From Eden's Dirt

Hope through despair. Faith through fear.

Tag: Self Care

My Snowy Day

Have you ever read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats? It’s a beautiful picture book that I loved reading to my children when they were younger. In all of Keats’ books, both the art and the story reflect the joy and wonder of childhood in their simplicity, while also showing the struggle that a child must navigate as he begins to encounter his own need to adjust emotionally to the world’s imperfections.

In The Snowy Day, a little boy named Peter is overjoyed to wake up to find a deep covering of snow blanketing his urban neighborhood. As you might suspect, he is immediately drawn to the magic of the snow, running out into its depths in his little red snowsuit. He plays alone, performing the little scientific experiments that young children use so openly as they explore their world. He whacks a snow-covered tree with a stick until a pile of snow falls onto his head. He makes footprints in patterns. And, of course, he rolls snowballs.

Yet, after some time, Peter grows tired of his games and uncomfortable in the cold, and wants to go back to his warm home. Yet the snow is precious and new and fun, and he doesn’t want to leave it either. In his dilemma, he decides to roll a small snowball, just big enough to fit in his coat pocket, and then he goes inside. After a warm bath, however, Peter is dismayed to find that his snowball has disappeared, leaving only a wet coat pocket behind.

This weekend, by the grace of God and my husband, Eric, I am spending time alone at a retreat center located near the beach in San Diego. (I’m not going to tell you where exactly. This place is my secret piece of heaven, and I don’t want to share.) I’m here to rest, read, pray, and recharge my batteries, and I get to be here all the way until Monday. This, to me, is the ultimate measure of selfcare, not quite a vacation, but an indulgence in my own inner world, with time to fill only with the things that feed my soul. But the hard part, the damper on my private party, is that, on Monday, I will, in fact, go home.

I came here once before not quite two years ago, and it was one of the best things I’d ever done for myself. Solo retreats are an amazing way to get in touch with God and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the idea is that, after my God-and-me honeymoon, I can return home with a fresh outlook and a cleansed spirit. And, after my last visit here, that did happen. But my launch back into reality didn’t feel too good after my return home. I pulled in the driveway with an indescribable peace in my heart, and I was anxious to embrace my kids and my husband, to give them the new, best self that I’d uncovered. Then I opened the front door.

All three kids and my husband were home, and all 3 were in full, energetic swing. My elder son had an appointment that day to tour a meterological station in partial fulfillment of a Boy Scout merit badge. When I walked in, he needed to be there in ten minutes, and the station was twenty minutes away. Eric was trying to help him focus on what he needed to wear and bring along, as well as the types of questions he should ask, and in the midst of this my younger son was playing, chattering, and requesting attention. My daughter, who attended an online middle school at the time, was using her school-issued computer, struggling to complete her work in all the commotion. I was dismayed to say the least. All of this was (is) just a typical day in our crazy family life, but after my three days in solitude, the impact of this uproar on my sensory systems was overwhelming. I was able to greet everyone with hugs and kisses and listen to their reports of events that happened while I was gone, but within a few hours, my mind and body shut down. I ended up in bed with a multi-day migraine.

As I sit here again now, the discomfort of that reunion and the frustration I felt toward myself and toward my normal life sits in my mind, and I know I want to avoid that shock on Monday. But I don’t know how to translate the peace and tranquility I experience in this environment into the everyday life I lead. My precious snowball of solitude and quiet can only survive under the right conditions. When I take it out of its natural environment, it will melt. Like Peter, all I’ll have left is a wet pocket.

Learning to balance caring for others, caring for myself, growing my relationship with God and allowing Him to determine the values I will live out, and trying to enjoy the whole process is a never-ending balancing act. I am constantly questioning where and when one of these priorities should stop and another should begin. Ultimately I should be living them all out simultaneously, and certainly I am, but the time factor eludes me. When I need to practice my care for others, should I be sitting down, playing a game or having a talk with my kids? Going on a date with my husband? Keeping my house clean? Cooking a favorite meal? Planning and executing a family outing? Am I really caring for them if I’m cooking a meal and they’re in the other room? Since I’m pretty much the only one in the house who likes things clean and organized, is sweeping the floor an act of caring for my family, or caring for myself? When I’m feeling tired, sick, or resentful, should I continue sweeping the floor because I love them, or should I take a break? Is it too self-indulgent to take a 3 hour nap on Sunday afternoon? Is Eric out there in the living room thinking I’m lazy and growing resentful because I’m napping and he’s not? I definitely see the wisdom in putting on my own self care oxygen mask first before helping others, but I never seem to get enough air. Perhaps if I stopped overthinking it all I could breathe more deeply.

