.  People do not need to know your long drawn out reasoning for your boundary, it’s rarely any of their business and it’s also probably not all that helpful.

8.)  Be clear on what you are asking for:  If the boundary is clear, people will be more able to follow your request.  If they aren’t sure what you mean, it will get confusing.  For instance, in my case with getting work texts after work, I have told folks they can still text me after hours, but they know my reply may be delayed as I don’t check my phone as often.

This week I encourage you to gently tackle an area of your life, that could do with a little boundary setting.  Be patient with yourself, we’ve got this!

Take care of YOU.

Do not let others determine your worth.

Not everyone is going to like you.  Weird, right?!  You’re so charming!  They don’t know what they are missing!  But we simply cannot be everyone’s cup of tea.  We are complex human beings who are going to be drawn to some and not others.  It’s not always as personal as we make it out to be.  A major part of adulthood is accepting that and letting it go.  Freeing yourself from the non-stop head noise of “What did I do??”  Notice I didn’t say attacking those folks with anger or trying to convince them how amazing you are?!  Nope, just letting it go.  The letting go part, is for YOU.  Letting go, so that you can move on and have peace.  Because while you may not be able to control what they think of you, you CAN control your reaction.  (Of course if you have wronged someone and haven’t apologized or corrected your wrong doing, that IS on you.  I do not want to take away our responsibility of righting a wrong).

What other people think of me is none of my business.  -Dr. Wayne Dyer

We aren’t always going to know why we rub someone the wrong way, but more times than not it has NOTHING to do with us.  Got that?  Perhaps we trigger something in them that reminds them of someone else.  To be honest it’s not even worth going into the various scenarios as to why someone may struggle with you.  In fact, I wonder how many therapy sessions/coffee breaks/margarita nights are spent trying to figure out why someone doesn’t like you.  Even if you got the answer, I’m not sure you’d feel satisfied.

Years ago, when I was in the throes of on-line dating, I went on a date that seemed to go great!  I felt confident this date would lead to many more.  It didn’t, in fact I never heard from him again.  I was in the beginning stages of dating on-line and this felt like a real blow.  I started to question everything.  Was I not as perceptive as I thought?  Was I delusional?  Which then lead to, am I even date-able/lovable?  Yeah, I spiraled pretty quickly.  All because some random person didn’t feel a connection.  Prior to that date, I felt pretty good about myself, but I allowed the opinion of one person (who I didn’t even know) to determine my self worth.  A major component of the self-care journey is loving yourself.  This does not mean loving yourself only if everyone else loves you too.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.  -Eleanor Roosevelt

After that seemingly humiliating experience of never hearing for that guy again, my instinct was to shut down and never get out there again.  But remember only I can control my reaction to that situation, and after nursing my wounds a little bit and reminding myself of the powerful quote of Eleanor Roosevelt, I realized I did not have to look at the situation as humiliating.  I allowed myself to see it differently.  It was a part of my story.  It forced me to just enjoy each date for what it was without projecting a future on to them.  And when I inevitably didn’t feel a connection with someone I was able to practice a little more compassion by being clear with them instead of them leaving them in the lurch.

When you feel someone’s bad or indifferent opinion of you affecting how you see yourself, hit the breaks!  Regroup!  Remind yourself, who you are is enough.  I’m not here to pretend it’s easy to do (especially if your habit has been to go down the self-loathing black hole), but it is vital to your mental health, growth and self care.  Go on, you rebel you, love yourself.

In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.  Caroline Caldwell

Got it?

Take care of YOU.

The many problems with comparison.

Why are we so concerned about what “other people are doing?”  Why have we become so focused on comparing ourselves to others that we even don’t appreciate our journey or our story?

My journey has not mirrored many of my contemporaries.  There have been times I’ve been proud of that, and others times I’ve honestly felt embarrassed by it.  The embarrassment would show up when I’d be asked about marriage or kids.  I felt like all of my life experiences would suddenly get belittled or dismissed because I wasn’t doing what I “should” be doing.  And…time was ticking!

