4 Ways to Find Rest When It Seems Impossible

Rest is a vital part of resilience. Here are four ways to sneak some rest into any day.

As anyone who is a caregiver will tell you, one of the hardest needs to meet when taking care of another person is the need for rest. Sometimes it can seem like we are barely making it through the day, only to find the rest we so desperately need is also elusive at night, whether due to our loved one’s night wakings, or our own struggle to stop (physically or mentally) and sleep.

From boosting our immunity to improving memory, there are a multitude of reasons why rest is a necessity, but as caregivers it can seem impossible to get all we need. Here are four tools to help you squeeze a little rest into almost any impossible situation.

Black and white cat asleep on a table with a vase of small white flowers

Mindful moment

Simply put, mindfulness is any act of being entirely present in this moment. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve immune function, and enhance relationships, among other things. The great news for caregivers is that anything can be done with mindfulness.

Breathe in deeply through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. Continue breathing this way as you engage your five senses.

What do you see?

What do you hear?

What are you touching?

What do you smell?

What do you taste?

Allow yourself to be fully present where you are… let thoughts about what you need to do, or what you wish you had done, float away. Take as long as you can… just a few moments, five minutes, even 20 minutes, if you are able.

Incorporating mindfulness into caregiving might look something like this: while making a smoothie for your loved one, you allow yourself to totally engage your five senses in the task, breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth as you notice the smell of the blender as you take off the lid, the feeling of cold on your hands from adding frozen fruit, the sound of the bag, the appearance of the ice on each piece of fruit, the sound of them hitting the blender cup, the swirl of the blender mixing each element, the rattle settling into a loud whir as the ingredients become smooth, and the taste of the smoothie you’ve just created. Add in an element of gratitude for each of those sensory experiences, and you’ll raise the benefit of the entire experience tenfold.

Energy medicine

Donna Eden offers a quick afternoon pick-me-up exercise: stand with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your left shoulder firmly with your right hand, then run it across your body down to your right hip (think about following the line of a cross-body bag) and let your right hand rest. Take your left hand and hold your right shoulder firmly. Then run it across your body down to your left hip. Let your left hand rest. Repeat the whole process a few times and notice how you feel rejuvenated. For Donna’s daily energy routine, check out this video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Di5Ua44iuXc

15 minute nap

Let me just be clear: I hate naps. Always have. Not because I don’t need them, but most often because they are either interrupted, insufficient, or (rarely) I sleep too long and wake feeling worse. But when they’re done correctly, naps give us an energy boost and enhance our ability to think clearly.

Make sure you set a timer for this, because oversleeping (anything longer than 20-25 minutes) will have you feeling worse when you wake.

It’s also important to note that if you suffer from insomnia or depression, naps might make things worse instead of better… perhaps choose one of the other options instead.

Sometimes we can have so much going on that we find it hard to fall asleep (we are thinking of all the things that need to be done while we have 15 quiet minutes, or wondering if we even have 15 quiet minutes). Don’t get upset about this. Close your eyes and try to let go of those thoughts. Remind yourself that everything that needs to be done will be done better if you have a little rest first. Breathe deeply. Rest your body and your mind. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this 15 minutes can be rejuvenating.

Stretching and breathing

Here is another restful break that can be done almost any time. Choose any stretches you enjoy, or try any combination of these: side stretches (one arm over your head while leaning to the opposite side, then switch), lunges, standing toe touches, or any number of yoga poses. While stretching, focus on breathing deeply and notice how your body feels. Focus on stretches that meet your body’s needs for opening and loosening. Ending with some jumping jacks or running in place will help you feel energized.

Close up of black and brown hound dog sleeping curled in a willow basket

Rest is a vital part of resilience. While a solid 7-9 hours of sleep each night is still important, these activities will help you make it through when ideal sleep is out of reach. What do you do to rest?

