7 Steps That Will Enhance Self-Care

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:39
                                                                                       Jesus

What comes to mind when you read the words Self-care or Self-Compassion? Are you aware that one of the components of resilient, successful people is they practice self-care?

For many people, the first reaction self-care is often one of concern, misgiving, or uneasiness. They believe that being kind and gracious to themselves might make them weak, more vulnerable, or even snotty (a clinical word that could mean arrogant, puffed up, or aloof). They erroneously think self-criticism keeps them accountable or improves their performance. They are sometimes overly concerned that letting go of the nasty habit of self-criticism will somehow cause them to appear less competent.

I believe one of the things those of us who have struggled in this area have a hard time understanding is that the reverse is true; tormenting ourselves and holding ourselves to be accountable to completely unrealistic expectations which will most likely sabotage our efforts.

I know in my own life; one of the voices that I consistently listened to, was that nagging whisper planted in my head by a teacher in high school that I was a horrible English student and that I might not make it out of high school. FYI, I got through High School and completed 2 Masters. Now in all fairness, she planted the seed, but I did a phenomenal job of watering and fertilizing it. That is until I made a choice to turn the volume down and begin to write. Just so you know, at age sixty-seven and still learning and growing.

News Flash! 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, bludgeoning yourself with self-criticism compromises your goals, impairs your pursuits and steals your dreams, whether they are mental, physical, spiritual, academic, health-related, or professional.

In my work as a therapist and as a Crisis Response Specialist I have learned that self-care, self-compassion is a must if I want to provide adequate care to others. Likewise, self-care, self-compassion is not an option if I desire to impact this world.

I love this story in the New Testament book of Matthew 22: 35–38, One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question; ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses? “Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Let me be clear, we are not talking about some narcissistic type of self-love, but of, to use a biblical metaphor, “temple maintenance.” We cannot export what we do not have.

So, what does healthy self-care or self-compassion look like?

It brings forth resilience, and it enables you to be more flexible and agile as you face life’s challenges, it provides you the capacity to identify problems, accept feedback, both good and bad, and to modify habits that no longer serve your best interests. This type of shift in your thinking opens the doors to enhanced resilience, hope, increased strength, optimism, and opportunities.

Self-Care Explained 

Do you remember the safety briefing from your last flight? When the flight attendants get to the part about the unlikely event of sudden cabin depressurization, they explain that the oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling and at that point, they instruct you to put on your mask first, then and only then, help someone else with theirs. 

Self-care is sort of like this in a way. It is a very intentional, active choice that we make to take care of our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. It’s putting us first…because we can’t care for or be the best help to help others unless we first take care of ourselves. 

The benefits of self-care

Self-care can have the following positive effects:
– Improved self-esteem and self-compassion
– Increased insight in decision making and motivation
– Boosted immune system
– Enhanced stress management by reducing anxiety
– Improved productivity fostered by a greater ability to focus
– Deepened spirituality and sense of meaning
– Heightened connection to yourself and others
– Increased resilience
– Greater ability to set boundaries (internal and external)
– Boosted immune system
– Enhanced stress management by reducing anxiety
– Improved productivity fostered by a greater ability to focus
– Deepened spirituality and sense of meaning
– Heightened connection to yourself and others
– Greater ability to set boundaries (internal and external)

Here are seven ways to practice self-care

1. Get your horizontal and vertical relationships in order. The quote from Jesus pretty much sums it up. Love God and out of that love of God will come the love of self, then love of others.

2.  Remember, we have to all constantly fight the inner poser. We all feel like fakes and frauds from time to time. When you find yourself beating yourself up, calling yourself names, rehearsing old hurts, telling yourself you are a loser or suffering from the paralysis of analysis, STOP. Everybody struggles with this from time to time, and it is all part of being human. They are just thoughts. You always have a choice to give them a place in your brain and heart or to dismiss them.

3. Be a buddy to yourself. Would you offer yourself support and encouragement on a bad day? Would you cheer for yourself on a good one?

4. Use your meals as an act of self-care. When you eat, pause to notice that you are taking time to nourish yourself. Rather than seeing how fast you can consume your meal, a nasty habit that I picked up in the military, chew your food slowly, savor the flavor as you add fuel for your body.

5. Get the rest your body needs, 7–8 hours is a great goal and has been proven time and time again to renew and refresh.

6. Have a time of stillness and quietness in the morning. It could be a time of prayer and meditation. You could read from a daily devotional or have some type of daily reading plan. One that I have used is to read one chapter of the Old Testament book of Proverbs a day.

7. Ask for some help. No, I do not mean therapy, although a good therapist could help. Here is a thought, experiment with giving someone else a chance to help you. It might be a friend, colleague, or mentor who can come alongside you to help out, be an accountability partner or just an encourager.

