For me, winter is a special time of celebration, mindfulness and indulgence. By indulgence I don’t mean consuming half of a crown roast, three plates of stuffing and eight slices of cake, but a time to savor unique seasonal foods with wholehearted pleasure.
After years of restriction and body issues, winter seems like the most wonderful season to be mindful of our self-love and of what we eat. It is a perfect time to embrace ourselves as we are as we indulge in a few well-deserved treats.
When we are little, we don’t worry about our body image; we are free, we know that we are beautiful. And then something happens. Suddenly we start comparing ourselves to imaginary ideals and find ourselves falling short. Suddenly, we still love cake, but we’re always on a diet. We still love chocolate, but we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy it. We allow the messages around us to chip away at our self-image. Guilt and shame often become a part of us and the way we eat, and we avoid foods that we have no reason to avoid.
With such a delicious variety of seasonal foods available, what better time to allow ourselves to wholeheartedly enjoy the process of preparing and eating a well-made meal, slice of cake or mug of hot chocolate, free from guilt or anxiety? It is a perfect time to embrace ourselves and enjoy the foods we love. It is a perfect time to practice self-love and learn to tear down the restrictions that have had emotionally damaging effects.
The sensory pleasure a mug of hot chocolate provides and the positive emotional associations connected with it help me melt away stress. But the real benefit lies in the time taken to relax and the mindfulness created when enjoying it. By cultivating mindfulness and self-worth, we calm ourselves emotionally and allow ourselves to enjoy the richness in our lives free from feelings of guilt and shame.
Now, hot chocolate is its own item on my daily To Do list, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Honesty sometimes seems to be the more difficult path, whether it is because we do not want to face the pain of owning our mistakes or prefer to paint another picture of reality for ourselves.
Yet in the greater scheme of things, honesty is easier than denial because although it hurts, honesty frees us to act on those things we prefer not to see. It opens us to the possibility of accomplishing great things and has been shown to boost our mood and productivity – honesty feels good because in accepting the truth, we step into our personal strength to do something about it.
Honesty honors our worthiness; are we not all deserving of the truth? It respects the self, and is a kind of self-compassion that creates surety of the self that cannot be taken away.
If we can take responsibility for all the things in our lives – our greatest accomplishments and biggest failures, our smallest choices and day-to-day activities, we accept that we are worthy of honesty and can heal from the things that have hurt us rather than denying them.
The easiest way to manage the self, including recovery and happiness, is to face everything honestly. We grow a quiet strength out of truthfulness that cannot be warped, changed or taken away. It gives us the power to represent ourselves in our words and actions, and opens immeasurable doors to healing and happiness.
Often we find ourselves reaching for things in life without truly knowing why. We are so often concerned with the future that we know no other way than to worry, stress, ruminate, plan and achieve, then begin again. Even during the holiday season, we spend all of our time focusing on one single day without truly stopping to enjoy all of the other days surrounding it. Then the holiday passes, and we find ourselves looking forward to the next holiday.
We ignore happiness that we could experience in the present in order to dream of the future. Instead of settling down to read a book in a beautifully decorated room, we worry about food, parties and preparations. When we could be sipping hot chocolate and enjoying the weather, we succumb to anxiety about guest lists and gifts.
However, this extends far beyond holiday periods – this constant focus on the future infects every part of our lives, taking the focus off our current relationships and current careers, and creating a constant anxiety about the future. We are so used to reaching for the future and hearing that we deserve more, better, the best, that we forget to take a look around; we don’t need to constantly reach elsewhere because we already have wondrous things in our lives!
If we take a look at the friends and family we are surrounded with, the jobs we enjoy or our home lives, often times, we notice that we strive only out of habit. We have forgotten to sit down and enjoy what we have.
We all have little improvements that can be made, but these can be worked on while we enjoy what we have. We do not need to neglect the present in favor of the future. If we focus on the present, we can treat ourselves a little bit better and live more fulfilling lives.
Remember Tina Turner’s hit song in the 80’s, “What’s Love got to do with it?”
“What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a sweet old-fashioned notion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
I've been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I've been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way”
Tina was on to something with this song. Self-love has everything to do with it! If you don’t have self-love then nothing will ever fall into place for you. The hardest person to find love with is our self. We often spend so much time searching for the perfect spouse or perfect romantic partner, that all to soon we realize that our search was meant to fill the void we felt inside ourselves. Finding a good relationship with yourself can be the hardest task ever!
I have found that self-esteem and self-love are issues that are often tied together. If you suffer from low self-esteem, it is possible that the root cause is a case of insufficient self-love. Loving yourself can feel unnatural because you have ingrained your mind with self-sabotaging thoughts.
When you don’t love yourself, you are basically telling the Universe that you are unworthy or undeserving of any love or positive outcomes. Learning to love yourself starts with making a conscious decision, an intention to become happy and lead a fulfilled life.