Luckily for me, I was mostly hounded by (former) co-workers who tended to be old school in their thinking, and not friends and family members.  But that was enough for me.  It was enough to make me feel like something was wrong with me.  Even though I truly didn’t want what was being “expected” of me at the time, I still felt like something was wrong with me.

If you relate to this at all, I’m so sorry.  Comparison can make you feel really lonely. Now that social media is a part of our daily lives, we often are comparing ourselves to inaccurate information.  How people portray themselves on social media is not the whole picture.  So you can spend time and energy wishing you had someone else’s life, but in reality they don’t even have the life you envy.

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”  -Steve Furtick

So here’s the good news.  If you don’t buy into the notion that you have to follow a prescribed path, your journey becomes your own.  You will allow yourself to believe there is not one “right” way to live your life.  And when you allow yourself to actually believe that, you will feel such freedom.  All that time spent comparing yourself to someone else’s life is time lost on living yours!

I look at my journey now and see it quite differently.  There was a time when my experiences seemed so mismatched, so random.   But in actuality, they really are all connected.  They make a gorgeous quilt of life lessons and experiences.  My quilt doesn’t resemble anyone else’s. And neither does yours!

This week I encourage you to pay attention to moments where you can feel yourself comparing yourself to others.  Notice it, and then move forward towards the life you want!

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” -Mark Twain

Take care of YOU.

 

And sometimes, it’s just time…

Creating a self care practice is not about sugar coating a miserable situation.  It’s about helping you see more clearly what you need and acting on it.  And sometimes that will mean making the tough decision to leave a place that no longer serves you.

Your employer also has a big hand on how you feel as an employee based on the way they treat you.  Do you actually get a lunch break or is that strongly discouraged.  Do you have to eat at your desk and call that “lunch?”  Do  you work with toxic people and nothing has been done about it?  Do you have any agency in your job?  Do you wake up every day with a knot in your stomach because you have to go to work?  Do you have vacation time but they never let you use it?

There will be major clues that it might be time to leave.  And if you haven’t been paying attention to yourself lately, ask those around you how you appear.  There’s nothing quite like the wake up call from loved ones telling you you’ve been a miserable human to be around.  Believe me.

I totally understand that it may feel like an insurmountable mountain to climb.  But 9 times out of ten, the hardest part is making that decision that it’s time to go.  It does require the mental energy to come to that decision and act on it.  And sure it’s scary, but pay attention to how you feel in the process.  If there’s even a hiccup of excitement or joy coming back to you, embrace that.  Picture yourself waking up excited for the day. Visualize yourself not spent after a day and having energy for other things in your life.

If you’ve been miserable for awhile, you may think that there’s no hope and that all jobs will essentially be like the one you have, so you might as well just stay.  That is misery talking, not reality.  Would you want that for a family member or friend?  To remain miserable? NO!  If you are the this stage, push through your misery and make a plan.  If you are bad at keeping plans, enlist someone to keep you accountable and check in.

My first nursing job was ROUGH.  I had a lot of time off, but was miserable once I got there.  And unfortunately my time off was spent dreading going back in.  There was a job that I had my eye on but I was convinced I was too “new” of a nurse to get it.  However I pushed through that fear and misery and applied anyway and thankfully got the job.  Whenever it’s time for me to leave a place and I’m convinced I can’t do it, I remind myself of that first job and how I surprised myself with my ability to leave and head towards a much better quality of life.  (In fact, I learned how NOT to live my life because of that job.)

Chances are you have had a similarly bad situation that you left.  Whether it be work related or something from your personal life, remind yourself of it and gain strength and courage from your own abilities.  You’ve got this.

You are not your job, and this is the life you’ve been given.  So if it’s time to go, then go on and git!

Take care of YOU.