Treading Water

Tools to stay afloat during the storms of life

Treading water

The reason you haven’t heard from me on the SoYoCo blog or in emails in a while is because I have been treading water.  As you know, treading water is a form of movement to keep your head above water.  The goal of treading water is to keep moving.  It’s a survival skill.  In life, it’s an effective strategy for getting through times when you are swimming in rough waters.

Since last April I have experienced a series of stressful events that have required my full attention to stay afloat.  It started with the floods in the Houston area last April and May that affected our family farm.  In October I started a new full time job as a clinical social worker in hospice care.  I have taken time to adjust to a new schedule and new responsibilities.  In the meantime, my husband and I are still busy taking care of our kids and helping a family member through a medical emergency.

I’m sure you’ve had times in your life where you feel like you are moving as fast as you can but you aren’t getting anywhere.  When you are under chronic stress sprinkled with moments of acute stress, your nervous system can get stuck in fight or flight.  Your brain operates from the emotional side where words don’t come easily.  Your rational brain is trying to make sense of things, telling you to “snap out of it” but it just doesn’t work that way.  Your body, mind and brain are all affected.  Self care is really important during these times but it may not look like you would expect it to look.

“Go back and take care of yourself.  Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you.  Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it.  Go home and be there for all these things.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

During times when I was treading water, I relied on the tools in my “Emergency Self Care Plan” (You can sign up here to receive a copy.).  My self care became even more of a priority.  I had to go back to the basics over and over again, taking short breaks throughout the day to stretch my body, take a few deep breaths or step outside to feel the sun on my face and the ground beneath my feet.  I had to mix it up and try different things to try to rattle me loose from the stuck places of being “frozen” in fight or flight.  I definitely had to reach out to others and accept support.  I had to practice what I preach and follow the steps outlined in the “Feeling Swamped” blog posts here and here.  Eventually I noticed that I was beginning to make forward progress.  The storms passed and the waters of life calmed down a bit.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

The storms of life will come and go in my life, as they will in yours.  How do you stay afloat during the storms?  What survival skills and tools do you keep with you?  Emergency self care tools are like having a life preserver and rescue plan with you at all times.  They help you to keep treading water even when you feel like you are at a standstill in life.  They give you the strength and energy to “just keep swimming” as taught by Dory the fish in the movie “Finding Nemo.”  If you feel like you are treading water right now, what’s one thing you can do today to keep yourself afloat?  If the waters of your life are calm, what’s one thing you can do today to keep moving forward?

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Feeling Swamped?

5 steps to recover from life's storms - Part 2 in a 2-part series

This is the second post in a 2-part blog series.  To read part 1 with steps 1 & 2 first, go here.

3. Clear out the clutter

This is where it starts to get real. You may think it’s over once the storm has passed, but there is still work to be done.  Floods cause a lot of damage to a home, from drenched belongings to warped floors and the risk of mold growing in your home.  You have to clear out the damage before you can do anything else.  If your house floods, you need to pull up the carpet or flooring and let everything dry.  Sometimes you have to repair the walls by ripping out the drywall – all the way down to the studs.

The same is true with your personal storms.  Being swamped with chronic or acute stress causes damage to your body and mind (your “other home”).  So how do you clear out the damage?  You need to get rid of old habits and clear out the stress and trauma.  How?  This step takes some serious soul-searching.  Do you have a habit that keeps you stuck in the cycle of stress and overwhelm?  Do you hold onto the story of a recent trauma and tell it in the same way over and over again?

If so, start by noticing the habit or story that you repeat over and over again.  Take a deep breath in.  As you breathe out, let go of the habit or story with your exhale.  It won’t be long before you notice the habit creep back into your mind.  When it does, notice it.  Take another deep breathe in and let it all go with the exhale.  Every time you notice that the old thought has returned, repeat this step. This will help you to clear out the clutter in your mind.  Once you recognize and remove the damage, then you can make repairs and room for something new.

4. Recover and repair

Once you have cleared out the damage, then you are able to fix things that are broken and replace things that were ruined in the flood.  In your home, this is a very tangible process of picking out new flooring, installing new drywall and putting on a fresh coat of paint.