Like Peter, I want to keep my snowball. Having just the snowball isn’t quite as great as having all the snow, but keeping it means that I have a piece of that joy to hold onto any time I want. But, just as Peter wasn’t able to keep the snowball from melting in the warmth of his house, I can’t seem to carry the warmth and peace that I receive in solitude into my active life and my relationships. It disintegrates.

I want to know the secret to keeping the snowball. I want my self care practices to enhance and give depth and meaning to my work and my relationships. Instead I feel like the busyness of life too quickly drains my supply of inner peace.

For now, though, I will stop worrying about how to hang onto the snowball. For the next three days, I’ll just enjoy the snow.

Photo by Aaron Burden. Pictures by Ezra Jack Keats.

Essentials of Self Care: Own Your Time

This is the third installment in my Essentials of Self Care series. To view the earlier installments, choose a link:

Essentials of Self Care: Sleep

Essentials of Self Care: Breathe

Essentials of Self Care: Rule of Life.

I’ve written a lot about self care in the past. It’s important to me because I want others to know what I didn’t. I believe that one of the reasons I now suffer from chronic illnesses, mental and physical, is that I didn’t make time for self care in my earlier years as an adult, and especially after I became a mother. It wasn’t until I developed chronic migraines and other pain that anyone told me that self care needed to be more than remembering to eat right, brush my teeth, and take a shower once in a while.

In the fall of 2016, after several months of extreme anxiety, constant head and muscle pain, dizziness, and nausea, I saw my current primary care doctor for the first time. She asked me about my life, and the first thing I told her was that I was the at-home mother of two teens with autism. I didn’t get to tell her any more. She stopped me, saying, “No wonder you have migraines. I think all of this is happening because of constant stress and anxiety. Your body can’t manage it anymore.” I don’t tell you this here to make the claim that all chronic illness and pain is a result of stress. But stress is a big complicating factor, and it seems like so many people, myself included, feel stressed, but don’t feel like they have the time to relieve it. It’s not that I don’t want stress relief, it’s that any time that I spend caring for myself is time that I don’t spend doing something else that’s important. Like so many other women, I put my own needs last.

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I made changes after that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that, while self care allows me to cope with and enjoy my life, it’s too late for me to be completely healthy again. God may work a miracle for me, and I pray for one often. I am not discounting His desire and ability to make me well. But accepting that my body is tired helps me feel like my self care is worthwhile.

I don’t want others to get to this point where I am. I’m 37 right now, but I often joke that it feels like 87. I’m tired to the point of exhaustion almost all the time; in fact, if I don’t feel tired I tend to worry about what might be wrong. I take 10 pills every morning. While many other women are in much worse condition, I can emphatically tell you that I regret not allowing myself the time for proper self care, especially the kind that provides a release from tension and anxiety.

Here’s What I Wish I’d Known:

You own your time. Every hour of every day in this comparably short life is yours to invest. God has entrusted us with years of life here, and those years are made up of hours. I may be stating the obvious here, but this is something I didn’t know, or chose to ignore, for most of my adult life, and especially after I had children. But I chose that. Or it could be said that I chose not to own my time, allowing all the things around me to own it instead, and in my mind, I had no choice but to be dragged along behind the flow of my own life.

But there are 3 things you can accept and act on if you’re going to make the minutes of your life purposeful and healthy.

Time will pass whether you’re mindfully living your life by faith or allowing the flow to sweep you where it will. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “All the streams flow to the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” Don’t get caught in the cycle of the tides. Instead, try this:

1. Know your values.

If you can’t clearly define what you value, chances are you aren’t valuing those things. Our values are what shape us, and without them, our efforts are futile, or at least misplaced (Ecclesiastes 2:21).

