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Beating Back to School Stress

Beating Back to School Stress

Beating Back-to-School Stress

It’s that time of year again. The kids are getting restless, and folders, notebooks and markers, crayons, and art supplies galore are taking over stores! 

Just thinking about it makes me anxious. I’m sure it does for every parent from August through September. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Here are a few helpful tips to help you stay present and calm and beat back to school stress. 

  1. Take a Day Trip – School is still a few weeks away, so take a day off from work and take yourself and the kids to the beach, the Poconos, or something else you had been planning to do all summer but haven’t. Time goes by so quickly. Enjoy some time with your kiddos before they are all grown up.
  2. Find Grace – You don’t have to be perfect. Your kids don’t have to be perfect. Stopping at the drive-through for dinner when you don’t feel like cooking is okay. Telling your child that the test they failed is no big deal rather than lecturing them is a gift that will help your child learn to deal with failure in a healthy way.
  3. Say No – We all know times have changed, and we are desperate to give our children all the things we didn’t have, but sometimes it is too much. Kids don’t have to do a sport every season; they definitely don’t need to do multiple. If all you do is run children to and from practice or activities, when are you spending time with them or finding time for yourself?
  4. Organize – We have a large dry-erase monthly calendar in our kitchen. I use different markers for each person. It helps a lot. My schedule varies, so it helps my husband know where I am. It also keeps you from double booking, which will help reduce your stress.
  5. Routine– Establish a routine from wake up to bedtime that gives everyone their own tasks to do, so it doesn’t all fall on your overburdened shoulders. Rather than doing it all yourself, ask your kids for help with age-appropriate tasks. My 11-year-old sets the table, checks the mail, takes out the recycling, and dusts. He knows he needs to do these things before he can play video games or watch TV.
  6. Take time for yourself – This is the most important one. Don’t let months go by without spending a night out with a friend or having a date night. Being a good parent means taking care of yourself before your loved ones.
  7. Skip it – If you aren’t feeling something you have planned, skip it. Don’t do it all the time, but if you are having a day where one thing after another goes wrong, or you wake up feeling like you can’t…don’t- skip it! I know it’s trendy, but a self-care day is a thing. It isn’t going to the salon and getting your nails done. It’s saying no thank you to the day ahead.
  8. Reflect – At the end of each day, sit with your thoughts for about ten minutes: no TV, no music, no talking in the background. Sit quietly and reflect on what has happened, good or bad, without judgment, and process it. It’ll keep your stress from turning into anxiety or depression.

Good luck, and if you see someone in the back-to-school section of Target struggling with multiple lists and whiny children, wish them luck, too. Halloween will be here before you know it, and the pressures of creating the perfect Christmas will raise your blood pressure again. So take a few deep breaths and dip into the list above when you need a little more help. 

Interested in learning more about ways to cope with stress? Try Kathleen Megahan’s workshop “Stress Relief for Busy People” on Friday, September 29th, from 6:30-7:30p. Learn More

Every Body is Beautiful

Every Body is Beautiful

At our monthly women’s circle this past Sunday, we explored the topic of body positivity. Not an easy topic, but those in attendance all contributed heartily to the discussion, and it was beautiful to hear all these women talk about how they deal with the issues of female body image.

Whether a woman, man, or nonbinary, you have been subjected to body norms set by our fickle society. 

While women have traditionally been more of a target, men suffer too, and it isn’t far to acknowledge their struggle. 

For example, here is a chart of the male standard of beauty:

While there are differences, it isn’t as drastic as women. One man can conform to each of these standards without surgery or too much effort. 

Well, maybe not in the 80s. I’m seeing flashes of Arnold Schwarzenegger—who still fits that mold as he approaches his 76 birthday. 

However, woman’s standards that been much more drastic than men’s. Take a look at the chart below. 

Unfair, right? Well, enough of this. Let go of the shame. Stop thinking about the parts of your body you want to change. 

Female Body standards through time.

Why? Because…who cares? Who are you trying to impress? How does it serve you? 

It doesn’t. 

Instead, let’s embarrass body positivity. Because we only get one body and one life to live in, stop wasting time on self-judgment, and bring on self-love. 