How do you want your thoughts, your days and your life to look now that you have stripped away the old habits?  This is a great time to imagine how you want your life to look.  Take time to rest, pray and dream.

If there was a particular habit that kept you in a cycle of stress, how do you change it so you can find a new groove of serenity?  Is there a hobby or self care activity that you have always wanted to do?  Maybe you played a musical instrument or dabbled with art or enjoyed a sport when you were younger.  Have you always wanted to get back to it?  Now is the time.  Build a new habit into your life.

5. Start fresh.

Now that you have an idea, make a plan and do it!  It’s time to start fresh.  Keep it simple.  Set aside 10 minutes a day to practice your new habit or self care activity.  See what it feels like to live with this new habit or new way of thinking.  It can be exciting and strange to adjust to changes in your surroundings.  It’s the same with your mind.  It may help to keep a journal next to you and take note of the changes that you notice throughout the day.  Every day is a new day to start fresh, even if you get caught up in another storm (because we all do sometimes).  Remember that person that you reached out to for support?  Share your new habit with her and let her continue to support you.  As you continue to take care of yourself, you’ll notice that you can find a sense of calm whether you are standing in the eye of a storm or walking down a beach as the sun sets.

Feeling swamped?

5 steps to recover from life's storms - Part 1 in a 2-part series

Are you feeling swamped, overwhelmed, and like you are struggling to keep your head above water?  This feeling can be brought on by any number of factors:

  • too much work, too little time
  • the high intensity of your work setting (trying to help people solve complex problems, struggling to meet the demands of your job, difficult relationships with peers or supervisors)
  • trying to juggle work with family responsibilities & other areas of your life
  • worry about financial security or the physical & emotional health of you and your family members

The list goes on and on.  You might even have many factors in your life that combine to create the perfect storm of challenges that makes you feel like you are wading through quicksand.

I live in the Houston metro area and we have experienced two major floods this spring.  The rain and flood conditions had an impact on our family and our farm business.  The floods gave me new opportunities to practice self care at a much deeper level.  We were literally “swamped” and needed to take very specific steps to recover from the floods.  These same steps can be applied when you are feeling swamped by the demands of your day-to-day life.  This is the first in a two-part series on five steps to recover from life’s storms.

  1. Get to safety.

In a flood, your first priority is safety.  You need to act quickly to move to high ground and get out of harm’s way.  Staying in a situation where you feel swamped on an ongoing basis can be harmful for your health.  There are different kinds of floods and different types of stress that lead to a sense of overwhelm.

A flash flood is similar to acute stress.  It rains so hard that you are standing in the pouring rain and water starts flowing all around you.  In life, a traumatic event or a tragedy happens and you have to respond immediately.  You do whatever you have to do to get to a safe place.  Although it comes on suddenly, it’s hard to deny the effects of a flash flood or acute stress.  You follow an emergency plan and take steps to get to safety: get to high ground in a flash flood or get out of the situation of acute stress as soon as possible.

It’s a little more tricky with rising waters, which is similar to chronic stress.  It can sneak up on you when you aren’t paying attention.  It’s still just as important to get to safety.  Chronic stress does just as much harm to your health as acute stress, but it’s harder to recognize.  It’s important to take a look at your life and notice if you are standing in high water when it comes to your life circumstances and stress level.  If so, get to safety as soon as possible.  This might mean that you go on a vacation or a weekend getaway.  It might mean that you talk to your family or boss or a therapist to determine a safety plan.  Whatever it takes, physical, mental and emotional safety is your first priority.

  1. Accept help and support.

In a flood or a natural disaster, trained professionals and volunteers come from all corners of the globe to help.  (You already know this because you are one of those helpers.)  I know.  I know.  It’s hard for you to accept help because you are usually the one who is helping others.  Guess what?  It’s your turn to be on the receiving end.  It’s ok.  There are so many people who care about you and want to help you recover from the flood and the feelings of overwhelm.  Please accept their help and support.  You know how good it feels to help others.  You do it on a daily basis.  Allow those around you the gift of being there for you in a time of need.  Look around you for the people who can offer you a lifeline.  Reach out and grab it.  Take some time to catch your breath.