So much love,

April

5 Practices to Reduce Anxiety

Simple tools to use when anxiety strikes

Pink and blue sunset over misty blue mountains

The door closed and she fell back against it, sinking to the floor. Her heart was pounding, tears welling up in her eyes as she gasped for breath. The news had been a direct hit. Even though it was confirmation instead of surprise, it seemed the world had tilted the wrong way on its axis. Everything she had believed in for so long twisted, crumbling beneath the weight of hope denied.

“Come back to breath. Just breathe. Just breathe.”

Her usual mantra was one from a long ago Catholic mystic… “All shall be well…” it began, but right now she couldn’t bring herself to say it. It didn’t feel true.

Anxiety can crash in upon us any time. Bad news (or terrible news), fears about the future, and feelings of isolation can drop us to the floor.

In these moments, there are things we can do to keep anxiety from crushing us, but like anything new, they take time and intentionality to truly be effective. The following practices are tools I share with my clients all the time, and while I believe they can help anyone, please don’t be afraid to seek out your own therapist if anxiety is frequently overwhelming.

1) Gratitude Journal

For this exercise, you’ll want two clean journal pages for each entry. I like to use this tool before bed, as it allows time for reflection over one’s day and allows the mind to relax before sleeping.

On the left-hand page, make a list of all the things that are currently causing anxiety. These are the things you want to let go of, and as you write them on the page, visualize releasing them.

Then, on the right-hand page, make a list of all the things you are grateful for. These are the things you want to hold on to, and as you write them on the page, visualize them filling you up.

It is important to be as detailed with your gratitude as you are with your worries… for instance, instead of writing, “I’m thankful for my house,” try “I’m thankful for the wood stove that warms my home.” Generalities are more difficult to hold on to than specifics.

It is also important to do your best to make the gratitude list longer, and for it to contain some novel items each day. While there may be some things you consistently want to include, an entirely rote list often becomes less meaningful.

Ending with gratitude is also significant. This makes it the last thing on your mind before you sleep and allows the positive thoughts to stay with you.

2) Happy Place Visualization

This exercise can be practiced anywhere, any time you are able to close your eyes for a couple minutes. It takes time to develop it, but once you have, you will be able to access your happy place any time you need it.

So, close your eyes, slow your breathing, and think of your favorite place… perhaps a place you loved during your childhood or a current retreat. If you don’t have a space that comes to mind, think of what it might be like if you had it… in the woods? at the beach? in a big cozy chair by a warm wood-burning fireplace?

Then spend some time engaging your five senses there…

What do you see?

What do you hear?

What do you smell?

What do you touch?

What do you taste?

Take your time with this. Make that place as real in your mind as it would be if you were actually there. Maybe you are drinking some lemonade, or hot chocolate, or tea. Maybe you are running your fingers through the sand, or curled under a super soft blanket. Perhaps you hear birds singing, or waves crashing, or a fire crackling. Perhaps you smell the salt air, or the fallen leaves, or a favorite candle.

Once you are there, remember to continue to breathe slow and deep. Rest there for a few minutes and enjoy this space. When you are ready, open your eyes. Notice how you feel and remember you can get back there whenever you need it.

3) Comfort Box

This is a practice I learned from my own therapist years ago, and have been sharing with my clients ever since. The idea is to think about your favorite things, things that soothe you, and gather them into one place. For some people that place is a basket, for others a box they decorate, or a crate they like.

Whatever you choose, it should be large enough to fit several items… Once again, we are going to try to engage the five senses.

First, think of music that calms you. You might have a favorite CD or a relaxing playlist on your phone.

Next, think of something you enjoy tasting, like a particular tea or even a hard candy. Tea is a personal favorite because it covers three of the five senses by holding the warm mug in your hand, breathing in the aroma, and sipping the tea.

Think about other things you find calming to touch… a soft blanket or favorite sweatshirt?

Are there aromas you find calming in a candle or diffuser scent?

And finally, do you have a favorite book, perhaps poetry or even a coloring book that you enjoy looking at or coloring?

