When my husband and I first talked about getting married years ago, we agreed that we would get a dog. Life and job prohibited this for many years. However, because we are both working at home due to the pandemic, it seemed like a perfect time to get a puppy! In particular, we decided to get a Bernese Mountain Dog, which I have become totally enamored with.
In March, we found a breeder who loves her dogs, passed her extensive interview to qualify, and then we waited for our girl to be born. With our breeder, she sent us 30-second videos of the possible puppies, and you choose your puppy in the order in which you sent in your deposit.
Selection day in July was very stressful! We knew we wanted a female, and fortunately there were seven available. I was sure we had a good draft pick because we had been waiting for so long; however, we discovered we were fourth on the puppy list. We rushed to see the remaining puppy videos and faced a conundrum.
One of the things that I love about these dogs is the brown fur around their eyes, which gives them such a kind look. When we saw the remaining four puppies, one had these classic marks and symmetry on her face, and the other three had faces that were half-white without the brown markings around the eyes on one side.
At first, I assumed we would pick the classic symmetrical puppy, but when I saw the video of her, my heart fell. In my gut, I was not thrilled and felt disappointed. Somehow, she was not cute, and she did not speak to me. One of the half-white face puppies, however, was adorable, and I could feel the excitement for her in my gut.
This was a strange position for me, and I found myself confused about what to do: which puppy should I pick? I battle perfectionism, as I am sure many of you do. I like things to be symmetrical and look good. It is important to me that I look nice and “put together” when I go out. I also often value being right and doing things in the “right” way. Somehow this choice was highlighting several of the things that I struggle with in my ongoing work to let go of the perfect and to enjoy life in the moment, with all its imperfections.
Additionally, as embarrassing as this is, I was worried about what people would think or say about a puppy with asymmetrical markings. Would they make negative or critical comments? Would I have to keep defending her uniqueness as a positive attribute? I talk to clients all the time about empowerment that comes from within, and that is not centered in the opinions of others – and here I was worried about how my potential puppy looked to the outside world!
The main question became: should my husband and I choose the dog that “looked right” or should we go with our hearts?
This decision was one we thought about and talked about a lot, and we slept on it overnight. In the morning, we knew who our Penny was. We went with our gut and our hearts, which life has taught me is always the right direction in which to go. She has asymmetrical coloring on her face, - but she is adorable – our perfectly imperfect puppy - and we love her!
I was so honored and excited to be part of this important and relevant SHRM panel discussion that focused on work, racism, inclusion, and uncomfortable conversations.
Over 1300 people registered to attend, and the conversation was rich. Each panelist came from a different background and looks at DEI through a different lens- as an HR professional, as an attorney, as a DEI consultant. I was able to discuss how DEI is a wellness issue, both for an individual's mental and physical health and also how improving inclusion in an organization improves retention of employees. The more employees feel included and valued in an organization and also that they can bring all of themselves and their experiences to work, we all win and improve the well-being of all. And the more we recognize how discrimination in all forms can impacts us personally or vicariously, the better we can work to understand and work to improve equality and inclusion.
Register here if you would like to view the panel discussion in its entirety:
I had a great time speaking last week in a "sold out" webinar hosted by Todd Cohen. A great group attended the event, comprised primarily of business and HR professionals. Todd and I spoke about wellness and how it's been impacted by the pandemic, how I see well-being in a holistic way, and what the 5 facets of wellness are.
We also talked about how our isolation from the pandemic has been negatively impacting our wellness. We humans are social creatures, and we feed off interactions with other people. Our brains and neurotransmitters react when we are with another person. Working to improve this isolation, as we are able, will be very important for our mental health as well as for our creativity and problem solving.
If you would like to watch the conversation, the link is below.
Last weekend, my husband and I took out dinner from one of our favorite restaurants. The food was delicious, and they really made it as special as they could, including nice extras such as the gougères (cheese puffs) that they serve as an amuse bouche and the yummy chocolates that they serve after dessert. The meal was really wonderful, but it was bittersweet. Although the food made me so happy, especially their amazing baguette, it was only a fraction of the full experience that I love when I dine at the restaurant. We did not have the attentive and friendly service, the décor that makes it feel like you are in Paris, and the experience of sharing this moment with others.
I have been thinking a great deal about well-being and how it is impacted by this current pandemic situation, with all its restrictions. I keep reflecting on how negatively impacted our wellness has been, how it has been muted and only a fraction of what our wellness was pre-covid. Similar to my experience of eating this delicious meal.
