Lupus and You: How to survive the holidays!

Evergreen trees at night with a block over them that says the antidote to holiday stress

 

Awww, the holidays. A time to relax, spend time with those that love us most, share a lovely meal, and just rejuvenate our soul…

Or not.

Let’s face it the holidays can be stressful and overwhelming, and that’s not just for those of us with a chronic illness. It seems like everybody is missing the mark on having the perfect Hallmark holiday.   But for those of us with chronic illness, this stress is serious because it can be devastating to both our physical and mental health.  In other words, stress steals our joy, robs us of the moment, and sets us up for a flare.

But thankfully there is an antidote to all this stress, it’s called mindfulness.

Before you click out of this page, give me a second to sell you on this.

Mindfulness is just making sure to pay attention to the moment in front of you instead of letting your mind dwell on the past or future causing you stress. See? It’s not hard or weird; it’s just about where you put your energy.

Great, now that we have cleared that up. Here are some ways I’ve developed to help keep my focus and energy on what’s in front of me so I can enjoy the holidays and protect myself from stress.

    • Store up energy: I’m an introvert.And even though I’m spending time with family, my introvert self still sees them as a group of energy suckers. Even my sweet grandmother. So I make sure to give myself time in the morning and throughout the day to get away from everyone and recharge.

In the morning this looks like locking myself in the bathroom for 10 minutes and doing a guided meditating using a tool like the Headspace App. Throughout the day it could be going for a walk, offering to run an errand or making up an errand to run, or maybe just finding a place to hide and do some deep breathing. Remember energy is like money: You don’t have endless supplies, and if you don’t spend it wisely, you can end up hurting.

 

    • Say “Nah”.  Speaking of spending your energy wisely, feel free to say no to things in favor of taking a rest. It’s okay to be too tired not to do all the things. I know that this can result in feeling guilty, resentful, or just having plain old FOMO. But you’ve got to take care of you.

Even when I’m feeling great, I try to assess what my body needs because I know that the highs and lows of chronic illness can be difficult to navigate. When we say “yes” too often, we tend to regret it the next day because we are spent. Learning to navigate the highs and lows of energy isn’t easy, but it’s not going to happen unless you start getting present with yourself.

  • Help. Getting out of your own head and back to the now can be hard, but being of service to others helps.  This could mean anything from volunteering to dish out food at your local homeless shelter to finding someone who looks lonely and asking them questions about themselves to show them they are loved. Even if you are feeling not at your best and aren’t up for moving around, you can find a way to be of service to others. Don’t underestimate your power.

 

 

    • Lower your expectations. We often create stress when our reality isn’t living up to our expectations. I know I have these fantasy about smooth 6-hour road trips with two kids and lovely and relaxed meals with family.

But in reality, road-trips with kids can suck and holiday meals mean schlepping an entire meal across the state of Texas because of my dietary restrictions.  So I manage my expectations. I know I want to get from point A to point B, and  I know want to spend time with my family. These are simple things that are not rooted in the where, when, and how of it all but still allows me to set and meet my goals — attainable ones.

Finally…

  • Be present for the good stuff. I really do lovely the holidays. They provide an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary and to be around people you love.  Things — good things — do happen, and they don’t need our stress to happen.

 

What if we just trusted ourselves?

I trust you

Like some 40% of humans, I have an MTHFR gene mutation. This means, among other things, that when my stress response gets turned on I have really hard time turning it off.  This means that I take my stress management very, very seriously. But sometimes the pressure from the outside gets to be too much.  Like it did this last Friday when I was getting whiplash from the personal, professional, and social deadlines coming on top of the daily maintenance stuff and other responsibilities — like my brand new threenager.  (If you pray, please throw one my way because threenagers are no joke.)

But I digress.

Stuff was a lot, and I was feeling really, really stressed. So I tried something different. I decided to just have faith in myself. I made a physical list so I wouldn’t have to try to hold all that stuff in my head, and then I just said, “I trust you.” And then every time I felt that familiar feeling of stress and being overwhelmed I would just repeat it to myself, “I trust you.”  And you know what? It worked.