Spend time in thought, prayer, and meditation, asking God to show you what is most valuable to you and what putting these things first would look like in your life. Give this time. I suggest several days of thought and prayer. When you feel like you know your answer, write down 3-5 values that God is calling you to live your life by. It may help to post this list somewhere where you will see it often.

2. Examine your current investments.

Take out your planner, datebook, Google Calendar, or whatever you use to keep track of your personal schedule. Page backwards. What did you spend most of your time on over the last days, weeks, and months? What values do these things convey? Think about the things you don’t write down as well — sleep, meals and meal preparation, self care, child care, carpools, and commutes. Where is your time going? Do most of your activities accurately reflect your values, or does your calendar represent your preoccupations?

Come up with a way to ensure that the majority of your time is used doing things that contribute to and build upon your values and the things you most love.



3. Leave a margin.

Even when you’ve adjusted your schedule and your lifestyle to properly invest in what you most value, it’s essential to plan for down time. It sounds a bit paradoxical, but if you fill every hour of your time and don’t leave plenty of blank space in your life, you’ll burn out. Leaving margin in your schedule allows a space for the unexpected, whether that ends up being taking your kids out for pizza or sitting in unexpected traffic. Down time is also a great way to ensure that you can invest in self care when you need it most.

God calls us all to intentionally live in a way that reflects His love to others, and also to ourselves. You may believe that certain actions are valuable, and are what God intends for your life, but if your day-to-day activities don’t reflect that, it means that you’re putting other things ahead of them. Just as important, if you’re spending all of your time chasing after what you value, and none of it caring for yourself and enjoying what you already have, you’ve missed the point.

Allow God to show you where He wants you to invest your precious energy, and when He wants you to rest and recharge. He doesn’t call us to a life of endless toil and striving. He calls us to a life of peace.

Photos by Kristopher Roller, Daoudi Aissa, Mikito Tateisi, and Milada Vigerova via Unsplash.

Emotional Constipation

I’ve never been good at holding anything back. A big part of my life story involves my big emotions and my tendency to dump them on others. I feel the most guilt about negative emotions, of course. Emotional tirades have been an issue for me since childhood. When I didn’t get what I wanted I let people know. One of my earliest memories is of going, or maybe being sent to, my room crying this loud yelling cry that I’m really good at. (Yes, still.) As I made my way to my room after some kind of argument with my mother I heard my father say in a frustrated voice, “What’s the tragedy now?” And he was right. He was right that I acted like everything was a tragedy, and he was right to be frustrated by that. I know because this is one of those situations where my parents got some payback. My kids do it too. My boys in particular are both especially good at building entire mountain ranges out of a few mole hills.

              Of course as I’ve grown I’ve learned that people don’t want to hear my tragedies. Frustrated comments like the one my dad made peppered my childhood, but when I got older and my problems got bigger, and I still threw my big emotions around, the emotions themselves became my problems. I had no problem crying loudly in the hallway in high school when my boyfriend broke my heart, but the snickers and mocking remarks of passersby still sting to this day, and I doubt my presentation was very attractive for my boyfriend either. Yet whenever I tried to hold back, whenever I just kept the feelings inside, or wrote them in my journal without telling someone else, I kept feeling them twenty-four hours a day. I just carried them around with me and I was constantly aware of them. I’m not someone who can pretend these things aren’t there. So then, when more bad things happened, I added more big emotions to the heap of others sitting inside me, and I felt ALL of them at once. Over time the emotions became impacted. I’m not talking about years of piling these things up; I never lasted that long without exploding. But the emotional constipation hurt like crazy, and when I finally got it out, it felt great.

Until it didn’t, of course. Because no one wanted to hear how bad I felt. I get that. It’s never comfortable when someone unloads a pile on you, even when nothing you’ve done is in the pile. The problem is that because I feel every emotion in a big way, when those big emotions get impacted, those hurts start telling me what to do and who I am. I start wanting to hurt people, sometimes even physically. I start thinking about how much I hate certain types of behavior that hurt me, and then I see it in everyone I meet. I become paranoid. Why is he looking at me like that? Does she think I’m too fat to be wearing this? Maybe my husband is cheating. I bet he is. That’s why he doesn’t like it when I rummage through his bags. I’m so ugly. No one should still get zits at 37. I know it – I’m sick. I have cancer, or an auto immune disease. I have psoriasis, so it’s definitely auto immune. WebMD says I need emergency treatment. But the people in the emergency room always send me home. I irritate them. They don’t care about me because I suck. I’m a waste of oxygen.