How? Here are a few tools:

  1. Tape love notes to your mirror.
  2. Scrub Social Media Feed — Add Positive Minded People & Groups
    • Instagram: I_weigh, Behappyproject
    • TikTok: Lizzo, Yogi Bryan, Mayim Bialik, Celeste Barber
  1. Wear what feels good.
  2. Let go of the people that don’t support you and bring in supportive people.
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others. Your body is unique; embrace your uniqueness! 
  4. Focus on what you like about yourself. 
  5. Accepting that body image distress as normal (You aren’t alone!)

You aren’t alone! I was shocked to learn that I fit into the average American woman. I am 5’5 and 140 pounds. While I know I’m in relatively good shape, I still see flaws in the mirror, more so as I age. 

I often reflect on how harsh I was on myself in my 20s. I see pictures and can’t match my hate for my body with the beautiful young woman I was. Hell, typing out beautiful just now felt wrong. I wanted to hit the backspace, but I didn’t. Why? Because I am embracing self-love.

This body gave me 2 beautiful children and has been my constant companion for 44 years. So I am choosing to celebrate it. And you should too! 

I’m leaving you with a bit of homework. Take out a piece of paper or open up the notes feature on your phone and answer these questions:

Why am I grateful for my body?

What makes you valuable? (Because you are more than the way you look!)

Hold onto this paper or save the note and come back to it whenever you are being particularly hard on yourself because your body is strong, resilient, and beautiful. The only one you’ll get, so start treating it like your dearest friend—because, at the end of the day, that is what it is. 

 

Struggling with ADHD in Classroom

Struggling with ADHD in Classroom

Struggling with ADHD in Classroom

When I was in second grade, I was held back and forced to repeat the grade because I was “too immature.” Little did I know I was struggling with ADHD in the classroom. 

Did you know that was even a thing? 

It was, apparently. It was in answer to my undiagnosed ADHD. I was diagnosed the following year, but the damage had already been done. 

Does that seem like a good reason to hold a child back? Now, as an adult, college professor, and parent of a child both on the spectrum and with ADHD and ODD, I  sure don’t think so. But this was a parochial school in the 80s…

Well, this made seven-year-old Jen feel dumb—really dumb, and I felt that way for a very, very long time as a result. It took me many years to overcome all the ticks and insecurities I had developed as a result—long into adulthood. Still, to this day, I find myself saying something that I know stems from those early feelings of inadequacy. 

Now, you are asking yourself. Did she have bad grades? Nope. I started reading early. I was probably a grade or two above my grade reading-wise. I wasn’t outstanding at math, but I wasn’t below average—no red flags besides my lack of focus and inability to sit still. Weird reasons to hold a child back, I know, but like I said… a parochial school in the 80s. 

The worst thing about it was no one asked me what I wanted. Because if they had, I would have told them I was bored. I knew how to read, and the lessons didn’t interest me. Maybe that was why I lacked focus.

I also would have told them that after lunch, I felt like bouncy balls were slamming around my body, and I couldn’t sit still. (Fun Fact: Food coloring greatly affects people with ADHD, especially Red #4). That would explain my constant shifting in my seat. 

Oh, and I was chatty. I talked a lot. I mean, a lot, a lot. But I had a ton of stuff going on in my head at all times, so of course, I wanted to talk about it; who wouldn’t? All you ADD and ADHD silent suffers know what I’m talking about! 

So, I was held back. Nothing changed, surprise, surprise. Even worse, it was second grade. All of you Catholic school alumni know what that means…Holy Communion. If you don’t know what that means, let’s just say that I had a lot of free time. Since I had already received Holy Communion the year before, I didn’t have to take part in the endless practices every second-grade Catholic school student has to sit through, but I had to go, and (get this) I had to sit in the back of the church and quietly watch. 

Now, how crazy does that sound? This 8-year-old outcast with no friends because I was older than everyone else felt extremely dumb and inadequate and was a raging ball of hyperactivity because, of course, practices were right after lunch. I was bored due to having to sit quietly and still while my classmates practiced walking up and down the aisle and listening to the priest talk endlessly about a sacrament I had already received and knew all about. 

How am I not more damaged psychologically damaged than I am? (Wait a moment. I’m going to give myself a hug and speak a few positive affirmations—Ok, I’m back.) Let’s just say things got worse before they got better. 