Action Plan

Choose 2 of the 7 suggestions to begin showing yourself some Self-Care.

Let me hear your thoughts. 
Blessings,
John

Cutting Down Holiday Stress


Well, we are officially off to the retail madness of the Holiday Season with yet another Black Friday followed by Cyber Monday. As I pen this post, I am having a flashback about spending three Christmases managing a Christian Gift Shop in at the Macon Mall in Macon, Georgia. At the time, I was grateful for that chapter in my life, but I am glad is in my past.

For many people, this time of year is about as exciting as being told you need a root canal immediately. There are countless individuals feels an overwhelming sense of dread, worry, anxiety, exhaustion, and isolation. If you feel like this, you could be the victim of the Christmas Blahs, the Hanukkah Malaise, Kwanza Dullness, and for my neo-pagan friends, the Solstice Slump.

If you are someone who struggles with this time of the year, I am going to give you some mood lifting, stress-busting tips which could help bring joy into your life.

Sheila Moss (www.humorcolumnist.com) has a few great lines about Christmas.

Santa is watching; please do not do anything that will embarrass him.
The commercial spirit of Christmas is a mysterious force that causes people to max out their credit cards.
You cannot string more lights than your redneck neighbor.
The harder you try to diet, the higher the likelihood you will get candy for presents.
Famous last words-“I have plenty of time left to shop before Christmas.”

A friend of mine who has been a broadcast journalist was interviewing me a few years ago and asked me to come up with Twelve Stress-Busting Tips for Christmas. The good news, he gave me two hours to come up with them. Thankfully, they were a hit, and over the years I have adjusted them to be current. I hope these thirteen tips will help you enjoy the Advent season, lighten up your stress, and help you catch your breath.

13 Tips for Cutting Down Holiday Stress

1. Shop for the significant people first.

2. Stay active, move around, see the lights, do something to break up your routine.

3. Think before you speak. Consider ruling out all conversations which involve your job, health, marriage, the past, the future, or the present. Keep it “Holiday Light.”

4. Re-read the Christmas story, go to a Christmas musical, or even visit a church. For those of you who have not been to church and feel like the roof might collapse when you walk in-I have great news; churches have particular roofing material can handle the shock of your presence.

5. Stay loose; 21st-century families seem to always shift and change.

6. Look for and pray about creative solutions from problems that might arise during the holiday season.

7. Mom and Dad-let your married kids develop their own holiday traditions.

8. Take your medication, supplements, and vitamins.

9. Limit let eating and drinking be the focus of your Holiday gatherings.

10. Buy an Advent calendar, even if you don’t have kids-it is fun to open the tabs
.
11. Watch movies like The Christmas Star, or a Wonderful Life at least one time.

12. Take some time to be alone and reflect. Relax, catch a breath, smell the fragrances of the holidays.

13. Remember the “Reason for the Season.” The Gospel of Luke 2:11, “The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (NLT).

Would love to hear how you manage holiday stress! Please leave a comment.

Seven Secrets to Building Resilience in Your Marriage

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 Resilience is the ability to resist the manifestations of clinical distress, impairment or dysfunctions that are often associated with critical incidents and personal trauma.
Dr. George Everly, Psychological Body Armor.”Last week Sara got so mad she threw her shoe at me. It missed my head by about three inches!” Larry said.”At the time I thought he deserved it,” Sara admitted. “But the fact that I could do that really scares me! I feel as if our marriage is in serious trouble.”While not every couple throws shoes—or anything else—that sense of uncontrollable anger is not uncommon for many couples regardless of creed, ethnicity, or social status. Unfortunately, some feel that the heightened level of emotion is the beginning of the end of their relationship.

In my more than 35 years of counseling and  45 years of married life, I’ve observed that how couples respond to an event such as Sara’s shoe-throwing can help them develop resilience, the ability to bounce back or recover quickly from change, misfortune, and unmet expectations.

As we explored their past ten years together, I knew that even though they were now in a difficult season, Larry and Sara had built resilience into their marriage. To create a resilient marriage, your commitment to the relationship must be stronger than your history, mood, or situation. Couples who are resilient have these seven qualities in common.

1. Resilient couples don’t fall prey to misconceptions about marriage. 

One thing that can damage our resilience is the mistaken notion that a good marriage equals a calm and peaceful one. In the ten years, Larry and Sara had been married, five jobs, one miscarriage, five harsh financial seasons, four moves, and two adventure-filled boys had taken their toll. Not to mention the fact that they came from two different family styles: Sara’s parents were divorced. Her dad had cheated on her mom multiple times, and then abandoned the family when she was ten. Larry, on the other hand, grew up in an intact family—his parents are still together more than 40 years later.