Gathering these items together when you are calm, makes them accessible during more difficult moments. Make sure you put everything you need in the basket, box, or crate (i.e., if you want to have a candle, remember to include matches; if you have a coloring book remember colored pencils, crayons, or markers). Find a space to keep your box near a spot you like to curl up in when you are stressed.

4) Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This practice has several variations. I’ll share my favorite here, but if you like this there might be a variation you prefer over this one.

To begin, have a seat and get comfortable. Close your eyes and notice your body. How is your back? Your neck? Do you need to shift at all?

Breathe slowly in through your nose, expanding your diaphragm as well as your lungs, for a count of five. Then slowly breathe out through your mouth, exhaling all the air out of your body, for a count of five. Repeat this five times.

Now, continuing to breathe slow and deep, turn your attention to your feet. Contract the muscles in your feet, making them as tight as you can (watch out for foot cramps!). Squeeze!!! For a count of five, then release, making the muscles in your feet as loose as Jell-O.

Next, contract your calf muscles and your thighs. As tight as you can! Squeeze!!! For a count of five, then relax, loose and pliable, like Jell-O.

Continue this with your hamstrings and glutes, then your abdomen and lower back.

Make fists with your hands, squeezing your hands and arms tight, shoulders to ears. Squeeze!!! For a count of five. Then drop your shoulders, release your fists, relax your arms, drop your head, chin to chest.

Slowly raise your head and turn your face toward the ceiling. Come back slowly to a comfortable center.

Finally tighten your jaw. Clench your teeth. And relax. Let your jaw hang loose.

Breathe in, slow and deep, through your nose for a count of five. Then out, through your mouth, for a count of five. Repeat this cycle five times.

Open your eyes.

How do you feel?

5) Visual Journal

This final practice is the most open-ended. Any size sketch book will work, but I prefer medium to large with spiral ring binding for ease of use. You’ll also want a variety of drawing/coloring implements such as pastels, crayons, pencils, and charcoal.

Put your emotions on the paper. Use color, texture, shape and size to externalize what you may not be able to verbalize. There are no rules here except to allow yourself the freedom to be imperfect. Give yourself time to create, allowing yourself to be fully immersed in the experience.

When you are done, decide what you want to do with it. Is it something you want to share, or something to keep and reflect on for a while? Don’t rush. Breathe.

When you are ready, it is useful to put words to what you created, whether that means writing about it or talking about it. Words help us make sense of our experience. Journaling is a good first step, where our words can be unfiltered and then sifted through for clarity. If you choose to share, make sure it is with those who are safe and understanding.

——————————————————————-

Time passed, she didn’t know how long. Slowly, she stood up and walked to the corner of her bedroom. The basket was there, beside her favorite chair. Her mug was on top with a packet of lemon tea inside. She walked to the kitchen in a daze and filled the kettle… poured her tea… added honey. Back in her bedroom with her warm mug in hand, she started the music. It played soft and low, reaching in to her soul, reminding her she was not alone. The candle was next. She placed it on the table with her tea and struck the match. Light. Such a tiny light changes everything. She pulled out the blanket, silky soft between her fingers, and wrapped it around her shoulders. Sinking into the chair, she curled her feet under her and closed her eyes for a moment.

All shall be well…

So much love,

~A

The Human Garbage Disposal

Caregiving is complex, both in the reward it offers and in the toll it exacts

Plate of spaghetti Alfredo with Parmesan sprinkled on top

Several years ago I called myself the human garbage disposal… it was sort of in jest, but like all jokes, had a pretty solid thread of truth.

Two of my kids were quite little and not only did I rarely have a moment to myself, I frequently didn’t have time to sit down and eat. I was busy preparing and serving food, cutting it up, and helping my kids eat, only to become the referee, or the bath-giver, or the naptime rocker almost immediately after they were done. When I had a chance to eat, it was what I could grab easily, and since I hate wasting food, it was most often the things my kids hadn’t eaten.

The result was a pretty sad food existence… Not only was I not eating the things I wanted, I had diversely picky eaters dictating the food I prepared.

Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed a good homemade mac’n’cheese in my day, but we all know that a steady diet of refined carbs and dairy does not a happy body make.

Through the years I have frequently resolved to treat my body better by eating more veggies, less sugar, and only whole grains, but my resolutions have consistently failed in the face of uneaten food that I can’t bear to throw out (hello, awful-day-old-cookies-sitting-out-in-the-open-on-the-cooling-rack-getting-stale). But with the birth of my youngest son a couple years ago, my body decided to stage a sit-in and get my attention.

It started in my hands as I was driving long distances for work: sharp pain around my thumbs. Then numbness and tingling in my hands and up my arms. Then in my feet and legs. My body needed my attention.

“A whole-foods plant-based diet is great,” my doctor said, “try to reduce your stress and get some exercise as well. Yoga would be good.”

So while my doctor is running tests, I am trying to eat better. I cook oil-free vegan food every chance I get and research kid-friendly options for my picky eaters. I throw away more things that they aren’t finishing, and have just about eliminated added sugars and caffeine.

The food part of taking care of my body is going a whole lot better. But the exercise? Not so much.

When does one fit such a thing in? 4am seemed like my best bet. By 5am my middle son is almost always awake. My youngest is a natural night owl, so by the time we outlast him with the bedtime routine I am a virtual zombie, unable to walk up stairs let alone get into some at-home exercise routine from YouTube.

Getting up ridiculously early didn’t work. My body was also telling me it needed sleep, the rarest gem in my life for over a decade. My next idea was to exercise during my toddler’s naps on the days I was home. That went well for about two weeks.

Last Saturday I sat on the couch with my husband and started to cry. “What is the balance?” I asked, tears streaming down my face. “How do I balance taking care of everyone else and taking care of myself?”

Like the good man he is, he listened. He heard the whole thing… all the reasons why cooking is so hard and exercising is even harder… all the struggles to take care of our family and not slowly kill myself in the process.

You know there’s some octopus (maybe all octopuses??) who lays her eggs and spends all she has left nurturing them into being. Then she dies.

Melodramatic me feels like that octopus sometimes… like raising these kids is going to take everything I’ve got. They’ll grow up, move out, and I’ll be dead.

Totally over the top. Untrue.

Maybe.

The honest truth is raising kids is hard. Special needs ups the ante. How do we, as parents, do this well and not die trying? Even better, how do we truly, deeply enjoy the life we are living? I want to thrive!!

But there are many times when taking care of ourselves is in direct opposition to taking care of another. How do we manage that? Is there such a thing as balance?

Caregiving is complex, both in the rewards it offers and in the toll it exacts.

So I come back to breath. I come back to this moment. Today I ate wonderful, healthy vegetables. Today I fit in exercise by playing with my toddler. Today my kids enjoyed their food and, most importantly, they enjoyed being with their mama.

It is not as simple as putting the oxygen mask on my own face first, nor is it as sad as being a human garbage disposal. It is a dance… a moving, flowing creativity of caring for myself as I care for my babies, constantly changing and growing with each other. Rough patches and false starts interwoven with deep connection and overflowing hearts.

We may not be able to make a fixed plan that works like a charm, but we can be attentive to ourselves and our loved ones in each moment and discover new ways for everyone to have all that they need.

So much love,

~A

Who you are

You are the love and joy beneath the pain

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain”.

~ Eckhart Tolle

Ice covered tree in winter in front of a bright blue sky

For some of us, the idea that we are not our thoughts or emotions, but the one who observes them, is absolutely mind-blowing. We have been raised on the philosophical proposition that “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes’ postulation has helped us identify ourselves primarily with our minds, our ability to reason. We pride ourselves in our ability to think through problems and find effective solutions, and this isn’t wrong. It is GOOD to have a fully developed and functioning prefrontal cortex. It is good to be able to use both the left and right sides of our brains. But our thoughts are also limited and can be limiting.