              The problem with emotional shit is that it can talk, and the more of it there is sitting inside me, the more it tells me. Nothing it tells me is good, and nothing it tells me is truth. But that doesn’t stop me from believing it. The messages my piled up emotions send me are like those radio commercials for car dealerships. They always make sure to include a catchy jingle that you’ll hate, but will still become an ear worm, repeating itself over and over in your brain. Emotions love to talk shit about me, and I’m the only one they talk to.

Why am I writing this? Why, for goodness sake, would I ever want to write this out and give this information to the general public? Who cares? Anyone who reads it will think I’m a wacko.

I’m writing this because I’m not wacko. I’m human.

Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.”

 

This is not a quote from a famous blogger or a motivational speaker. As far as I know these words have never appeared in a TED talk. Those words were written by a member of AA, in a book originally published in 1952. This is not new information, and it wasn’t written by a millennial.

When you find information like this, information that is timeless, it’s easier to trust it as truth. Emotional backup isn’t my condition; it’s the human condition. There’s a post that bops around on social media that says something like, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you don’t know about.” That’s the truth. Kindness, politeness, humility, and open-mindedness can take us a long way, and so can being carefully honest about our true feelings.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and research to learn how I can be emotionally open and honest without getting myself into trouble, along with how I can avoid interpersonal troubles in the first place. I know what works for me, but that’s for another post. Here’s my encouragement to you: Be honest about what you are feeling, but be prudent with your honesty. Practice boundaries. Think carefully about how another person will react to what you need to say, and judge accordingly. Don’t let it all out without being mindful about when, where, and who hears it. I’m not suggesting you develop emotional diarrhea. I’m suggesting that we all learn to express our feelings, that we learn how to do it in a way that enables us to begin healing but without indiscriminately hurting those around us. I’m also suggesting that, if someone close to you dumps their emotions, try not to take it too personally. Recognize that what someone else says, even in an attempt to intentionally hurt you, reveals more about the speaker than it does the audience. Give them, and yourself, some grace. Life is hard.

I’m suggesting a steady diet of emotional fiber. I’m suggesting tolerance of other people’s emotional digestion. I’m suggesting that, if you know you are emotionally constipated, take that load to an open-minded friend, a mentor, or a therapist. Don’t take an emotional dump on the person that hurt you.

              Shit stinks. So do painful emotions. But when they’re flowing in a healthy way, and when we encourage others to keep them flowing in a healthy way, we’ll all feel a lot more comfortable.

 

Photos by rawpixel, Jason Roswell, Anna Dziubinska, and Hien Olviera via Unsplash.

It’s Finally September!

Dear readers, I had every intention of posting this special surprise I have for you a whole two weeks ago, but life got in the way. I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing on taking care of our own bodies, minds, and spirits, but as it turns out, September didn’t come soon enough for me.

Sometimes it’s just so hard to admit our own limitations. I don’t necessarily want to keep my weaknesses a secret, but I do try to appear more resilient than I really am. While I truly believe that God places weaknesses and difficulties in my life to help me grow stronger in faith and show me my need for Him, I also believe that I need to take responsibility for my own wellbeing. When I’m tempted to believe that I’ll feel better if I just keep pushing myself I need the reminder that working harder can’t be my only plan of action for when things get tough. Even when I’m not sick I need to practice a consistent regimen of self care to keep myself from burning out. When I am sick I need to know what I can do to help myself heal emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

When we get on a plane we can always expect that the flight attendants will remind us that in an emergency we have access to oxygen from the masks that drop down from above our seats. But what would happen if they didn’t go through this explanation? If I’ve never been on a plane before I wouldn’t know what the oxygen mask was or how to use it. Even if I had flown before it’s possible that without that regular reminder I might panic and not remember what to do.