As we talked, Larry nailed one of the great Christian misconceptions about marriage: “We had no idea how difficult marriage would be. If you listen to people at our church talk about their marriages, it would be easy to believe nobody has been through what we’ve experienced.”

It amazes me that in this day when marriage ministries and materials are so prevalent, couples still believe a great relationship will be a peaceful one. They often feel invincible, especially in the early stages of marriage. This can lead them to deny the impact of stress and family history.

Many couples mistakenly think that loving each other means always getting along. But conflict is an inescapable part of marriage if the couple expects their relationship to grow and mature.

2. Resilient couples find help when they need it.

Many couples “go it” alone—trying to deal with their issues without getting outside help from a trusted source who can offer biblical encouragement, guidance, and support. Those are typically the couples who end up with broken relationships.

Larry and Sara had always been involved in small church groups, which had been invaluable sources of strength when difficult circumstances such as miscarriage and job loss came along. But when they felt more “out of control,” such as Sara’s shoe throwing, they knew it was a signal to seek professional help.

3. Resilient couples remember the good things about their marriage and each other.

“He’s a good father to our boys,” Sara mentioned when I asked them to list each other’s good qualities. “And he’s patient. He puts up with my quirks.”

“I love how loyal and passionate she is,” Larry added. “Sometimes she goes overboard, but I know her heart’s in the right place.”

The longer we talked, the more relaxed they became. “We’re not quitters,” Sara said. “When I see how many of our friends have crashed and burned in their marriages, I’m glad we’ve hung in there.”

Larry looked embarrassed but said, “We had no idea what we could endure as husband and wife. But we still love each other.”

Resilient couples choose to focus on the good as opposed to camping out on the bad.

4. Resilient couples accept the differences in their personalities, views, and ways of getting things done.

Sara entered marriage fearing the sharp conflict she’d watched her parents experience, while Larry came expecting the intimacy and commitment he’d seen his parents enjoy. For several years, they acted out based on the marriage models and communication styles they brought with them.

Sara tended to over-talk everything. Then if she felt Larry didn’t “get it,” she’d become angry. “When I try to talk to Larry,” she told me, “he always seems to run and hide. He’ll either collapse in the recliner and be sucked into the television, or he’ll retreat to the computer room. When he does that, I feel like going ballistic, and sometimes do.”

Larry responded, “She has an opinion about everything, and when I don’t engage in the conversation, she gets heated, so I retreat. Then she throws a shoe at me!”

Men and women really do have different needs.

For guys, we want to feel competent and needed. We want to feel respected. One friend of mine used to say, “Men are like dogs, they need three things: someone to feed them, play with them, and occasionally say, ‘Good boy.’”

I encouraged Sara to be more mindful before sharing an opinion. She also became intentional about giving Larry positive feedback on things he did around the house and with the boys. She even began to find herself being more sexually provocative with him.

For women, the key is to help her feel valued and cherished. If she feels her husband can love her the way she is, then she feels more secure. When a man listens to his wife, without trying to fix her, for instance, he’ll be amazed to see how she can engage him physically. Larry noticed that as he listened intently to Sara, she actually talked less. He even began to buy her flowers, knowing how much she appreciated the gesture.

Sara and Larry became more focused on their communication styles and began to senseless tension and more hope. Larry was choosing to stay connected and not withdraw, and Sara was trying to lower her intensity level.

“We’re not the same,” Sara mentioned. “And I’m starting to appreciate the fact that that can be a good thing.”

5. Resilient couples develop and maintain an internal locus (focus) of control rather than an external focus.

I asked Larry and Sara to recount some of the difficult times in their marriage and how they got through. They told me that six months into their marriage, Larry lost his job. It could have been devastating, especially since Sara’s part-time job didn’t bring in enough money to cover their bills. When many couples would take out their frustrations, fears, and worries on their spouse, Larry and Sara decided instead to focus on the possibilities.

“We knew we loved each other,” Sara said. “It wasn’t Larry’s fault he was downsized. We weren’t sure how it would work out, but we believed Larry would find a job and that God would lead us through this difficult time. And he did.”

“So what keeps you two together?” I finally asked them.

“I love him and want us to get better,” Sara told me.
Larry agreed. “We believe God can and will help us work things out, but it’s tough.” They both took their marriage vows seriously and didn’t want to become another statistic. They hoped to survive this rough time and were committed to the process.

6. Resilient couples manage their emotions.

Larry admitted to me that he can be a “control freak” at times. Sara, on the other hand, is a “free spirit.”

As the weeks went by, Larry and Sara started to focus on their personal responsibility for their portion of the relationship’s troubles and move forward.