In this present moment, our perceptions are impacted by every experience we have had so far in life. Our emotions are activated by the way we perceive things, and our thoughts, our plans, are carried out based on the whole mix of previous experience, activated emotions, and current experience.

Sometimes those plans work out beautifully… we witness the efficacy of our thoughts put into action, and it builds our confidence and self-esteem. But when those plans don’t work out, or worse, create a terrible mess, the opposite can happen. We can begin to see ourselves as “not good enough” or somehow defective.

When we identify ourselves as our thoughts and emotions, we are tossed around by the ever-changing landscape of our internal life.

This can get particularly tricky when we have experienced trauma. Trauma is a strong undercurrent to our everyday experiences, influencing how we see and make sense of the world, and activating our emotions so that we react to some situations as if we are in danger, instead of opening ourselves to a more thoughtful response.

The good news, whether or not we have experienced trauma, is that we can disentangle ourselves from our thoughts and emotions as our identity. When we do this, we are opened up to a peaceful, expansive stance toward our circumstances as the one who observes our thoughts and feelings about the things that are happening.

We can notice, acknowledge, and wait.

We can open ourselves up to our thoughts… we may think something, but that does not necessarily make it true. And we can experience the freedom of not needing to know. We can notice our thoughts without getting tied up in them, allowing them to flow rather than run circles through our minds that fuel our anxieties.

We can open ourselves up to experiencing our emotions without being overwhelmed by them, because we know they will pass and change, ebb and flow.

Give it a try

A good exercise to help us practice being the observer of our thoughts and feelings is a common mindfulness practice.

While seated, close your eyes and notice your body. Get comfortable… do you need to shift your legs? Your arms? Relax your shoulders, your jaw. Perhaps drop your head, chin to chest, and give a slow, gentle roll, side to side.

Once you are comfortable, imagine you are floating underwater in a river and your thoughts are ships passing overhead. You notice them and let them flow past. Often there will be a thought that captures you, a ship you board. Notice. Then get back into the river, under the water, and let that thought flow away from you without judgement.

At first, you can set a timer for just two minutes and practice observing the flow of your thoughts. With time, you can increase the length to 20 minutes or more.

This is a good practice when we are already calm. For me, first thing in the morning works best. During good moments, we train ourselves, so that in the future we can access this space during more difficult moments. This practice allows us to disentangle ourselves from our thoughts and emotions, to observe with kindness the things that flow through our minds.

As we practice, we become more and more aware of ourselves as the stillness beneath the mental noise. Our identity is settled more and more in the love and joy beneath the pain.

So much love,

~A

6 Simple Steps to Make It Through the Worst Times

How to be peaceful, calm, and kind when circumstances are not

Wooden dock on a lake in the moonlight

Most of the practices for calming in the face of anxiety or panic attacks hinge on the idea that here, now, I am safe. The premise is that worry and anxiety come from being trapped by the traumatic memories of the past, or from thinking of the terrible “what ifs” of the future.

But what happens when it’s not okay here and now? What if, in this moment, I am experiencing ongoing pain, or my child is having the tenth meltdown of the morning, or my spouse is having a major medical event, or my parent is showing signs of dementia?

How do we deal with the activation of the present moment without losing our minds?

This question has been with me frequently over the past several years… how can I be peaceful, calm, and kind when circumstances are not?

Before I share some steps I’ve found effective, let me say that these are things we can do on a “good” day, when things might be hard but we’ve gotten enough rest, or we are tired but thoroughly enjoying our coffee… these are not things that work all the time and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to always be peaceful, calm, and kind. We are humans interacting with humans. We WILL mess up. We will lose it and those we love will lose it. This is not only to be expected, it is one of the things I most love about John Bowlby’s theory of attachment: we will mess up in our relationships, but when we take the time to repair well, our relationships will be stronger than they were before!

But I digress… my point is, no one is perfect and we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves or anyone else. That expectation alone will cause great suffering.

However, when we are able, what can we do to stay calm and steady in the face of immediate hardship?