The rest of the process takes a while.  I don’t want to add to the overwhelm so I’ll save the rest of the steps for the next blog post.  In the meantime, check in to assess your level of overwhelm.  Do you need to make changes (big or small) to feel a sense of safety?  What can you do today?  Listen to your intuition and decide on the first step depending on your own situation.  Reach out and connect with someone in your support network.  Take a few minutes each day to pray, take a few deep breaths, walk around the block or listen to soothing music.  I look forward to continuing the journey with you.  Take good care of yourself.

To continue to part 2, click here.

Becoming a Beacon

The day that social work chose me

I remember the day like it was yesterday.  I was a sophomore in college and needed to declare my major.  I was lost at sea.  I was a student at Westmont College, a small liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, California.  I knew that I had a heart for service or ministry, but I didn’t have a compass for what that meant in practical terms.  I was considering sociology or religious studies as my major but neither one of them felt right. I flew back to my home state of Texas over spring break to visit colleges.  I wanted to transfer to a new school, partly because I wanted to move closer to family and partly because I was looking for the right educational path for me.

I was standing in the admissions office of TCU (Texas Christian University) in Fort Worth, Texas.  I had just taken a tour of the campus and needed to make 2 major life decisions: was I going to transfer to TCU?  If so, what was I going to declare as my major?  They had a display shelf with a 1-page brochure for each major offered at the university.  I read them one by one.  I picked up the one entitled “social work” and read it from beginning to end.  I looked up at my parents and the admissions officer and said “This is it.  I’m going to major in social work.”  One definition of a beacon is “a lighthouse or other signal for guidance.”  Social work chose me and became my beacon on that day.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in social work from TCU and my master’s degree in social work from UTA (University of Texas at Arlington).  I have been a social worker for 25 years! My social work education and career have guided me to a safe harbor where I can be a beacon for others.  Another definition of beacon is “a source of light or inspiration.” Now I teach self care tools to other mental health professionals.  To be a beacon for others, I have to be standing on solid ground and be willing and able to shine a bright light out into the darkness.  Here are 3 ways that I stay grounded and able to keep shining bright.  I’ve organized my thoughts by the personal strategies for self care outlined in Self Care in Social Work by Kathleen Cox and Sue Steiner.  I started learning and applying these concepts when I was at TCU and UTA.  I have continued to grow in my understanding of them throughout my career as a clinical social worker, yoga instructor and life coach.

Self-awareness.  It started with the introspective papers that I was required to write for my social work classes.  To become a social worker (or any type of mental health professional), you need to examine your own thoughts, feelings, biases and perspectives.  This is an ongoing process.  To be a beacon for others, I need to be honest with myself about whether or not I am walking the walk or just talking the talk.  If you are helping others to deal with their stress, are you being honest with yourself about your own stress level?

Self-regulation. As professionals (and as parents, teachers, bosses or even friends), we are often really good at giving advice or guidance to others.  We may be able to clearly see the course that someone needs to take to make it back to safety or serenity.  When you notice that you have gone off course in some area of your life, are you willing and able to self-correct?  Do you have the necessary skills and instruments to get you back on track?  I learned many fabulous tools while I was in school and I have needed to continue learning in order to keep my light shining bright.

Self-efficacy. In order to be a beacon, you have to believe in your ability to stand strong, shine your light and withstand the waves that crash into shore with storms or the changing tide.  “Some social workers may be surprised to learn that many of the most powerful threats to our self-efficacy come from within” (p. 79 of Self-Care in Social Work).  This obviously applies to all of us (professionals, parents, leaders).  Active self care is essential to becoming and remaining a beacon.  I am eternally grateful to the many beacons who have guided me along my path.  This includes countless people (family, friends, professionals) as well as my professional training and my life experiences.  I am proud of the beacon that I have become.  May you be a beacon, a guiding light and a source of inspiration, for those who need you.

Wide Open Spaces. Heart Wide Open.

Big Bend National Park (where I went on family vacation last week) contains the Chisos Mountains surrounded by desert.  There are miles and miles and miles of wide open spaces.  These wide open spaces gave me a heart wide open.  The best way for me to share my experience with you is through a few words and phrases that have new meaning for me.

