Nourish and Forge Wellness

health and life coaching for those experiencing stress, transition, and overwhelm

Tag: nourish

Numbing Works

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I first learned how to numb when my mom became ill and was hospitalized when I was 13.

She went to the hospital and we went into survival mode—part of which involved numbing things to the “not-going-to-consume-me-with-raging-fire-of-the-miserable-unfairness-of-it-all” level.

So, while my mom was in the hospital, my dad, two siblings, and I watched TV. Like a lot of it. Anything to forget and distract and feel better. At least for an hour or two. We ate comfort food. All the comfort food. Ice cream, pizza, tacos, candy. When I wasn’t comfort eating or watching TV with my two siblings and dad, I was escaping into every book I could put my hands on. And let me tell you. Numbing worked.

Fast forward 23 years. A lot of shit has gone down—as it does. I have weathered soul-sucking jobs, heart-crushing breakups, leaving my entire life behind and rebuilding it overseas, my mom’s continued health issues, my dad’s more recent terminal cancer, the list goes on.

It’s both devastating and completely normal. We all weather horrible ordeals that eff up our lives; we all experience wonderful moments that make life worth living. The degree of these experiences varies from person to person, but the existence of them in each life does not.

I haven’t always navigated the hard times in healthy ways. It could be said I’ve become a master of numbing life’s pain. (I probably should make myself a certificate. Haha.) Throughout my teens, twenties, and now my thirties, numbing has been a constant companion in many hard ordeals. TV and food are still old anesthetizing friends, but I’ve added to my speed dial—alcohol, Internet, social media, and when I’m being a bit healthier, 1000 piece puzzles and podcasts (this offers literally hours of zoning out and forgeting about any crappy crap I’m trying to get through). They have always been there to distract me and take away the discomfort—at least for a little while. Numbing works.

Until…it doesn’t. Because at some point all that discomfort and yuck you’ve been avoiding is going to explode all over everywhere. It will demand your attention. It will leave voicemails and comment on your fb wall and show up at work. Because numbing works, but only in small doses and in the short term. 

When numbing is your one and only strategy to getting through discomfort and difficulty and devastation, you end up half-living. Numbing the bad feelings also numbs the good ones. It limits your ability to grow, learn, and connect with others. It leaves you feeling empty and alone.

I know this; I’ve lived it.

I’ve also come to learn that strictly cutting out my anesthetizing helpers isn’t realistic for me; there are times I need to check out for a little while. But I now know I must couple a great deal of awareness and mindfulness with any sort of numbing behaviors I take into my life. I have to do this during times of difficulty to be sure I’m not getting sucked into the “I’m-checking-out-for-a week/month/year-cuz-this-feels-awful” black hole. So, I force myself to notice when my moods and energy and healthy behaviors are decreasing and reevaluate my choices.

This has come into play during my repatriation to the US. I have had a great deal of time and a great deal of stress on my hands. Recently, I’ve noticed that my TV watching has increased as has my alcohol and shitty fake-food consumption. Not anything drastic, but enough for me to feel thoroughly like C-R-A-P. I know from experience that it’s a slippery slope, so in recent years, I’ve done my best to recognize and face those realities early on.

Here’s what I did: I decided to eliminate one thing. I stopped watching television; I know from experience that it is one of the most needy behaviors—always wanting to be paired up with a boozy bev or a crappy snack. After I stopped, I immediately found a decrease in my other unhealthy cravings. It’s also given me inertia to do other positive things for myself. I’ve spent more time outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve found a gym that I love and go regularly. I’ve meditated. It all started with that one change.

 

Let me break down what I’ve learned during my serious work in this area for the last seven years or so—first, decide that you want to be more present and be willing to sit in the discomfort, face it, and decide what to do with it. Then—know your triggers, bring awareness and honesty to your behaviors, pick ONE thing you want to eliminate, substitute or shift. Do it and then notice what happens. Reevaluate and revise as needed.

It takes bravery and vulnerability and perseverance to sit in discomfort instead of distract, to face hardships instead of avoid, to have moments all over life’s spectrum, fully feeling both joy and sorrow, instead of staying only in the middle and chopping off the ends with numbing agents. It’s hard work, but worthy work. Let numbing be a tool used sparingly and notice what happens.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have times you’d like to navigate stress or pain better? Are you not fully feeling the joy and the sorrow in your life?  If you said yes to any of these, give this idea a shot and let me know how it goes!

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Do less. Be more.

Last Friday, I made a decision to do something new. Something risky. Something audacious.

I’ve always loved being outdoors and have backpacked many times in my life. But on that weekend, I decided to go solo for the very first time. After a quick search on the internet and a visit to my local REI, I was ready to go. (Side note: I’d always wanted to do this, but have never quite had the gumption or the courage to go for it.)

In the course of those three days in the wilderness, I felt expansive—stretched beyond my comfort zone and learning how to deal with conflict alone as it arose. I also felt peaceful—my tornado-brain calmed in a way that only nature and solitude will. But that’s not what I want to write about. Here’s a big in-your-face realization that came to me on day three as I was crunch-crunch-crunching my way down a gravelly trail in the Rawah Wilderness.

I need to do less on a regular basis. And you do too.

In the space I gifted myself, here’s what I did NOT do for three whole days.

  • Go on the Internet or social media
  • Work
  • Check off to-do lists
  • Make to-do lists
  • Feel guilty about ignoring my to-do lists
  • Check my phone
  • Talk to anyone (exception: myself, baby deer, massive moose that scared the crap outta me, tiny chipmunk corpse on the trail)
  • Analyze past interactions
  • Plan future interactions
  • Think about my future, my finances, or health insurance
  • Watch tv
  • Worry about anything except what was in the present moment (Is a bear going to attack me? Will my tent blow over? eff-bomb, I’m a little lost…where am I?)
  • Read for self-improvement or learning
  • Listen to podcasts (this was a temptation…but I stayed in the present, listening instead to the creatures and life around me)
  • Listen to music

You know what? This created a whole lot of space that I didn’t even realize I needed. The surprising part was what happened in that space. I began to notice these inner nudgings that I wouldn’t have ever noticed had I filled up that space with noise or distraction or even productive work.

Nudgings is the best way I can describe the stirrings or whispers inside of me that I began to pay attention to. What I found on that last day was that I was so much more in tune with what I wanted to do in every given moment.

That may sound strange. We all know what we want, right?

I don’t think so. The demands and details that fill our daily lives leave very little room for the nudgings that lead us to the simple and ordinary pleasures of our existence. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about pleasure and how we deny, deprive, indulge, and overindulge ourselves in the various pleasurable human experiences. Much of this thought is inspired by the incredible Maddie Berky, who writes about pleasure in an engaging and thought-provoking way. (Seriously like brain-crack. Check her out here.)

As I was trekking down the mountain, I realized I had invited awareness around these simple pleasures by simply creating space for them. How? I did less. For just a couple days.

Let me tell you about a few of these moments.

I noticed when I saw a spot on the mountain that begged me to sit and rest—a pair of rocks working together to create nature’s recliner—and watch a blue jay fly back and forth, pecking at pinecones at the tops of nearby trees. As I sat, I felt my shirts clinging to me and decided I wanted to be free of them for a while, to feel the sun warming my skin and the breeze cooling me. I took my shirts off and hung then on tree branches. My feet felt hot, so I took of my shoes and socks and stretched in bare feet, feeling rough rock and sharp twigs under my toes.

I noticed these nudgings towards small pleasures and I followed them. I was rewarded. With each choice, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I felt deep satisfaction. I smiled at the birds. I closed my eyes, becoming fully aware of the sensations on my skin. I relished the spaciousness of that moment.

Do less. Be more present. 

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I rested until I felt the urge to begin walking again. I slowly regarbed and donned my pack, resuming my trek downward. I walked until I found another divine place that was pulling me. This time it was curiosity that led me—a cairn lay by the trail and I wanted to know what it was marking. I was rewarded by a valley exploding with yellow aspens and green pines.

Do less. Be more curious.

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On my last bit of trail before the parking lot, I walked along a mountain stream. It called to me, I could hear it—come, cool off, play! I almost ignored it, my mind rushing ahead to the things I needed to do before the day was done (drive home, laundry, cook dinner for the fam, get some work done). But somehow, the previous two days of slowing down and doing less, prevailed.

I stopped, dropped my pack, unsnapped and stripped out of my long sleeve shirt, rolled up my black pants, and took off my hot, gritty trail shoes and green, wool socks. I stepped down into the river, gasping with utter delight as the icy water touched my skin and the rocks and pebbles at the river’s bottom massaged my aching feet.

I laughed out loud. Reaching down with cupped hands, I splashed the deliciously cold water repeatedly on my face, my neck, my hair. I scrubbed three days of dirt off my calves and feet and arms. I raised my face to the sun and threw my arms wide, taking this moment in. It was full of joy and pleasure.

Climbing out, I did not want to put those hot, dirty shoes back on…I felt a playful inner nudging that whispered, walk the rest of the way barefoot. And so I did. And it was beautiful.

Do less. Be more joyful.

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I don’t expect to always have the freedom to escape the daily grind for three days alone in the stunning Colorado wilderness.

But, I do expect to carry this lesson forward into my life: do less, be more.

Even if it’s for an hour a week, let’s do less. Let’s turn off our devices, ignore our distractions, and postpone our duties. Let’s create the space to be more.

More present.

More curious.

More joyful.

You might be surprised at how alive you feel.

 

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What I Learned at the Gym about Feedback

I haven’t worked out in 6 weeks.

I’ve been traveling in northern Thailand, repatriating from South Korea to Colorado, working on home improvement projects for my parents, and spending tons of time with family, friends, and my beautiful Colorado mountains.

So, when I walked in to my first CrossFit class four days ago, I was ready to get a good sweat on. The coach and people and facility were all nice. I received feedback and cues from the coach (in detailed English) which was something I had been missing desperately in South Korea. It was a good experience; however, I left feeling a little blue.

Here’s what I was able to pull out from the experience—the coach never told me anything I was doing well; he simply pointed out what I could improve.

Constructive feedback was actually what I’d been craving, but I realized that without the companion of positive feedback, I was a little less open to hearing what he had to say and a little less pumped when I left the gym.

What is interesting to me is that I am a seasoned CrossFitter—I know my knowledge and skill sets are solid. Even with this self-confidence, I still wanted needed a balance of positive and constructive feedback from my new coach.

I can’t imagine how defeated I would’ve felt if it was my first class. 

Let me be clear, this coach was a nice guy and had great suggestions. He was a good coach. However, as coaches and teachers, we tend to fall into a place where we focus only on what needs to be fixed.

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Herein lay that big ol’ slap-in-the-face reminder for me—speak positivity into people’s lives. All the time, ideally, but especially when you’re trying to help someone improve.

This is relevant in communication with loved ones. This is essential when in a teaching or coaching position. This is the core ingredient for people feeling connected and safe with you when they are in a place of discomfort or when they are stretching their limits.

Here are some practical ideas of how to get a great balance of positive and constructive feedback when interacting with others.

  • Prelude each constructive criticism with a specific validation of something done well. (If you forget, you can always add a positive at the end.)
  • Try using the word “and” instead of “but” to connect your affirmation and your constructive feedback. Example: “You have done such a great job practicing your sight words this week, but and if you want to get to the next level, we can work on your spelling words now.”
  • Visualize the person in front of you achieving their goals; verbalize that bright future to them whenever appropriate.
  • Don’t blow smoke up anyone’s behind. The positive affirmation can absolutely be something small and specific, but above all, must be true.
  • Finish each coaching/teaching session with a positive wrap-up statement that validates time, effort, and achievement in an authentic way.

In a world full of “not ____ enough”, we teachers/coaches/humans have the potential to spread light and possibility. As easy as it is to forget amidst the demands and details of “adulting”, it is essential that we shine light and kindness and affirmation into our fellow human’s lives.

Let this be your focus for a day, and notice the difference.

 

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Lessons from My Expat Life: Say No

It’s ok to be a party-pooper.

For reals. After several months of saying yes to, legit, everything in my first expat experience in Seoul, I had to learn the next big lesson: saying no. (A lesson I continue to work on refining in my life four years later.)

Upon arriving in a new country and home, it’s of the utmost importance to start making connections, exploring, trying new foods, places, and experiences. And the way you do that is by saying yes. Yes, yes, YES! It’s a totally normal and super-fun part of the process. The downside is that at some point, saying yes to every opportunity (going out, traveling, socializing, joining a committee/book club/sports team, etc.), becomes utterly exhausting.

Our social (not to mention financial) gas tanks are finite; eventually, they require more discernment. 

The surprising part for me was how difficult it was to start saying no.

The biggest reason? FOMO. The struggle is real. Secondly, my behaviors up to that point had built expectations—expectations that would be consistently challenged as I began to be more picky with my yesses.

fomoLet’s have a real moment here.

I didn’t choose this lesson; it was forced upon me. I loved saying yes to everything, but at a certain point I found myself so depleted that I had to change what I was doing. That’s when I had to start thinking about which relationships were important to me to build, which activities fed me in some way—I had to select my yesses and learn to say no to everything else.

Let me tell you, that sh*% is tough. People hate hearing no. And eventually, when you say no enough times, you stop getting the invites, and your insides squeeze a little each time you hear about things you used to be a part of. Ugh.

But, here’s the thing: the relationships you put more time and energy into deepen; the activities you focus on become more meaningful; your bank account, social gas tank, and zen quotient grow.

Four years in, I go out infrequently (and still experience FOMO often). I usually go to bed early and get up with the sun (grandma status and proud). I spend time reading and writing and walking outside. I have dinners with dear friends. I drink when it’s special. I workout a LOT. I rarely get stressed about teaching because I have time and energy to stay caught up and balanced. I sometimes teach fitness classes. I build a lot of puzzles. I take weekend trips, but not too many. I am more aware of myself and my limits than I’ve ever been.

I say yes as often as I can (because I love my community here).

But, I still must frequently say no because I am keenly aware of my energy gas tank, and I know that driving that thing past ‘E’ takes about three times as long for me to recover from. I try to be clear and honest and gracious when I say no.

Saying no is definitely not as sparkly and joyful as saying yes. But it’s just as important.

As an expat, I’ve become practiced at and grateful for this lesson. Saying no ain’t for sissies.

And it’s ok to be a party-pooper.

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What I’ve Learned about Movement

Movement is something I often take for granted. But then there are times like today, seeing a post from my friend (paralyzed by a freak accident a couple years ago, and continuing to thrive in life: coaching, opening a new gym, breaking new ground) slide into view on facebook, when I stop and acknowledge the true wonder of my body and all it’s able to do. In those moments, I look up or close my eyes, look within and whisper, thanks.

These bodies of ours are pretty miraculous things. They serve us well. And the better we serve them, the better they will serve us. One way that we can treat our bodies with the respect and love they deserve is with movement.

wallballMovement can come in all shapes and forms: walking (functional, meditative, restorative), running, stretching, swimming, lifting weights, playing sports, yoga, chores, gardening…the list goes on and on. I find that my 35 year old body thrives on a balance of intense and restorative movements. I like to do CrossFit or strength training 3-4 times a week, 1-2 of those being very high intensity. The other days, I’ve committed to moving my body in restorative ways, most often gentle yoga, long walks along the river or hiking. What I’ve found is that I recover more quickly from soreness and have far fewer tweaks and injuries when planning my movement this way.

Movement does more for me than just keep my body healthy; it keeps my tornado-brain at bay. Most of us spend our days in our heads—thinking, reflecting, planning, worrying, remembering, to-do lists, paperwork, what’s for dinner…ahhhhh!!! What a relief to move out of your head and into your body—intentionally and daily—through movement.