While this was a new tactic for me, it’s not a new concept. In psychology, they call this reframing, changing how you perceive something so your experience of it changes.  When I was feeling overwhelmed with all the to-dos, it was because I approaching them from a place where I felt inadequate to do it all. But that feeling of inadequacy was a false one. In my nearly 4 decades, I have tackled some pretty nasty to-dos. This was not my first rodeo or even my biggest.

But it’s so easy to forget how very adequate we are.  I see this in my clients (and in myself). We downplay our achievements, and we highlight all the ways we feel inadequate. So what if you flipped that script? What if you took a few minutes to see how far you have come, how much you have accomplished, and then just said, “I trust you?”

Having Lupus doesn’t mean the world gets less crazy. How to deal

Self-Care Checklist for when the world has lost its mind

Warning: I’m going to talk about current events. If you are in a phase of your journey where you have more than enough on your plate with just waking up every day and have no desire to know whats going on in the world, stop reading here. You do your journey and don’t feel guilty for a minute. With a disease like Lupus, we all do the best we can. There are plenty of great blog post you can read on this site that will help you on your journey that don’t deal with the news.

Now for the rest of us: This weekend was an especially brutal one. The events in Charlottesville are deplorable and heartbreaking. Like you, I am angry and sad. After holding vigil by my phone all Saturday, I was in a pretty horrible place. I woke up feeling ill for the first time in a long time and, frankly, a little depressed.

Maybe this describes you this past weekend or maybe it’s some other horrible thing happening out there that takes you down. Whatever it is, I want to remind all of us (myself included) how to manage our reaction to the craziness of the world so we can protect our health. This is vital because we aren’t just women with chronic diseases, we are a citizen of the world and what happens in it affects us deeply. But, unfortunately, the world didn’t stop being crazy when we got our diagnosis, and worry and stress tend to exacerbate our symptoms.

These are the things I reminded myself that help me take care of myself while being a citizen of this world.

  1. Care and worry aren’t the same things.  I give myself permission to care about the world and the people in it, but my worry doesn’t help anything. My worry doesn’t stop bombs, or change hearts, or rewrite history. My worry only hurts me; it compromises my physical and mental well-being. When I figured this out, I started saying this mantra when I find myself being consumed by worry over issues I can’t control: “I can care deeply, but this situation doesn’t need my worry.
  2. Act on your convictions. If you struggle to get out of bed every day you might be inclined to skip this step, but please don’t.  When I say act on your convictions, it could mean go volunteer or go to a meeting to talk about the big issues and brainstorm solutions, or it could just mean pray or meditate. Smile at a stranger. Tell someone in your life how amazing you think they are.  Action doesn’t have to be a big grand gesture, it just means to strike back against the ugly with love. Remember to direct that love as much inwardly as you do outwardly.
  3. Use your energy wisely. I woke up on Sunday feeling horrible because I spent my energy on worrying over Saturday.  When you have dealt with or are dealing with fatigue (like the exhausted in your bones kind), you realize that energy is kind of like money. You don’t always have it. If you don’t spend it wisely, you can end up hurting. Spend your energy wisely, preferably on things that will increase your energy and help you heal.
  4. Get yourself to your community. A big part of taking care of yourself is finding and being apart of a community of uplifting people who support you and are worthy of your open heart. Maybe that means your local lupus support group and/or your church. Maybe it means an online community of people who share your love for knitting or Jane the Virgin. Thanks to the internet, community can be cultivated anywhere, it just takes action on your part to find it and show up.

The world is a broken place filled with broken people but it’s also a beautiful place filled with loving and caring people. Take care of yourself, your heart, and your mind.