Let go. You know what it’s like to finish things at work and pack to leave for a vacation, right?  There’s so much to do that it seems impossible.  I was reminded last week that it is SO WORTH IT!  Once we drove out of the driveway I started to let go.  Every mile, every day, every night that passed allowed me to let go a little more.  I realized during the trip that this is the longest vacation I’ve taken since before my kids were born (and my oldest is 15!)  I needed to let go and just “be”.

Awe. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines awe as “a strong feeling of fear or respect and also wonder.”  Big Bend is full of awe-inspiring beauty, from the varied topography of the mountains to the beauty and functionality of the desert plants.  Recent research indicates that “the awe we feel when touched by the beauty of nature, art, and spirituality” can contribute to lowered inflammation and better health in the body. (“Can Awe Boost Health?”) I love it when science explains the concrete process for something that seems so abstract and intuitive.

Expansion. The wide open spaces of the desert gave me room to breathe.  The best way I know how to describe this feeling is expansion, space inside of me and a heart wide open.  I live in a big city and easily get caught up in the busyness of life.  My heart often feels heavy with challenges – my own, my family and friends’, and those that I serve.  That weight can become hard to bear.  My time in nature – in creation – allowed my heart to open and become light again.

Perspective. After a week away I feel different in my own home and in my own car.  Things here are the same but my perspective has changed.  I am more relaxed so I am more aware of my surroundings.  I have renewed depth of insight into myself and my purpose.

Savor. The ability to savor positive thoughts and experiences is so important to mental and emotional health. I have filled up my memory banks with scenes of nature, the sound of my kids’ laughing and deep connection with my loved ones.  I can continue to savor those memories for a long time to come.  The memory of wide open spaces allows me to maintain a heart wide open.

Next time you get a chance to go on vacation, I hope that you will experience these same benefits.  In the meantime, I hope you will take a moment to sit with one of these concepts.

  • Is there one thing that no longer serves you?  Are you willing and able to let it go?
  • Look around you for something that inspires awe.  Allow your sense of respect and wonder to grow.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breathe.  Feel a sense of expansion as your lungs fill with air.
  • Think of a situation in your life that feels stuck. Is there a way to look at it from a different perspective?
  • Think of a recent positive experience.  Feel the feelings that you felt during that experience. Savor the feelings and the experience.

If you are planning your next vacation and want to see the wide open spaces of Big Bend, you will be well taken care of on an adventure with Far Flung Outdoor Center.

Renew Yourself. Inspire Others.

My motto and mission with SoYoCo Wellness is “Renew Yourself. Inspire Others.”

If you are a helping professional, parent or simply someone with a heart for service, then you are already inspiring others on a daily basis.  Inspire means “to influence, move or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  If we look back to its origins, it literally means to “breathe new life” into someone or something.  When you inspire someone through your work or your kindness, it is a form of giving new life to that person.  What an honor and a responsibility at the same time.  If you look at the image with this blog post, you will find 10 synonyms for inspire.  I hope that you will take a moment to read through all of the words  that describe inspiration and let them really sink in to your mind and your heart.  I know that you are aware that you are making a difference in the world, but sometimes it helps to slow down, take a deep breath and appreciate the gift that you are giving to others.  Allowing the impact of your work to sink into your heart is one way to renew yourself, which brings me to the first part of the motto.

Renew Yourself.  It’s so easy to focus first on others.  We all know the instructions in case of an emergency on a plane: “Place an oxygen mask on yourself first, then assist others around you.”  Why do you think flight attendants give the same instructions on EACH and EVERY flight?  Because for people like you and me, it’s counter-intuitive to take care of ourselves first.  It’s your natural tendency to want to help others first.  But what happens if YOU run out of oxygen?  Then you literally don’t have another breathe to give, to yourself or others.  So you MUST renew yourself.  Renewal means “to make something new, fresh or strong again” (M-W).   If we go back to thinking about our breath, we have to keep taking deep breaths in and out ourselves in order to “breathe new life” into someone else.   When you think about renewing yourself, it’s easy to think about going on your next vacation or spending time and money to pamper yourself with a massage or spa day.  Those are wonderful things to do to renew yourself on a deep level.  I hope that for TODAY, you will remember to slow down, take a deep breath and renew yourself.  Read through all of the synonyms for renewal in the image above: restore, replenish, transform…  Let these words be your oxygen mask.  Breathe new life into yourself as you begin again, deep breathe in and out, rejuvenate, deep breathe in and out, reawaken, deep breathe in and out…

“Coach: Put Me in the Game!”

