What are your misery stabilizers?

Okay folks,

I need to come clean on another addiction that I have. I am a recovering “food” addict.  I no longer use food (very often) to buffer uncomfortable feelings. Occasionally, ice cream is my gateway drug though…

My other addiction? Self development books, self-help literature and courses from Udemy and Skillshare…and podcasts where I learn new things.

I have talked before about how some of us use “buffers” to avoid certain things in our lives, or to avoid feeling what we feel, dealing with reality. Terry Real, (a psychotherapist who has some wonderful books including The New Rules of Marriage) calls substances like alcohol or drugs “misery stabilizers.”

He explains that they can keep people miserable instead of turning to each other, staying engaged, and facing their issues. He explains ways that men and women typically avoid their lives or issues in a relationship and I want to directly quote his words here, because I saw myself in them.

“Men tend to use workaholism, substance abuse, risk taking, gambling, food, exercise, television, the Internet, and sexual compulsivity. Women tend toward love dependence through over-involvement with their children, food, prescription drug abuse, spending, exercise, “busy-ness addiction” and love dependence on a romantic adult.” ( bold emphasis mine)

When I first read about this, and considered my relationship to food, I realized I had been using food (and sometimes wine) as a misery stabilizer in my life and in my relationship. I was using it to avoid what I did not want to face, my truth about not living aligned with my purpose. At various times I have used the others I highlighted as well.

As I started seeing the ways I was avoiding uncomfortable conversations, I began to examine ways in which I inadvertently “learned” this behavior when I was young. My family is squeamish about conflict, to put it mildly. Well, we live in Minnesota… directness is not something we do well.

Do you know the expression “Minnesota nice“? It is not a compliment when someone uses this term. What it means is that someone is nice to your face, but they are actually thinking “You’re full of shit.” Or they will be nice in person, and then go gossip about you behind your back. Yikes.

bingeing
Photo credit link – Hypable

We all have buffers, or misery stabilizers, that can keep us from diving right into an issue, facing our truth. They can keep us from having a difficult conversation, working on our budget, tracking our finances, dealing with the reality of our situation. We avoid and distract ourselves rather than “go there.”

I was doing it this for the last couple days with some of my “homework” for my WomenVenture class on Getting Ready.  It is a pre-requisite for the Small Business Essentials class I will begin in September. We were asked to track all of our household expenses for 2 weeks. I was supposed to start last week, but I was on vacation with my sister, and I self-justified not doing it: “it’s an unusual week, and vacations are not a household expense.”

But really I was avoiding it because looking at the reality my spending habits can feel uncomfortable and annoying. I have saved for this sabbatical, and planned for this time off, but I don’t want to face the day-to-day “chore” of looking at my daily money habits. It feels “graspy” and stingy to me. I have an abundance mindset, and I know I can generate more where that came from… “Why should I have to track the “little” stuff?” my inner brat whines.

Anything we do not want to examine in our lives, however, is probably something worth studying. While I would rather watch Skillshare videos and read self-development books all day, the action of getting clear on my finances and on our money habits is something that will serve us in the long run.

I will put my self-development courses on pause, and start working on my 2-week budget tracking exercise. I resist committing to “Financial Fridays” but it may be good for me for a month or two… Ugh, not there yet. But let me know if you think airing my “dirty laundry” in this area would be helpful to you. I might be able to motivate myself to write about this if own misery is in service to a larger community. Lol.

Are there any things you “binge” on when you are avoiding an important task or conversation? What are your misery stabilizers?

cristy@meximinnesota.com

P.S. If you are also a course addict and you want to try 2 months free of Skillshare, you can use this link to get started. I claim no responsibility for enabling your addiction if you suffer the same affliction. 😉

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – judgment vs acceptance

Once in a while I find myself tempted to tell other people how they should live. I get all “judgy” about what they should do, or what I would do in their situation. You don’t do that, do you?

Oh, who am I kidding? Many of us spend our lives judging other people. This is human, perhaps. I must extend myself compassion for the tendency to insert my opinion into other people’s business. One of my favorite wise teachers, Brené Brown, talks about how good it can feel to judge other people. It’s like a pig rolling in mud, she explains in one of her audio books. “Doesn’t it just feel so good?”

Our need to judge and criticize other people comes from our desire to mask some type of shame about the way we feel about ourselves. If we feel bad about our inability to keep our space clean at home, it is SO easy to become judgmental about some other person’s difficulty. We think: “Sheesh, how can they live like that? Do they have a hoarding disorder? Narcissism? (insert criticism here)” We may be bad, but at least we feel we are better than someone else.