Do you remember the super quiet straight lines you had to keep walking around school back in the day? Yeah, well, I wasn’t very good at those either, especially on the way back from Holy Communion practice. I had so much to get out; I had just sat still and quiet for an hour, Red #4 was coursing through my veins, and I had to get it out. So I talked. I was compelled to talk. I had to move something, or I would explode. 

One day, walking back from practice, I was chatting with a girl in line, and I got caught. The teacher, Sister Christine, I’ll never forget her face. It is still burnt into my mind, grabbed me by the pigtail and yanked me out of line and pinned me to the chalkboard, and growled in my face. It was terrifying, and it scarred me for life. 

A month or two later, a doctor diagnosed me with ADHD, and I was put on a special diet and given some support in handling my symptoms, but the damage was already done. 

Over the years, I have sought out techniques and coping mechanisms to help me control my symptoms. Are they perfect? No. But they got me where I am today without medication. 

Now, wait, I am not slamming Adderall or whatever medicine you or your loved one is on. I love Adderall. My son would not be able to get through school without it. But my parents never gave me the option, and I didn’t realize it was an option until I was an adult, and by then, I already knew how to deal with it, so I don’t feel the need now. However, if I ever did, I would be calling my doctor. But medicine alone doesn’t work either. I have taught my son, students, and anyone that will listen to my techniques because I believe in them and know they work. They got me through my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and Dean’s list a few times as well. They also got me through twenty years of teaching writing in college. 

For the sake of brevity, I will share one with you now and the rest at my upcoming workshop, Classroom Yoga & Meditation For Education, on Tuesday, March 7th, from 6:30-8p. You can attend in person or virtually. I hope to see you there. 

My tip—Lists. Tons and tons of lists. I get distracted easily and often forget things I shouldn’t, which makes me feel bad about myself, so I write it down, so I can’t forget, stopping that bad feeling in its tracks. 

Now how detailed are these lists, you ask? Very. And Specific. Here’s an example, I have a whiteboard on the fridge where we keep the grocery list. When it is time to go to the store, I take a picture of the list. Then, using the editing function, I can cross out items as I shop. How does this help? I feel satisfied that I accomplished a task because the list and the crossing out keep my attention focused. 

Why not a paper list, you ask? Well, simply said, I’d lose it. I have lost so many lists in my life. I think I put it in a pocket, but I get distracted and forget, leave it somewhere, then I get to the market and have to shop blind—which never goes well. I’m less likely to lose my phone. Have I lost it? OH, daily, but I always find it! 

Having ADHD makes you very forgetful because your brain is moving so quickly; the thought is usually gone by the time you process it, which makes retention tough. But you learn ways to cope—like making lists.

A special thank you to my parents. They fought for me. My mom did endless research on natural methods to help me manage my symptoms. She discovered the Feingold diet, which was annoying because I had to give up Kool-aid, Cheetos, and Skittles, but I was so much calmer. The bouncy balls slowed and gave me the space to discover other skills to help me hold hands with my ADHD rather than be bullied by it. Thank you to both of my parents for always telling me my dreams were possible. There was a clear message in my household—I was going to college. Neither of my parents were told this when they were young and didn’t have the opportunity, so they were determined that I would go. It was never in doubt. Without knowing it, they were chipping away at my feelings of inadequacy that the dreadful two consecutive years of second grade had caused. Oh, and a nun or teacher never laid a hand on me again after that.

Thank you for listening to me babble about my experiences. I hope they made you feel validated. Because I know there are many of us licking the wounds of our childhood over issues like this. Growing up is hard, and we should be thankful we all made it out alive. 

Avoid Holiday Stress

Avoid Holiday Stress

Avoid Holiday Stress

Turkey. Baked Ham. Mashed Potatoes. Pie. Gifts. Family. Those images evoke memories filled with merriment or solace. Holiday Stress. Television programs and commercials display images of happy families celebrating the holidays seated around their large dining tables, perfectly set with fine china and holiday décor. If you are lucky enough to have happy childhood memories, those memories are yours to keep. They are now part of the fabric that makes up your very being.

But for others, those memories are for storybooks only and can often evoke sadness, triggering depression with feelings of emptiness and loneliness. Or perhaps you have happy childhood memories filled with loving family and yummy food, but now you are estranged from your loved ones.

The holiday season can trigger depression for a plethora of reasons. The most common reason is loneliness.