Why mental health professionals are my teammates for life

My dad played football from the time that he was a young boy all the way through college.  He is one of those guys who identifies himself as a football player, often talking about football before he even mentions his lifelong profession.  He is still in contact with his teammates from years ago.  They love to get together and tell stories from the good ole days of football.

My favorite story is from the football game when my dad broke his arm. (Stick with me and I promise you’ll see the connection to the topic soon.) My dad was a receiver for SMU, but in those days they had to play defense too. On one particular play against Notre Dame Dad tackled a big fullback. He got up and started walking back to his position, when he noticed his left arm was sort of “flopping around.” He went to the referee and showed him the problem. Time out was called and my dad walked to the sideline.  The doctor told my Dad that he had broken both bones in his forearm and needed to get in an ambulance and go to the hospital for surgery right away. My dad told the doctor that he wanted to stay and see what happened in the final seven minutes of the game. The doctor told him that the delay might result in the necessity of amputation. So Dad said “I changed my mind” and he went to the hospital where they placed metal rods in both bones.  He was so passionate about football that he couldn’t stand to miss the end of the game – even when he had a broken arm.

When I was young I played soccer and volleyball.  I loved swimming and was a member of my high school drill team.  I am still a huge sports fan, but playing a particular sport didn’t turn out to be my passion.  When I was a sophomore in college I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was in the process of transferring from a small liberal arts college to Texas Christian University and it was time for me to declare a major.  I was standing in the admissions office where they had a bookcase with a short brochure on every major that they offered at TCU.  I was desperately reading through the brochures and picked up one that said “Social Work.”  I had never heard of social work, but I read the description and I just “knew”.  I found my passion.  I majored in social work and I haven’t looked back since that day.

Throughout my career I have worked in diverse settings with clients who have intense needs, from homeless shelters to housing programs and from hospice care to hospitals.  I’ve been challenged professionally in a way that reminds me of football training camp when athletes are doing “two a day” workouts to get in shape for a new season.  I’ve taken a short break from my work to care for my children when they were babies.  This reminds me of the time between the Super Bowl and the start of training camp when players get to rest, spend time with their families and take time for other activities.  And boy, have I ever been sidelined with my own injuries and personal challenges.  During one phase of my life, I was a single mom working with hospice patients during the day then rushing to pick up my kids from school and daycare before closing time.  Within a few short months my apartment flooded, my car broke down several times and I had spasms in my back that left me laid out on the floor unable to get up.  Life got stressful and pushed me to the brink of my limits.  During that time period I had to push through the pain and keep working to pay the bills and be present to my kids and the hospice patients that I served.  If we go back to the sports analogy, the coach and trainer had to do an assessment, tape me up and send me back into the game.

A few years ago I left my job as a social worker in the senior behavioral health unit of a hospital in order to take care of my family full time.  My husband and I have four kids in four schools with a variety of extra-curricular activities.  It was time to take a break between seasons.  A little time passed and I started to get the itch to get back in the game.  For the past two years I have been building my business, SoYoCo Wellness, between shuffling kids to school and helping out with our family farm business.  You see, being a health professional is my passion.  It’s the thing that I love to do and learn about and talk about with peers and mentors.  While working as a social worker over the years I also trained to be a yoga instructor and a life coach.  I spend just as much time applying what I learn to myself as I do applying my knowledge and skills with those that I serve.  This is why I now offer self care tools to mental health and health care professionals.  You are my people.  You are my teammates.  We share the same passion.  I want to help you stay in tip-top shape so that you can continue to work in the field that you love.  If you get injured or need a break, then take a break.  Rest, take care of yourself and be ready to say “Coach: Put me in the game!”

