Self-Care with Intention

I find myself speaking with clients about self-care regularly in my counseling office. I provide internal Employee Assistance services in the hospital where I work. My clients are helpers, nurturers, shift workers, and are always at risk for compassion fatigue. What I know to be true as a social worker, mother, wife, and human in general is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. I’m less engaged, less empathetic, and less helpful if I’m neglecting my own needs. Self-care is necessary.

When I say self-care I am not only referring to massages and bubble baths…don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a massage literally any day someone offers one, after 7 years of pregnancy, nursing, or co-sleeping I’m pretty sure lower back pain is a part of my personality. Spending some time treating yourself may be exactly what you need, or it may be slightly less luxurious. Self-care may look like creating a budget so the weight of financial stress seems more manageable. Self-care may mean introducing more home-cooked meals or fruits and veggies in your diet if you’re a serial consumer of all things fast food. Self-care may look like getting in nature, feeding your spiritual self, working out, having a GNO (or boys night out,) reading books FOR FUN, writing a blog, or anything else that nourishes your mind, body, and soul.

In an article on Psych Central, clinical psychologist Roberto Olivardia, Ph.D, describes self-care as

“essential for achieving his goals. These include being present for his family, engaging fully and empathically with his clients and staying healthy…self-care is anything that affirms and strengthens [his]physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”

I love this explanation of self-care. But what I also want to draw attention to is the value of self-awareness when determining what your self-care regimen will look like. When is the last time you really checked in with yourself? Are you feeling frayed, overly sensitive, exhausted, insecure, negative, disconnected? Often these feelings disrupt our ability (or even willingness) to have and maintain healthy relationships. It’s takes away pressure to blame other people or our circumstances for these emotions. It feels good to numb our negative feelings with unhealthy coping skills. It takes sincerity, honesty, and vulnerability to truly determine what is lacking and what aspects of your life require attention and energy. Sometimes recognizing your needs may come easier if you have open communication with your loved ones. Let me set you up for success wit this though…if Cody (my hubby) just approaches me out of the blue and recommended some self-care, it may not be received how he intends. I may react with frustration or become defensive. That’s where “permission slips” come in. This is another profoundly perfect recommendation by Dr. Brené Brown. Give someone you love and trust the space to have a meaningful conversation with you if they recognize that you are overly stressed. Discuss with this person what you look like under more stress than you can handle. I am usually irritable and crave cheese…if I am making microwaved nachos and biting your head off, it might be high time for me to take a moment to check in and see where I’m lacking in the self-care department. If the permission slip conversation happens ahead of time, it will make you feel empowered and in control rather than embarrassed or judged. And the reality is, sometimes the people closest to us see the impact of stress on our personalities and bodies before we even realize what is going on.

Let’s talk about another hugely important reality of self care…it is NOT selfish! As I mentioned before, you CANNOT pour from an empty cup. I am more successful at work and more present at home if I am a healthier version of myself. I need to remind myself of this often. Mom-guilt is real and can hold some seriously irrational space in my brain. It can make me feel anxious and preoccupied with guilt for spending time on me. This robs me of much needed peace and relaxation. My love language is Words of Affirmation, so sometimes (similar to the permission slip i just spoke of) it helps for someone I love to reassure me that it’s meaningful and necessary to take time for myself. The more I learn about the value of meeting my own needs and the more in tune with my unique rhythm I become, the less reassurance I need. I recognize the beauty of feeding my own soul and take opportunities to do so.

My sweet Maya is still in the hospital. We are hoping to head home today but this experience has been tough and exhausting. She was dealing with an excessive amount of pain that robbed her of her otherwise dreamy, magnetic smile. Yesterday was the first day she was more like herself. I was tired and needed some moments alone. I also desperately needed to venture out of the hospital room. I, without feeling guilty or obsessing over the potential of missing a doctor or nurse, left Maya is the very capable and loving hands of her Daddy. I walked around the cheerful and busy hospital and eventually found their meditation room. I spent some time here to practice mindfulness, talk to Jesus, and gain some energy in the best introverted way possible. I knew Maya and Cody could hold down the fort and I also knew that Cody would be headed home to be with our older kiddos that night so the refueling of my engines was needed. It may seem insignificant but it made such a difference for me. I felt more control over my emotions and the ability to continue to extend kindness to wonderful nurses caring for my baby despite my severely limited sleep over the last 4 nights. Here is the beautiful and relaxing space provided for quiet, personal time at Cook Children’s Hospital:

Self-care does not have to be ground-breaking to be profound. Listen to your instincts. The more opportunities you take to truly know yourself, the more meaningful your self-care regimen will be. I hope that you will spend some time figuring out what self-care could look like in your world!

