Adult tantrums

I am a little embarrassed to admit that Christmas Eve this year I indulged in an “adult tantrum” about all that I had committed to do to prep for the holidays.

It wasn’t pretty. My hubby and I had been sick with colds during the week, so we were behind our usual holiday preparations, and I was struggling to get some things done at the last minute.

Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I was upset was not that I *HAD* to do anything for the holidays. Nobody was forcing me. I choose to celebrate the holidays in this way with my family, exchanging gifts and creating traditions especially for the children in the family.

When I reminded myself that I was doing the best I could under the circumstances, and that it is not my obligation to create a “perfect” holiday for anyone, I could finally relax and enjoy the time. When I was able to take a breath and realize that the purpose of the holiday is to pause, to reflect, and to enjoy time with loved ones, I came back to reality.

adult tantrums
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I realized that my inner dialogue was responsible for creating this idealized version of a holiday, in which I was falling far short. Also I know that I suffer from decision fatigue quite often. It is part of coping with an a.d.d. brain, and it is part of my reality. During the holidays, with all of the gift giving choices to make, this fatigue tends to be magnified.

Our expectations during the holidays are what typically get in the way of our joy. In recent years, I have tried “turning down” my expectations, so that I can focus on what is really important. I still wish my family might refrain from gift-giving and do something charitable instead. But I also realize that giving gifts brings people a lot of joy, and some people really do enjoy selecting gifts for loved ones.

I have explored the concept of emotional adulthood, and I realize it applies in these situations as well. We are responsible for our own feelings, and not the feelings of others. I cannot control whether others have a happy holiday. Since it is our thoughts that drive our feelings, having thoughts about “I have to…” or “I must…” tend to leave us feeling trapped, resentful, and Scroogey.

If we have thoughts instead of gratitude, for the opportunity to travel to see family on the holiday, or for all the abundance we have enjoyed in the past year, we feel joyful. If others in my family rely on me to provide their happiness, either by my getting them a perfect gift, or following family traditions to the letter, that is their business. I am not responsible for their thoughts and expectations of the holiday. I certainly hope and wish they enjoy it, but that is their own responsibility.

Holidays can be stressful for many reasons. But when we understand emotional adulthood and take responsibility for our own feelings, we can minimize our stress. That is certainly something to celebrate!

 

 

 

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Happy winter solstice

Hello Friends,

I am working my way through a head cold that has arrived to slow me down a bit for the season (in case an emergency appendectomy was not enough for me to get the message). So I am taking a little break from a more substantial blog today.

Instead I am embracing Winter Solstice, that darkest day of the year just before we gradually start getting a tiny bit more light each day. I will focus today on gratitude and the fact that everyone in nature works in cycles. Darkness and light. Yin and Yang. Rest and activity. Sickness and health.

I have been reflecting quite a lot on the past year and what my hopes are for next year. I feel like I learned a tremendous amount about myself and enjoyed significant personal and professional growth. My daily meditation practice, at 320 consecutive days now, continues to guide and sustain me through the ups and downs of life.

I have practiced working as a team with my husband since our decision to set a date in February and our beautiful wedding in September. I really appreciate all of the wonderful gifts he brings to our relationship. I look forward to seeing how our partnership enhances both of our lives in the coming years.

Enjoy your solstice, friends. I hope it is a time for reflection and grace for you and your loved ones.

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Drop the ball

Drop the ball – and other surgery-related wisdom.

Some of you regular readers to my blog might know that I was hospitalized 10 days ago for an emergency appendectomy surgery. Fortunately my recovery continues to go well, and I am truly grateful for the wonderful care I received, and for my husband picking up the ball as I dropped it.

Last February I encountered a Good Life Project podcast with Tiffany Dufu, who had written a book bearing the title: Drop the Ball: Achieve More by Doing Less. In it she explores the her journey as a feminist woman and the issues she discovered about managing things at home with her also feminist husband after returning to work post-pregnancy.

