Adults have a few problems, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Some three out of four doctor visits are stress-related. A doctor in Wisconsin told me that 90 percent of her patients have depleted adrenal glands, the result of the stress response pouring out adrenaline around the clock. American businesses squander $344 billion a year on stress-related costs, according to data from Middle Tennessee State
The other day I was at an acupuncture appointment and was struck by how good it felt to simply lie down on the table, to just stop and let my body relax. It made such a difference and the acupuncturist hadn’t even begun my session! Again and again, I’m amazed by our culture’s obsession with how much we can do, and how quickly we can get it all done. It’s not only stressing us out, but it’s affecting our health on every level. From heart disease and hypothyroidism to Type 2 diabetes and plain old fatigue, stress can play a huge role in disease.
More and more healthcare practitioners are encouraging patients to slow down, hit the “pause” button, or to have a little fun because these breaks are essential to good
Opening The Huffington Post to scenes of political confrontation, revolution, earthquakes and meltdowns, I watch with awe and compassion as our planet heaves and reels with transformation — masses of people demanding reform, while others stagger from the terrifying impact of natural disaster.
Whether it’s one’s own world crashing down or others’ lives falling apart, one feels vulnerable. Can strengthening our connection to the calm, unchanging depths of our being through meditation bring steadiness and resilience in the face of change?
As a meditation teacher, I find that people are often drawn to turning inward during periods of personal crisis, seeking to anchor themselves. It’s not uncommon for someone to come and learn meditation after receiving a devastating medical diagnosis, while going through a divorce, after losing their job or when just feeling overwhelmed by
The numbers are crawling. They are crawling slowly. Nonetheless, unemployment numbers are moving in the desired direction: down! My personal experience illustrates this, as I see clients and friends going back to work after being engaged in a job search for months — even years. Recently, a concern that I have been hearing a lot, as a result, is how to successfully transition back into a full-time, structured work schedule after not having one for so long.
Below, I’ve outlined some tips here on how to make this transition a graceful one:
Go To Bed
I’ve noticed people frequently develop erratic sleeping patterns when structure and schedule are fluid and
Is it selfish to have compassion for yourself? On an airplane, you are asked to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, so that you can help other people. Self-compassion is like that too. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be fully equipped to help others.
Doing a sport you love, enjoying nature, exploring your creativity or connecting with others are all paths to
When asked to name the worst part of our day by happiness researchers, we consistently name commuting as at least one of our least favorite activities. And yet, many of us choose long commutes (the average American commute is 50 minutes per day; nine out of 10 are by car). It’s an inconsistency that has troubled academics.
Swiss economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer say too many of us make an unequal tradeoff: they call it the “commuting paradox.” According to economics, people should be compensated — either economically or emotionally — for the burden of their commute, but Frey and Stutzer found that “people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being.”
The rewards associated with longer commutes — a bigger house, a higher salary or better schools — don’t fully compensate for the sacrifices we end up making by working so far from home (e.g., less time with family, and health issues like back pain, higher cholesterol, weight gain and anxiety).
Why do we make the mistake of choosing long commutes if they tend to make us less happy? It turns out that our focus and judgement are off.
Long Commutes Are Because Our Focus Is Off
One possible reason for our error in judgement is what psychologists call a weighting mistake, or a focusing
I haven’t spoken to an old best friend for quite some time. I was the last one to initiate contact after the relationship had become uncomfortable. I decided to stop and see if she would contact me. It wasn’t that I didn’t get a response but I felt like the response was
One day after relocating his family to Boston, Mass., Rabbi Harold Kushner was informed by a local pediatrician that his three-year-old son Aaron would never grow taller than three feet and would suffer the symptoms of progeria “rapid aging.” This news threw his entire belief about God out the window.
He would go on to wonder how a God that he had been so loyal to could do such a terrible thing to him. Rabbi Kushner went on to make it his life’s work to explore “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
This is an extreme example, but we all suffer blows in life that seem unfair. After being put in a time-out as a kid, I used to complain to my mom that “It’s just not fair.” She turned to me and said, “Elisha, life’s just not fair.” At the time I thought she was mocking me, but the fact is she was just giving me one of the elementary lessons of life.
It seems to be the case that nature doesn’t discriminate between good and bad, the faithful and the faithless, the criminals and the saints. Otherwise, why do bad things happen to good people?
Why does an entire village get wiped out in a hurricane? Were all those people bad? Why does a mother lose her son? Why do innocent people die or get injured as they collide with a drunk driver?