People who are estranged from their loved ones and isolated from their communities often experience sadness at its peak during the holiday season. Sometimes, as if it is a cruel joke, their mind replays happy scenes from childhood celebrations, reminding them of the severity of their loss. The empty void they feel is most notable during those quiet days of “time off” from work or daily routines.

Ed Diener, a world leader in the field of research on happiness, found that happiness comes from a feeling of belongingness. It is belonging to something larger than ourselves and communities or groups that are making a conscious effort to improve their community.

Diener’s research findings suggest that those who value money, power, and good looks are less happy than those who value compassion, cooperation, and a willingness to improve the world. In his study, people who volunteered to help others who were less fortunate or who shared in a community created a sense of belongingness and were abundantly happier in their lives.

Here are some ways to avoid holiday stress and develop a sense of belongingness, brighten your mood, and stave off those holiday blues:

1. Avoid social media. Take a break and unplug. The media is saturated with “happy” family gatherings celebrating together.
2. Volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Soup kitchens often need extra help during the holidays due to the increased number of people in need.
3. Join others for a free hot meal.  Local churches offer free holiday meals to those in need.
4. Adopt a Family Program.  Contact a local non-profit facility and ask about “adopting” a family for the holiday. Through programs like the one at Lenape Valley Foundation in Doylestown, you can receive a wish list of food and gifts for a family needing help for the holidays. Lenape’s “elves” will wrap and deliver the gifts for you.
5. Reach out to a neighbor.  Getting to know your neighbors is not an easy task in the suburbs. People with yards do not need to sit in front of their homes like in the city. This results in reducing the opportunities to meet neighbors and developing a sense of community. So take advantage of the holiday time off and drum up discussions among your closest neighbors.

The benefits of developing a sense of belongingness are immeasurable. Caring for others and celebrating someone’s joy helps increase one’s own sense of altruistic joy – happiness at the good fortune of others. It will have a profound change within yourself that will last all throughout the year.

 “When we awake to the life-giving vow of compassion, we are like broken tiles and scattered pebbles are transmuted into god” Shinran (1173-1263)

To speak to a therapist, please call: 215-293-0744

Enjoy reading Avoid Holiday Stress? Try one of our other blogs: Meditation Made Easy, Everybody is Beautiful, Relieving Stress through a Healthy Work-life Balance

Road Signs

Road Signs

Road Signs

Road Signs can be a helpful way to reflect upon our emotions. 

One evening after work I was out walking my dog, a small terrier – mix named Pumpkin. I suppose that Pumpkin has forced me to take more mindful walks due to her short stature. I now notice things around me that I wouldn’t ordinarily notice because I would be more focused on distance and cardio level.

As Pumpkin and I were strolling, I noticed how many signs filled our neighborhood. Signs with directives, instructions, and absolute orders: “No passing on the left”, “one way”, “no parking here to corner”, “bump”, “one way”, “stop”, “do not enter” and even playground instructions or “play smart rules”.  Signs with the name of streets and even signs in people’s yards showing a dog squatted to poop with a circle and a line through it, often with the word “PLEASE” highlighted above the dog image.

I began to think about all the messages that these signs project to the community.  I wondered if we could flash a sign, perhaps on our foreheads, that would provide information to others. Information about our needs, requests, wants, and even warnings. How nice that might be.  No need to explain, argue, or feel bad for asking questions.  The message merely lights up on our foreheads and others need only obey the directives or simply be informed.

Think about some of the bad dates you might have had.  Don’t you wish that your date bore a sign like; “Be prepared to stop”, “exit only”, “hidden driveway” or “Keep left”?  How many “I told you so’s” could you have avoided?  I wondered about all the conversations that felt more like monologues by the other person.  Wouldn’t It have been helpful if they had a sign that said something like “one-way street” or “no U-turns”?  How extremely helpful that would have been – not to mention, a great time management tool.

How many of us have missed the sign for the “Recharge Vehicle station”?  Instead, we continue to burn energy with work and commitments to friends and family until our engines stall and we find ourselves stuck on the side of a remote street.

Sometimes we might not see the sign before we enter into a situation, but the signs do present themselves and we must acknowledge them. I have heard many people talk about the “red flags” they were aware of but had ignored at the time.  Perhaps they were preoccupied by the scenery and did not fully grasp the meaning of the sign or they did not trust what they saw.

