Post ID 730

Posted by on April 3, 2020

“Solitude is rather like a folded-up forest I carry with me everywhere and unfurl around myself when I have need.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I’m sure I don’t need to explain why retreats are so wonderful to ‘get away from it all’ and ‘fill yourself up’. What I am excited to share is something that I’ve only just realized, and that’s really boosted my ‘me time’. 

Maybe you’re like I was, and the word ‘retreat’ brings to mind a ‘spa day’ or a ‘women’s getaway’. Now I know that you can also retreat right in the middle of your everyday life and the results will do wonders for your heart, mind, body and soul.

I started reading Jennifer Louden’s classic work “The Woman’s Retreat Book” because I was planning a ski getaway with my husband. Little did I know that my favourite takeaway would be her basic outline of a retreat that has since allowed me to have mini-retreats anywhere at any time. 

Here’s my interpretation of her outline, along with 4 retreat ideas, that will have you retreating in the heart of the hustle in as few as two minutes. You’re welcome!

4 Steps to Retreat

What I didn’t know then that I know now: the success of a retreat is not about the location you’re in, the time you have nor the people you’re with – it’s about what you do and how you do it. 

1) Prepare to Retreat – 

Think about your basic plan, such as where and when you’ll go and if you’ll need any supplies. Remember it’s not about the amount of time away or the physical proximity to your regular life, but instead about how well you can create a temporary boundary from them.

You’ll also want to set an intention for your retreat reflecting what you need right now in this moment. This will give form to your retreat while also allowing the unknowable that will unfold. This starts the process of slowing down and turning inward. For best results, pose your retreat intention as a question that feels open ended, expansive and encouraging. “On this retreat, I intend to ask myself this question . . .?”

2) Withdraw from Ordinary Life –

Begin your retreat in a safe space where you feel sustained and comforted physically and emotionally. This could be your bedroom, your bathtub, the garden, on a walk or a sacred place in your imagination.

Perform an opening ceremony or symbolic action that signals to your psyche that you’re entering a sacred time (even if you’re not physically going anywhere special). Try one or more of tehse many options: restate your intention, read an opening poem or psalm, cross a threshold, put on special clothing or an accessory, light a candle, dance to a song or apply essential oils. 

3) Listen to Yourself – 

This is the body of the retreat where the ‘work’ is done. Choose activities that will help you answer your stated intention and listen to your inner knowing. There are endless options here: rest, move, sing, read, journal, reflect, paint, cook, daydream, build, breathe, play or sleep. Anything goes, as long as the result is that you’re coming back to your centre and working toward a truer and more authentic relationship with yourself. 

4) Return to Ordinary Life –

Wrap up your retreat by reflecting on your experience, including what you’ve done, how you’ve been, what answers you’ve discovered and how you might bring any of this into your everyday life. 

End with a closing ceremony or symbolic action, like the reverse of your opening ceremony, to consciously step back into life. You could try to: offer thanks, move energetically, journal on your experience, read a poem or psalm, pack up your space, take home a momento or mental snapshot. It could be as simple as stating “I am returning from my retreat. My intention was . . . and I discovered . . . I appreciate myself for taking this time to listen and learn.”

4 Quick Retreats to Try 

Here are just a few ideas about how you could easily create a retreat in your day, in under 30 minutes. For the greatest results, please adapt these ideas to specifically address your own intentions and interests. 

1) The ‘Step Away Retreat’ in 2 minutes 

  • Ask yourself “How can I allow myself to relax and be?”
  • Close the door or close your eyes and imagine yourself in a favourite place.
  • Ideas: deep breathing, do nothing, apply body lotion or essential oils, try legs-up-the-wall pose, stretch, do a body scan or notice your 5 senses.
  • Say “All is well in this present moment. Thank you for taking this time for yourself.”

2) The ‘Take a Break Retreat’ in 10 minutes

  • Ask yourself “What do I love and how can I celebrate that?”
  • Light a candle, put on a favourite accessory or read a favourite poem.
  • Ideas: Mindfully drink a cup of tea, shower or bathe, journal, rest on your bed, practice an instrument, meditate or have a dance break.
  • Reverse your opening practice and write down how you love and celebrate, so you can remember to do more of that in the future.

3) The ‘Nature Retreat’ in 20 minutes

  • Ask yourself “How am I feeling about . . . (a demanding situation)?”
  • Get dressed and step out the door.
  • Ideas: Walk, sit in the sun, forest bathe, work in the garden or play in the park.
  • Before stepping back inside, notice if any new insights or feelings have arisen.