Surfing the Tidal Rhythm of Life

I learned how to surf during a week-long surf camp many years ago.  The life lessons from my surfing experience have stayed with me even though I haven’t surfed since the last day of camp.  I was determined to learn how to surf while I was living in California so I signed up for the all-inclusive camp.  I showed up with a couple of swimsuits and a sleeping bag.  They provided the tent, all of my meals, wet suit, surfboard and lessons. Here is what I learned about life from surfing.

  1. Show up.

I made a decision to learn to surf and I showed up.  We got all of our supplies ready on the first morning and headed to the beach.  The instructors led us in a short lesson and a few stretches.  I’m not kidding when I say a “short lesson.”  I put my surf board on the sand, lay down on my belly and paddled my arms, then stood up and pretended to surf. That was it.  It makes sense when you think about it: what can you learn about surfing when you are standing on the shore?  Not much.  I showed up and I was ready to go.

  1. Paddle out to sea.

Before you learn anything about surfing, you start learning about the rhythm of the ocean.  The waves are coming at you as you carry your surfboard into the water.  It’s easy to get knocked down or knocked back toward shore.  I learned how to push my surfboard down into the incoming wave and duck underneath it.  I did this “duck dive” with every wave until I made it to the smooth ocean surface beyond the waves.  There are always waves in life.  We have to be willing to face them head on, learn how to duck into them and move beyond them.

  1. Watch for a wave.

This may be my favorite part of surfing.  You sit on your surf board with your legs dangling in the water and look out to the horizon.  You are watching for a good wave to come, which simply requires that you sit and pay attention to your surroundings. The best surfers are students of the ocean.  They learn about tidal rhythms, weather patterns and water conditions.  I remember sitting on my surfboard next to my instructor. He would say “Get ready.  Here comes a good one.”  At that point I couldn’t see anything.  I saw the subtle movements of the water and the horizon, but I literally had no idea what he saw. Sure enough, a few moments later a wave would start to form and move toward us.  I would ask him questions about how he knew a wave was coming and how he knew it was a “good one.”  He would give me a long scientific explanation, but I realized that it really came down to awareness.  He was paying attention to every detail.  He had been studying the ocean in this way for years, so he could see waves forming before they formed.

  1. Paddle.

Once we saw the wave coming, my instructor would wait until just the right time and then start yelling “Paddle.  Paddle.  Paddle hard.  Paddle.  Paddle harder.”  After sitting on my surfboard for a long time, all of a sudden it’s time to move.  It’s time to do something.  The instructions are simple and clear: “Paddle!” I turned my surfboard toward shore, lifted my legs up behind me and started to paddle my arms.  When the timing is right, we need to take swift action.  When a wave in life is coming toward us, we need to study the wave/situation, then do something.  Start moving in the right direction and keep it simple.

  1. Stand up.

At just the right moment, my instructor would yell “Stand up!” I would hold onto the edge of the surfboard and attempt to stand up.  Again, it’s simple.  Or is it?  The ability to stand up on your surfboard on a wave is the difference between surfing and flailing about in the ocean.  It takes practice.  If you fall, you have to gather yourself and your board and start over again.  You have to make the decision again to show up. You have to paddle out to sea. You have to sit and wait and watch the waves, then paddle, then stand up. It took me a while to learn.  What a thrill the first time I stood up for a moment! Then came the belly flop right into the ocean, but I didn’t care because I stood up on my surfboard and surfed for a split second.  That one moment of success made it all worth it.  The more I practiced, the longer I could stand up and surf.  (Evidence of my belly flop and surfing success in the pictures above). Once I was up I could focus on trying to keep my balance in order to stay up a little longer.

  1. Repeat.

The joy of surfing is in doing it over and over again.  It is in the experience of the moment.  Water conditions and the tide will change from day to day, but I can decide every day to show up, paddle out to sea, watch for a wave, paddle and stand up.

An important lesson I have learned over the past several months is the difference between rhythm and balance.

In surfing, you have to pay attention to the rhythm of the waves and learn how to surf in sync with the ocean.  Once you stand up, you might be able to balance for a short time period.  It’s not possible to maintain balance forever on a surfboard.