Self care tools are like the oxygen mask, and daily self care practice, even when life is going well, is like the flight attendants’ demonstration. Going through the routine of regular self care and learning what tools are at your disposal and how to use them to personalize your comfort is essential. Without self care you’ll still have oxygen, but you’ll definitely crash. It’s crucial. I know this from experience. 

It’s hard to know where to start if you’ve never made yourself a top priority. Chocolate and bubble baths aren’t everybody’s thing (and not mine either). But here’s where I can help you. I’ve put together a big list of self care activities for you to try — one for every day of September. And it’s completely free for you to receive right in your inbox. All this month you won’t have to think about what you can do to practice self care each day; it’s all there for you in a convenient little jpg file. I’ll be following along as well, and you can expect to get updates with ideas and encouragement throughout the week on Instagram and Facebook, along with weekly posts on my website to help you think more deeply and carefully about how you can make sure you’re able to be your best self for the people you love.

Yeah, I know, we’re already more than a week into September. It wasn’t my intention to leave you out to dry like this. The Self Care September calendar includes a suggested activity for all 30 days of the month, including the week that has already past. You have so many options on what to do about that though! You can pretend it’s September 1st and start there, giving yourself an excuse to carry your self care practice well into October (as you should). You can start on today’s date, whatever that happens to be, and plan on using the ideas from the days you missed to add in some extra self care time on the weekends or any day you find that you need it. It’s all up to you. All that’s really important is that you make this time for yourself.

Want to get started with me? Just type in your information below to receive your copy of my Self Care September calendar, follow From Eden’s Dirt on social media, and plan to interact with this community throughout the rest of the month. You are worth the time and effort it takes to practice good self care, and I promise that at the end of the month you’ll be glad you did.

Get your FREE Self Care September calendar and sign up for Self Care September updates here!

Slowing Down the Speed of Life

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You blink, and then it’s over.

That’s what it feels like to me. Life. I just turned 37, and while many people laugh when I tell them I feel old, it’s not so much about the number, but about the speed of life. 37 isn’t old in the grand scheme of things, but those who laugh don’t know how I felt when I dropped my daughter off for her first day of high school last week. They didn’t see me standing on the school campus, lingering, worried that she’d have trouble finding her first class or get overwhelmed by her work load. They didn’t feel it when suddenly I couldn’t linger anymore; I had to leave as quickly as possible before I had the panic attack that it seemed like my daughter should be having, but wasn’t. They weren’t with me on the car ride home to see me cry.

It’s a dramatic, complicated feeling when you’re suddenly confronted with a mile marker in life. When did my daughter stop wearing her Dorothy the Dinosaur hat and start wearing makeup? When did my 7lb. 6oz. son get taller than me and grow constantly hungry?

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Why do these moments jar me so much? Why does it feel sudden and shocking to be driving my daughter to high school when I’m with her every single day and I know perfectly well how much time has passed since she was born? Because busyness blinds me to brevity of time. I plan out my day, knowing exactly where I need to be and what I should be doing at each moment, but then I become a slave to that plan, unable to stop what I’m doing long enough to know what matters.

Pastor Doug Kyle, lead pastor at Green Valley Church in San Diego, California preached last week on making room in our lives for what matters.  (You can watch that sermon for a limited time here.) He spoke to my soul when he said, “We can’t let the days blind us from the seasons.” We follow our to-do lists because we have to. We sign the kids up for lessons or soccer or scouts because we always do, every year. We drive 80mph in the 55 zone because if we don’t we’ll be late and then what would happen?

We just want to stop, but we don’t think we can. 

Our culture has turned busyness into a benchmark for success and leisure into wishful thinking. Pastor Kyle spoke about our need for “breathing room,” for a margin of time in our days, our weeks, our lives for — nothing. God actually commands us to do just that:

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Why do we need Sabbath? Why is it important enough to make it into God’s “top ten?” Because Sabbath is where we have our breathing room. Sabbath rest is about taking a break to regroup, to evaluate where we’re going and how we spend our time. It allows us to stop our forward momentum long enough to see what’s ahead on the path we’re on.