5 steps to start loving yourself:
- Embrace what makes you You. Love yourself for all the good that you see and accept your flaws and the fact that you are imperfect.
- Eliminate Self-Criticism. If you find that you criticize yourself often, make an effort to stop the self-criticism. It’s ok to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect.
- Think positive of yourself. When you think positively about yourself, the love you have for yourself will grow.
- Be truthful to yourself. When you are truthful about your feelings, you do not try to lie to yourself or seek to bury your negative emotions. Instead, acknowledge what you feel. Would you want to be in a relationship that is dishonest? No, of course not.
- Relax and Enjoy. If you spend all your time working, without paying attention to your health, you’re not loving yourself. Do something fun. Go for a walk, stop to smell the flowers, listen to your favorite music or go do something nice for yourself. You deserve it.
Remember the foundation to all healthy relationships is having a fulfilling relationship with one’s self. Maybe it is time to review the state of the relationship you have with yourself. If you want to have deeper and more fulfilling relationships with your friends and family, you need to first focus on yourself. When you are deeply connected with yourself, you will be more available to create the emotional relationships you have been longing for.
There are all kinds of sensory cues that send us reminiscing down Memory Lane, evoking treasured moments and comforting customs. I only have to smell a waft of the perfume Tweed and I can see my mother in her early 30s laughing and working around the house almost as if I was there. One picture of a piece of coal sends me walking into the back yard to the coalbunker to fill up the coal bucket for the fires of my childhood.
The brain is so amazingly powerful in wanting to help us think good about many things. The things that have caused me much pain in my life I try not to recall because the continuous ruminating over things that have had a massive negative emotional body blow do not help me. One of the misperceptions of trauma is that one-day it will be over. Usually the effects of a major trauma are never over, but there are many tools a person can use to learn to cope and the perspective of it can become tolerable.
Creating positive new memories each day and not putting things into your memory that make you feel less than positive is very helpful. If you know certain things are emotionally straining for you, then stop doing them. Emotions are an energetic expression of who you are, so if you have become frozen and immobilized by an event often complex grieving will follow.
Emotions give you a roadmap providing information that nudges you into action. They help you know when you are in alignment with your needs and values, when you feel loved, when your needs are not met or when you are in danger. The mind determines if a feeling is positive or negative. Painful emotions, such as feeling anxious, frightened, guilty, ashamed, angry or overwhelmed are calling for help from you to either correct the situation or remove yourself from it.
By giving more positive cues to the mind we feel happier and if we keep putting into the memory things we liked or enjoyed, the mind moves to positive and this makes it harder for mood gloom to take over.
Try and get together a group of things you really love now. A new scented candle, a furry scarf, a new type of tea, a different music artist. Sometimes leaving the past behind is best served by not continuing to evoke memories that enslave you into sadness. Protect what you put into your mind now so you are not trying to route it out later.
Hospitality is a sort of underrated gift in our times. It used to be that one would readily and happily open their doors to friends, family, and acquaintances. Because it was such an effort to travel, visits were an important, cherished time to spend together. The holidays were a time of bringing family together, of tightly knit community and togetherness.
Today, though, we take hospitality for granted. In times when it is so easy to travel from one state or country to another, when hotels and restaurants are so commonplace, we forget that visiting creates and nurtures such an important bond with those we love. Travel may be easy, but spending time with loved ones is no less important simply because the option is more available. Oftentimes we forget that, and ironically end up not seeing those we love simply because we think, “oh, we can see them any time!”
That sort of attitude has to change if we want to fully enjoy what our lives have to offer us. We should not take the ability to travel for granted, or become eager for the departure of our guests because we think they can come back any time. Rather, we should endeavor to enjoy every moment with those who bring us happiness because they are truly worth our while.
The holiday season is a perfect time to be mindful of the joy and happiness that company brings us, and honor the presence of loved ones in our lives. Rather than let visiting and travel create anxiety within us, remember that we are lucky to be able to gather together with friends and family.
Wholeheartedly enjoying the people we are surrounded with and expressing gratitude for our loved ones takes a bit of the stress out of the season and helps us be a bit more mindful of our joy.
When is the last time you sat down and wrote a lengthy handwritten letter?
Letter writing has certainly become a lost art. We document ourselves on computer screens, through phone calls, in 140 heedless characters and even, once in a while, person to person. But never on paper. Never in pen and ink and effort.
And letter writing truly is an art. A letter requires care to convey meaning and intent, requires deep thought and concentration, and cannot be accomplished while simultaneously watching television and texting friends. Letter writing is a dual expression of intention and attention.
Communication is not about being faster, getting things over with and moving on. It is about expressing yourself in carefully chosen words, about conveying care to the recipient. Anyone can fire off a quick encouraging text message that is read, appreciated and later discarded. But a letter is something of meaning, deeply personal and cherished perhaps for decades to come.
Perhaps we could all try to write a letter to someone in the next few weeks. Perhaps we could find the time to express ourselves to someone we love or who needs it most.
