What’s the deal?

What’s going on with kids and stress?  Today, children are reporting more anxiety, depression, and worry than ever before.   If you Google “stressed out kids” you will find advice to rearrange your child’s schedule, improve diet and increase exercise.  While this is valid, it’s not enough for me.  I like to understand the big picture and have tools I can use anytime, anywhere, especially when I see my own kids showing signs of stress.

My experience coaching stressed adults, leads me to agree with Psychology Today‘s description of two “Waking states of awareness, Conceptual and Embodied.”  When our brains are in a “conceptual” state, they are busy thinking, evaluating, judging, questioning and worrying.  When we shift to a body focused awareness, our thinking takes a vacation.  Sensing movements and emotions engages the brain so fully that one cannot be aware of their five senses and worry at the same time.   Have you ever noticed that you cannot think yourself out of worry?  But when you engage in a “sense drenching” experience like rock climbing, dancing to music, or cooking, the worrying takes a break without effort?

Our brains cannot be in Conceptual and Embodied states at the same time.  This is why child development experts cringe with the “academic” focus pre-schools and Kindergartens take today.  Since I entered education 17 years ago, I rarely see puppets, felt boards, or  similar tools that help children engage their senses.  Singing, music, storytelling (with props rather than pages), time in nature, art and free play have all but disappeared from primary classrooms.  During the same time, anxiety and stress in children is increasing year after year, surpassing the complaints of stressed out adults.

Our schools praise these “left brain” thinkers and work to re-focus our “right brained” spacey, doodling kids.  I was proud of my “left brain” son who was so bright, so “conceptual”, that he learned quickly, memorized facts, asked a zillion questions and was always aware of what was happening around him. My husband and I considered putting him in a Waldorf, Sufi, or Montessori School (whole brain focused) but it so went against his nature that we chose a traditional school where his natural abilities would be rewarded.  Seven years later, we question that decision, as we are now homeschooling him to due to a stress related illness called Adrenal Fatigue.

The remedy for all types of stress is to re-engage the “right brain” or “Embodied Self-Awareness”.  Martha Beck has some great exercises in her new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.  (Join me for discussions about this book in an over-the-phone book club starting in March.) For now, just try this “sense-drenching” exercise:  Remember the last time you had a moment of bliss where you allowed yourself to be completely present.  What sights did you see?  Recreate the scene (write it down or tell your child about it).  What smells were present?  What tastes do you remember? Sounds?  Remember what textures you felt against your skin?  Immerse yourself in this sensory experience and you will shift your brain state to the part of your brain capable of joy, peace, calm, and relaxation.  Read My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor to see how blissful life can be when you lose function of your left hemisphere.

We are naturally programmed to use both halves of our brains.  Providing our children opportunities to lose track of time and immerse themselves in art, music, imagination, nature and storytelling is the best way to reduce stress.  Throw out the reading log and let your child snuggle in to you while you tell them a story.  Throw out the clocks and schedules and dedicate a day to mindlessly wandering in nature.   Throw out the TV & video screens (which increase the stress response and help disassociate us from our bodies) and celebrate boredom.  Exercise reduces stress because it releases cortisol and can shift us to an embodied brain state.   If the exercise is listening to directions, running to point A, throwing to point B, and moving your body like this to point C, it can aggravate kids’ attempts to shift by continually being brought back to their thinking brain.   Keep exercise playful and unstructured when possible.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I just have to say it:  GO PLAY.  YES, I’M TALKING TO YOU. Kids learn by imitation.  So get up from your computer and do something that feels like play to you.   Put on music and dance, sign up for that creative writing class you’ve been wanting to take, take your dog to the park, or play a round of golf…….it’s for the children!  What’s your favorite way to shift into your right brain, embodied self awareness?  Share it below.

Need more convincing?  Listen to the fabulous Christine Carter‘s persuasive argument that when adults have sex, it increases their children’s capacity for happiness!

Is Your Child Stressed?

I don’t know about you but when I’m stressed, it is OBVIOUS to everyone around me!  But what about our kids?  Children don’t always have the vocabulary or self-awareness to be able to articulate their emotions in a way that we can hear them.   In fact, their emotions are so strong that just labeling them with a word (“you feel sad, angry, over-stimulated, overwhelmed”, etc.) makes the feeling seem more manageable and immediately helps them calm down.  American kids are more stressed out than every before, how can we know if our kid is one of them?

Misbehavior – When you are seeing recurring patterns of misbehavior, try to figure out your child’s motivation for acting out:  power, revenge, attention, excitement.   If there isn’t one, it might be stress.  See if you can find an underlying cause:  overbooked schedule, stressful environment, lack of predictability or just misalignment with the child’s authentic self (too much coping required).