XOXO,

Carrie

Three tips for making stress management tools work for you

During the Q & A section of a recent presentation, I was asked how I managed stress. I reviewed the information on the worksheets I’d been discussing, but I realized her question went deeper than simply “What do I do?” She was really asking, “How do you actually remember to use these tools?” Because stress management tools are only helpful if you use them, I make it a point to cultivate tools that are as practical as they are effective. Here are my simple tips to work life and health affirming habits into your day.

 To get some of these tools for yourself you can get instant access to my free stress workshop here.

  • Step one, pick tools that you can actually do. I would love to manage my stress by getting massages or spending an hour in a sensory deprivation tank, but ain’t nobody got time for that! I do, however, have a few minutes every day to do some breathing exercises. If you need more stress tools you can get instant access to one of my most popular workshops on stress management right here.
  • Step two, schedule it. I did not go from being fueled by stress to effectively managing my stress because I had some tools. I had to plan when and how I was going to do things. I created intentions before I went to bed and ran through those intentions when I woke up. I put things on my calendar and scheduled my work/life around them.  Using tools to address my stress did not come naturally, so I had to be very intentional.
  • Step three, I started “taking a second.”  In the past, I would encounter a stressful moment at work or at the dinner table or wherever, and it would just rule the day. But then I started allowing myself the space to ask,  “What’s the alternative here?” For example, I would be sitting at dinner with both of my kids refusing to eat the beautiful and nutritious meal I just made, and I would think, “What’s the alternative to all this? I have expectations that aren’t being met, so I can either dig in and let stress rule the situation or I could do something like take a mommy time-out and do one of my stress management techniques.” When I took those moments to calm my stress response, I was able to view the situation more clearly and with more empathy.

At the end of the day, it boils down to being intentional and strategic. You know what your day looks like or the resources you have at your disposal, so seek solutions that work within your constraints. The transformation from stressed-out Carrie to the person I am today didn’t happen overnight, but the more intentional I was about addressing my stress (and the way I ate, moved, and thought about my body) the easier those things fell into my life and the more natural they became.

I hope this helps you find and use the tools that work for you. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

Reduce your stress and get focused now with one simple tool!

 

School event The other day I had the privilege to see an acting troupe perform plays written by my kid and her classmates. It was awesome! But it was also on a Friday afternoon in the cafeteria with about 200 kids who were ready for the weekend. To say the energy was up would be an understatement. The teachers and the performers did a great job of keeping the kids quiet, but one really exciting moment on stage was just more than these kids could handle.

Remember how loud it could get during an assembly when you were a kid? I was having major flashbacks!

But then one fabulous teacher got their attention and started counting out the breaths.  Breathe in for four, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight. Two rounds later the energy had shifted! I knew this worked for me and for the adults (like the teachers I taught it to) and my own kids in a one-on-one situation, but I was floored by how immediate and effective this breathing exercise was for some 200 kids with weekend-fever.

If I hadn’t already been sold on 4-7-8 breathing as an effective tool to immediately reduce your stress and get focused, I would have been in that moment. All these kids brimming with energy and feeding off of each other were able to calm down and get centered in less than a minute! When they took those deep, intentional breaths, they were telling their brains (which told their bodies), “Everything is cool; you can relax.” When their bodies received the message, they turned off the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight)  and engaged the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

And you can do that too. Feeling too scattered to write that to do list or just get after it? Feeling overwhelmed by stress? Can’t sleep because your mind is racing? Take less than a minute and breathe in for 4, hold for 7, and breathe out for 8. Do this for two to three rounds, and you will send your body the relaxation signals it needs to calm down and focus on the task at hand.

Check out my video for a guided practice and let me know how it worked for you in the comments below.

Until next time,

Carrie

Move now, move later!

The workout and I have a long complicated history. In elementary school, I was super creative in getting out of P.E. and probably only went about half the time. As a chunky child, I sat out of fear of looking like a fool. In high school, I spent an hour plus at the gym every dang day, running on the treadmill and lifting weights. As I got older, the exercise thing was like a rollercoaster. I was either completely dedicated to it or dedicated to the couch. There were no in-betweens. The only thing these exercise stages shared was that exercise equaled punishment for being less than.