And Sabbath isn’t just for Sundays. Sabbath is a life rhythm, a perspective on the passage of time and life that gives us the opportunity to be mindful of where our choices are taking us and decide whether or not that’s where we want to go. Is my work allowing me to serve others in the way God designed me to? Do my parenting choices teach my kids the right values? Do I support my church with my gifts of time, money, and talent, and does it support me? This kind of evaluation takes time and clear-headed thought, and we can’t give it that in the carpool lane. In fact, we can’t give our faith and our values the attention they require without creating a space in our schedules for breathing room, self-evaluation, and self care.

The self care piece is critical. I know that I can’t accurately look at the big picture when my physical and emotional well-being is depleted. If I decide I’m too busy to eat lunch, for example, my body and mind suffer together. I become tired, get a headache, and can’t think straight or make choices very well. During moments of emotional struggle I predict only doom and gloom in my future and any positive possibilities seem remote at best. To prevent this I make self care a regular practice in my life on a daily basis. Granting myself the freedom to proactively care for my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs without guilt gives me the breathing room to evaluate the rest of my life and how I’m spending it.

Even though my daily self care time is comforting it’s never easy. Even after I say no to the kids, turn off the computer, walk away, and silence my phone, I also have to silence the cultural message of guilt that tells me I’m being selfish and unproductive. It’s there every time, even though I know that my self care isn’t selfish, it’s what allows me to be my best self for my husband, my kids, and my God. My self care isn’t unproductive, it’s what enables and motivates my periods of productivity to be focused on my main objective and the big-picture things that are most important.

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Guilt is just the first obstacle. Even after I absolve myself of the guilt I have to decide how I’m going to care for myself. There are a lot of appealing options available to me, but not all of them rejuvenate my body or refresh my spirit, so I need to determine what I need in that moment. It helps me to think of my self care options like a tool box. Although all the tools are at my disposal some are better for the job than others and it depends on my needs. Banging a hammer against a cracked pipe isn’t going to help much, and similarly, going for a run doesn’t do anything good for me when I have a migraine, though it might when I’m feeling frustrated. So I need to remain flexible about how I care for myself and keep track of the things that are particularly soothing in specific situations.

Of course, I’m trying to encourage you in your self care journey, and all of that makes it sound complicated. So let me help you get started, whether you’re new to the idea of intentional self care or simple need some new ideas and perspectives. In the month of September — that’s less than 2 weeks away! — I’m offering you the opportunity to begin or fine-tune your self care and build your self care toolbox. I’m offering a series of articles that you can get right in your email inbox that I hope will inspire and encourage you to resist the temptation of perpetual productivity and create a space in your life for breathing room. I’ll also talk about how my self care practice has blessed me and helped me become a better writer, a better wife, and a better mom. Plus, just for signing up, you’ll receive a Self Care September calendar that includes one self care activity for every day of the month. Try these activities to see if you can benefit from adding them to your own practice.

Don’t allow the speed of life to take away your opportunity to live intentionally and mindfully. By committing to daily self care for an entire month you will gain the breathing room to live by faith, to more clearly see God’s blessings in your life, and to truly hear His call to rest. Sign up and stay tuned.

Essentials of Self Care: Breathe

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This is the second post in my blog series Essentials of Self Care. To build your self care tool box even more, read my first post in this series, Essentials of Self Care: Sleep, 

or my later posts, Own Your Time

and Rule of Life.

There are some things in life that I find to be both exquisitely simple and deeply profound. Breath is one of those things. Within minutes or even seconds of our birth we are able to take air into our lungs and then exhale it, an act akin to a beating heart as a sign of life itself. We don’t think about breathing; we simply breathe because we are alive and are alive because we breathe.

Yet breathing is at once an involuntary impulse and a spiritual act of worship. Genesis 2:7 says that God formed Adam from the dust, but that he didn’t become a living being until the moment God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Life could not exist in Adam’s body until Adam received this breath directly from God.

Every inhalation is really an act of receiving, and what we are receiving is God’s gift of life.

Even as we work and think and love we are constantly receiving God’s life-giving breath, not just by a mere intake of oxygen, but by the gift of our need for it.