When bad things happen to good people, sometimes we find religion, or bargain with God, or maybe just fall into a deep depression at the behest of the saying, “life isn’t fair, it’s never been fair to me and it never will be.”
This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, it just means that we don’t know why bad things happen to good
Your recent post Expecting…and feeling let down by friends piqued my interest. My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for the past six months and it hasn’t been an easy road. Due to other health concerns, I’ve been preparing to try to get pregnant for the past three years, and in the past three months had to undergo additional testing.
All systems are go, but in the ensuing months, my husband and I have felt pressure to conceive. This stress and pressure is primarily from us—but also from our parents, co-workers and
If you feel trapped in a job you can’t stand, you may be tempted to just quit. As understandable as this may be, it’s the last thing you want to do as this will haunt you when you need a reference. There are formal references which usually have to adhere to a company’s policy and then there are the “off the record” types that are not given in an official capacity. The bottom line is it’s too risky.
So, how do you deal with a job that you can barely tolerate?
Think strategically about the issues: When you think about your job the issues may seem like a big black cloud hovering over your
Our world is in the midst of an emotional meltdown. People are restless, volatile, our tempers about to blow. Recently, a riveting Newsweek cover story, “Rage Goes Viral” described how from Tunisia to Egypt a wave of rage is rocking the Arab world to create revolutions. Then there are the talk radio ranters, congressional incivility, and domestic terrorists such as the Arizona
By CampusSplash.com blogger and John Main Center for Meditation and Interreligious Dialogue co-founder Ray Schillinger.
You’ve probably already read this piece of unsurprising news: College freshmen are more stressed than ever.
Despite the inevitable pressures of classes, exams, grades, internships, and post-grad plans, there are some easy and effective ways to alleviate that stress.
Here are a few suggestions from my own playbook:
Meditation — ditch the stereotypes; it’s not just for the Dalai Lama anymore. Neuroscience is finally expounding the physiological benefits of regular meditation, and nearly 10% of Americans admit to having practiced it in some form.
After I picked up the habit about halfway through college, I found that my concentration, patience, and general contentment had measurably improved in just a short time. The key to success is regular practice, so either stick to a personal schedule or seek out other meditators on your campus and set up a group. As for length, 10 minutes twice a day is a good place to start.
Pro tip: When starting out, focus on a single, stationary object such as a
If those New Year’s Resolutions you made haven’t stuck, chances are something was missing in the formula.
The word “motivation” comes from the Latin word for “to move.” Motivation is not something you have or do not have, but more like a throttle that has a low, medium and high gear. Highly motivated people know how to rev up this mechanism every day. Focusing on finding your personal form of motivation will prove to be a far more effective way to achieve your goals and maintain them for the years to come.
It’s always easy to get going at the beginning of the year when expectations to begin a new program are high, but it’s the continuing maintenance of that enthusiasm that most of us find
I recently finished coordinating the fifth NeuroLeadership Summit, which took place in Boston at the end of 2010. It was a tremendous experience to spend three days with a few hundred “positive change agents” from around the globe, people who are in charge of leadership development programs or who develop leaders themselves. (There’s an audio debrief on the event itself here and you can read about some of the sessions here.)
There were lots of amazing conversations, with research presented on important topics, like how to give feedback in line with how the brain changes, how to use technology to measure and improve leadership development programs, and how to design learning experiences that stick.
You can listen to the sessions and see slides of the full program: here. (The next event is in San Francisco,
Current college freshmen are more stressed than ever, according to a study from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which has been keeping track of student health for decades. The study found that only 51.9% of first-year college students considered their emotional health as above average — that’s down 3.4% since 2009 and down about 11% since 1985, the first year of this study.
Some reasons for the uptick in stress and anxiety among college freshmen include economic problems at home. The study found that 4.9% of students said their father was unemployed and 8.6% of student’s mothers were without jobs, causing obvious financial difficulty in the family.
And while 53.1% of students are relying on loans to foot the college tuition bill, according to the survey, students still believe in the value of a college education: 72.7% of students say that college will enable them to earn a higher income later on in life.
As a college freshman, I can absolutely attest to the high levels of stress that students are
How can I possibly slow down and enjoy inner peace when the world is filled with so much suffering and turmoil?” This is a question I hear often in meditation sessions. It seems as though a common belief is that one doesn’t deserve inner peace unless every aspect of the world at large is resolved in perfection.
But what if the way to outer peace — and even world peace — is through achieving inner peace?