As anyone who practices meditation will tell you, the first and most basic tool is awareness. When things are getting hard and you feel yourself getting activated, notice.

That’s all. The first step is to notice what is happening. Eckhart Tolle says, “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” We are not our thoughts or emotions, we are the observer.

Once we notice, we have the opportunity to take the next step, which is to pause. Instead of impulsively acting on whatever emotion or thought is arising, we can notice it and pause. Take a deep breath.

And perhaps another.

Pausing and slowing our breathing can help us calm our amygdala, a small part of our brain responsible for keeping us safe. Except our amygdala only gives us three options: fight, flight, or freeze. Sometimes those options are useful. When dealing with loved ones, usually they are not. Usually they will make the situation worse instead of better.

So, breathing slow and deep can calm our amygdala and send it the signal that everything is ok. Then our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that can make plans, be flexible, think through options, and let us see things from another’s point of view, can come back online and be in charge again.

We can reflect.

We can choose our response.

Unfortunately, even with our prefrontal cortex running the show, there simply are not always going to be solutions for the circumstances we face.

We’ve noticed. We’ve paused. We’ve breathed. We’ve reflected.

And our child is still screaming and throwing things.

Our pain is still curling us in a ball.

Our spouse is still sick.

Our parent is still oddly belligerent.

So the next step becomes perhaps the most difficult… acceptance. This is what is happening. I cannot change it. So I accept it.

Don’t get me wrong here, acceptance does not mean I will lay down and give up. Instead, acceptance is truly a form of courage. To face things as they are is one of the bravest things we will ever do.

We can’t rush this one. Acceptance may not happen in this moment. It may not happen today. It may not even happen next week. Or it may happen right now, but not tomorrow. Each of these steps takes practice, each one takes time.

As we give ourselves time to notice, time to pause, time to breathe, time to accept reality as it is, we are also practicing compassion. And in my mind, compassion is the crux of the whole thing. When we are able to practice compassion for ourselves as we learn and grow, we can also begin to practice compassion for those around us. And when it’s not okay, we need compassion more than any other time…

Compassion for ourselves in our own failings and shortcomings, when we don’t respond to tough situations the way we wish we would…

Compassion for those around us who are having a hard time, even when we aren’t sure we understand.

You see, compassion softens us. It allows us to open our hands and our hearts, to be present to ourselves or to another with tenderness, kindness, and care instead of bitterness, anger, or coldness. Compassion upholds and completes the cycle of finding peace when it’s not okay.

The steps are simple: notice; pause; breathe; reflect; accept; practice compassion. But they are not easy.

Most of us have not been trained to respond to hard and impossible things in these ways. Some of us might even find ourselves annoyed right now. If so, take a moment to think about how you usually respond when things really aren’t ok. What does it feel like in your body? Does your pulse quicken? Do your hands shake? Does your breathing get shallow? How does your voice sound? Do you yell? Go silent? And in the end, how do you feel? How do those around you feel?

Is what you’re doing working?

If so, then notice. Think about the things you do that work for you. Pause and appreciate them.

If not, then notice. Think about how you hope to feel in the face of difficulty. Think about how you want those around you to feel. Would you like to try something new?

There are many unfixable things we will face in our lives. If you haven’t encountered them yet, just give life time… they will come. And when they do, our only choice, our only power, lies in our response.

Notice.

So much love,

~A

When it’s not okay

Most of the practices for calming in the face of anxiety or panic attacks hinge on the idea that here, now, I am safe. The premise is that worry and anxiety come from being trapped by the traumatic memories of the past, or from thinking of the terrible “what ifs” of the future.

But what happens when it’s not okay here and now? What if, in this moment, I am experiencing ongoing pain, or my child is having the tenth meltdown of the morning, or my spouse is having a major medical event, or my parent is showing signs of dementia?

How do we deal with the activation of the present moment without losing our minds?

This question has been with me frequently over the past several years… how can I be peaceful, calm, and kind when circumstances are not?

