Guilt be gone! (Why self care is not selfish.)

Raise your hand if you have felt guilty when you've chosen to read a book (or binge on a t.v. series) instead of folding laundry. Or when you opted to meet a friend for coffee, instead of completing a certain project for work. Or when you blew off a PTA meeting to grab dinner with your spouse or good friend. Now that all our hands are raised, let me just say, it's okay. Wait, no. It's MORE than okay. It probably was just what you needed! Too often in life, when we take a break, we feel like we should be doing something else. But I like what author and theologian Henri Nouwen has to say on the subject: "Don't should on yourself!"

It is perfectly legitimate, and, yes, even often absolutely necessary to leave some things undone so that you can do something that restores you. Whatever it is that "fills your bucket" or replenishes your stores, do it! Even if it's just for one evening, or for a mid-day break, you will find that the mini-vaycay can work wonders on your state of mind and heart. It's like water to a parched soul, oxygen to an astronaut. (I guess I still have the movie "Martian" on my mind!)

This could be you!

Seriously, though, as a health coach, I see people overlook this aspect of health all. the. time. You can eat as "clean" as Gwenyth Paltrow, but you will still be unwell if you stress yourself out through over-work and under-self. When you keep going and going and going, it's as if your body is in constant fight-or-flight mode. You will literally wear your adrenal glands out and no amount of caffeine can bring you back to life. When you get to that point of exhaustion, (and let's face it, we all do from time to time), you are no good to anybody, least of all yourself. Literally. You are not being good to yourself or anyone else in your life.

Parker Palmer, author of "Let your life speak," has this to say about taking care of ourselves:

“I have become clear about at least one thing: that self-care is never a selfish act, but it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on the earth to offer others.”

Parker is saying (and I am well aware that I am making him sound like he's my best friend, but, hey, he has made a difference in my life, and I do feel close to him, so...), yes, Parker is saying that the only way to care for those around us, is for us to be in some, decent kind of shape to do so. I don't mean physical shape. I mean emotional and spiritual shape.

Back when I worked for Naval Intelligence, a colleague of mine made a remark about my attitude, one day. I told him that I hadn't really been consistent in my devotional life in those recent weeks. His off-hand response? "Yeah, I can tell." My self-care, time for centering prayer and grounding Scripture at the start of the day, had fallen by the wayside. Apparently, it was making me stressed out and negative and impacting everyone around me, in ways I had failed to notice (but that others had.)

So, my advice? Get thee to a pumpkin patch! Get outside. Enjoy fall! Blow off the laundry and the mopping! Delegate the work project (if your boss lets you)! Find something that fills you up, replenishes, and restores. And if anyone questions what you're doing, tell them that you're doing something sustainable and replenishing for the good of others...and yourself!

Me, outside, a couple of years ago! I better get out there again!

Back to basics – four simple ways to refresh your spirit

On the street, I cringe when I see a mother on her cell phone while she completely ignores the baby right in front of her. Maybe she’s the nanny and not the mother? Regardless, no sooner do I pronounce judgment against her in the courtroom of my mind, than I am on my own device, turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the people and life around me. 11401143_449295375233091_2744221912510494426_n

Our devices stupefy us. We sit in front of them for hours on end, at work or play. From stay-at-home moms, to students, to CEOs, we are all tempted to put real life on hold as we give our full attention to the dazzling and demanding virtual show. Spoken words and true connections are like droplets of rain on a water-resistant slicker. They sit on the surface but do not penetrate our hearts. We are impervious to what is going on around us.

I'm late, I'm late for a very important date!

And it’s not just our devices that distract us from real life. Busyness also numbs us to reality. We are pinballs, careering from one event to the next, especially this time of year---do you feel me, moms of elementary-aged children? We need a moment. But we are like frantic and harried vacationers, so eager to make our destination that we barrel through quaint small towns, missing their charm (and what we could learn if we adopted their pace).

We are hypnotized by the illusion of connection (with our devices) and self-importance and efficiency (with our penchant for busyness). How do we snap out of our self-induced trance? Below are four simple ways to refresh our spirits and reconnect with real life.