When I conceptualize well-being with clients, I think about 5 different realms. They are:
1.Social- our personal relationships and connections, our community, our “peeps”
2.Emotional/psychological- how we feel inside and what our energy, engagement, and motivation is like
3.Physical- how we are feeling physically and what we are doing to take care of our bodies (e.g., what are we eating and drinking and how are we exercising, grooming and pampering)
4.Spiritual- what feeds our spirit or soul (e.g., religion, being in nature, making or experiencing art)
5.Financial/productive- how we are doing financially, how we are engaged in productive work and feeling that we are contributing
During our new normal of social isolation, we can still hit on all of these components of wellness, but we cannot fully engage in them. Let us take Social Wellness, for example.
We are social creatures, and we are hard-wired to be around other people. Our brain’s activity is modulated by others, and our brain releases chemicals in response to another person. When we experience being with someone, we engage all our senses. Not only do we see and hear them fully, we also may touch or sense them physically. We may smell them. And we may eat and drink with them.
However, we cannot do that nowadays. Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful to have video chat as a way to communicate in the current time. However, as I heard someone say, using video chat is like eating processed food. This really resonated with me. Eating processed food will do the trick and fill you up, but it will not be anywhere as satisfying or filling as when you eat real, whole food. When we video chat, we can partially see and hear someone, but we cannot see or hear them fully. There are gaps and lags in the video feed that frustrate our innate practice of turn-taking in conversations. And, it is emotionally draining to engage in this artificial and partial interaction. We are missing the full experience and of being able to really connect. And all components of our well-being are similarly muted at the moment.
It feels like the symphony orchestra that was our lives is now merely a trio. We can hear the melody and appreciate its beauty. The all-encompassing richness of our orchestra is missing; its gorgeous sound is missing. We also cannot really feel it in our bodies in the same way an orchestra would viscerally impact us. Although, I do appreciate hearing a trio, I really look forward to my life’s orchestra returning.
I was excited and honored to be a panelist for the webinar on the Neuroscience of Wellness for the Wharton Neuroscience Institute last week. I spoke about the 5 components of wellness that I consider to be so important (social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial/productive). I'll be writing about these more fully in my next blog post, but I spoke about how they are all muted in this current pandemic situation. Our wellness is suffering overall because the ways we would usually engage with the world, connect with others, and take care of ourselves are limited by current restrictions. It is important to be doing the best you can but to also be gentle with yourself, recognizing that this is a stressful and difficult time we are currently in.
While all of the panelists come from different backgrounds, we all agreed on several very important things we can do to support our wellness. Exercise is incredibly important for our well-being and happiness. Additionally, social connection and mindfulness were named as incredibly important things we can do to support our wellness.
If you'd like to see the hour-long webinar, check it out:
Additionally, here is the webpage for the institute:
Holding Both the Loss and the Gratitude
Here, I am a well-being coach and consultant, but for me, it has been hard to navigate the stress and uncertainty of living through a pandemic. Since this all began, I have not been able to feel inspired or motivated to write in a way to support others. Some days, it feels like more than enough to sleep, exercise, eat well, and do some work.
But, as we are more settled in a place of stay-at-home status quo, I have been able to get some distance and reflect more on the experience. One image that I keep thinking of is seeing both of my hands held open and holding what is in both hands at the same time.
I have been thinking about how, on one hand, we are all experiencing so much loss. Some of the loss is small, like not getting to see or hug friends, missing working out at the gym, even missing chatting with a cashier or riding the bus. And, for me especially, eating in a restaurant. Very mundane things that are gone for now- and there is grief with this.
And, we are all experiencing much larger losses as well. Some have lost loved ones or jobs to the virus. Some have lost financial security. Others have lost big plans that they were very much looking forward to. For me, I have lost a bluegrass music festival that I attend yearly and look forward to all year long as well as a special vacation that was planned to celebrate a big birthday. I recognize these are very privileged losses, but loss does not come with judgement. Loss is loss is loss.
I am also thinking about how, on the other hand, there is so much to be grateful for. There are small daily things to value- a conversation with a loved one, a good cup of coffee, being able to take a walk. There are also other things to be grateful for, such as a roof over your head, your health, food in the fridge, and even electricity and running water.
It can feel hard to hold such disparate ideas at the same time, but this is how I think we can navigate this unprecedented time. We need to both hold and acknowledge all the losses and grief that we are experiencing, while also holding onto gratitude for our many blessings. It is through moving forward in this way that I think we will be able to survive and thrive during this amazingly stressful and uncertain time.
I hope you are well and healthy during this stressful time and that you are taking care of yourself as best you can. Please let yourself feel the losses but also appreciate your many blessings daily.