I began to think about these signs and the ones I would like to have available in certain times of my life or particular times of the day.  When I am sitting at the computer and am pulled out away from my body while writing and then someone knocks on my front door or decides to ask me a question.  I wish I had a sign “road closed”, “caution” or “no parking.”  When I am playing with my grandson, I need the sign “beware unfenced road for next 150 Km” or the squiggly arrow for a crazy ride!   Some people need a “do not enter” sign and others I would like to see have the “share the road” sign”.

Think about the people in your life and what signs you would like or need to light up on your forehead when you are around them.  Or what sign you wish would light up on someone else’s forehead to warn you or welcome you.  Have fun with this and as always keep your pen moving and “no parking.”

Some sign examples: “stop”, “yield”, “R/R”, “dead end”, “no U turns”, “no passing”, “do not enter”, arrows pointing in various directions, “pedestrian crossing”, “parking” and “no parking”, “one way”, “slippery road” or “sharp curves”, “give way”, “wrong way”, “traffic light”, “bike route”, and “trash sign-Pitch in”, “construction ahead”, “caution”, “road under construction”, “speed limits”, “food and gas signs”, signs “warning of falling rock in mountain areas” or “animal crossings”, there are even “social distancing” signs now, and of course signs with “rules at swimming pools, playgrounds and parks”, “avalanche area”, “no vehicles beyond this point”, “pavement ends”, “blind corner proceed with caution”, “cross traffic ahead”, “hard hat area”, “private driveway”, “road may flood”.  Look around as you walk and notice signs and imagine how and when you might use that sign.

Prompt:

  • Find as many signs as you can and write them down.
  • Begin to make a list of people you feel you need a sign for to either welcome them or to keep them distant.
  • Imagine you are able to have these signs light up on your forehead when you encounter these people. What would they state? Who would you need the sign’s for?.
  • Write about what that would look like and how that would feel.
  • Write about the signs you wish someone else had on their forehead and how that would have been helpful.
  • Write a list of situations where you could use a special sign (in social settings, walking your dog, on campus or at work).
  • Write about a sign you wish was on someone else.
  • Create a scene where every character has a sign. Maybe it is a first meeting or a job interview. Imagine how that scene would play out and write your scene.

Example:

When I was in high school, I was invited by a very popular boy to our senior prom.  I was not one of the popular kids. In fact, I was surprised he even knew me.  I was very excited of course but also nervous since I had not dated anyone in high school. I worked at an equine center to earn riding lessons.  I worked every weekend and a few nights a week mucking stalls.  While everyone else was “hanging out,” I was working.

I told my mom that I was invited to the prom and she took me shopping for a dress.  We looked at only a few stores and I was acutely aware of the need to keep in a budget.  I did find a dress that fit well, and I was comfortable in and so my mom put the dress on layaway. She was to pay the balance and pick up the dress 3 days before my prom.  I could see her hesitation on getting the dress, not because she didn’t want me to have it, but I think she knew something was not right.  I wish that her thoughts could have been displayed on her forehead. The ones I saw in her eyes said, “blind corner, proceed with caution”.

Three weeks later and two weeks before the prom, this popular boy stopped me in the hall at school and asked what the color of my dress was so he could order flowers.  I told him blue – not a deep royal blue, but a robin’s egg blue, soft and innocent.  Four days before prom night he called me over to his locker and told me he was not going to take me to the prom, he said he was taking someone else that he really wanted to go with.  I wish that I had seen the sign on his forehead before this, a sign that stated, “U-turn”, “Dead end”, or “bridge out do not enter.”  I stood there leaning against the grey metal locker, #105.  I don’t really remember what I did or didn’t do but the appropriate sign would have been the yellow crime scene tape. Or “detour”, so that I could have remained frozen and everyone could have gone around me, left me there invisible.

I did have to tell my mom, so she did not pay for the dress still on layaway.  I chose to tell her I decided not to go.  I put up a sign that stated, “drive slow saves lives”. She never asked me about why I had decided not to go or to try to fish for the real reason.  But I imagine my mom went to the store to get her money back for the blue prom dress with a sign on her forehead stating, “private road no thru traffic”, or “no idling allowed”.