Before I share some steps I’ve found effective, let me say that these are things we can do on a “good” day, when things might be hard but we’ve gotten enough rest, or we are tired but thoroughly enjoying our coffee… these are not things that work all the time and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to always be peaceful, calm, and kind. We are humans interacting with humans. We WILL mess up. We will lose it and those we love will lose it. This is not only to be expected, it is one of the things I most love about John Bowlby’s theory of attachment: we will mess up in our relationships, but when we take the time to repair well, our relationships will be stronger than they were before!

But I digress… my point is, no one is perfect and we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves or anyone else. That expectation alone will cause great suffering.

However, when we are able, what can we do to stay calm and steady in the face of immediate hardship?

As anyone who practices meditation will tell you, the first and most basic tool is awareness. When things are getting hard and you feel yourself getting activated, notice.

That’s all. The first step is to notice what is happening. Eckhart Tolle says, “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” We are not our thoughts or emotions, we are the observer.

Once we notice, we have the opportunity to take the next step, which is to pause. Instead of impulsively acting on whatever emotion or thought is arising, we can notice it and pause. Take a deep breath.

And perhaps another.

Pausing and slowing our breathing can help us calm our amygdala, a small part of our brain responsible for keeping us safe. Except our amygdala only gives us three options: fight, flight, or freeze. Sometimes those options are useful. When dealing with loved ones, usually they are not. Usually they will make the situation worse instead of better.

So, breathing slow and deep can calm our amygdala and send it the signal that everything is ok. Then our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that can make plans, be flexible, think through options, and let us see things from another’s point of view, can come back online and be in charge again.

We can reflect.

We can choose our response.

Unfortunately, even with our prefrontal cortex running the show, there simply are not always going to be solutions for the circumstances we face.

We’ve noticed. We’ve paused. We’ve breathed. We’ve reflected.

And our child is still screaming and throwing things.

Our pain is still curling us in a ball.

Our spouse is still sick.

Our parent is still oddly belligerent.

So the next step becomes perhaps the most difficult… acceptance. This is what is happening. I cannot change it. So I accept it.

Don’t get me wrong here, acceptance does not mean I will lay down and give up. Instead, acceptance is truly a form of courage. To face things as they are is one of the bravest things we will ever do.

We can’t rush this one. Acceptance may not happen in this moment. It may not happen today. It may not even happen next week. Or it may happen right now, but not tomorrow. Each of these steps takes practice, each one takes time.

As we give ourselves time to notice, time to pause, time to breathe, time to accept reality as it is, we are also practicing compassion. And in my mind, compassion is the crux of the whole thing. When we are able to practice compassion for ourselves as we learn and grow, we can also begin to practice compassion for those around us. And when it’s not okay, we need compassion more than any other time…

Compassion for ourselves in our own failings and shortcomings, when we don’t respond to tough situations the way we wish we would…

Compassion for those around us who are having a hard time, even when we aren’t sure we understand.

You see, compassion softens us. It allows us to open our hands and our hearts, to be present to ourselves or to another with tenderness, kindness, and care instead of bitterness, anger, or coldness. Compassion upholds and completes the cycle of finding peace when it’s not okay.

The steps are simple: notice; pause; breathe; reflect; accept; practice compassion. But they are not easy.

Most of us have not been trained to respond to hard and impossible things in these ways. Some of us might even find ourselves annoyed right now. If so, take a moment to think about how you usually respond when things really aren’t ok. What does it feel like in your body? Does your pulse quicken? Do your hands shake? Does your breathing get shallow? How does your voice sound? Do you yell? Go silent? And in the end, how do you feel? How do those around you feel?

Is what you’re doing working?

If so, then notice. Think about the things you do that work for you. Pause and appreciate them.

If not, then notice. Think about how you hope to feel in the face of difficulty. Think about how you want those around you to feel. Would you like to try something new?

There are many unfixable things we will face in our lives. If you haven’t encountered them yet, just give life time… they will come. And when they do, our only choice, our only power, lies in our response.

Notice.

So much love,

~A