Thankfully, that’s not where I am today. Part of my healing journey was to find a way to work exercise into my life in a loving way. To do this, I developed a new way of looking at exercise. I would move in intentional ways so I could continue to move in those ways into the future.

While I have a much more rigorous exercise routine now, this idea is my base. At the very minimum, I walk now because I want to take long walks when I’m older. I pick up heavy objects and hold planks for my kids to crawl under because I want a strong body well into my old age. I do yoga and stretch throughout my day so I can keep my balance and flexibility when age makes that more difficult. Movement is an investment in my future self.

Of course, exercise can be challenging to fit into your day, especially when you have little ones, work, laundry, and other adulting to do. But you have to prioritize it. Just like you prioritize brushing your teeth, eating food, and update your Facebook status. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing different ways to get exercise into your life. But for now, start brainstorming about what you hate about exercise, what you love about it, and why you aren’t getting enough. Leave me a comment below!

 

Get ready to reach your goals!

Sign up today!

Transcription: What’s the number one thing you have to do if you really want to transform your health and have this amazing experience that allows you to break through all those things that have been holding you back? The answer is, you got to set a goal! And I don’t mean I’m going to waking up super early to go on a run four times a week. I mean, something that is really clearly defined that is the end game. So for you it might be something like, I’m going to have the energy I need to pursue my passions; or I’m going to have the energy I need to be really present with my kids, or I’m going to lose the weight to get down those scary lab results. Whatever it is for you, setting a goal is a powerful tool to change your health. I believe that so deeply that that is exactly where I start with all of my clients and I want to do the same for you. This February I’m going to have a video series, the first one is going to be about goal setting and the following ones will be about the steps you need to take to meet that goal. There will be four newsletters they will come out on Fridays and they will have short little videos with accompanying worksheets.  All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter–if you haven’t already– and you will be on your way to transforming your health. Sign up here http://eepurl.com/ccZkz1

Snap out the negative thoughts

rubber-band

A few weeks ago I wrote about how important mindset is to our overall health and provided some easy ways to begin shifting your mindset by shifting where you put your attention. But sometimes we need to do a little more work to change our default thought pattern from negative to positive. While this may seem a daunting task it can be as simple as finding a rubber band and committing yourself to making the change.

Negative thoughts are extremely damaging to both our quality and quantity of life and are just as potent as any drug. Leading up to my diagnosis, I struggled with negative thoughts. I attribute those thoughts to the inflammation in my body. But I’m healing, and I believe that becoming aware of and shifting away from those negative thoughts has been critical to my health journey.

While I have gotten better at recognizing and addressing these negative spirals, it’s still important to stay vigilant, especially when my stress level is higher — like around the holidays. Recently, my practice has included rubber band snapping or rather lightly snapping a rubber band around my wrist when I catch myself going down that negative path. This technique comes out of the field of cognitive behavioral therapy where the goal is to change your patterns of behavior/thoughts by using tools to help you become aware of your negative thoughts so you can change them.

How you do it:

  1. Wear a loose rubber band around your wrist.
  2. When you catch yourself in that negative spiral, you lightly snap it.
  3.  Follow it up by saying something you would rather be thinking.

For example, when I start to worry about my children’s safety at school, I just snap the rubber band and tell myself, “They are safe.” Or when I start having thoughts of all the ways I fail as a mother/wife/health coach/business woman/friend/citizen, I snap the rubber band and say, “I’m enough.”

The rubber band has no mystical powers, but it is a great tool to help you gain control of your negative thoughts and replace them with the thoughts that will help you build the healthy life you want.

Let me know about your experiences with rubber band snapping or thoughts you might have in the comments below.

 

P.S. If your negative thoughts are out of control or you feel completely hopeless, I urge you to reach out to a therapist.