Hypothetically, imagine there is a nation made up of individuals who are predominantly stressed out and kept in a constant state of fear by horrible events happening and being reported by a readily available media that never sleeps. What might happen to the people of that nation? Well, the nearly permanent state of fear will send their nervous systems into a constant state of “fight or flight.” Emotions and reason are paralyzed in favor of immediate survival. This stress response, when kept intact for prolonged periods of time, is destructive to the body and
Mental imagery helped our ancestors survive for millions of years before people developed language. As animals developed the ability to move, they needed a way to take a mental map of their environment along with them. A tiger roaming his territory must have some kind of internal map of the area, in which his prey, their hiding places, water and potential dangers are all represented. A house cat running downstairs when she hears the electric can opener must have a mental image in her brain that helps her navigate the shortest path to her dinner.
At some unknown time in prehistory, the human brain’s ability to map its environment in space developed into an ability to imagine its environment in time, and to be able to imagine a different
As a physician, I’ve found that the biggest energy drain on my patients is relationships. Some relationships are positive and mood elevating. Others can suck optimism and serenity right out of you. I call these draining people “emotional vampires.” They do more than drain your physical
Learning should be fun. In fact, it should be fun to learn. However, stress related to schoolwork or homework is not even included in the Top 10 of the Homes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory.
Could it be that the psychiatrists who developed this definitive stress inventory forgot to interview students at home during the school holidays?
Included in their Top 10 are divorce, marriage, and marriage separation, along with death of a spouse, a jail term, loss of a job, and retirement. Even the Christmas Holiday Season, they note, is stressful.
But mid-terms? Final exams?
Is it possible that the wear and tear of stress endured by college students radiates out into every aspect of their life? Does the stress of college life make them more insecure or more competitive as adults? Could the Holmes-Rahe index of adult years actually represent a continuum from the stress of (non-adult) student years?
At Stanford University, the top ranked university in America, one student on the brink of a nervous breakdown during finals reports that at least 60% of the students at Stanford are taking some kind of stress aid to get them through final exams. No slackers here. Most of these high achieving students, in fact, were probably class valedictorians in high school.
So why are they medicating or over stimulating themselves to overcome the stress of school? Could it be that the very structure of college itself, or its tenure system, breeds insecurity and competition?
Do administrators and faculty know that study stimulants and long hours can create short-term memory, not learning? Do they know that stress causes a breakdown of the body’s immune system; or that long-term stress can reduce the size of the brain by up to one-third? Do they know how to reverse this?
Could the competitive pace set at top ranked schools be why Time Magazine’s Man of The Year, Mark Zuckerman, decided to drop out of Harvard to create something more fun than schoolwork: the social networking site Facebook?
In a recent study reported by The New York Times, serious mental health needs were on the rise among students at the nation’s colleges and universities. Some of the medications the students were reportedly taking included psychotropic drugs such as Wellbutrin for depression, Adderall for attention disorder, and Abilify for bipolar disorder.
What was not included in The New York Times article was stress delivered first hand by the CEO’s of the classroom, the educators themselves.
How many teachers believe that learning should be fun? How many think that college classes should not be run like a boot camp where only the strongest survive? Who teaches to student passion? Who acts as a mentor to all of their students?
Who among today’s teachers believes that it might be possible for everyone in their class to succeed?
Finally, should teachers be graded on their ability to communicate? Medical doctor and master teacher, Joel Rauch M.D., whose classes had a two-year waiting list, once commented on the plight of a tenured professor at a top university.
Constantly absorbed in research, the professor easily met the “publish or perish” criteria. However, when he was assigned to teach an undergrad class of 364 students, ALL 364 students voted him the worst teacher they had ever had. Brilliant among peers in his field, he was unable to communicate his knowledge to students.
Is there a perfect teacher? Should student minds should be turned on and activated by learning, not stressed out? Should there be a “lingering effect,” with good will between teacher and student outlasting the classroom?
In next week’s column, in collaboration with Dr Rauch, I’ll describe 10 natural ways to help students manage the everyday stress of school. These ideas will also apply to stressed out adults. When you become a fan or add a comment below, I’ll make sure you are among the first to read it.
Alexia Parks is founder of a national mentor training program for teachers. She is also author of eight books, including Parkinomics, an Amazon business and motivational bestseller. It offers “8 great ways to thrive in the New Economy”, for the individual who wants to lead a life of “meaning, prosperity, and purpose.” Parkinomics includes ideas and links to resources.
Follow Alexia Parks on Twitter:
Americans are rude. I say this not to preach, which is neither my right nor my intention, but as a scientist, a developmental neuroscientist. My concern about American rudeness relates to my scientific research and knowledge about the development of the human brain. My conclusion comes from a recent trip to Japan, and from a reminder of times past, the death of actress Barbara Billingsley, who died Oct. 16, 2010.
