How To Overcome Stress

August 24, 2011 by  
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Photo By Angie Rubin

Sometimes it seems to me that the last few years of my life have been mostly about overcoming obstacles and stress.  This big cycle started in 2006 with my late husband’s cancer diagnosis.  From that point on I dealt with a transplant, health insurance, losing Chris, losing my savings, my father’s serious illness, and family turmoil.  So to me all those years were sink or swim.  I chose to swim.

In choosing to live, to thrive and find contentment in very tough times, I’ve had to change the way I dealt with feelings and situations.  I’ve learned to:

  • Take deep breaths throughout my day.  It helps release stress energy and it grounds me.
  • Be fully in the present.  Thinking how life used to be or thinking ahead doesn’t help any.  It only creates more stress.  I focus on now.
  • Deal with one thing at a time.
  • Realize although my difficulty and pain are unique to me, they are not unique to human existence.  Every single one of us goes through difficulties in our lives. That helps me stop feeling like a victim.
  • Step outside the situation at hand and realize that everything that happens in our lives – whatever it is – creates the opportunity for change and wisdom.  So what can I learn from what’s going on?
  • Rely on myself.  I’ve learned to listen to my own voice.  I have a better idea of what matters to me, what I can tolerate, and what brings me contentment.
  • In solitude, I’ve learned I’m never alone.   I have always myself and with that knowledge I can create situations that bring happiness and sooth the struggle.

Of course difficult times are just that; difficult.  But if we can find ways to better navigate them, we don’t have to lose hope and despair.  Keep the other side in sight and the journey becomes a path to wisdom and contentment.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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Learning From Dissapointments

October 6, 2009 by  
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The details are irrelevant, so I won’t waste your time going into them. Suffice it to say that I recently suffered a not really unexpected disappointment.

What I will say, to put it in perspective, is that it wasn’t a devastating loss or tragedy, but it was something I clearly cared about and was involved in quite publicly for many years.

As is my style, I got ahead of the story and announced the circumstances of my disappointment to everyone who would listen. I find that lessens the impact on me emotionally by making it more mundane and I also prevent forcing people I speak to, who already know from other sources about my outcome, from making the choice of acting as if they don’t know or figuring out how to approach the subject with me.

My father-in-law, a very bright, goal oriented man in his 90′s felt it necessary to say the polite equivalent of “I told you so.” My sister-in-law, a woman in her 80′s who had been working her way through a personal tragedy with inner strength and courage she didn’t even suspect she had, said without hesitation, “I’m so sorry. Are you OK?”

These were knee-jerk reactions, unplanned, unrehearsed, simple popping out from  somewhere inside.

I have been fond of both of these people and have respected them both for what they have accomplished in their life, and I was disappointed in one, and pleased by the other.

But it is what I felt afterwards that was the thing that lasts. My father-in-law was clearly the more needy one. He had to find some kind of vindication for him in my misfortune. I felt no sympathy for him, but he had probably lived a very unsatisfying life if he could never enjoy his own accomplishments and needed the comparison with what he perceived as the failure of others to validate himself. My sister-in-law had obviously found herself in a place where she could see beyond her own travails and live in a world where love and caring prevails. Her chances for moments of happiness had been mirrored by her unflagging optimism and joy in the good things in her life.

It is ironic how much one can learn from disappointment.

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Shit Happens

September 4, 2009 by  
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My husband used to tell me all the time that I have no patience.  He always said: “you just did such and such, give it time.”

I’m always in a hurry.  I do something and I want to see results.  Maybe that’s why when I first landed in NYC at age eighteen, I felt like I was home.  Everything moved fast and I liked it.

Years later I realize that life is not about ten minutes to a better body or ten ways to feel happier.  Even though I still want things to happen fast I know there is no absolute happiness and there is no absolute anything and the world has its own clock.

There are so many self-help books and doctrines that tell us if we think positive thoughts all the time we will get everything that we want.  What a disservice to mankind!

I know most of these authors are after big sales of books, DVDs, etc. and they understand the American psyche – get it done and get it done fast – but the truth is no matter how many stickers you place on your bathroom mirror or on your closet door saying how wonderful you are, shit happens.  The reason is simple: everything and everyone in this planet has a goal and a mission and sometimes we are not all in synch and we definitely don’t all want Shangri-La.  People die, markets crash, and poverty exits.  It’s out of our control. 

What we do have control over is how we handle and appreciate life.  There are many gifts and opportunities that present themselves to us every day that if we weren’t so busy going after our lofty goals we might just draw and receive a lot of satisfaction out of them.

So while I don’t believe in ten steps to anything, I do believe in the small gifts.  I believe in slowing down and appreciating a friend’s phone call, a beautiful sky, a smiling face, a dog or a cat giving a loving lick. Silly? Don’t mock it till you try it.

I believe in picking goals that I’m passionate about so that when the obstacles come, and they will, I’ll have enough passion to keep going. 

I believe in looking at a situation from different perspectives and choosing the most positive angle to move forward.

And I believe in honesty.  What a relief to be able to share how I truly think and feel without being worried how others will think and see me.

A friend, whose husband passed away from cancer, made a documentary about her husband and a number of other people going through the process of being diagnosed, treated and eventually dying of cancer.

Of all the people she followed a particular woman’s story stuck in my head because she said she felt she had failed because there were so many books about positive thinking and the connection between sickness and frame of mind that she felt that she was responsible for her own cancer and her own inability to cure herself.  So in essence she was guilty of her death and the pain it brought to her family.  Her testimony broke my heart.  I wished I could have reached out to her through my TV set, where I was watching the documentary, to cradle this woman and to tell her it was not her fault. That the world was a noisy and complicated place where her positive thinking had only domain and control over how she felt and dealt with things but not how they eventually turned out.

I have done a lot of “soul searching” in the last few years of my life.  Not because I chose to but because I had to and I concluded that McDonald’s does not work as a meal and it does not work as a life style.  Slowing down and appreciating the daily things is what gives us power and strength to move forward, because the small, every day things are beautiful.

I have also concluded that again shit happens and after shit happens something else will happen.  It is up to us to navigate the ups and downs in the best way we can.

So don’t feel discourage if after following 10 days to a better anything you still feel the same, because the truth is there is no absolute and you and I will have plenty of crying to do before our time is up.  But we’ll also have plenty of laughter.  So let’s shift our focus to the laughing periods and when the crying periods come we will have our laughter stored up to help us navigate the difficult times.

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A Special Email

June 17, 2009 by  
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Today I received an email from someone that had visited the site.  She mentioned being “nudged” by me to start writing again.  She had written a couple of books in the past and now was a French professor.

While this woman was obviously very accomplished she had also gone through many trials in her life. Events seemed to have taken the life out of her writing and so she hadn’t written anything for a few years.

How amazing that with words I was able to impact someone in a positive way.  How amazing that her email made me so satisfied.  It was not about my ego but about succeeding in doing something that was so important to me.  The Love Project was and is for me and hopefully for others, a way to focus on the positive.

I know it may sound corny or contrived but I had lost some much that I came to a point that all I wanted was to change the focus in my life.  I have not become a smiling fool.  I hurt and I get frustrated like everybody else but there is a difference; I stop to think if my being upset is really worth what is happening and I must confess in most cases it isn’t.

Life doesn’t change in its goal to keep putting obstacles in our way but what can change is how we go about overcoming them. 

I don’t know what the future will be like and who I will be but for now I’m trying to embrace all that is good within me and share with others.

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