Who do you need to write a letter to, to communicate all the things that get lost in between texts and off-handed phone conversations? Who do you most want to truly talk to and connect with? Pour your thoughts into paper, and your words will truly have an impact.
We know that stress and anxiety are destructive, that they harm our emotional and mental health and release hormones in our bodies that negatively impact our physical health as well. We know that we shouldn’t give in to worry, and yet it is so hard not to.
We allow ourselves to feel stress, anxiety and worry; and allow these emotions to gnaw on us the same way fear does; yet we are not afraid of anything substantial. So often we worry that the roast will not be cooked on time or our guests will not enjoy themselves and we end up ruining half the holiday for ourselves simply out of unnecessary stress.
Letting go of worry and opening ourselves to vulnerability helps alleviate much of this anxiety. This changes our expectations of the holidays; we realize that they do not need to be perfect, that holidays are unpredictable and that is okay, because their entire point is to bring joy and pleasure to those who celebrate them.
You cannot plan and control your way to an amazing holiday; it happens on its own while no one is looking. Those unscripted moments we remember the best - sipping hot chocolate on a snowy balcony, preparing dinner with family in the kitchen, listening to stories around a crowded table - those are the unplanned moments of joy that happen regardless of how much anxiety we allow ourselves to feel.
You cannot enjoy the holidays if you are too busy rushing about and feeling stressed. Slow down and savor the steady unraveling of togetherness and celebration that is bound not to disappoint.
I have heard all the reasons for frenetic shopping on Black Friday. I only have been shopping once on this day, about 8 years ago, and it was one of the most fear inspiring, frantic, maniacal experiences to date. Normally civilized locals had their sleeves up, elbows ready, and steel determination in their eyes. The lust to win the shopping kill was nothing short of gladiatorial and if you have never experienced a panic attack, this could lead to your first self induced one. As you can tell, I have become too anxious to give this another try. Besides a bargain is never a bargain unless you need it.
The whole concept of waiting for the next 'thing,' constantly wishing away the moment you're in as every future moment must be better, greater, sweeter; is a driver of discontentment. Living in the 'this is less than' world, this moment is never good enough, but the next one might be is the greatest pro-aging activity that there is. The truth is the grass beneath you is greener when you water it.
The worst thing about sale shopping is coming home with many things that you don't really want, but there was no resistance to what appeared to be the beautiful bargain. The long lines of standing, the inaccessibility to the rest rooms, the immobility of the crowds seem to all be part of the thrill. The angry mood can start flaring up and a distinct feeling of energy drain can cling like a grey cloud overhead.
A good action plan can really help if you really want to go and tackle Black Friday. Have a list of everything you want before you go. List the stores and order you will go to them. Set yourself a budget. Have somebody with you to specifically help carry your bags. Allow enough time to handle the crowds. Think out the parking plan. Know where you will take a food break. Carry your funds carefully. Have a pouch for all your receipts. Move away from anybody who becomes angry. Try to avoid taking very young children.
Stay calm, stay focused and accomplish your task if you want to avoid Black Friday Blues. Happy shopping!!!!
From our earliest days, we observe patterns in the behaviors of others that create understanding about how the world works. This is both good (creating a general cultural understanding of behaviors, emotions, right and wrong) and bad (perhaps leading to simplified conclusions that hurt us throughout life).
As children, starting from infancy, we observe that love is equated with praise, and praise follows good performance. This perhaps has the benefit of stimulating us to succeed: in order to make our parents happy, we work harder at school, at learning to take care of ourselves, at doing better in our hobbies, at being helpful and kind. In performing well, being friendly and succeeding, we receive praise, thus affection and love.
But could this also be damaging? We become bound by the connections we made as children, are governed by the memory associations we formed early in our development. Perhaps this is not always for the better.
As adults, we continue to strive to please others and sometimes forget to first strive for ourselves. We forget to first do for ourselves and afterwards for others. This can become damaging when the priorities we misplace relate to important life decisions.
It is not uncommon for young adults to pick the career path their family finds most “suitable,” or for women to marry a partner they are less passionate about in order to please their parents.
That is not to say that praise and love should be done away with – not at all! But we should certainly be aware of the factors that influence our decisions. We not always are. We often do things to please parents, spouses, bosses or children in order to feel worthy and loved. If we fail, we feel correspondingly terrible about ourselves. And we don’t need that unnecessary stress and anxiety; we don’t need to feel like less simply because we are not pleasing someone else.
Their happiness does not hinge on our decisions, but our happiness does. We often forget that we received praise so that we would feel good about ourselves, not so that we would spend a lifetime looking outside of ourselves for validation.
It is difficult to detach from the associations we created in infancy. But we can build an awareness of when we are striving for others so that we may shift this effort into building happiness for ourselves.
Don’t give up who you are for others. If we let our inner selves free to explore our own bliss and take us where it may lead, we may be surprised, but we will most certainly be happy.