Billingsley portrayed June Cleaver, the sympathetic and iconic, nurturing mother on the popular 1950s sitcom “Leave It to Beaver.” Remember her signature line? “Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver.” She confided her concern earnestly to her husband whenever their young son seemed the slightest bit distressed. The latest scientific research backs up with detailed molecular and cellular mechanisms what June Cleaver (and we) always knew intuitively, that through adolescence, the human brain is molded by the social environment in which a child is reared. A disrespectful, stressful social environment is a neurotoxin for the brain and psyche, and the scars are permanent.
One can debate how accurately television entertainment reflects reality, but there is no doubt that it represents the ideals of the time. Commercial art and entertainment always reflect and reinforce a society’s values, as the public buy it (literally) because they value it. There is no doubt that American society has changed dramatically with respect to manners and social discourse in a generation. The “Leave It to Beaver” model of American polite society in the 1950s and early 1960s is gone. Those black-and-white sitcoms have been supplanted today by garish reality television programs that showcase domestic and social interactions driven by narcissism, factionalism, competition and selfishness.
The contrast between the brash, comparatively disrespectful behavior of Americans today and the courtesy, formal manners, civil discourse, polite behavior and respect for others regardless of social status that is evident in Japanese society is striking. The contrast hits an American like a splash of cold water upon disembarking the airplane in Japan, because it clashes so starkly with our behavior. For an American, Japanese manners and courtesy must be experienced.
American children today are raised in an environment that is far more hostile than the environment that nurtured today’s adults. Children today are exposed to behaviors, profane language, hostilities and stress from which we adults, raised a generation ago, were carefully shielded. When I was a boy, there were no metal detectors at the entrance to my school. The idea was inconceivable, and there was indeed no need for them. Not so today. I wonder: how does this different environment affect brain development?
First it is helpful to consider, from a biological perspective, what “rudeness” is, so that we can consider what is lost when formal polite behaviors are cast away. People (and animals) living together in large numbers must develop strict formalized behaviors governing interactions between all individuals in the group, or there will be strife and chaos. In the natural world, as in the civilized world, it is stressful for individuals (people or animals) to interact with strangers, and also with other members of a working group and family members. As the size of the group increases, so do the number of interactions between individuals, thus raising the level of stress if not controlled by formal, stereotyped behavior, which in human society is called “manners.” The formal “Yes, Sir, Yes, Ma’am,” is not a showy embellishment in the military; strict respect and formal polite discourse are the hub of the wheel in any effective and cohesive social structure. True, many chafe under a system of behavior that is overly rigid, as do many young Japanese, but my point is that these polite and formalized behaviors reduce stress in a stressful situation that arises from being an individual in a complex society. Stress is a neurotoxin, especially during development of a child’s brain.
Studies have shown that children exposed to serious psychological trauma during childhood are at risk of suffering increased psychiatric disorders, including depression, anger, hostility, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, loneliness and even psychosis as adults. Using modern brain imaging, the physical damage to these children’s brain development can be seen as clearly as a bone fracture on an X-ray. Early-childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse and witnessing domestic violence undermine the normal wiring of brain circuits, especially those circuits connecting the left and right sides of the brain through a massive bundle of connections called the corpus callosum. Impairment in integrating information between right and left hemispheres is associated with increased risk of craving, drug abuse and dependence, and a weakened ability to make moral judgments. (See my post “Of Two Minds on Morality” for new research on the corpus callosum and the ability to make moral judgments.)
A series of studies by a group of psychiatrists and brain imaging scientists lead by Martin Teicher, of Harvard Medical School, shows that even hostile words in the form of verbal abuse can cause these brain changes and enduring psychiatric risks for young adults. In a study published in 2006, the researchers showed that parental verbal abuse was more strongly associated with these detrimental effects on brain development than was parental physical abuse. In a new study published in the July issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, they report that exposure to verbal abuse from peers is associated with elevated psychiatric symptoms and corpus callosum abnormalities. The main causes are stress hormones, changes in inhibitory neurotransmitters, and environmental experience affecting the formation of myelin electrical insulation on nerve fibers. The most sensitive period for verbal abuse from peers in impairing brain development was exposure during the middle school years. Why? Because this is the period of life when these connections are developing in the human brain, and wiring of the human brain is greatly influenced by environmental experience.