After Sara’s fourth overdrawn check, Larry had had enough. Instead of blowing up or withdrawing from her, which had previously proved unsuccessful, Larry took another approach. He waited for a couple of days so he could calm down. Having a measure of control over his emotions, he could talk to her in a calm, rational way and they were able to resolve their money issues.

7. Resilient couples reinterpret past failures and use them as growing points instead of perennial negatives.

In other words, they look at past mistakes to make positive, life-changing applications.

Sara admitted she felt she had to punish Larry with angry outbursts to get him to do anything. As she worked on her side of the responsibility equation, she realized some of her anger was rooted in bitterness toward her dad. So Sara began to pay close attention to the things that could trigger her emotions. In the course of our counseling, she was able to see the hurts for what they were and began to come to terms with the damage. In the process, her feelings about Larry grew softer.

Both Sara and Larry let go of the old hurts and took active measures to reconnect. Larry is “staying in the room” when Sara is struggling. Sara is feeling more secure in her relationship with Larry as she sees the changes he’s making. They use the words, I was wrong. I’m sorry I hurt you. Will you forgive me?

In the six weeks, they were in counseling with me, Larry and Sara were able to receive enough mercy and grace to forgive each other and make adjustments necessary to move forward
Today they report that shoes are no longer a weapon of choice, but something to wear.

Call to action:
Are you interested in getting help in your relationship?  Feel free to email me: john@johnthurman.net

Comments welcome.

Twenty-Four Stress Relief Strategies

I have literally just come back from a two week deployment as a Stress Counselor working with the FEMA Call Center in Denton, Tx. The folks at this facility take the calls from Hurricane survivors in all manner of stress, including life and death situations. My job was to be with them ans share tools and tips that could help them deal with the sometimes intense nature of the calls.

My freind, Maggie Anderson from Albuquerque is currently in Tx working with a ministry team to help the Harvey survivors begin the process of recovery, I am thankful for her photo.

Here are twenty-Four Stress Relief Tips.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know men and women are continually being bombarded with stress. Whether you are married or single, young or old, stress is an ever-present challenge. Stress-related illnesses are on the rise and have you noticed all of the sleep aid ads on television. With all of this stress we are faced with I thought it would be a good idea to give you Twenty-Five Stress Relieving Tips.

  1. Quit whining and try smiling.
  2. Take a walk and walk and walk and walk.
  3. Remember the lyrics to your favorite song, as long as it isn’t Johnny Cash’s version of Pain, you should be okay. Danger, if you find yourself singing an ACDC, Donny and Marie Osmond, or a Metallica tune call me, you might need some therapy.
  4. Remember it’s not about you.
  5. Hold spouse’s hand for ten minutes, with no expectations of anything else. He or she will love it.
  6. Pray and meditate. You could start with the 23rd Psalm.
  7. Get rid of your grungy shower curtain.
  8. Admit you were wrong, confess your mess, and clean it up.
  9. Shake it off. Have you ever watched athletes limber up their arms, legs, and head? Research shows  “shaking it off” actually helps release stress.
  10. Go to Starbucks with some friends.
  11. Forgive someone who hurt you. The only one who pays the price of unforgiveness is you.
  12. Go to church.
  13. Water a plant.
  14. Find a great view and savor it.
  15. Let someone cut in line.
  16. Download Tactical Breather and chill out for a few.
  17. Add ten minutes to your Estimated Time of Arrival. Go ahead and drum on your steering wheel or dashboard. A study in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine showed group drumming alleviated stress. A drum solo may bring similar benefits.
  18. Hold your tongue. When you want to answer someone quickly, respond slowly. The Bible says God gave you two ears and one mouth. Apply liberally.
  19. Focus on the good in a situation. Robert Allen, a bestselling author, says, “No thought lives in your head rent-free.” You always have the power to choose your thoughts. If you opt to focus on negative, non-productive thoughts, it will cost you time, money, health, opportunity, and happiness.
  20. Walk barefoot in the park, just watch out for dog flops.
  21. Write a gratitude letter. This message can take one of two forms. First, sit down, with a pen and paper (no keyboarding) and begin to work on a list of things you are grateful. Be creative. Second, think of two people you are thankful for, a spouse, friend, mentor, or parent and write them a gratitude letter. Let them know what impact they have had in your life.
  22. Get out of Debt Denial. Research shows  getting realistic about your financial situation can lower your stress.
  23. Drop the butts, if you still smoke, quit.
  24. Trip silence. A tough one for me since I am a little ADHD. Try taking a trip without the radio, CD, or your iTunes or MP3 playlist turned off. Trip silence can be a welcome break from time to time.