In life, you have to pay attention to the rhythm of your life and learn how to surf in sync with your own circumstances.  When things are going well, you might be able to balance for a short time period.  It’s not possible to maintain balance forever in life.  You will fall.  You will get up.  You will have the choice to show up, paddle out to sea and get in sync with the changing tidal rhythm of your life, time and time again.

What waves in life are you facing today?  Are the waves knocking you down or are you learning ways to duck dive into and through them?  What is one thing you can do TODAY to get more in sync with the rhythm of your life?  It might be something as simple as sitting still (imagining you are on a surfboard if you like the idea of surfing) and look out to the horizon.  Notice your surroundings and accept the current conditions.  If you have gotten knocked down by the waves recently, you might just need to stand up, dust yourself off and decide yet again to show up and be ready to surf.  Happy surfing to you my friend!

 

8 Self Care Lessons from Super Heroes

**A quick note from me to you: If you read my blog because you want to renew yourself and inspire others, then this is for you. Many of my readers are mental health professionals who have chosen a life of service (more than likely, your service chose you). Other readers live a life of service to their own family, from young children to aging parents. And other people serve through business and community involvement. When you read about super heroes, I want you to know that I am talking about you. You are a super hero in my eyes. You have special powers. You need to take care of yourself and your super powers and your humanness because the world needs you. We need you to be our super hero, so here are a few gentle reminders for you.**

I have always loved the universal lessons that we can learn from super heroes. For the sake of this article I will talk about a specific episode of The Flash (based on the DC Comics character Barry Allen/Flash currently airing on The CW). You can find all of these lessons in Episode 7 of Season 2 when Barry/Flash is recovering from a battle with Zoom, his arch nemesis.

1. Super heroes develop/gain their powers after experiencing pain, struggle & vulnerability.
Before becoming Flash, Barry was an average guy with less than average speed. He had already committed his life to solving crimes as a way to cope with his mother’s murder, for which his father had been falsely convicted. Due to a science experiment gone wrong, Barry received the power of speed after being struck by a bolt of lightning. It was no coincidence that he was the one who ended up with this power. For you and me, we often develop our super powers to help others as a way to heal our own wounds. It is our vulnerability that allows us to connect with those that we serve.

2. Super heroes wear a mask so very few people see the powerful work that they do.
Flash is Barry Allen by day, Flash by night (or whenever he responds to an emergency). This is true for virtually all super heroes. I LOVE this fact about super heroes because I see us in this same light, yes I’m talking about you! Anyone who chooses a life of service has basically chosen to wear a mask. We are not the ones who win awards and get accolades most of the time. We quietly go about our business changing lives and very few people on the street can see our super powers.

3. Super heroes always have at least one person who provides vital support.
They can’t do it alone even though that’s how it may look from the outside. In Flash’s case, he has a whole team working with him. We can’t do it alone. We need support too.

4. Sometimes super heroes need to call in the troops and accept even more support.
This is where this episode of The Flash gets really good. Flash battled his arch nemesis Zoom and lost but he survived. His adoptive family and team/friends are all there to support him as he recovers but it’s not enough. They track down his dad (who is off on his own version of a self care retreat) and bring him home to spend time with Barry. Sometimes we all need a little extra support from the people who mean the most to us.

5. Super heroes can get confused about the source of their powers.
After battling Zoom, Barry temporarily loses his powers and thinks that he is no longer a hero. He thinks that he has lost the respect of everyone around him. He has forgotten his roots. Lucky for Barry, his dad is there to set him straight. We all need to be reminded of our roots, our calling and the source of our power.

6. “Sometimes you just have to slow down to get back to where you want to be.”
This is my favorite line in the episode. Barry is devastated that he has lost his speed and thinks it’s the end of the world. His dad has just returned from time in nature by himself and tells Barry “Sometimes you just have to slow down to get back to where you want to be.” Barry is Flash – the fastest person on the planet. This is not what he wants to hear, but it’s true.