Unlike the brains of most animals, which are cast at birth, the human brain develops largely after we are born. The brain of a human infant is so feeble that human babies are helpless. Human infants cannot walk, visual perception is rudimentary, and cognitive abilities, likes and dislikes, talents and skills, and the ability to communicate by speech or through reading and writing do not develop fully until the completion of adolescence. Our brains are the product of the environment in which we are nurtured through the first two decades of life. Whether you are Mormon or Muslim or speak Spanish or French depends primarily on where you were born and raised. Our experience during childhood and adolescence determines the wiring of our brain so powerfully that even processing of sensory information is determined by our childhood environment. Whether or not we can hear eight notes in a musical scale or 12, or whether we find symmetry in art beautiful or boring, or whether we can hear the difference in sound of the English letter “R” vs. “L”, depends entirely upon whether our brains wired up during childhood in Western culture or Asian culture. The neural circuitry underlying those sensory perceptions is directed by what we experienced in early life, and these circuits cannot be rewired easily in the adult brain.
One can view the effects of environment on brain development with fatalism or with optimism. It is, however, the reason for human success on this planet. The fact that our brains develop after we are born rather than in the womb allows humans to adapt to changing environments. Biologically speaking, this increases the likelihood of success in reproducing in the environment we find ourselves rather than in the cave-man past coded through natural selection in our genes.
There were many other sitcoms of the 1950s and 1960s that portrayed politeness and manners as paramount in social and family interactions: “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show.” These are largely forgotten, but “Leave it to Beaver” thrived. It did so not as a commercial success for the ABC television network during its run from 1957 to 1963, but because of its enormous popularity in syndication, where it ran for decades in the late afternoon, watched with devotion by an audience of school children.
This Blogger’s Books from
The Other Brain
by R. Douglas Fields Ph.D.
The Other Brain
by R. Douglas Fields Ph.D.
For the record, I love my family, but the idea of gathering at the holidays with a few relatives whom I rarely see any other time of the year has deflated my Christmas cheer like an unplugged inflatable lawn ornament. Can you relate? I thought so. But then I found a new perspective that I think will help me ditch the guilt, preserve my sanity and still allow room for a holly-jolly holiday with my family. It hit me like a well-aimed snowball to the skull while talking with author and spiritual messenger Laine Cunningham about her latest book, “Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages From Aboriginal Australia.” We talked about how storytelling is one thing all cultures share, about the connection our glitzy American holidays have to ancient tribal ceremonies and about the importance of relationships — romantic, family, friends, community and global — to living a fulfilled life. Here’s more of our conversation.
What do Aboriginal stories from Australia have to do with our contemporary American holiday of Christmas?
In Aboriginal culture, almost all ceremonies have some sort of storytelling aspect to them so that everyone can understand and be reminded of why they’re participating in those ceremonies. They’re like our holidays. Most holidays have a spiritual story as a component, such as Christmas or Hanukkah, or they’re set to remember an important event in history, like the Fourth of July.
So, you might say that the stories in “Seven Sisters” are similar to hearing the story of the birth of Christ told every Christmas, or familiar stories about Santa?
Yes, in that we’re passing down important lessons, so in the case of Christmas, it might be about sharing with the less fortunate or about redemption. The 11 stories in the book do the same in that it’s keeping these traditions alive, and one question facing Aboriginal people is how to uphold an ancient spiritual system while living a modern lifestyle.
You talk a lot in the book about sharing and about responsibility. Are the holidays difficult for some of us because it’s a reminder that we do have these wider responsibilities, and maybe we don’t really want to be reminded?
It is — and this is natural. It’s part of being human! One of the core issues that humanity has struggled with is how to get along with our neighbors, and we’ve always had trouble getting together with family! So these modern family get-togethers like Christmas or even a vacation are stressful because it’s during these times that we recognize that we do have obligations to the larger communities of family, work, neighbors and society. But in our modern lives, it’s so easy to become separated from those obligations on a day-to-day basis until a holiday comes along. And the media, especially right now, tells us we should be of good cheer and feasting and happiness, but here’s where the conflict comes in; we think the holidays are just about ease and fun, but in reality what we are doing at a spiritual level is refocusing our time and energy on our basic relationships, and that can be difficult.
To hear you say that is such a relief!
Well, it changes your expectations. During the holidays, we’re switching our responsibilities for a short period to reconnect. If you’re aware of that switch and why it’s happening, then it’s much easier to get through the holidays without as much stress and guilt.
Many of the stories in “Seven Sisters” deal with relationships, and my favorite story is “The Orphan.” It emphasizes the importance of having a variety of relationships in your life and not focusing so much on, say, a spouse and neglecting your friends.