While I feel embarrassed to admit how often I judge people, I want to come clean here for the sake of exploring this tendency and understanding what this judgment says about me.

When I first learned to meditate, I was astonished at the thoughts that seemed to flow rather continuously through my fevered brain. Now I react with more curiosity rather than with admonishment or shame. Thoughts appear. Then we react to them, or just observe them and let them go. It takes a lot of practice not to judge ourselves, or judge and evaluate our thoughts, but just to observe them with curiosity instead. I am far from perfect at this, and I’ve been practicing for 556 days in a row.

Judge Judy
TV personality Judge Judy – photo credit link

I realize that holding space for people, particularly those that you love, or those who can easily push your buttons, can be a sacred act of mindfulness as well. It is difficult to withhold judgment and just meet people where they are. It requires great compassion and self-awareness of our own internal critic and the ways in which we constantly compare ourselves to others.

In the case of family, friends or people we care about, sometimes we long to give advice to “help”. But often our best option is to listen, to care and to ask if we can be of service, rather than to offer unsolicited advice how to solve the problem.

If we simply tell people what to do, they often sense our judgment and discomfort. If our advice comes from a place of love and compassion, they may be able to hear it. If not, I think it is best for us to “clean up” our thoughts before launching into our opinions about the issue. Often we gossip to others about what these people should do instead of confronting the issue directly. That is not a good idea either.

Adults can behave however they wish, and we cannot control them. This is a radical idea for some of us. But we can only control our own thoughts and emotions. Trying to control other people is typically a recipe for disaster. While we can sometimes have a positive influence, typically we must lead by example rather than judging, condemning and shaming.

This is a lesson I write to remind myself. I have learned and re-learned it many times. When I focus on things I can control, my own actions and results (and generally the preceding thoughts and emotions), I have more peace, freedom and equanimity.

But oh, sometimes judgment is so very tempting…

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – Forgiveness

How easy do you find it to forgive people? 

How easily do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake or do something wrong? 

I just finished reading Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, and I found the premise fascinating. She believes that what we think about ourselves becomes the truth for us. What we give out, we get back. The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and thoughts can be changed. We can change our attitude toward the past. To release the past, we must be willing to forgive. Also, she claims that “all dis-ease” comes from a state of unforgiveness.

She goes on to explain that forgiveness is not about condoning the behavior. It is just letting the whole things go. I agree that there are few advantages to holding resentment against someone for past actions. The past is over, and the more we time we spend on holding onto that resentment, the worse our health seems to be.

An article from Hopkins Medicine explains that unresolved conflict or chronic anger can put you in fight-or-flight mode, which results in changes in heart rate, blood pressure and the immune system. These changes increase risks of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.

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Photo credit link –  Mindful.org: Forgive Your Imperfections

Forgiveness is an active process in which we make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. Karen Swartz, M.D. director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says forgiveness is a choice. “You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.”

Even if the person never apologizes, and you simply resolve this by journaling or through your own reflection, by letting go of expectations, you will not feel disappointed. When you start to acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect, and that the action probably had nothing to do with you, and rather is a reflection of the other person’s capacity (or lack thereof) for love, you can move on.

While it is not easy, forgiveness will help you heal and move on with your life. Sometimes talking with a therapist or a trusted friend to receive a “caring witness” to your pain can help. But at some point, then it is time to let the past go. Remember: you are not hurting the other person in refusing to forgive, you are only hurting yourself by carrying that negative energy into your future.

A quote I love from Louise Hay’s book is:

Love is always the answer to healing of any sort. And the pathway to love is forgiveness.

Give it a try and watch your overall health improve as you develop a regular practice of forgiveness. Check out “You Can Heal Your Life” if you want exercises and affirmations to support this process of letting go.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

 

 

Force no pain away

One of my favorite guided meditations is spoken by Sarah Blondin on Insight Timer called “I would like to give you permission.” It is about the ways in which we tend to hide our true selves from the world, and I think it was originally recorded for the Live Awake podcast.