Forgetfulness – “I forgot my Math book and I have a test tomorrow!” can be a normal problem but if it’s happening regularly, the child may be either stressed or self-sabotaging.

Illness – Some kids have magic bodies that won’t let them detour too far off track.  Notice if your child easily gets headaches, stomachaches, excema, colds, flus, etc.  I know whenever I’ve had a job that wasn’t good for me, I was constantly dealing with one illness after another.

Checking Out – Some kids do a marvelous job at taking care of themselves when stressed.  If you notice your child daydreaming, mentally zoning out or shifting into a trance-like state, congratulate yourself on having such a self-reliant child, but note that they are probably stressed.

Clouded decision making – I remember seeing a Dad telling his 4 year old he could have any toy in the whole store and this kid proceeded to have a total melt down at Toys R Us.  Sometimes what we think is fun, can be too overwhelming for kids and you’ll know they are stressed if they are having a hard time making simple decisions like what to wear, they want for dinner, or who to play with.

Arguing & Whining – We all take our stress out on those who are closest to us (ask my poor husband!).  Kids are no different.  When they get in the car after school and immediately start bickering, you know they are purging all the negativity they picked up during the day.  Whining can usually be cured with loving attention or a nap.

Overeating, Under-eating, Difficulty Sleeping – Kids and parents alike.

Do you have a sensitive child?  Sensitive children can be like the canary in the mine, alerting us to problems we all may experience if we don’t pay attention and switch gears.  Luckily, there are MANY things you can do to reduce stress in kids, in fact too many for one blog post.  Until next time, try working on just one: your own.  We are all built to mirror the emotions of people around us unless we intentionally focus on holding a higher state.  It can be really hard to feel good when your child doesn’t but it’s one of the most helpful things you can do for her/him.  Your kids will automatically pick up on your worry, spoken and unspoken stress.  Instead, find out what makes you feel good:  exercise, sleep, yoga, healthy foods, life coaching, meditation, hiking, card games, gardening and do it.  The quickest, most effective way to reduce stress is to switch your thinking.  Say these words to yourself (if you can believe them) and to your children.  “There is nothing I (you) have to do right now”   “All is well”  “It’s ok to rest”  “Everything is unfolding exactly the way it’s supposed to”.

If you have another restful thought or mantra you love, please share it!

2012 is gonna be easy!

I love a New Year.  A fresh start.  A clean slate.  Everyone working to improve their bodies, their finances, their relationships, their careers.  Hope, optimism, belief, determination- a life coach’s dream time.

But where does it go come February?

Here’s my list of the biggest killers of New Years Resolutions.

1-    Perfectionism:  I don’t mean my house is immaculate kind of perfectionism.  I mean the black & white thinking.  “I’m either on my diet or off”  “I’m either saving money or spending it”  “I’m either a good parent or a bad one”.  If you give yourself a label “I’m lazy”, “I’m an idiot”, “I’m impatient”, “I’m a loser”, “I’m fat” then you are playing a game of perfectionism you will not win. A better way to stick to your resolutions is to see yourself in a constant state of flux.  “I am moving closer to my goal right now or away from it.”  “I am becoming more fit or less”  “I am learning to be kinder to myself or I am forgetting to be kinder to myself.”  The truth is, life is not static, and pretending things are set in stone, will suck the motivation right out of you.

2-    “It’s too hard”:  I catch myself saying this all the time.  “Keeping the house clean is hard”,  “Being a solo-prenuer is hard”, “Dealing with health problems is hard”. Hello, pity party!  Do you want some whine with that?  If I look back in human history, or right now in cultures all over the globe, my life is pretty damn easy!  It is a ridiculously untrue thought that my life is hard and when I believe it, it doesn’t serve me.  If you are like me and you hear yourself complaining about things being hard, try changing it to, “this is easy!”  Eating healthy is easy.  Exercising is easy.  Making money is easy.  Raising twins is easy.  Balancing work/family life…easy!  The more you think it & say it, the more you will find evidence to prove it’s true.  Isn’t it just as true that change is easy?

3-    “I deserve a reward”:  Most people use this as a way to cheat on their resolution.  (Often in combination with ‘I worked hard, therefore, I deserve it’).  We think this is self care, but really it isn’t.  It’s usually said defiantly, as though we are rebelling against our own desires to feel better.  What we are really saying is “I deserve to be overweight & unhealthy”,  “I deserve to be broke” or “I deserve to be unhappy”.  Try using the same sentence in support of your resolution “I deserve to work out & feel healthy”, “I deserve to have a tidy home”, or “I deserve to spend less & have more money in the bank”.  I believe you ARE deserving, and that you deserve to be proud of yourself and your accomplishments.