Yes, and some of the strongest reactions so far from readers has been to “The Orphan.” Just because you’re married doesn’t mean you shut out your single friends, and just because you don’t have children doesn’t mean you shut out your friends who do. What happens is we shut out alternative perspectives that could be quite valuable. We mistakenly think that no one understands us unless they’re in the exactly the same situation as we are. It happens with different religions, different political parties. So we actually separate ourselves into little tribes but without the diversity of what a traditional tribe really means. We subdivide until we trap ourselves in these isolated, homogenous tribes.
And all that from a story about a lonely koala bear!
That’s what’s special about these Aboriginal Dreamtime stories — there are so many layers of depth. It’s important for American readers to know that there are many different versions of these stories as they are traditionally told. The simplest version is taught to young children, but then more details are added as the children mature, and then in adulthood, you get the full version, and some are quite epic in proportion.
How did you decide which versions to include in “Seven Sisters?”
I looked at American society today, what we’re struggling with — issues around relationships, empowerment and finding spiritual connection — and I selected those Aboriginal stories that best addressed those issues. I think I started with 25 stories and cut it down to 11. But I knew that most American readers weren’t going to have the familiarity with Aboriginal culture to just read these and immediately grasp the meaning. They might just sound like folk tales or children’s fables, but that’s misleading. They’re as real to Aboriginal people as the stories in the Bible are to Christians. And I believe these stories provide very practical approaches for dealing with everyday life. So I did expand each story with details to help the reader get into it, and each story is enhanced by an accompanying essay that I wrote which provides a practical modern application or lesson.
I’m sure everyone is wondering how you first learned these stories.
Some years ago, I spent six months camping in the Australian Outback, and so you just come across these stories as you meet people or as you visit certain places with a story attached to them. The story “The Glow,” about the Moon being a bachelor and chasing the ladies — I heard that one while talking to an Aboriginal woman in a bar. She was a local social worker and she kept trying to give me condoms!
Do you have a favorite story from the book?
The one with the most spiritual meaning to me is “The Promise” because the message is one of absolute joy. In it, different animals argue about what the afterlife is like. That concept — everyone has thought about it or thinks they know what happens when we die, but the message there is to put aside all that. In that story, no one can prove they’re right. We can each have our own ideas about the afterlife or any other issue, but the important thing is to be able to sit down with someone who has a completely opposite opinion and get along.
That’s another common thread among the stories, the importance of getting along or working together.
Yes, and when you do, everyone’s power stays in balance. I tried to make clear in the essays that you must maintain a power base for everyone because otherwise the entire structure falls and everyone pays. That creates powerlessness and fear — and anger. And so we see this, I think, in our current political discourse where there are people who are afraid of losing something they see as theirs, whether it’s a tax break or a job, and those are simply resources we all need to live. It’s really a natural fear. But you can eliminate that fear by stepping back and recognizing that working together is almost always preferable and more prosperous for everyone, and by prosperous I mean prosperity as in health, harmony, peace, love and joy, as well as the ability to provide for yourself and your family.
And “Seven Sisters” reminds us that these are actually spiritual concerns at their root?
Right. If you’re afraid of something, it really has nothing to do with politics or economics. It has to do with who you are, where you are in your life, how generous you are, your concerns over how well you can control or manipulate others. These concerns permeate all the decisions we make, but they are essentially spiritual issues.
Click here to order “Seven Sisters” by author Laine Cunningham and to receive her free weekly newsletter.
Christmas is supposed to be a happy time, a time of celebration. Whether we consider ourselves religious or not is not relevant; we collectively seem to enjoy this time. There is a sense of common goal: a goal to cherish and spend this time with the ones we love or care for, and a goal to do something that we enjoy. But many of us find ourselves stressed during this time, and the question is why and how we overcome that.
One of the reasons may be that we get surrounded in the shopping and the material aspects of the Christmas break too much, and we lose the real meaning of it. In other words, we may disconnect from its intention, an intention that seems to be more based on connection, self-refection, rejuvenation and detoxification (mentally and physically).
Now let’s go through a number of tips for both reducing stress and doing some self-reflection during this period.
Tips for reducing stress:
Prioritize you goals for the holidays, and spend reasonable time on each depending on what is on the top of your hierarchy of goals. Write down your list to help you visualize it and act on it.
Reevaluate what it means to love someone or show them that you love them. Is it really measured with the “things,” or is there something more to it? Find a balance between the two and take it from there.
How much is too much? And what can you do to stop yourself when you feel like you are going over your limits?
What does this holiday mean to you, and what habits do you have around it that you need to change?
Is it a material or a spiritual time of the year for you, and how can you evaluate the two and find a balance between them?
How can you use this time and the collective positive energy that surrounds it to detoxify your mind and body of the many toxins that are around us these days?