It’s ok to feel anxious. This is a scary time we’re living in right now. There is a sense of impending doom, and we don’t yet really understand what is going to happen or what we can control. I’ve been thinking about what I need to do to help myself and how we can all manage the anxiety that comes from living through a difficult and uncertain situation. Here are my top 11 ideas for managing anxiety.
When I work with clients who experience anxiety, one of the things we talk about is the importance of having acceptance of our feelings. Often, when we have painful or negative feelings, like anxiety, we can then beat ourselves up for having these feelings. A former client of mine labeled it “meta anxiety”, having anxiety about having anxiety. When we have a negative response to or judgement of our feeling, it only worsens how we feel. I encourage you to accept how you are feeling. Tell yourself it’s ok to be feeling anxious right now. It absolutely makes sense. Have care and compassion for yourself and for your distress.
In whatever ways feel safe and comfortable to you now, move your body. It’s one of the best ways to combat feelings of anxiety and stress. Go to the gym, if that feels ok to you. Take a walk. Do a workout on YouTube. Dance around your living room. Just move and groove and sweat. This will help you blow out feelings of stress, and it will also release endorphins to increase your feelings of contentment. Exercise also strengthens your immune system.
If you have a meditation practice, keep it going. Meditate daily if at all possible. This will help you calm and center yourself. It will also give your mind and body a break from worry. If you don’t currently meditate, this would be a great time to start. Apps such as Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace are all good places to start, as are meditation videos on YouTube. Just start with 5 or 10 minutes a day if you are getting started and build up from there.
4) Monitor Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine is a stimulant and a drug. It mimics symptoms of anxiety by making us feel nervous and increasing our heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration. Caffeine stays active in our bodies quite a long time. Once we consume it, it impacts us for a minimum of 6 hours. So, I would recommend that you keep your caffeine consumption low currently and not drink any after early afternoon to ensure you sleep well.
When we are stressed or worried, many of us also turn to alcohol. If you drink, watch how much you are drinking and try not to consume too much. When we drink, we can have a rebound effect from it the next day- which can increase symptoms of anxiety or depression. So, while it may feel good to drink more in the short-term, it may be increasing your anxiety overall.
5) Limit your News Consumption
When 9/11 happened, my father was quite teary for days after the attacks. When I explored what he was doing, I realized he was almost continuously watching the news and re-traumatizing himself regularly by what he was hearing and seeing.
When we take in scary or stressful information, it impacts us. I strongly encourage you to really limit your news consumption. Only read it online once a day or watch the news only at night. Or read a newspaper. (Please consider buying a subscription to a newspaper, if you can. They provide such an imperative public service, especially during times like this.) Things will not change so much in a single day and updating yourself once each day should be sufficient. This will also help you keep your anxiety lower than it might be with more frequent information.
6) Connect with People you Care About
Humans are social creatures. We like to be around other people and feed off of this. Social distancing is very necessary right now, but it is difficult and can lead to feelings of loneliness or depression. Be in touch with friends and family. Stay in contact, and feel connected. You have many people in your life you care about and who care about you. This is an important time to call, text, email, Skype, etc. Schedule dates with family and friends, and if it’s possible, do it over video chat. This is the best way to connect with people if we can’t meet in person. This will help you feel better and less isolated.
7) Focus on what you can Control
There are still many unknowns with the coronavirus. Some things are within your control, and many others are not. Try to focus on the things you can control.
8) Take Good Care of your Body
Try to eat well and get enough rest. This is hugely important during a time of stress. And this keeps your immune system healthy.
9) Do Things that Bring you Pleasure
Make sure you are doing things that bring you pleasure. Read, listen to music, watch good shows and movies. Cook. Burn candles. Play games. Paint, draw, write. Be in nature. Whatever you enjoy- keep doing it.
10) Make and Stick to a Routine
This is not one snow day. This is a much longer period of uncertainty and possibly not working or having limited work. It is incredibly important that you have a daily routine and stick to it. Wake up at a decent time. Have time for all your meals. Schedule work or productive activities you can do. Schedule time to exercise, meditate, read, create, or do the pleasurable things you enjoy. And go to bed at a decent time. Make different schedules for weekdays and weekends if you’d like. And shower at least every day or two. All these activities will help you feel human and more normal during these very abnormal times. This is all part of controlling what you can control.
11) Be Grateful
Take time each night to reflect on the day and things for which you are grateful. They can be small or big things. When things feel scary overall, it’s even more important than usual to have gratitude. It’s powerful to reflect on what you appreciate each day and to let those positive feelings sink into your body and mind.
These are my top 10 ideas for helping you deal with anxiety. What else do you find helpful?