7. Sometimes even the bad guy recognizes your kindness.
This is a subplot in the episode but I think it’s worth mentioning in this article. Barry’s friend Caitlin is kidnapped by Grodd, a mind-controlling gorilla that is another science experiment gone wrong. Grodd has already killed 2 scientists and it seems that he will kill Caitlin as well. Grodd takes her to a holding place while she is unconscious. When Caitlin wakes up she calmy says his name. Grodd jumps down from the tower rafters and Caitlin continues to talk to him with respect. Grodd is a talking gorilla because of the experiments, so his simple words “Caitlin always kind” hang in the air for you to ponder. Grodd was viewed as less-than, as the enemy, but Caitlin still cared. Grodd remembers her kindness and shows her mercy. As people who are called to a life of service, you and I know that the biggest baddest bad guy can reveal their tender side when we show a little kindness. We still have to set boundaries (they sent Grodd to live with other gorillas in this episode), but we can do so with kindness.

8. Super heroes have doubt and need to be reminded to “Believe in yourself.”
At the end of the episode, Flash has regained his powers and has the full support of his family, friends and team. They have devised a plan to send Grodd to live with other gorillas, but it’s a dangerous mission. Flash is at a pivotal point when all of his doubts, fears and flashbacks start running through his mind. It’s time to rise to the occasion and the tension is building with the question “Will Flash be able to overcome his challenges and defeat the enemy?” At just the right moment, Barry’s dad tells him to believe in himself. Flash/Barry musters all of his energy and uses his super powers to send Grodd to a place where he will no longer be a risk. We all have our doubts, even when we have our full powers. Whether it comes from an external or internal source, we all need to hear “Believe in yourself.”

What is your super power? Through what life experience(s) did you gain your power? Which of these lessons resonates with you the most? I would love to hear your thoughts.

In Case of Emergency

What do you do when you are facing an emergency situation?  How do you handle unexpected events?  Are you prepared for an emergency?

When we think of emergency situations, we know that we need to prepare in multiple ways.  We usually have a first aid kit in our house and in our car. The kit includes standard items, such as band-aids, antiseptic cream, cleaning wipes and alcohol pads.  We assess injuries and medical conditions to determine whether the first aid kit is adequate or if we need medical help.  If we need additional help, we call the doctor or go straight to the closest emergency room.  Medical personnel have a protocol that they follow to determine the source of the problem so that they can offer an appropriate solution.

We know what kind of natural disasters are possible where we live so we follow guidelines for emergency preparedness.  Our kids have fire drills, tornado drills and earthquake drills on a regular basis at school.  If there is an increased chance of a natural disaster in our area, the local news stations give us regular updates and make suggestions on how to handle the situation.

But what do you do when you face an emotional or mental crisis?  Are you prepared for a sudden onset of stress and anxiety?  Do you have a plan for these situations?

We can’t anticipate the specifics of what type of crisis or emergency we may face, but we certainly can take some steps toward knowing how we might handle this type of crisis.  We can create a different type of first aid kit–what I call an “Emergency Self Care Plan” (get your customizable plan here.)

When we are under stress, our “fight or flight” response kicks in and we aren’t as rational and logical as we normally would be.  It helps to have a written plan for how we will handle a stressful situation.  We need to have easy access to tools that are proven to work–the equivalent of band-aids and antiseptic cream.  We need to keep the list in our home, car and office in case of emergency.  When we face an emotional crisis, we need to have some idea of what protocol to follow.  It helps to have the step by step instructions so that we don’t forget a step when we are under stress.

So what’s in your first aid kit?  Do you have one?  Do you know what works to help you get out of crisis mode and back to a state of equilibrium?  As a mental health professional, I have always known that self care is important.  Self care often fits into the category of “easier said than done.”  It’s easy to think that taking care of my needs beyond the basics of survival should come naturally.  Do you expect others to handle an emergency without a first aid kit and without getting medical attention?  No.  Then let’s also give ourselves permission to recognize when we need a different kind of first aid kit.

What tools and supplies do you need to keep in your emergency self care kit?  Do you know what protocol is effective at helping someone to relax and calm down after a stressful event?  Do you have instructions for that protocol?  I have compiled several effective tools into an Emergency Self Care Plan that you can download here and keep in your home, in your car and at your desk at work.  You can try the different tools for different situations to see which one works best for you.  And if you know of a self care tool that works really well for you, then you can add it to your plan.

Download your Emergency Self Care Plan, customize it and use it to help you through the next emergency situation that you face.