How can you focus on the spirit of this time and let go of the unnecessary distractions?
What type of irrational thinking patterns like “should” and “must” are adding to your stress? And how can you replace these with more logical and practical ones that are relevant to your life style?
Focus on the care of the soul. How are you shaping and molding your life to make sure you are taking care of your soul’s growth and needs?
At the end, remember to check yourself, be open to healthy playfulness and humor, find a healthy lifestyle that works for you, and surround yourself with positive and caring people.
And finally, remember these tips:
Being able to learn from life’s lessons and accepting and processing them for growth is something that is rooted in wisdom. Wisdom is a great gift, and if one learns to get deep into it, it can take an inspiration into creativity and give the person the ability to heal any form of insecurity and loss. When we learn to heal, we can open the door to growth and the joyful sensations that come with it.
Take a moment in this busy life. Think about any issues you may have. Try to look at things in a fresh way. The world is expanding, and so could you. The more you grow, the more you can keep up with this ever-expanding world. Is it an issue that is a normal part of life’s ups and downs, or is it a self-created one? To be able to see the difference needs wisdom.
Use your innate wisdom to turn a tragedy into a lesson. This is what love means, and an unconditional love is the ability to connect to everything, what you see as positive and what you see as negative. True love is unconditional, and it is able to connect regardless. When we learn to connect with the negative, we can release or minimize its damages
Earn your innately designed wisdom.
Learn to let go of the need to control everything at all times, and find a balance when you need to swim with the flow instead of trying to resist and control it. It is healthy to learn when to go with the flow rather than resisting it.
Let go of your irrational fears, and evaluate them to see how they are affecting your life and how they are creating what you are fearful of.
Find ways in which you are fighting yourself, and try not be block your own path.
Find a balance between winning and surrender. Surrender, sometimes, could be a positive thing if wisdom is involved.
Find ways to respond rather than react, and give yourself time to think.
Roya R. Rad, M.A., Psy.D. is the founder of Self Knowledge Base & Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to public education.
When we think of family caregiving, the burdens and potential burnout associated with caring for someone on an often daily basis come to mind. Caregivers do face many difficulties in their role: fatigue, isolation, depression and higher risk for many health conditions. Those of us who work closely with caregivers strive to help them understand how to maintain their own health because so many caregivers remain committed to providing care for their family members for as long as possible. But caregiving has its rewards too, and in the spirit of the season, this heartwarming story seems an inspiration for us all.
When Josephine, a caregiver for her Aunt Vivian in Queens, N.Y., talks about caregiving, she is the personification of caring and commitment. Josephine has been her Aunt Viv’s caregiver for nearly four years. Ninety-one-year-old Vivian is mentally sharp and active, but about two years ago, her arthritis got so bad she really started to struggle, and was finding it harder and harder to live on her own. Vivian gave up her apartment and moved in with Josephine and her husband. “Aunt Viv requires help every day getting dressed, moving around and eating meals,” Josephine says. “I get a little help from my husband on the weekends, but a large majority of the caregiving falls on me.”
Josephine is not complaining. Rather, she is quite upbeat when discussing all the assistance she gives Aunt Vivian. This feels to Josephine like a chance to really make a difference in someone’s life, and she values the chance to get to know Vivian on a deeper level. “I was very close to my mother, Vivian’s sister, but she passed away 10 years ago,” says Josephine. “Spending all this time with Aunt Vivian has helped me forge a strong bond with her, one that reminds me of the relationship I used to have with my mother. I love being there for my aunt, and wouldn’t have it any other way, but some days I really crash hard.”
It helps that Vivian is warm-hearted and expresses gratitude for the help she gets. However, no amount of gratitude can make up for the exhaustion Josephine sometimes feels being on call every day. “I can’t just leave and have lunch with friends anymore,” states Josephine. “I’d worry about my aunt the whole time I was gone.” Naturally, this kind of responsibility can take its toll, but Josephine tries to keep it in perspective.
Even on the days when Vivian isn’t feeling well and Josephine has to provide hourly assistance, Josephine tries to remember that it must be very hard for Vivian herself to live with a chronic disease like arthritis, “and just think how hard it must be to be so dependent on someone else — even if they are family. Vivian was always very strong and independent, and sometimes it breaks my heart to think how she must feel being unable to care for herself now.”
When we talk about how difficult caregiving can be, we sometimes forget that many people find it extremely rewarding. Josephine, among others, gets satisfaction from caregiving, and without minimizing the risks for burnout, she says that “most of what is worth doing in life — any long-term relationship, raising children, even managing a busy career — is hard. This is just one more of the things worth doing.”