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

Attitude of Gratitude

Shauna Shapiro, clinical psychologist and world-renowned mindfulness expert, talks about the principle of creating habits in a way that resonates so profoundly with me. “What you practice grows stronger.” If you practice complaining, frustration, shame…those actions and feelings become stronger! You create a level of comfort with these negative emotions in your brain. It becomes natural to react to moments and scenarios in a negative or self-defeating manner. Each and every moment of our lives we are processing information, creating pathways of information in our brains, and conditioning ourselves. It happens regardless of your awareness of whether these information pathways are beneficial or harmful. We can change the brain and the way we process information. There are many examples of this related to mindfulness, EMDR, and other therapies or practices that help to transform our thought process. Another word for what I’m talking about it neuroplasticity.

So now we know that we have the power to change the way our brains function, let’s do something with this power! In a future blog post, I plan to discuss in detail the ability of mindfulness to increase the grey matter in various parts of your brain. Learning to turn inward, check in with ourselves, and become more mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions can be a powerful tool in opening our hearts and improving our interpersonal relationships. Emotional regulation was one of my most needed and sought after personal benefits when I discovered mindfulness.

This morning I had the opportunity to not only watch, but genuinely absorb the news. Let me explain that…we have transitioned to a minimal television environment at home. We cancelled our satellite services and just watch what is available to us through Netflix and Amazon TV. It has led to way less background noise and distraction. I was able to watch the news this morning because my exquisitely happy 10 month old, Maya, was admitted to Cook Children’s last night. It seems to be a gnarly virus that led to a very sick, weak, and dehydrated baby girl. We are here for (hopefully) just a couple of nights to get her hydrated and on her way to a full recovery. Maya was also in the same unit of this hospital for a week over the Christmas holiday. She has been dealt a rough hand of illness in her brief life, but she is a trooper and has won the hearts of many nurses in this place.

So as I’m laying with Maya this morning, watching The Today Show, Maria Shriver begins talking about her new book, “I’ve Been Thinking . . .Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life.” Shriver interviews multiple influencers about the importance of gratitude, meditation, focus, compassion, love, and other values in corporations and communities. I loved many things about this segment and immediately added Shriver’s book to my reading list. But the emphasis on gratitude is what really peeked my interest this morning. This brief Today Show article, “Be thankful: Science says gratitude is good for your health,” discusses the many benefits practicing gratitude:

“Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life,” said Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis. “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep.”

There are also UC Berkeley and UC Davis studies that discovered the major health benefits of living a life of gratitude. One benefit is a 23% reduction in Cortisol, a stress hormone associated with several health issues.

Maya is sick and that sucks. I’m sad, worried, and preoccupied with the what if’s. But I intentionally take moments to re-focus my energy on being grateful that she is healing and improving, grateful that she has an acute and treatable illness rather than a chronic, life threatening condition, grateful for the excellent care she is being provided, and grateful for my precious husband, family, and friends who make moments like this more bearable.

Focusing on gratitude can be simple! Find a method that fits with your personality and interests. I love the idea of a gratitude journal. You can either create a routine of spending 5 minutes each day writing down things that you are grateful for or maybe just keep a journal handy to write down moments of gratitude as you recognize them. Shriver talks about thanking God each morning for her blessings, I love this and practice this with my babies. There are lots of methods to choose from, the point is to create a habitual practice of viewing life through grateful lenses. To practice gratitude so that your grateful heart grows stronger.

Life is hard. People experience incredible loss and difficult experiences on a daily basis. Having the ability to be grateful and positive isn’t only about “silver-lining” our realities. It’s about making a point to recognize the blessings and beauty amidst the pain. It’s about intentionally turning towards the light. Gratitude is empowering. Gratitude can help us find the calm in what looks like pure chaos. I hope this helps you create an attitude of gratitude! I know I have so much to be thankful for. Thanks for visiting and spending this time with me.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful, inner resources for light, transformation, and healing.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

14691913_10102972191156983_4053140346840941566_oPhoto Credit: Janey Cooper Photography, Sunset, Texas

Let me start by telling you what mindfulness is NOT. Let me also provide a disclaimer, MINDFULNESS for me is a practice. This is not something I have mastered or can claim total mastery over. I can tell you a series of moments that made me realize the importance of implementing new practices, new habits, and creating a new normal for me and mine. I had written down (with sincere intention) “try meditating,” “slow down,” “breathe,” “get your shit together,” etc.  You get the idea…I wanted to take control of my time, my mind, and my emotions. I just needed to find the right motivation and the right tools.