Sometimes we have a good reason we hide our true selves (Martha Beck would call this the essential self vs the social self). Most of the time it is because we have been taught to act “appropriately” or to hide our feelings. These are often well-intentioned pieces of advice, but they may not serve our highest good.

live awake
Link to the live awake podcast

There is a line in this particular meditation that moves me: “Force no pain away, for it is all conspiring to bring you home.” What I like about this is the fact that we must embrace our feelings, admit them to ourselves, in order to be fully human. To push them away, or not to acknowledge our sadness, pain or discomfort, is to run away from our experience. We often do this in an attempt to be more positive, or because we think we should not experience negative emotions.

But emotions are just vibrations in the body, and we are likely to experience about half and half, positive and negative. It is the contrast between these emotions that makes joy so sweet. There is nothing wrong with us when we experience sadness or grief. These are normal and appropriate parts of being human. Getting angry at injustice can help us realize when we need to take action, for example.

When I consider how my emotions bring me home to myself, and I understand what thoughts drive these emotions, I fully claim my experience. There is no need for denial or resistance of these feelings. Indeed they provide the compass for a live well lived.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

The final countdown!

I woke up this morning with the song in my head by Europe: the Final Countdown!

For a video from YouTube:

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Link to the YouTube video

I love the 80’s hair and the head-banging musicians. I had to re-read the lyrics of the song because I guess I really never knew them.

With only 5 days to go, I feel excited with a little nervous trepidation. There are a lot of things I want to complete this week, and yet I know I have time for what really matters. Anything that is forgotten or does not occur is probably not important.

I will make sure to have my contacts secured on my new phone/computer. I will have lunches with people and one dinner with a project team that is still developing a product that came from our Innovation Jam efforts. I will make sure to transfer any final information to my team that they might need in order to get things done.

I will clean out my desk and take home any personal items. I guess I will turn in my work laptop and phone, so probably good to have any personal things cleared off there as well.

Since this change has not happened overnight, and I have been intentional since March about readying my team for this eventuality (even while they did not know my specifc plan) I feel ready.

I slept well last night. I am ready for this. I will savor these last days with gratitude.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – watch your language

Do you ever notice what tone of voice you use with yourself when you make a mistake?

We all talk to ourselves (it is part of the human condition) though some people are not aware of what language they are using.

For example: you forgot to pick up your dry cleaning (again) and you wanted that clean shirt for tomorrow’s presentation. Do you say, “sheesh, you idiot, why did you do that again?” Or do you say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll wear a different shirt. I’d better put that reminder in my calendar next time.”

When you realize you did something you did not intend, do you have compassion for yourself?  Do you speak with yourself the way you would speak to a beloved friend? Or do you self-flagellate and add insult to injury?

It matters.

Quite simply, the way you treat yourself has a lot to do with how much compassion you can extend to others as well. If you realize we all make mistakes, that it is not a character flaw, and resolve to do it differently next time, you can learn. If you criticize yourself or use harsh words, you break down your relationship with yourself.

watch language
Photo credit link

Language can powerfully shape the way we think. If you speak to yourself with kind and loving words instead of harsh and blaming ones, you honor your being’s inherent tendency for growth and development. When you blame yourself or put yourself down (even if you do not intend, or if it is just habitual) it can erode the trust you have in your own wisdom.

It is interesting how I can observe family members or friends when they do this, but I didn’t realize when I was inadvertently doing this myself. I first discovered this during meditation. I used to “say” things like – oh dear, can you REALLY not concentrate for more than 30 seconds?”

Now when I meditate I say (to myself): hmm, how interesting that I’m thinking about X or Y. Then I gently pull myself back to my breath, or my body, whatever I am focusing on for the moment. Then 2 minutes later when I am planning my work for the day (while meditating), I say: “it’s okay, I know you are concerned about that. But it will be there when you are done meditating. Come back now.” It is a loving voice, gentle forgiving.

If you cannot access your thoughts through meditation, try a “thought download” – take a sheet of paper and just unload all of your thoughts for 5-10 minutes It might surprise you what is in there.

Curiosity and compassion will get you SO much further than blaming and shaming. 

Happy Wednesday, all.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – food & social pressure (part 2)

Last week I wrote about this topic and there was some interest in a further exploration. I think it is appropriate to post about this on a holiday (at least for those in the U.S.) because that is often a time when we can feel pressure to eat or drink, at parties or social events.

hot dogs
Photo credit link

I remember growing up my extended family would often have a barbecue or picnic event, and everyone would be eating hot dogs (which we cooked on the grill or at the camp fire), potato chips and dip, potato salad, beans, etc. Then there would be dessert: cookies, bars, brownies, cake or pie, and sometimes ice cream as well. Thinking back to this makes me a little hungry now, actually…

There was always a little pressure to eat. Typically I ate 2 hot dogs on buns, my Grandma’s yummy potato salad, some beans. I saved room for dessert, which I always enjoyed (sweet tooth then & now). There was not necessarily pressure to eat a lot, but if you didn’t eat, someone would invariably ask why you didn’t try their dessert.