4) The ‘Lunch Break’ Retreat in 30 minutes

  • Ask yourself “What do I need to do to refuel myself now?”
  • Leave your workplace, or wherever you were previously spending your time, and go somewhere safe and soothing. Make a ritual of some small special gesture on your way, like listening to music or making a special beverage. 
  • Ideas: Mindfully eat lunch, go outside, read, socialize (if this is refueling to you), stretch, move, breathe or create (draw, knit, write – whatever thrills you).
  • Before returning, notice how you are and say “I’m ready for the rest of my day!”

However you choose to retreat, I hope these ideas bring you one step closer to feeling the best that you can and hearing the wisdom and wonder of your own self. 

P.S. For more insights like this sent directly to your inbox, subscribe to my email community HERE.

Post ID 724

Posted by on March 20, 2020

You face daily stressors, with no end in sight.

You need to stay well – in body and mind – to best make it through these uncertain times, care for others and contribute to the collective well-being. 

No pressure. 

Keep reading for the simple step you’ve been missing that will transform your response to and results from stress, keeping you healthier and more resilient to face another day.

The most succinct explanation of how stress works that I’ve found is from Emily and Amelia Negoski’s book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Much of what I have to share here is from their research on how stress works, the crucial step to de-stressing that we usually miss and ideas of how to take that step in as little as 20 seconds! 

How Stress Works

You know you’re under tremendous stress, but have you ever stopped to think about what’s really going on with stress?

Ideally it’s a 4-step sequence or cycle:

Stressor Experience -> Stress Experience -> Stressor Response -> Stress Response

1) Stressor Experience

A stressor is anything in your environment that you sense with your 5 senses or imagine, and that you interpret as a potential threat. Stressors can be external (work, finances, relationships, time, societal norms, global events) or internal (unhelpful emotions, self-criticism, regrets of the past, worries of the future).

Ex. You may find that your new routine of staying at home has introduced all kinds of new internal and external stressors that are impacting your sense of safety and security.

2) Stress Experience

Stress is the neurological and physiological shift that happens in your body when you encounter a stressor. Your entire body and mind instinctively change your neurochemical, hormonal, digestive, immune, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and reproductive systems, in response to your perceived threat. This helps you get ready to navigate the ‘danger’. 

Ex. Your body is flooded with stress throughout the day (which you may notice as quicker breathing, increased blood pressure, tense muscles, vigilant focus, heightened senses, etc.) in response to the challenges you experience. 

3) Stressor Response

The stressor response is the way you manage the threats that arise. You are likely quite good at addressing the stressors of your day, whether or not the way you address them is helpful. Your long-term goal is to minimize and find more helpful responses to the stressors in your life – but that’s not our focus today.

Ex. It may have been a wild day, but you managed to make it through – got some work done, missed a deadline, entertained the kids, yelled at the kids, made a healthy meal, ate chips, called your mom, hid, whatever – and now you hope to get some sleep and then start again tomorrow . . . 

But wait! 

This is where we typically stop, but by doing so we’re not completing the stress cycle and becoming unhealthier and less resilient by the day.

This is the crucial missing step . . . 

4) Stress Response

The stress response is what you do about all those activated neurochemicals and body systems. The only way to signal to your body that you are safe – and the only way to effectively complete the stress cycle – is to physically DO something. It doesn’t work to just mentally think to yourself “I’m safe now, all’s well.” Your body speaks ‘body language’ so you must communicate safety through your body.

You must take a physical action to give your body the space and time it needs to heal from the process. 

Ex. At the time of the stressful event, or at least within the same day, move your body enough to breath deeply for at least 20 minutes – but even 20 seconds helps. And if you can’t, simply DOING something is the next best plan.

How to De-Stress in Minutes

To effectively de-stress, all you have to do is physically DO something:

  • Best – Move your body however you can to get yourself breathing deeply for 20-60 minutes daily.
  • Better – Stand up, take a deep breath, tense all your muscles for 20 seconds, then shake it out with a big exhale. 
  • Good – Practice other less physical activities that will also help: 
    • Deep breaths with long, slow exhalation
    • Positive social interactions
    • Deep belly laughs
    • Tear inducing cries
    • Affection with a person or pet with whom you feel mutual respect and trust
    • Creative activities that encourage emotional expression
    • Spiritual practice to feel supported by something greater than you
    • Nature connection for multi-layered health benefits

In the moment – you will know that your action has worked when you feel a subtle shift in your body toward peace and you feel slightly better. 