Women still experience the Second Shift (a term coined by Arlie Hoschild in 1989) which describes the process of the second job many of them work when they return home, to take care of the housework and child care, even after working a full day outside of the home. But Tiffany Dufu helped me see it at another level. She helped me understand that the kind of perfectionism we apply to our home lives does not serve us as women. She refers to it as “home control disease.”

We often fail to ask for help from our spouses or male partners, instead taking tasks on because we “know he won’t do it right” or have higher standards for cleanliness. In my previous relationship, I was very conscientious about learning to put up with mess and clutter. I know that he didn’t care about it, so I wasn’t going to become someone’s idea of a Latina housewife, or maid or cleaning lady. I simply blocked out the mess in my mind.

drop the ball

I was recently noting the Christmas cards I received this year, and the fact that ALL of them (save for one, but he has an assistant who I am sure sent them out) were from women. It is Moms, Aunts and Grandmas that send holiday cards, not Dads, Uncles and Grandpas.

I caught myself chiding myself for not being organized enough to get cards out this year, especially because I was planning to put wedding pictures in there. But then I thought: my husband is not doing that. He has no expectation that he must do things like Christmas cards each year. Most husbands are not expected to do that, nor do they chide themselves for being disorganized. That’s already been delegated (in their heads) to their wives.

Then I considered the fact that I always clean up and de-clutter before our cleaning service arrives once a month to clean the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Usually this means excess clutter gets dropped in the bedrooms, where we do not ask them to clean. I continue to cut down on clutter, but it still seems to multiply, maybe when I am not looking…

But why is it that I run around (usually frantic) trying to clean each month? This time, my surgery recovery really slowed down that process and I had to think it through.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege on my part to have someone to come in to clean. My husband and I do not even own a house together yet, but I knew this would be a non-negotiable if we moved in together. I simply will not become someone’s housewife, and I know that would be my temptation.

But I still de-clutter and ask my husband to do the same each month. He has no worries about others’ judgment of him for his messy habits (as I do, apparently). But he usually obliges unless he is sick or something, in which case I pick up the slack.

Holidays are like this too: how often is it the women you see planning the holiday meals, decorating and making things festive? How often do we come down on a guy for not hosting a party, or not picking up his home? And yet, as women, how often do we self-criticize for a bunch of household chores that really are voluntary to complete?

I realize this is a bit of a rant, but I think it deserves some thought. What is it you REALLY have to do today, and are there places you have not thought about sharing the load with a spouse or partner? 

 

 

 

 

 

Go easy on yourself

This time of year can be difficult, especially for anyone dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that may originate from the lack of light and lack of fresh air.

Symptoms I experience are typically insomnia, sometimes anxiety or changes in my mood or appetite. Many of us have increased cravings for carbohydrates, and we may feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

For many years, I have used exercise, dietary strategies such as a vitamin D supplement in the morning, magnesium at night. I try to get enough vegetables for their anti-oxidant properties and fiber, but in Minnesota nothing is fresh this time of year, so it can be difficult.

Getting enough healthy fats in my diet more recently has been a wonderful benefit to my health overall. I have learned more and more on how balancing our brain chemistry with healthy fats is really important. Right now I am reading “The Chemistry of Calm” by Dr. Henry Emmons, and there is some wonderful advice there on how to overcome anxiety. Dr. Emmons presents the information from both Western and Eastern traditions and I strongly encourage you to check it out if you want more scientific background on drug-free ways to overcome anxiety.

I still struggle with insomnia periodically, usually when the seasons change and/or when I am under more stress. I know how important sleep can be for good healthy, so I try valiantly to get more, and sometimes it still eludes me.

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Over the years, I have learned some strategies which help. It is a learning process, and I have to accept that it takes some time to change old habits. I am undoing a pattern that was established (and possibly reinforced) for 25-30 years. I may not unlearn it overnight. But due to the remarkable neuroplasticity of our brain, we are capable of training ourselves out of old patterns.