  • Come up for air…in small ways. Put an end time” on your work,  like an expiration date on a carton of milk. My sister is a champ at this. She leaves the office at a pre-determined time, regardless of how many emails are in her inbox, and I’m pretty sure she has thousands! She also chooses not to access her work remotely once she gets home, even though there is obviously MUCH to do. She comes up for air every time she does this and it allows her to connect with her husband, children, and friends, in a way she couldn’t otherwise. I want to be like my younger sister when I grow up. Give yourself a grown up “time out." It’s a gift, though, not a punishment. Take a break for 5-10 minutes every hour or so. Whether you’re at home, folding laundry, or at your desk churning out emails. I've used the timer on my iPhone to remind me to take a little walk or do something different for a few minutes. It gives me a clearer mind when I return to the task at hand.and in big ways. A family vacation rocks but don’t wait for that. If possible, look for pockets in your schedule to take a mini get-away of some sort. My husband and I went to Winchester, Virginia for an overnight recently. It was no Hawaii, but, hey, it served its purpose. We got off the treadmill and caught our breath and connected with each other.
  • AttachAs we detach from our devices and busyness, we find room to attach to something positive---a person or pastime that we enjoy. Set up a mini date with someone close to home or a friend that you love but haven’t seen for months. Pick up your phone (for a second) and give them a ring! Return to a hobby that fell by the wayside---knitting, tennis, reading. Detaching gives you the gift of time you didn’t have before! Use it to attach to something more life-giving!
  • photo 1-6Read a book (esp. a good one) – Summer is made for this! It can be an educational book or one that is simply an escape. I’m reading two very different books right now. “Gone girl” has nothing to do with my life (thank goodness) but it’s very entertaining. And “The good and beautiful God” is fantastic and super inspirational---with tons of tips for self-care and spiritual growth. Audiobooks come in handy, too, to get your mind off your burdens while you commute or tend to simple tasks around the house.
  • Eat "clean" for a day (or a week)  – This is a surprising way to lessen the load of stress that you may be carrying! Adjusting your diet for a day is a simple way to detox (without the ambitious undertaking of making smoothies that require ingredients from a rainforest in Brazil). Find a friend and do this together, if you want accountability. For 24 hours, avoid processed foods (snacks in bags, meals in boxes) and buy fresh (from a farmer’s market, if possible). Don’t eat out for the allotted time period, either. You should feel a natural energy boost. You will also 1) save money and 2) feel better.

Notice that the acronym for these simple steps is C.A.R.E. When we step away from our devices and the busyness of life, we are caring for ourselves and therefore better equipped to care for others and meet the rigors of our day-to-day lives. Let me know how it goes for you when you implement these simple steps! I care.

Five tips for a healthier mind and a happier heart

Just in time for Valentine's Day, a blog post about how to cultivate a healthy mind and happy heart! This is Thinking about thinking, Part II. You know that moment when you are driving to the boonies and your favorite radio station becomes more faint? Suddenly your song gets mashed up with a sports talk show. The music becomes garbled and static starts to set your teeth on edge. Our minds are a lot like that radio station. Static can interfere with the normal, beautiful music of life. Worries creep in. Anger. Resentment. Guilt. Obsessive or depressing thoughts. It could be a particular relationship that is fraught with tension, or a work or health issue that is apparently unresolvable. How do we avoid wallowing on thoughts that interfere with a peaceful, happy heart and a positive outlook? How do we fill our minds with good things?

  1. Guard your heart. We want to avoid getting that static in our heads in the first place. We need to protect our hearts from thoughts that drag us down (or move us in the wrong direction). This is why I won’t be going to see “Fifty shades of grey” this weekend. Images are powerful and difficult to erase. I like to eat the best food to fuel my body. Why would I want to let sordid images pollute my mind?    heartgate  Guarding my heart means being careful what I expose myself to. If/when I am tempted to go down a path that is unhelpful, I recruit “back up” guards: friends or family whom I can turn to for support and strength. Or I look for healthier, uplifting alternatives—exercise, an inspiring book or movie, connecting with friends who I know will lift me up.
  1. Be present. There’s a lot of buzz about mindfulness and awareness these days. I understand the hype. We can physically be in one place while our minds can be far, far away.

    This man isn't present. Even the humpback whale can't get his attention!

    If unhelpful thoughts or worries sneak past our “guarded heart”, how do we minimize the damage? One help is to focus on the here and now. I remember a few years back when I was troubled with a difficult relationship with a coworker. I was like a dog with a chew toy. My mind was going over and over the problem, puzzling over it. I’d drop it, only to pick it up again in short order. I learned a little trick that helped me get out of my head and into real life. I would remind myself of where I was and what I was doing. Literally. Even if I had to say it out loud. I would speak softly to myself: “I’m in the grocery store,” I’d say. “I’m buying oranges.” (Most people probably just thought I was on the phone.) It sounds silly but it was actually quite grounding. The worrying was getting me nowhere anyway. And it reminded me that there’s a lot of life going on right underneath my nose.