One Sunday morning, I found myself filled with fatigue, stressed to the max, and feeling incredibly nauseated — the kind of nausea and anxiety that would appropriately follow a night of drunken debauchery. That was NOT what Saturday looked like for me , though . Not that I can recall with exact detail, but I am quite sure it was a Saturday night full of cartoons, s ippy cup re-fills and trips to the potty . My most valiant attempt at sneaking in some REM sleep between my two sweet,  perfect, and rest resistant children with whom I PROUDLY co-sleep failed. It only took me about 5 minutes of considering the potential causes for this not-so- newish feeling and about 5 seconds of checking my boobs for tenderness to realize….”Oh…here we go again.”

Quick background: We were already blessed with our oldest , beautiful girl, Lennon Hadlee (now 6) and our little, heartbreaking , wild man, Radly Dale (now 3) and had  NO intentions of having a 3rd kiddo . In fact, if I could have talked myself into taking the necessary time off of work , I would have gone through with a hysterectomy approximately  one month prior to conception. My husband and I used natural family planning and obviously had no freaking clue what we were doing.

So here I am…30 and slapped right in the face with how much I did not have control over. I am fighting a lifelong battle teetering between perfectionism and flat – out rebellion. You can imagine how laughable it is to hope for any moments of perfection or true rebellion when growing the third tiny and totally reliant human in my, seemingly, very capable and fertile uterus . And, in hindsight, I would not change a thing because our exquisitely happy and loving Maya Rowan (now 10 months old) was exactly what our family needed.

This loss of control did not only come from the news of expecting again . It came from the mounting stress of trying to breathe life into our family business. It also came from trying to keep my career in focus and explore opportunities for growth and expansion in my skill-set and practice as a social worker and mental health professional. It came from the difficulty of juggling the many hats I w ear and the strain of trying to be all things to all people.

T he raw and vulnerable emotion I was struck with over the next couple of months were certainly the makings of a “face down moment,” as Dr. Brene Brown describes in her must read, Rising Strong. – Now , please, do not take offense to my emotional reaction to my third pregnancy. I have faced loss in life; however, loss related to pregnancy  is not a journey I have faced. As a l abor and de livery social worker, I held hands of mothers, nurses, and doctors who faced  this devastating los s, but the gift of life and children was breathed into me without tragedy. I never — for one second –have taken  this gift for granted. But I d o (and did) have to face the reality of my life going off my planned course. I had to rumble (another Brene Brown term) with what this meant for me, my marriage, my career, and my family in general. The next couple of months led to isolation in various forms . As a true INFP the introverted part of. my personality was clinging to any opportunity to regain energy and get through the days that were otherwise filled with exhaustion, vomiting, and thoughtfulness. I knew I needed to make self – care a priority and develop new coping skills , but I was also exhausted .

During this time, I also started my journey to become a LCSW and began equipping myself with an expanded skill – set in order to offer clients that I would eventually see as an Employee Assistance Provider Solid counseling services. I found Mindfulness Based Stress Recovery to be a practical and straight forward approach to the mediation and togetherness for which I had been yearning. The simple practice  of allowing myself the space to be present with my body and have moments of checking – in without judgment or expectation was and is freeing. It helps me escape the many ties that bound me and allo ws me to proceed into new possibilities with peace and clarity of mind.

I know enough now to realize that being completely out of tune with my body, feeling stressed & anxious 24/7, and having a fuse shorter than I’d care to admit were pretty obvious signs that I was in desperate need of a mindfulness practice. So here I , 32 and continuing to lead a life full of surprises — ups and downs. The key difference now is that I feel like I can truly ride th e highs and flow with the lows because I am no longer clinging on for DEAR LIFE to hang-ups that do not serve me. I experience  counter productive and laughable days full give me more energy and more peace. I am so excited to create a forum for  authentic moments of expression .  I hope that you will enjoy this journey with me. Thank you for readi ng; come back soon.

Peace, love, and laughter,

Megan

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27752289_10104143337300723_7195242945544797387_nPhoto Credit: Janey Cooper Photography, Sunset, Texas