The biggest factor to remember is to have compassion for ourselves, and not to label ourselves as “anxious” or to consider ourselves flawed in any way. Instead of saying, “I am an anxious person” try instead: “right now I am struggling with anxiety and I am learning how to manage it.” Thus, the condition is temporary and not a part of our identity.

It is important not to identify too strongly with any label, as this may convince us we a permanent, unalterable condition. The truth is that we have far more capacity for change than any of us realize. And this learning how to manage our struggles is where wisdom is born. Nothing is wrong with us. This is the human condition.

About half of our life may be happy or joyful (or maybe slightly more). But about half of or life will be negative emotions. This contrast is what makes life so rich and interesting. If we can go easy on ourselves, realize that sadness and feeling down sometimes are a part of life, then we can truly appreciate the joyful moments.

Compassion for ourselves and for other people is really the engine that helps us live a good life. We sometimes have that inner critic that resists compassion, questioning if we deserve it, speculating that we do not. If we come from religious backgrounds where original sin was a big part of the emphasis, this may be harder for us.

It may take some time and practice to cultivate compassion for ourselves. But it is possible. And with this self-compassion comes the ability to have compassion for others as well. In this time of holiday festivities and dark, cold, weather, that can go a very long way.

If you are struggling with SAD, anxiety or depression, please get help from a trained mental health professional, and/or seek support from the people you love. It is not a time to “go it alone” when you are dealing with this stuff. Sometimes families are not as understanding, so try to find someone who can help you get the support you need.

 

Holiday hell

Holidays can be stressful for people, and for some, they can be a sad time if they have had a loss or any painful memories. Family dynamics can be challenging, and many of us love our families but struggle with the amount of expectations for this season.

Facebook and the Hallmark channel give us the idea that people are living finely-polished perfect little lives. But the reality is that those experiences are carefully curated (on FB) and designed to market things to you.

I enjoy certain parts of the holiday, the food, some time to visit with family and having extra time off from work to sleep in (if that is possible, which is hard for a morning person like me). But since cutting way back on sugar and flour, realizing these tend to mess up my sleep and make me feel like crap, it can be hard to turn down treats that are offered.

To be honest, I do not really enjoy the gift-giving that comes with Christmas (in my tradition) anymore. I find it stressful and prefer the Thanksgiving holiday because it is more about gratitude than getting more stuff than you need. I’m old enough now that I typically buy things for myself that I want, so when people ask for “gift lists” I guess I am spoiled enough that I just don’t NEED things.

holiday hell

Here in Minnesota, a combination of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) due to dark winters, and a lack of time outside during the cold, can be especially challenging. I have coped with this difficulty in different ways and I will list 5 of my personal favorite tips here:

  1. Get as much rest as possible.
  2. Use a morning light-box to get some full spectrum light for 10-20 minutes each morning.
  3. Take a vitamin D supplement daily to replace a nutrient nearly all of us in these northern locations need in order to have a healthy immune system and happier mood. (I take 2000 mg per day from October to May, 1000 mg June to September, per my nurse practitioner’s recommendation. Please check with a doctor if you have any conditions in which Vitamin D would not be favorable).
  4. Manage your expectations – holidays are not all joy and happiness. For a lot of people they are hard work, expensive and involve a lot more gatherings than we introverts really enjoy. We love our families, sure. But it gets to be a little much, so please have some patience with us.
  5. Be kind to yourself. And be kind to others. Everyone is fighting their own personal battles and we do not know what others are facing, since they are not always willing to share and broadcast their pain on social networks.

Here is a link to an article on Medicinet has some more facts and information about Holiday Depression, Anxiety and Stress. Psychology today also has an interesting article with more resources that I found helpful.

Realize that if someone you love is a little down that it does not really help to tell them to “cheer up” or “look on the bright side.” They are probably trying, and letting them know that the holidays can be hard for anyone, that you still want to spend time with them even if they are not full of holiday cheer.

Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. That would be my best advice for dealing with any “holiday hell” you may experience. Have compassion for yourself and others. Realize you and they are doing their best. Have gratitude for clean water, good food and maybe a cozy time to reflect on the year ahead.

Feliz Navidad