4-    Be open to more & better:  Take a look back at 2011 and write down what worked for you and what didn’t.  Even if you didn’t complete your resolutions, spend time thinking about how your life has changed for the better.  What improvements were planned and which weren’t?  Even if you had some real difficulties, think about positive things that came from it.  Now imagine yourself one year from now.  Even if you don’t accomplish your resolutions, what by-products might you enjoy as a result of the attempt?  Might I make a new friend, even if I quit the gym?  Might I make some new connections, even if I didn’t get that job?  Might I learn something about myself that I couldn’t have learned any other way?  There is always opportunity for growth and increased joy in our lives, and we don’t always know where it will come from.

So take some good guesses, make those resolutions, be kind to yourself whether you stick with them or not.  2012 might just have some wonderful plans in store for you.  If working with a life coach is on your list of ways to improve your life, email me today to take advantage of my special New Years offer of 5 sessions for the cost of 4.

Your parents have all the answers.

Your parents are judging you.  And there is nothing like spending time with your family over the holidays to remind you that you have not yet achieved perfection.  Whether it is said out loud or completely unspoken, we know what our parents want and expect from us.  “What do you mean you aren’t going to church?”  “How can you even think about leaving your job in this economy?”  “How did you pay for this new car?” “What happened to that weight management plan you were on?” “Don’t you think my grandchild should be wearing a jacket, eating healthier, playing fewer video games, respecting others?”  “Shouldn’t you just ……”

The problem isn’t that parents judge, the problem is that when they do, what we are hearing is “I’m not good enough”.

No matter how old we get, we still want our parents to be proud of us.  We want our Moms and Dads and in-laws to believe we walk on water.  Because if they believe we are awesome, amazing beings of perfection, maybe we can believe it, too.

But when the holidays roll around and we are reminded that we’ve gained weight, grown wrinkles, have unflattering hairdo’s, mismanaged our money, careers, marriages, and children, it’s pretty hard to believe we have achieved perfection.

But we have.  Because life isn’t about doing everything right.  It’s about making mistakes.  It’s about using those mistakes to move closer to being your most authentic self.  It’s about realizing you were perfect all along.

My children, right now, are specimens of perfection.  Gorgeous little angels.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.  In fact, I can tell you exactly what they should wear, eat, and play.  I know who they should play with, how they should study, how to treat their friends, other adults, and each other.  I know which shoes go with which outfit, how to shave 10 seconds off a mile time, and how to point your toes in a cartwheel.  I am an expert on what my children can do to achieve “perfection”, and yet they already are.

So how do we untangle these ideas?  How can we be both perfect and flawed at the same time?

1-    Accept the fact that your parents will judge you, but recognize that it’s your parent’s way of wanting the best for you.  When they see you happy and enjoying your life, it will help them let go of their little instruction book of how to achieve happiness.  Unless……..

2-    Your Mom or Dad is the kind of parent who isn’t happy unless everyone around them is suffering.  In this case, living well will only annoy them. Realize their inability to accept you and your choices, is about them and their need to be needed and need to be right.  Choose happiness for your own benefit and thank your parents for catalyzing your personal growth.

3-    Imagine how you would react if your parent told you:  “I really think you should become a puppet master.  I saw this great show about it and it sounds like such an amazing career choice and would be so perfect for you.” Can you notice how little energy you have around it? Notice how it doesn’t bug you AT ALL that they think this?  Now imagine they are telling you:  “You really aren’t making wise choices with your money.”  Or, “I really think you are screwing up your kids by treating them this way.”  Why does this piss you off more than the other?  When parents tap into a fear that is already there, we get angry and defensive.  Defensiveness is your clue that something is misaligned.  Set the intention to feel good about yourself by this time next year.  Hire a coach, create a vision board, fight through the resistance and get it done.  There is no substitute for the ease and satisfaction that comes from living aligned with your best self.

4-    Perhaps you believe you aren’t good enough because you haven’t yet decided for yourself what it means to live a successful life.  Define it for yourself.  How will I know when I’m happy?  What does success look like to me?  Who determines whether I’m perfect or imperfect?  If your answer to these questions is, “I will be happy and successful as soon as everyone else tells me I am”, it’s time to do some soul searching.  I consider myself successful if I am using the gifts God gave me to make the world a better place.  Spend some time thinking about how you determine successful living, and let your parents do the same for themselves.

I am hoping some of you more enlightened parents will help me tear up the little instruction book I’ve been writing for my own children.  I’ll give a few tips but I’m gonna need advice from those of you who are relaxed in the areas I am not.