Probably three quarters of my family members would describe themselves as overweight. Not all of them are obese, but clearly we do not hold back very much when it comes to eating at social (family) events. Taking a second helping of a food is considered flattering to the cook, and so that can lead to additional pressure.

Isn’t it weird that people always prod you if you do not eat much, but they do not say anything if you are serving up vast quantities of food and shoveling them down? I mean, to me that is an indicator of discomfort, as I see it in myself, so it now makes me wonder what someone might be experiencing emotionally.

cafe
Photo credit link

Food can be a way to bond and share experiences with people and I think this can be done in a healthy way, when nobody feels pressured to eat. I like to share a dessert sometimes with colleagues, when I want a little taste of something sweet, but I really don’t need a full dessert. “Going for coffee” in Latin America is a very common event, a chance to sit down and get to know someone, whether you drink coffee or not.

I realize I am still a little self-conscious about my eating habits when I am in a social setting. I am gradually learning to trust my hunger signals, and I stop when I am full rather than worrying about how much is socially acceptable to eat. I also try not to eat as much sugar and flour these days, as I find they create unnatural insulin spikes for me, and mess with my metabolism and brain chemistry.

It is getting less important to me to explain myself when these episodes occur, but I find it interesting that we still have to justify these choices. People ask if you are on a special diet, and then that topic comes up. Ugh, do I have to explain again?

I am curious about other cultural social norms that exist around food. Definitely Americans take everything to the extreme, and I think most other cultures take more time with their food, enjoy it more and obsess less about it. Perhaps we can learn to relax and see food as source of nourishment and pleasure. We can allow people to eat what they want, and not add to the social pressure.

May you enjoy the holiday (if you celebrate) and partake in the foods you enjoy, only in the quantities you want.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – food and social pressure

This week I am introducing a topic which may be one of a series, since it is complex topic. But it arose for me as I was attending a work gathering last night and observing the way in which I and others approached the food and alcohol service on a patio restaurant for a social event.

First let me say that work social events have always made me a bit uncomfortable. Over the years I have learned ways to enjoy them (generally without alcohol) but as an introvert, they wear me out. Especially after a long day of meetings, a work event to attend can feel like a special brand of hell to those of us who just want a break from having to interact with people.

For many years, my approach was to be sure I had a glass or two of wine, or a beer, to help myself relax during these events. Many of us know alcohol to be a “social lubricant” and rely on it for loosening up our tongue and not feeling as tense or nervous about having to make small talk.

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Photo credit link

A couple of years ago I decided to stop drinking completely for a period of time. While I am not alcoholic I noticed I was relying too heavily on wine to relieve my discomfort, and I did not like the habitual nature and automatic desire every evening. It was at the same time that I realized I am in a work culture where many, many people drink at work social events. It is a norm, and I suppose among a lot of introverted engineer types, social lubricant many seem like a necessity sometimes.

When I was not drinking, I felt a lot of pressure from colleagues, and the only answer that caused people to back off from asking why I was not drinking was to tell them it interferes with my sleep. Somehow, then it is less socially acceptable to pressure someone to drink.

But the same goes for pressure around desserts: when you do not have a dessert on my team, everyone gives you crap about it! Tons of pressure.

So the point I want to make in this brief blog (since I will need to run off to meetings again today) is that we often eat, not because we are hungry, but for other reasons, like social pressure. We drink for reasons like that as well.

There is a great episode of Hidden Brain which discusses this topic, and I encourage you to listen if you are interested in the topic of food and psychology. Why we eat goes far beyond actual physical hunger. It sometimes has to do with being unable to tolerate social pressure or personal discomfort.

But we can teach ourselves how to pay attention to our own hunger signals and become comfortable with the momentary discomfort of rejecting food when we really do not want it. Learning this skill we strengthen our ability to make other challenging choices as well, and for me, that has transformed my ability to manage my weight.

Okay, time is limited and I think I will make this into a series, continuing the topic on my next Wellness Wednesday when I will be home and not at all-day work meetings. Happy hump day!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com