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Though my children have tried it a few times in the midst of temper tantrums, it is physically impossible to voluntarily hold your breath until you die. In an article that originally appeared on his blog, evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban explains that while science has yet to fully explain why we can’t willingly resist the urge to breathe, it is carbon dioxide, the naturally-occurring gas that we exhale, that necessitates the next inhalation. When I hold my breath my metabolic processes use the oxygen I take in, thereby reducing oxygen while increasing the pressure of the carbon dioxide in my body, and this pressure increase eventually induces the act of inhalation.

Our Creator has instilled in us a constant and undeniable need for Him. By the act of taking air into our lungs we acknowledge our need for God. We cannot continue to live without continuous supply of the omnipresent and eternal breath of life. And yet we rarely acknowledge this gift, this assurance of our health and God’s will for us to serve Him here, unless it is somehow interrupted.

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How is breath self care? Because we are continuously breathing we can use this involuntary action as a reminder of who God is to us, how He loves us, has a plan for us, and how He sustains us. The act of focused breathing and drawing attention to our respirations is widely recognized as an effective way to refocus our thoughts. Think of your breath as a self care tool that is always available in any moment. The sheer act of noticing and giving attention to your breathing has a powerful and calming effect on our thoughts and emotions.

Here is my Mindful Breathing Exercise to help you use breathing as a way to care for your body and mind:

  1. Limit external stimuli.

Take a moment to stop what you’re doing and take your focus off the things going on around you. If you can, sit down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a minute to make a deliberate choice to take your mind off what you were doing or what you need to do.

2.  Clear your mind.

This is difficult because it’s impossible for us to stop thinking. Our brains generate both thoughts and internal bodily processes one hundred percent of the time. But while you can’t stop thinking, you do have some control over what you think about. Gently tell yourself that whatever occupied your mind a minute ago is gone for now, and that it is good and safe to take this moment for yourself.

3.  Pay attention to your breath.

Ask yourself, for this moment, to only pay attention to your breath. Notice the air around you as a physical presence in the room, invisible yet infused with life and meaning. Inhale slowly, gently, and deeply through your nose. Try to relax your body and think of the air going slowly into your abdomen, not just your lungs and chest. For some people it helps to imagine a balloon that sits just below their lungs, with its open end pointing up toward the mouth. As you inhale imagine the balloon slowly filling with air, beginning at the lowest end and expanding. Then, as you exhale, imagine the air flowing gently but fully out through the opening at the top of the balloon. Another option to help you visualize deep restorative breathing is to picture your breath as water filling a tall vase, beginning at the bottom of the vase near your stomach and slowly filling to the top, then slowly pouring out from the top as you exhale.

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Stay in this meditative state and repeat these deep breathing steps for as long as you’d like or as long as you need. Open your eyes slowly and restart your thoughts and activities slowly when you’re done. Take notice of how this deep breathing changed your physical body, your emotions, and your state of mind. This exercise can be shortened or modified as needed during moments of fear, anger, or stress to help you manage emotions and reactions in a more mindful and graceful way. It also works well and can lead to long term stress reduction when practiced on a regular basis.

In the midst of his vision in Ezekiel 37 God tells him to prophecy over a valley of dry bones, saying:

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The act of breathing offers us an opportunity to experience God’s power and provision for us in light of our most basic needs. My Mindful Breathing practice helps me refocus my thoughts and my energy and reminds me that my heavenly Father is as close to me as the air I breathe.
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Photos by Fabian Moller, Ian Dooley, Havilah Galaxy, Stefan Kunze with text from Word Swag, and Natalia Figueredo

Essentials of Self Care: Sleep

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**This is the first post in my series Essentials of Self Care. For more ways to soothe your soul, read Essentials of Self Care: Breathe, 

Essentials of Self Care: Own Your Time, 

and Essentials of Self Care: Rule of Life.

Self care is hard. It shouldn’t be hard, since most of the common choices for self care actions are pretty enjoyable. With some exceptions, many of the things we naturally enjoy can provide us with nurturing, rejuvenation, and comfort. Sports and exercise strengthen our bodies as they simultaneously release endorphins that leave us feeling like the hard work was worth it. A day at the spa, or even just a long hot shower, can bring a feeling of both relaxation and renewal. But I struggle to make time for the self care I need, and based on the many health articles I see on this subject, I’m not alone. There are plenty of ways to care for ourselves, and most people can probably name at least a few things they know are good ways to care for their bodies and minds. So why do we fail to actually do these things if we enjoy them and they’re good for us?

I’m sure there are as many excuses as there are people to make them, but perhaps most of them come down to one word – time. As the world grows bigger in population and more closely connected our opportunities expand exponentially, along with the expectations we and others put on ourselves. Our work lives no longer end after our shift, and many of us are expected to remain available for work-related communications during our time off. This takes away some of the time we may have otherwise used to nurture our families and ourselves. So what one thing can you do today – or even right now – to refuel your body and mind?

You can sleep.

I’m sure we’ve all heard a million times that most Americans in particular do not get enough sleep, that the average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and that our physical and emotional wellbeing suffers for it. We all know it, but that doesn’t change it. We’ve been hearing this for years. We have much to accomplish and experience that makes it hard to turn out the light early enough, or we suffer from pain or insomnia that keeps us awake.

Though I’ve definitely experienced a lack of sleep because of pain, my issue is typically time. After several years of waking up every 2-3 hours to care for my babies they finally began sleeping through the night. Then I discovered the sweet, quiet, peaceful hours between their bedtime and mine, and I craved it all day long. So the light went out later and later each night as I tried to enjoy the silence just a little longer. Lately I find myself taking on new projects that would have been impossible when my kids were younger. This blog is one of them. And so now my projects are my new babies, stealing my late nights alone and robbing me of the sleep I desperately need.

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              As I continue this battle I’ve discovered one strategy that really helps me get the sleep I need, at least when I utilize it – my winding down ritual.

It took me a few years of exhaustion to realize that even when I was tired I often fought the arrival of sleep. I know I need rest, but I find myself spellbound by the quiet, dark night with its promise of uninterrupted time. Unfettered, I dive into a book or my computer and lose track of time until I feel my head drooping.

So I use my winding down ritual. Here’s how it works:

  1. I begin mentally preparing for sleep early, usually no later than 9PM. That’s the point when I make the decision to end the day’s productivity and begin a period of rest and transition to sleep. Making that decision is the hardest part, and often I fail to do it, but I’ve learned that when I do that one more thing instead of preparing for sleep I’m actually stealing that time from tomorrow, when I could be more alert and productive than I am at night.
  2.  I try to incorporate all my senses into my routine. Repeating some specific sensory experiences each night helps my body recognize that it’s time for bed. God designed evening and morning, darkness and light, and He also created us with the need for sleep. He knew that by creating us to need times of rest He could remind us of our limitations, along with His love for us.

There are many ways to engage your senses to help you enter a period of rest. Here’s my list:

  • I lower the lights, making each room dimmer, to remind me that darkness is a time for rest.
  • I light a candle or use an essential oil diffuser to help me remember that I have the privilege of peaceful rest because of Jesus.
  • I play relaxing music throughout the house to help lower my heartrate closer to its slowest resting rate. Studies have shown that that music with a beat that is slower than our normal heartrate has a relaxing effect.
  • I go through a nightly body care routine that includes a soft moisturizer for my face, some slow mild stretching, and soft cotton pajamas. At this point I am feeling so comforted that anything that doesn’t bring me peace is unwelcome.
  • I eat a small healthy snack, usually berries and milk. This is my favorite snack, so I look forward to it as a treat. Comforting my taste buds before bed helps me feel cared for.

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  1. After this routine I may allow myself to watch some TV, depending on the time and how tired I am. However, I make sure to turn off the TV and avoid looking at my phone for at least the last 30 minutes before I turn out the light. I spend that half hour reading, praying, or meditating. Sometimes my husband and I simply just sit and talk.

All of this is my ideal. There are many nights when I choose to ignore the sunset and continue pushing myself to get more done. I almost always regret it.

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There are many ways that you can train your body to recognize the need for sleep sooner. Do you have an evening activity that always helps you sleep? Let me know in the comments.

Photos by Jeremy Allouche, Toa Heftiba, Mona Eendra, and Alexander Possingham via Unsplash.

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