My first suggestion is to repeat these phrases often, out loud and to yourself.  “I have no idea what is right for my kids.”  “I could be totally wrong here.”  “I love you and trust that you kids will make the right decision for you.”  “I’m sure you will figure it out.”  “When left on their own, my kids make good decisions.”  “I have no way of knowing where their journey is leading them.”

When you think and talk this way, your brain will look for evidence to prove that it is true and your kids will rise to this expectation.

Second, look around at other parents who are relaxed and letting their kids make their own choices.  I watched my nieces prance around in tank tops and shorts in while I was in agony trying to force my daughter to wear ‘weather appropriate’ clothing.  My sister was relaxed, her daughters were happy, perhaps I can let this one go?  I know parents who could care less about their kid’s grades and test scores.  They don’t make their grades mean they are a success or a failure, in fact one Mom told me “The A students will work for the B/C students.”  If you find yourself stressing you and your kids out, trying to achieve perfect report cards, maybe this is an area to relax around and let your kids experience life their way?

Just noticing that these little instruction books for perfect living exist, is a big first step. When I chose to major in family life education and accepted a job with Planned Parenthood, I ignored a pretty big chapter in my parent’s book. What chapter in your parent’s book have you decided not to abide by? I’d love to know what page in your book is your child not reading?  I’ve got a whole chapter on social graces I’m still hoping my kids will read some day.  Thirty years from now you might hear me say “Honey, did you hear Mrs. So & So ask you how work is going?  What do you say?  Look her in the eyes when you answer.” HELP PLEASE!

It’s not the job; it’s who you get to be.

It’s not the job; it’s who you get to be.

This line really stuck out to me years ago when I was reading Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star.  I could see the truth in it and how it applied to people around me, but it wasn’t until this summer that I was able to really experience it for myself.

I saw it with Maggie, a general practitioner, who chose her field because it was the trend of the time.   It was a practical, intelligent decision to make while in medical school, but it wasn’t HER.  Every interesting case that came through her door, she had to refer out.  She was a natural born specialist.  She loved to know everything there was to know about one subject.  She had a passion for expertise.  And yet, she found herself in a career for a generalist, someone who likes to know a little bit about everything.  There was nothing wrong with the job; it just wasn’t a match for her personality.  She went back to school and is now highly specialized; enjoying complex cases she can really sink her teeth into.

I saw it with Evan, an easygoing, effective employee who makes friends wherever he goes.  Managers and co-workers appreciate the peaceful work environment he creates.  Evan, on the other hand, is not feeling so peaceful.  He bites his tongue, stifles his true self, and tries to make peace for everyone but himself.  What Evan needs most is to express his creativity.  He needs autonomy and trust from his supervisors, but he’s too much of a pleaser to ask for it.  He has an amazing vision for how to optimize his role in the company, increase productivity and create an even better work environment.  He isn’t enjoying his job because he hasn’t figured out how to bring his true self, innovative and in charge, into his current role.

In my life I get to wear many hats:  Life Coach, Mommy, Teacher, etc. but this summer I spent a lot of time wearing my “Landlord” hat.  We have a rental property that became vacant and I spent a lot of time cleaning, repairing, advertising, interviewing, filling out paperwork, doing background checks, etc.  None of these activities I particularly enjoy, but through this process I thought a lot about, “It’s not the job, it’s who you get to be” and I looked for opportunities to be myself.  It was not always smooth.  I had tenants ruin property, lie to me, break agreements, and refuse to pay money they owed me.  I had to remind myself that I can still do the right thing, even when others’ aren’t.   I had to remind myself that I can still trust people, just not all people.  If I had to spend every day filling out paperwork, showing houses, and making repairs, it wouldn’t nourish my soul.  But if I could fill out paperwork, show houses, and make repairs while believing that I am helping people, then I get to be me.  I tell myself that I am helping people by being a good landlord and providing a nice, safe, clean home during a time when many people are looking to rent.   My favorite part of the job is when I get to connect with people who are going through difficult times.   During an open house, I got to listen to people grieve over their beautiful, big home they lost is the mortgage crisis.  I listened to their anger and resentment over their poor credit score.  I witnessed sadness about an upcoming divorce and hopefulness with starting a new life.  I know that I was not born to be a landlord. I was born to connect with people in important areas of their life and do what I can to help them feel better.  As long as I can find ways to do this, I can be happy ANYWHERE.

It’s easy to drown in a job that doesn’t nourish your soul.  What’s hard (but SO worthwhile) is finding ways to still be you, while living amongst crazy people in a crazy land.  Start with where you are.  How can you bring more of YOU into your job and your life?  If you aren’t sure what’s right for you, try reading Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck or give life coaching a try.  If your job is a match that was never meant to be and you feel clear about what your heart really longs for, perhaps now is the time to make that change.  It’s not the job, it’s who you get to be.

 

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