So, what do family caregivers find are the benefits of caregiving? We asked family caregivers in the Visiting Nurse Service of New York Caregiver Support program this question, and here’s what we heard:
It gives me a chance to spend a lot of time with my family member, which I haven’t done since I moved out.
We’ve had some very intimate conversations, and I feel now that I understand more of the choices he made in life, as well as our family’s history.
I’m much closer to my sister now; we have to talk all the time about how to take care of Mom, and we’re working together.
I feel this has helped me grow spiritually. Taking care of someone else is hard, but it has forced me to face some questions about my own mortality and it has taught me how to talk with someone who is near the end of their life.
Sometimes this is so exhausting I think I’m going to break. But at the end of each day, when I realize I succeeded again at giving my husband the care he needs, I feel strong, worthy and proud of myself.
I feel good about the role model I am being for my children. I want them to see that it can be very satisfying to take care of another person.
Caregiving has made me slow down and be more mindful of the stage of life I’m in and the good work I’m doing. For more on increasing mindfulness in your life, go to http://blogs.vnsny.org/2010/09/26/mindfulness-presence-tips-for-caregivers/.
While the rewards of caregiving may be an unanticipated silver lining, most caregivers can only appreciate these benefits if they are receiving the support they need to stay healthy and prevent burnout. Here are some tips for avoiding caregiver burnout: http://www.vnsny.org/home-health-care-and-you/quick-tips/avoiding-caregiver-burnout/.
In Josephine’s case, she gets assistance from her husband, her cousin comes over most Monday afternoons to give her a break, and she talks on the phone with a good friend who is serving as caregiver to her father, all of which gives Josephine some much-needed respite as well as support from others in her situation. As a result, Josephine has been able to enjoy some of the positive aspects of her aunt’s personality, and from her role as her caregiver.
What has being a caregiver taught you about living a better life? We encourage you to share your own stories about how caring for someone else has brought you joy. After all, ‘Tis the Season!
The Holiday season… a time for family, friends, less work and more play, right? So you would think that people would be happier and more relaxed at this time, but for many it is just the opposite. It is not a time for “holy days,” for true connection and contemplation, but instead a time of stress and despair. We have lost the very meaning of this time.
In fact, reports indicate the holidays are often the time with the most heart attacks. During a 12-year period in Los Angeles one study found that there were consistently more deaths from ischemic heart disease during the winter than there were during the summer. The researchers first thought a change in weather was the cause, but in Los Angeles, the weather change is extremely minimal, and thus they “postulated that this peak in cardiac deaths during the holidays might result from other factors, including the emotional stress of the holidays, overindulgence during the holiday season or both.”
And how do we tend to deal with stress at the holidays? According to an American Psychological Association survey, 36 percent of Americans reported that they either eat food or drink alcohol to relieve their holiday stress. The most common stress they reported (61 percent) was lack of money.
So, why is this time so stressful? One reason is the hectic crowded shopping environments. The Newsletter of the American Institute of Stress investigators in one report found that “purchasing six gifts in a store was associated with an anxiety-driven doubling in heart rate from a resting 69 to a shopping 138 beats per minute, compared to purchasing the same items at home on the Internet which was associated with a steady heart rate of 65 to 67 beats per minute.”
The other is family, who as much as we love, tend to trigger us as well, in only ways they can. Ram Dass used to say that if you think you are enlightened, go home and spend a week with your parents. Then see how enlightened you are.
How many family dinners have we all been at that started out cordial, and soon turned to conflict either over financial issues or family members bringing up grievances from years ago, and the dinner is overtaken by negativity and name-calling.
What if, however, the holidays became “holy days,” became days with the focus on connection instead of consumption.
I am not sure exactly how to do this, but here is my experiment this holy day season:
Play old fashioned board games that encourage connection and collaboration.
Return to silence by turning off the noise, from TV’s to Computers, for times during the day.
Invite family to go outside with me, away from the TV and sports, and walk in nature.
Love the people in my life for who they are, not who I think they should be.
Appreciate my life situation, no matter the amount of money or friends I have.
If you have ideas for making this season true holy days, please share them below.
Soren Gordhamer is the author of “Wisdom 2.0″ and organizer of the Wisdom 2.0 Conferences, which unites staff from technology companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook with individuals from wisdom traditions to explore living with deeper purpose, presence and wisdom in our modern lives. More information can be found at www.wisdom2summit.com.
This Blogger’s Books from
Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected
by Soren Gordhamer
Follow Soren Gordhamer on Twitter: