Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living Now


My parents and I
This month two dear friends died. One suddenly of a heart attack, the other after a long battle with several different cancers. The world seems a little darker this morning.

I guess I am like most people. I live my life consumed by minutiae. Small dramas between friends or co-workers, passing moods, traffic, a slow computer--too often I allow small things to determine my life, my actions, and my thoughts. When faced with mortality, these small, petty issues fall aside.

The loss of my friends, while painful, is nothing compared to to the empty feelings their families are facing today. I have lost my mother and father, and sat beside my husband in ICU when he was terribly ill and I knew any second his labored breathing could stop. Time stops in that level of loss. You feel separated from time and space, and the people around you can try to comfort or help, but you are too numb to respond. 

Thankfully, my husband recovered, and is now healthier than he has been in years. But I try to never quite forget how clearly I saw life sitting by that hospital bed. When the daily grind drops away in the face of life-and-death issues, you make promises to yourself. You promise you will never take important people for granted. You promise you will never let the trivial keep you from the crucial. You promise that you will say things that need to be said, even if it leaves you vulnerable or temporarily hurts someone in hopes of helping them live a fuller life.

I have kept these promises imperfectly. Today I realize I have not stayed as connected with my friends, especially the two who are newly gone. I could have been more encouraging, more available, more attentive. No one stays in the moment of what's truly important perfectly. But each time real life overtakes the silly play of irrelevant details, let's renew our commitment to those promises. Hug the people you love today. Forgive them. Remove anything that stands between you and being able to stay connected to the important people and values in your life. No one is guaranteed the next minute. Please make this minute--this one, right now--count. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Culture of Busyness and Perfection

Photo Credit: Celalteber
Today I had lunch with a dear friend. I work in natural health, and she works in human resources and career coaching. Our conversation drifted to living a good life, as it often does, and we both came to the same conclusion: people are killing themselves trying to live up to a culture of busyness and perfection.

Everyone is busy, everyone has too much to do, and it's the excuse for rudeness, for missing family time, and for any let-down. The trouble is, it's a real excuse. When you cram every second of your day with more obligations than you can manage, you will let stuff go. But no one seems to do much about it. Why don't we pare down activities? Why don't we refuse a dinner date with the co-worker who gets on our nerves? And why, when we do let things go, it's things we love--friends and loved ones and leisure--instead of the things we hate, like long hours at a job that takes too much from us, or social outings that are more obligations than fun?

Enter the culture of perfection. You can do it all, and be a perfect weight, perfect physique, have five time consuming hobbies and everyone loves you. If you can't keep up, don't tell anyone, because then you are not part of the group. Do your Pilates (or Tough Mudder marathon), show up at the right restaurants, go to your book club, or fundraiser, or cocktail party. Check your watch if you must, because you're killing your soul, and go to sleep at 2am (but get up at 5am because early risers are the most productive). But be perfect. If you aren't then you're a loser.

"People won't even poop at work," I said, sharing an article on "workplace bathroom anxiety" I found recently. (While looking for the article online, I found pages of articles with strategies to "do a big job" in the office discreetly.) 

"Of course not," my friend said. "The boss might come in." 

What has life become when basic biological functions that are common to everyone cannot be done in the space dedicated to them? When you can't admit to you co-workers, who you see for more hours than your family, that you are not perfect? Where is the safe place everyone needs to be themselves? 

For many, it's not with their family. Too many people use busyness to cover up an unhappy marriage, or to fill their belief that if they aren't perfect their mate or children or parents won't love them. So they work, and they work, and try to find all their fulfillment in activities and jobs. 

My husband and I have downtime. More than most people. We watch movies together, we sit around and read books in the same room, sometimes sharing an interesting passage, and, mostly, we let each other be fallible. I cannot imagine the lives I hear about from some patients, where their every moment is scheduled and judged by someone who expects them to give everything to that moment. Living under that burden changes how you interact--you won't tell people you're tired, so those around you don't realize you need space, or you tell everyone you're overburdened, and suck the joy and life from any room you enter.

How about we try something else? I invite you to join me. Let's dump the Culture of Busyness, and the Culture of Perfection. Let's join the Culture of Authenticity. Our group is made up of imperfect people who want to grow. We know time in contemplation, in sitting with others for friendship and fun, and in dealing with problems instead of distracting ourselves with another activity, are valuable for our productivity, mental and emotional health. We take time off when we're sick. We limit multi-tasking. We go to the bathroom. This culture does may not know who the "it" designer is this season, and we may spend more time at home than off networking, but when we give ourselves to a task, we can give ourselves completely. We give what we have, and then we recharge. We spend less time at doctors and more time getting massages and talking to our kids and spouses and friends. Join us--we have room for you. 


Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's That Time of Year: The Anniversary Reaction

"Anniversary Reaction" is a term that describes an emotional reaction to the memory of an event on or near the calendar date of a trauma, or when the surrounding circumstances are similar to the "feel" of the time a trauma occurred.

Photo Credit: lindagr
The idea of the anniversary reaction is relevant to me this time of year. Both my parents died in February, six years and one day apart. This time of year is a nostalgic, sometimes troubled one for me, often involving strangely emotional days with no immediate explanation. 

Since it's been decades since either of my parents' deaths, it is odd to still feel the sting of loss so profoundly. It's not that I am deeply grieving; rather, the season just leaves me melancholy. I've bounced back and forth in coping strategies for my emotional response--some years I take the days off work entirely, listen to sad music and loll around or read all day. Others I try to "buck up" and get on with my life. I rarely succeed with the "soldier on" mentality--usually my body makes the decision to grieve for me, and I catch a cold or in some other way become physically incapacitated.

So I now try to honor this feeling. I give myself time. If I cannot schedule a whole day of reflection, I take half days several times throughout my "season of grief." I've given up fighting the intermittent eruptions of tears, though I sometimes forget why they come up for a day or two. 

I've also stopped trying to decide what the emotion means. A quick search of "Anniversary Reaction" on the internet shows different approaches to dealing with it. Some define it as "an individual's response to unresolved grief resulting from significant losses." Until it is gone you should consider your grief unresolved. Others take a more peacefully resigned approach, seeing the anniversary reaction as a natural part of grieving for some people, and suggests using each year's emotional upheaval as a chance to remember your loss, reflect on your life, and allow yourself to grow emotionally. Of course, if an anniversary of a traumatic event or loss leaves you incapacitated or hopeless to the point of severe depression, all professionals say that getting some form of professional help is critical to your well-being. But for people like me, who have a long wave of nostalgic, not-entirely-unpleasant grief around a loss, an anniversary reaction can be a chance to reconnect with your history, with your family memories, and with your life outside of work and daily responsibilities. These "time-outs" from day-to-day struggle are important in our culture of constant distraction and busyness.  Honoring milestones and touchstones helps us to stay connected to what makes each of us unique.

If you have a special anniversary of an event in your life, I invite you to treasure that memory, even its tears. Embracing the hard times in your life allows you to grow from them. If the event is the loss of a loved one, going over the good and bad of your time with the person will help you be kinder to the people dear to you now. If the event was a horrible trauma, remembering your survival can give you strength in your present trials and remind you that you have a life to use in whatever way you feel reflects you and your values. And if you survived something that others did not, it gives you a chance to honor those memories and those people. Each person must find his own way to approach the anniversary reactions in his life. What has worked for me is a gentle homage to people very important in making me who I am today, and a resolve to treat the remaining people I love as the dear treasures they are.

Articles referenced for this post: 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"I Don't Like To Complain"


Photo credit: nzks
I read a lot about positivity, and training your mind to see the brighter aspect of any situation. But when I get down, I do not have a lot of experience with realistic evaluation of experiences. I tend to see any experience as either good or bad, as my fault if it is negative, and in spite of me if it is positive. I absorbed a futilistic mind set from childhood, without my family's or my realization it was happening. So when I do finally give up and embrace the depressing side of a problem, I go overboard. I throw out any good things as I focus on the bad--no one called me today, I lost income, I made a mistake, something bad is happening to someone I love and I can't help it, there are good things I want to do, but x, y, or z stands in the way. It's all hopeless, and I should just eat worms and die.

When I keep my pain locked away in myself, a stray negative thought can blossom into a full depression hurricane, where I denigrate my accomplishments, ignore happy things around me, and sacrifice my energy and health in bouts of crying, anger, and blaming those around me for perceived slights. Why don't I reach out to someone else in these bad times? "I don't like to complain." "I don't want to be negative." "If other people knew I had this problem, I would be lessened in their eyes."

Recently I tried to encourage a friend who was down. In a feat of tremendous hyprocrisy, I urged him to confide his problems in others, to "get the pain out." And he used my line. "I don't like to complain." As often happens, being of the receiving end of my words opened my eyes to a new viewpoint.

Why is it helpful to share our burdens with each other? If I am sad, and I tell you I am sad and why, won't I just make you sad, too? Sometimes, yes. I have heard conversations where two people get together and focus on all the bad in themselves and in the world. The conversation often becomes cruel, cyncial, and cutting. I get depressed hearing it second-hand, and the people involved do not seem uplifted at all while they are together. But I don't usually have such conversations. When I share a problem with a friend, my friends react differently. I have been blessed with proactive friends who help me turn problems around.

How do these wonderful people help me? They are first caring, then try to help me see the problem realistically, and then we try to solve it together.
  • Caring. Letting someone know your dark places or failures is scary stuff. In a society built on projecting a positive, successful, happy persona, admitting that you ate a box of cookies and spent the day hiding from people because conversation was too taxing is an exercise in vulnerability--and is not something you find recommended in a Tony Robbins seminar. But everyone has down times. Grief and sadness are natural stages in life. They can come on from events big or small, from events such as death or illness bringing loss into our lives, or when our current situation is not where we want to be, or we hit one too many red lights on the way to work on a rainy day. The brooding nature of sadness can, when expressed and used correctly, give us time to look at problems, see what we want or need to change, and move toward a happier future. But most of us need someone to accept us at our saddest in order to properly process our emotions and reach that proactive stage. Being a friend who can say "I am so sorry you are dealing with this problem! Tell me about it," gives the troubled person room to feel their emotions and begin the job of working through to a better state.

  • See the Problem Realistically. For me, this is the stage I need a trusted friend to accomplish. When I face a problem, it is all I can see. Only the bad sides of the equation. I don't see opportunities, I don't see my skills I bring to solving it, I don't see any of my past successes or the support networks I have all around me. I see a problem--big and scary and proof, in my eyes, of my utter incompetence and lack of worth. My husband and my friends are lifesavers in these moments. I trust them to honestly assess a problem with me, and help me put it in perspective in the larger mosaic of my life. They are the ones to remind me of past successes, of the power of faith, of the good things that can come from the current challenge, and that even if I do fail to solve this problem, I am still loved and worthwhile. This help is the hardest to be without, and the step I close off the most severely when I refuse to share my burden with someone I can trust.
  • Solving the Problem. This step, which seems so crucial when I am bewailing my predicament, is actually the least important. Most problems get solved. Mostly by doing things I already know how to do. For the rare times I need help--either in the form of practical help or simply expert advice, my support group of friends, family, and experts I trust will usually get me on track quickly. I am still surprised at how simple solutions can be, especially after I've spent weeks obsessing over a situation. Often one conversation, or mentioning one need that is overwhelming to me, will result in just the right advice, or someone having a spare whatsit that they want to be rid of that is exactly what I need. Problem solving, while crucial to life, is much less difficult than letting someone care and help you put your problem into perspective.
So why do we constantly hoard our problems when sharing them helps us and allows our friends to see into our lives in ways that strengthen our relationships? Why must pride and a desire to appear invincible rather than vulnerable make us suffer alone? Think about how good it feels to help someone else, and especially how good it feels to be trusted with someone's tender, scary places. Why not give that gift to the friend you value the most? Chances are good he or she will help you solve your problem, you'll feel better, and your friend will feel valued and useful. Share a problem today!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Yin Deficiency: What is It and Five Ways to Recover

Photo by Teresa Y Green



The link above is from Michael Tierra's amazing website, and gives a quick overview of cayenne, and mentions that it may be too hot for someone with Yin deficiency. I completely agree with Mr. Tierra's article (and since he's one of the big names in herbal medicine, I'd be hesitant to disagree with him). But since his article was not focused on Yin deficiency, I found his explanation a little sparse. Most people in Western society have some yin deficiency, and protecting your Yin is crucial to staying healthy, especially as you age. Here's a little info:

Yin deficiency refers to our reserves. Yin deals with the cooling, calming, moistening functions in the body--having the right lubrication (lymph, mucous, saliva, etc.), enough substructure (bone, blood, etc.), and enough rebuilding time and materials (sleep, and the substances above). It also refers to the “stuff” of reproductive function--hormones, menstrual blood, semen, mucous, etc. A yin deficiency may not affect all of these--Stomach yin deficiency means there usually is not adequate stomach mucosa, causing burning, acid reflux, or dry mouth; while liver yin deficiency will affect our ability to make blood properly, stay calm, and get enough sleep. Kidney yin deficiency affects reproductive function, overall calmness, ability to focus, and sleep as well.


Yang is the opposite of yin, and provides the activity that Yin fuels. Yang affects our ability to warm, do activity, remove excess moisture (and not generate it in the first place), wake up, and push through when you’re exhausted and have to keep going. It describes the energy that gets people up in them morning, provides sex drive, and active thinking. When it is deficient, people can have problems with anything from edema to sleepiness to just giving up.


Yin and yang work together. Without enough Yin, Yang is a mechanic with no tools, without enough Yang, the tools sit idle and rust. We need both. To use a different analogy, if you think of life as a fire, yin is the wood that provides fuel, while yang is the spark. Most people, when they get tired, try to add extra spark with caffeine, exercise, supplements, etc., when the problem most often is the substructure fuel that is depleted. Rebuilding the quiet side of your physiology allows you to thrive as you do the active parts of life.


Chronic stress destroys both yin and yang, but because yin is the harder to rebuild, it is the part that is the most important to protect. Overuse of cayenne, or other warming or stimulant substances like caffeine, will aggravate a yin deficiency, and may mask it temporarily because it provides extra yang. Eventually, though, the bottom falls out as a person's reserves are completely depleted. Once someone collapses from overworking her body, she may never fully recover.

So protect your health and your ability to thrive. Protect your yin:


  1. Get enough rest. Rest early and often, with naps if possible. Take regular breaks in your workday, if not to sleep, then at least to disengage from the rat race. Take a walk, look at the outside world or an art museum--but let your mind rest. Meditation is one of the best ways to rebuild yin, and can be as simple as letting your mind wander while you watch people walk their dogs in a park.
  2. Eat well. Eat nutrient-dense food. Eggs from healthy chickens (meaning free-range chickens who have not been fed antibiotics) are a great source of yin, as are any juicy fruits and vegetables. Most fish is considered beneficial for yin as well. Eating warming foods that are considered more yang tonic (such as cayenne, cinnamon, lamb, horseradish and other mildly spicy foods) is not wrong--Chinese medicine is about balance, and getting a wide variety of foods is important. But if you have a yin deficiency, giving extra attention to yin tonic foods is a great idea.
  3. Destress. In our modern times, nothing is as hard on Yin as stress. Stress triggers our fight-or-flight system, which basically means we become on guard most of the time. Feeling rested and refreshed when you are constantly worried or feel cornered in a bad job, relationship, or just with your own thoughts is impossible. See a therapist, make life changes a necessary, or delegate your least favorite chores. The peace you gain will add years to your life.
  4. Do gentle exercise. Exercise primarily builds yang, through activity, but gentle exercise, such as tai chi or moderate walking, allows your body to process stress hormones, circulate your lymph, move toxins around, and manage blood sugar and digestion. These benefits greatly diminish stress in your system, and so benefit Yin.
  5. Diminish distractions. Yin is the energy of quiet and peace. If you have not sat outside and looked at the clouds for a while, I suggest trying it. Turning off your cell phone, stepping away from the computer, and turning down ambient noise any way you can will give your nervous system a break. Like meditation, simply existing in a quiet space without a lot of stimulation allows your body to turn inward and rest.
Using these tips will help you keep your Yin strong, giving you ample reserves for any situation. Try a few of them today!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When It Absolutely, Positively, Has to Be: Five Tips to Do a BIG THING

Photo Credit: Escultura

Usually, my blog is about taking time out, getting rest, and honoring your needs. I usually advocate taking more time off than you think is necessary, and avoiding the mindset that you "have" to do much of anything if you are tired or need renewal time. 

But sometimes, you have to show up, no matter how you feel. I call this a Big Thing. If someone is sick, or you're out of sick days, or there's something that is too good for your overall goals, well-being, or future for you to sidestep it, you have to be there. How can you have the show go on when you want to drop the curtain and beg off?

  1. Do as many health-enhancing habits as possible while you are overextended. If you must work long hours, invest the extra time or money into eating healthy food. Be sure to get at least a tiny amount of exercise, even if it means five minutes of stretching while you listen on a conference call. Sleep as much as you possibly can while still getting your Big Thing done. Naps are great tucked in after lunch (pun intended).
  2. Set limits around your Big Thing. Set some kind of limit on how far you will push yourself. If there is a new baby, or a sick family member, organize a sitter for a few hours each week. If you have a big project at work, put in a few hours on a regular schedule for a break--a nap, a movie, an afternoon off--stagger the time among co-workers if necessary. No one works well with no breaks at all. And whenever possible set a deadline. "If I have not solved this problem within three weeks, I will set it aside for a week before I deal with it again."
  3. Ask for help, and take help that is offered. For some reason, asking for help is anathema to some people. But most people want to help their friends, family, and co-workers, knowing they will need help one day, too. So if your mother offers to make some meals so you have time to take your daughter to rehearsals for the school play, thank her profusely--and accept! If you have a co-worker willing and able to accept your phone call list while you handle your budget shortfall, thank her, and take her out to lunch when the crisis is over. Most people suffer more from stress than necessary simply by not taking help that is offered.
  4. Give yourself permission to let down in something. If you are at your parents' house every night while Dad recovers from hip surgery, don't worry about your normal housework. Or the dishes. If you live alone, and can't get someone to help you, use paper plates or order the healthiest takeout you can find to save time on cleaning up later. Maybe the weekly pizza get-together at work can be shelved until you have the newest promotion done. Or you can cut your exercise time in half for a few days a week until you learn French for your trip to Europe. While you don't want to abandon all standards or healthy activities, don't beat yourself up if you let a few things slide here and there in pursuit of the greater good. 
  5. Reward yourself when The Big Thing is over. My weak point is rewarding myself for an accomplishment, so I want to be sure to preach about it. If you and those around you have worked hard on anything, whether the ending worked out as you hoped or not, reward yourself for your effort. Take the office to dinner when big sale is over--whether you broke any records or not. When the kitchen is finally renovated, invite friends over for a celebration cooking extravaganza. When you spend a month helping your son prepare for his finals, go to the beach for the day when it's done--with an extra treat if he aces it. If your Big Thing is something that is not rewardable, like taking care of a sick relative who dies, you still need to rejuvenate. Take time off work to sleep, think about your loved one, or get a massage and talk to friends. You have worked hard for something, and you need to refill your reserve tank so you can enjoy the rest of your life.
Big Things can come in all shapes and sizes. When you decide something is worth more of your energy than you have to give, make sure it's worth the hours you are taking from your life. Then use these tips to allow you to do your Big Thing and come out the other side still ready for action.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Part Five of the Five Taxations: Maybe 'Stand Up, Stand Up' Is Not Always Best

Image Courtesy of FreeImages.com

Today is Part Five of our Five Taxation series. First, a quick review:

Part 1: Goldilocks and the Five Taxations: An Introduction
Chinese medicine advocates balance in everything. Even activities that seem harmless, or are considered positive by most people, should only be done in balance. Too much of any activity will cause an imbalance somewhere else.

Part 2: I Can See Clearly Now: To Observe Over a Long Time Harms the Blood
Our eyes are sensitive to overwork. Because of the connections they have with the Liver, Gallbladder, and Wood Element in Chinese medicine, overusing your eyes can hurt your health over time.

Part 3: Get Up and Boogie: Excessive Lying Down, Which Damages Flesh
Lying down too much means you cannot be getting enough exercise. Inadequate exercise leads to a host of problems, including blood sugar issues, poor circulation, obesity, and has been linked to dementia and poor stress management.

Part 4: Sitting Needs Moderation 
"Oversitting" is at least as bad as "excessive lying down," with the same issues plus more problems with posture.

And today's entry, "excessive standing, which injures bones." 

These days, standing is in vogue. There are standing desks, standing meetings, and advice to never, ever, ever sit.  

As with most things advised in our modern world, Chinese medicine would disagree with such an all-or-nothing approach. Standing for long periods is hard on the blood vessels in the legs, increasing the risk of carotid atherosclerosis ninefold, as well as contributing to varicose veins. For many people, it can aggravate back, foot, or knee pain, especially if the surface they need to stand on is too unyielding. It can also cause fatigue if there is no option to sit or rest.

Chinese medicine sees standing too long as harmful to the bones. The bones are governed by the Water element, which also includes the Kidney and Bladder systems. More than the organs that filter and excrete urine, in the Chinese medical system they also have a major role in maintaining you jing, or essence--which deals with your reproductive health as well as your "reserve energy"--the well you go to when you're exhausted but need to keep going. Anything that taxes this system will make it harder for you to overcome stress, especially long-term, unrelenting stress that eats at your peace.

So what's a person to do? Don't look out too much. Don't sit too long, don't stand too long, don't lie down too much, and don't walk a lot (our next and final taxation)--unless you can levitate, there's only one answer left someone seeking the wisdom of a millenia-old system of medicine. Do a little bit of all of them. Sit sometimes, stand a little, lie down to rest, and walk enough for exercise, but not to exhaustion. Our bodies are made for lots of different activities. In our computer age, we have made sitting and exercise-for-exercise's sake our primary movements. How about we try other things? Walk with a friend, or walk or bike to get from Point A to Point B. Stretch to rock climb, or reach something from a high shelf, or to dance to music. Lay down on the grass and look at the clouds. Or let your eyes rest, and listen to the birds and the breeze and the sound of children laughing. Stand to greet others, or to give your seat to someone who is tired and needs the rest. If you want other ideas, this article might be helpful.

Chinese medicine is about balance. Instead of latching on to one activity, how about filling your life with the variety of all activities that bring you health?

Articles used in writing this post:
http://www.hazards.org/standing/
http://www.ericcressey.com/6-tips-for-people-who-stand-all-day
http://healthland.time.com/2011/04/13/the-dangers-of-sitting-at-work%E2%80%94and-standing/