Over time, with consistent practice – like prioritizing 30 minutes in your day to physically de-stress – you will keep up with the daily stress and begin to heal the potentially decades of unprocessed stress within your body that has built up over time.

I like to think of all of this in terms of a stress spiral. By effectively practicing and completing the 4 steps, you will keep yourself moving in a healthy and forward direction, like an upward spiral. When there’s a glitch in the 4 steps, or when you’re missing one, you’ll get stuck or find yourself spiraling downward.

What one simple action will you commit to doing every day to physically relieve your stress? 

Stress well, be well.

     Nicole

P.S. Want more insights like this and exclusive notes from me directly to your inbox? SIGN UP HERE to join my email community.

Posted in: Body, Renewal

Post ID 720

Posted by on March 13, 2020

“Don’t just do something, stand there . . .” 

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an important conversation, and no matter what you try, you can’t seem to be heard by the other person?

Ugh. Now what?

Even though empathy is one of my superpowers, I’m human and sometimes struggle with effectively communicating. I’m constantly learning and practicing just like you. I can especially get hung up with the people closest to me – including ME – and I bet you do too, so here are some thoughts on what it means to be truly heard and understood. 

My bookworm self wants to share some excellent insight about this from a book I recently read. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Dr. Marshall B Rosenberg is now among my top 10 favourite personal growth books. I resisted reading it for ages as the title turned me off, and now it’s my go-to for healthy relationship support (but if it were up to me, I’d rename it “Compassionate Communication”). Specifically, I like how he defines empathy, outlines 10 behaviours that are NOT empathetic and reminds us to practice empathy with ourselves. 

 

Empathy Matters

The desire to really be heard and understood is the desire for empathy. 

Empathy is the respectful understanding of what people are experiencing.

Empathy is giving others the time and space they need to express themselves fully and feel understood. 

Empathy is about hearing both the words spoken and the intended meaning behind them.

Empathy requires emptying our minds and listening with our whole being. We’re also listening to what people are needing, not necessarily what they are thinking. 

Empathy lies in our ability to be fully present.

Ahhh, feels good doesn’t it? 

Now that you more fully understand empathy, how does this begin to answer your question about how to be heard? 

 

10 Obstacles to Empathy

To get to the bottom of this, it can also be helpful to understand what empathy is NOT. I loved this list Dr. Rosenberg shared about the most common behaviours that prevent us from being fully present to connect empathetically with others. Or put another way, none of these are examples of empathising:

  1. Advising – “I think you should . . .” or “How come you didn’t . . .?”
  2. One-upping – “That’s nothing compared to what happened to me . . .” 
  3. Educating – “This could become a positive experience if you just . . .”
  4. Consoling – “It wasn’t your fault, you did the best you could.”
  5. Story-telling – “That reminds me of the time . . .”
  6. Shutting down – “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”
  7. Sympathizing – “Oh, you poor thing.”
  8. Interrogating – “When did this begin?”
  9. Explaining – “She probably did that because . . .”
  10. Correcting – “That’s not how it happened.”

Ooof, just typing those out has me feeling constricted. Of course there are times when these practices are helpful – but not in times of needing to feel heard and understood. 

So again, how does this new understanding of what empathy is NOT further answer your question about how to be heard? 

The next time you want to share something vulnerable with someone, how could you respond differently so that you are able to fully express your experience AND kindly help the other person know how to be present for you in the way you need? 

But there’s more. 

Before you seek empathy from others, are you first getting it from yourself? 

Are YOU listening to yourself? 

We tend to think of empathy as “walking in another person’s shoes” to fully understand them, so it can be odd to think about it as something we can do for ourselves first. 

 

Self-Empathy is a Thing

It is. I found it when googling. I’ve never heard that term before, but now I’m going to use it. 

I was looking it up because . . .

I know that when we crave something, the best first step is to offer it to ourself.

I know that we cannot make others do someone (ie. be emathetic), but we can do that thing ourself. 

I know that truly listening to ourselves is the starting point to overcoming any struggle.

So I will practice self-empathy more often. And I hope you will too.

How can you use the above definitions of what empathy is and is not to better be present with and fully listen to yourself?

And remember that empathy is my specialty, so if you would appreciate my undivided attention, or could use some support with practicing self-empathy, reach out to me and I would be happy to be present to your unique feelings and needs of the moment. 

Posted in: Community, Empowerment, Heart
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