  1. Chabirdsnge the channel. Do you find certain thoughts are dogging you? Do you have a friend that makes you feel like dirt? Does a certain situation cause you stomachaches? Try to observe the relationship or problem from a detached perspective. What is troubling you? What is really going on? Stepping back a bit can help you to find new ways to relate or respond. You can’t very well change the channel if you think it’s the only one available. You need a fresh perspective to find alternatives to that channel. Look for people, situations, and places that lift you up rather than dragging you down.
  1. Look up. Looking up is also about perspective. What is our focus? On a cold, snowy day, for example, you can either gripe about the number on the thermometer or you can choose to be grateful about your warm home, a cup of soup, or an uplifting movie. Both things are true: it is bitterly cold and you also have what you need around you. Why focus on the bothersome thing? The first time I visited my husband’s grandmother after her move to assisted living, she said, “I have all of these nice people who take care of me here.” Her positivity blew me away. She may have been sad about leaving her home but she still chose to focus on what good was still around her. If we make a habit of this, we will find ourselves in a healthier place emotionally. And we will be better suited to help others look up, too. (And by the way, if you look up long enough, you may start to get a glimpse of the Giver of all those good gifts.)
  1. Persevere. Whatever you do, don’t let those persistent negative thoughts have the last word. When you screw up at work on a particular project, you will feel dejected and discouraged. Of course. Go ahead and let yourself feel it. (See Tip 2: be present.) Then, remind yourself that you can’t go back and fix it. Move on. Work harder (or smarter) on the next project. That failure does not define you. Set-backs will happen in life. You failed, but that doesn’t make you a failure. In "The War of Art: Break through the blocks and win your creative battles," author Steven Pressfield contrasts the person who sees himself as an amateur and the person who perceives himself as a professional. The professional, when confronted with setbacks and disappointments, perseveres. The amateur gives up. The professional shows up, time after time, after time, regardless of what the previous result was. Professionals put in the time and effort and may see no return for years. Don't let set backs set you permanently back. Keep perspective and persevere.

Perseverance May these tips help you move from hopeless to hopeful, from discouraged to grateful.  And have a happy and healthy Valentine's Day!

Thinking about…thinking, Part I

You are what you eat. As a health coach I am convinced that this truism is, well, true. What we put in our bodies affects us in countless ways. Put regular fuel in a car, and it'll work okay. Put premium gas in the tank and you get a smooth ride today, along with extending the life of your vehicle. Health is not limited to what we physically put into our bodies, alone. It also has to do with what we put into our minds. "You are what you eat." True enough. But I also believe "You are what you think."

Picture me on a typical Sunday: guitar in hand, microphone at the ready. I’m a worship leader at my church, National Presbyterian in Washington, DC. Before you get impressed, let me be clear. I’m a perfectly adequate singer and an absolutely average guitar player. This is not false modesty, believe me. I’m just okay.

Me, a friend, and my guitar

But when I get in front of the congregation, ready to lead the singing I don’t think, “Oh, no. I sound like a love-sick frog at Crystal Pond.” If I did, I’d be sunk—no pond pun (or scum) intended. Aware of my inadequacies, I start strumming and singing anyway. I put my focus where it belongs: on God. The point of worship is not to entertain, I remind myself, it is to point others heavenward. I do not let negative thinking influence my actions.

What goes on inside our heads can be dramatic and limiting. We can get weighed down by our perceived (or real) limitations and inadequacies.

On a larger scale, strife and violence in far-flungs places in the world, or in our very own backyards, can also trouble us and become the source of anxiety and worry. Our thoughts can paint such bleak pictures, at times. We may feel like we're at a dead-end, with no options or escape. Or we may feel out of control, like bathwater that is swirling, to its inevitable destination, down the drain.

I’m not saying we should whitewash our troubles or whistle in the dark and simply hope they disappear. “Inspirational” quotes often have me rolling my eyes.


I completely “get” those who want to mock such lofty thoughts.


But when I'm done the eye rolling, I have to admit that I want to be lifted up and inspired. Optimism and hope are life-giving. We all face troubles, discouragement and disappointment. But wallowing in these will get us nowhere. At any given moment in my day, I have the choice to redirect my thinking. Will I be defeated by challenges and obstacles? Will worry stop me in my tracks? Or can I be hopeful, regardless of circumstances?

I want to be hopeful. Hope-full. What does that look like? And how can I make it happen?


What about you? Tell me what's on your mind. Do you want to “change the channel” from discouragement to hope?

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on how to do just that.