CrossFit is meditative to me, because my energy is fully engaged in the task at hand. There is no room in my head for past or future or worry—only room for the present: the next rep, the next breath. It is a rock during tumultuous times that I know will ground me (even for an hour of my day) in the now. It will move me from the tangled mess of my mind to the purposeful movement of my body.

Walking, swimming, and hiking are the times my mind gets to wander like clouds through the sky, hopping from one thought to the next. Or focus in on the wonder around me—the dust on the leaves on the trees or the feeling of rough bark under my fingertips.

Movement serves me if I make it a priority—it makes my life better; it makes my body stronger and healthier; it gives my mind a rest.

What purpose does movement fulfill for you? How does movement serve you in your journey? 


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Where Perfectionism Ends and Life Begins

If you’re a perfectionist like me, you have an overactive shame button inside of you that, once triggered, sets off this nasty blaring judgey voice that berates you about all the things you should be and should be doing that you are constantly failing at miserably. Like not even getting close. Seriously, self…you suck. Look at all the people around you that have their sh*% together. What is wrong with you?

In the past, I’ve tried to drown that voice with some distraction (tv, or internet, or junk food, or _______) just to shut that bugger up. It works…sort of. Until the food is gone or the tv is off and it’s just me and my brain again.

This accusing voice keeps going until finally, I have no strength left, and I simply agree. It’s true: I fail so much; I am never enough. Tomorrow, I will eat super healthy, work out, be nice to everyone, kill it at work, start to lose my expat weight, and finally be good enough that people will look at me and approve. And maybe, just maybe, I will approve too.

There are lots of things that trigger my shame button. Like saying “no” to an outing with good friends because my introvert gas tank is dangerously close to empty, and I know that I will crash and cocoon in my apartment for a couple days if I go.

Like requesting a “venting window” of twenty minutes when a loved one is struggling, so I don’t end up sitting and absorbing complaints and pain for two hours, as my own power and energy slowly drain out of me, leaving me to crash and burn the rest of the day.

Like thinking about all the bajillion and one things I could be doing better in the classroom, but I’m not. (Thanks, master’s program, internet, and incredible colleagues. Heh.)

For most of my life, I’ve tried to live perfectly—tried to tiptoe around that shame button. But, here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as living up to the impossible standards I have for myself. I cannot live perfectly. I am not perfect. I set that button off every day of my life.

On October 1st of this year, I decided to try something radical. I decided that each day, no matter what happened that day, it would be enough—I would be enough.

That verdict would remain the same on the days I feel awesome—like I can freakin’ change the world—and would also apply on the days where I barely slogged through, complained, didn’t work out, ate pizza AND ice cream, watched way too much reality TV, and could claim “surviving” as my only accomplishment. At the end of every day, I committed to hearing the shaming voice if it was there, acknowledging having those thoughts, then letting them go and deciding, despite everything, that exactly what I did and who I was today is enough.

To be honest, I don’t always believe it, but I have committed to continue saying it until I do. I’ve started to reframe things that used to trigger my shame button: things I used to consider selfish in the past, I am often now reframing as self-care.

I’m giving myself permission to do the things that help me thrive, not just survive.

That means learning how to take care of myself, so that I can give my best self to the people in my life. Here are some things I now know to be true:

  • I know that exercise is paramount to my stress management and emotional stability.
  • I know that food can make me feel amazing or totally horrible, depending on my choices.
  • I know that spending time with others is incredible and important, but that my time alone and in nature is when I refuel.
  • I know that I have to make time to read and write for myself (not for class) in order to stay inspired.
  • I know that happiness will ebb and flow, and life will have its ups and downs, and now I’m starting to (finally) figure out how to feel grounded, grateful, and present throughout it all.

For me, it began with turning the love and compassion I have for others toward myself: realizing the choices I make aren’t selfish, but self-care; accepting myself exactly where I’m at, knowing I will continue to strive for better, and allowing today to be enough; and finally, finding solace in the fact that it’s all a journey, and we are simply practicing.

Perfection not required.

What do you give yourself permission to do in order to thrive?


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