Recently, I heard the new song by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Be Afraid. (Check them out, if you haven’t heard them. They’re great. I especially love If We Were Vampires.) The lyric that jumped out at me was, “Be afraid, very afraid, but do it anyway.” Yes! This is what it means to be brave, to have courage.
It really resonated with me and some of my personal experiences.
When I left my full-time job, I had worked for 20 years for other people but had also been feeling pulled to take my career in a somewhat different direction. I wanted to support well-being in a more programmatic, more systematic, more proactive and preventative way. This didn’t fit with my job, and I wasn’t able to make the shift within boundaries that already existed. So I resigned, wanting to do things my way, and I started my business, Thrive Well-being.
My colleagues kept commenting on how brave I was, how they could never do this. Even my husband said this. The funny thing was, I really didn’t feel brave at all. I felt scared shitless- but I was going to do it anyway. I always pictured that someone who felt brave would, at least internally, feel strong and confident. This wasn’t how I felt at all!
After reflecting more, and doing some reading, I realized I WAS brave. Being really scared and still moving forward IS the definition of courage.
I love Brene Brown. If you’re not familiar with her works, please do yourself a huge favor and get one of her books or watch her TED talks. She’s written about the importance of being vulnerable-and the courage it takes to do so. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead is a book I love and return to again and again.
She opens her book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who is at worse, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I thought about this quote a lot while moving out of my job and planning for my new company. I felt I had to be the person in the arena, covered in sweat and blood from my efforts. I had to take risks and be vulnerable. Starting a business definitely requires vulnerability. There is a lot of risk and doubt. What if I fail? What if leaving my job is the biggest mistake of my life? What if no one thinks I can help them thrive and improve their well-being? What if I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not charismatic enough?
To start my business, I had to put myself out there again and again, do things I had never done before as a therapist and professor. I had to design and build a website. I had to network. I had to start presenting more to get my name out there. I had to ask people for their business. I had to attend conferences in worlds that were new to me. I had to identify as an entrepreneur and join their groups.
I listened to the drive inside of me and followed my vision. This energized me and allowed me to follow this new path. And I’ve been loving it. I’m having fun and feel excited to do what I’m now doing. Looking back, I see now how brave I was, even though I felt anything but courageous at the time. And I’m so grateful I took this risk, even when I felt somewhat terrified.
Toward the end of her book, Brene Brown says, “But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
Yes! I did this, and it paid off for me in spades with invigorating work and increased happiness and well-being. I couldn’t agree more!!
It takes courage to do big things, like leaving your job and starting a business. But, it also takes courage for the small things that we do all the time. It takes courage to talk to a friend who hurt your feelings. It takes courage to raise your hand in class or volunteer to take on an additional responsibility at work. It takes courage to learn and to grow.
How can you be brave in your life? What small step can you take now, even if you are scared shitless?
A friend recently sent me a birthday card, and in it she said, “You are one of the special blessings in my life! I am so grateful for your friendship…” This meant so much to me and was such a gift. It made my heart warm as I felt loved and appreciated. The special feelings lingered and made my day.
A few weeks ago, a client I worked with many years ago sent me a holiday card. Just the fact that she remembered me and thought to send me a card was so touching. In it, she ended by saying, “Thank you again so much for your life changing help. I am forever grateful.” I felt so wonderful after getting that card, and I floated around on joy for a while. Both of these cards and messages meant so much to me. I remember them, reflect on them at times, especially when I’m not feeling special or competent, and reread them when I need a smile.
You might not think a sentence in a card could carry such weight, but you would be wrong. I recently wrote about the benefits of feeling gratitude in your life daily, but it’s just as important to express appreciation often for others as well. These small words of thanks or compliments to someone carry such weight and can bring such positive feelings.
We all want to be seen and acknowledged; however, we go through life and so rarely get appreciated for who we are or what we’re doing. How we parent, who we are as a friend or spouse, the work we do so rarely get complimented or recognized. It is really a gift and can make someone’s day to let them know you see them and they are pretty special in some way.
The Positive Psychology field has conducted extensive research on both experiencing and expressing gratitude. Their studies show that expressing appreciation for others is correlated with more happiness, better well-being, lower stress, and lower levels of depression. Additionally, when partners in a relationship express gratitude toward one another, the relationship becomes more satisfying and the partners feel more connected. When you acknowledge a friend or partner in a loving way, this increases your warm feelings toward them and increases their positive regard for you and your relationship.
So the next time your partner says or does something that you appreciate, tell them. When you’re with someone special to you, such as a good friend or child, let them know what they mean to you. Let your colleague know what you are impressed with in them. Pass on appreciation to others and you will spread joy. Additionally, you will feel good in having given someone a meaningful gift. Appreciation really is a gift that keeps on giving!