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Rest In Peace

Preparing for a weekend retreat on “Reducing Distress while Maximizing Good Stress”, I outlined ways we can make stress work for us instead of against us. We create a lot of our distress by our responses to whatever is happening in our lives.

One of the exercises I use with my groups comes from a series produced by Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD and Donald A. Tubesing, MDiv,PhD entitled “Rest in Peace”. As we take an inventory of thoughts, attitudes and behaviors that hurt instead of help us, we can put them to rest for good.

Most of us act on old beliefs, thoughts, ideas, biases, attitudes and perceptions that may have helped us in some way in the past – but have outlived their usefulness. Many of our defenses, such as anger, hostility, despair, denial, perfectionism, procrastination, resentment, and grievances, create and maintain stress levels.

We need to periodically take an inventory of how we respond to our world. Anger may have helped us make some important changes in our life. Anxiety may have helped us examine our choices and whether we are re-active or proactive. Sorrow and despair may be telling us to grieve, forgive and let go of past losses. Hostility may be holding us in a pattern of resentment that continues to eat us up. Putting a lot of “old stuff” to rest can free up our lives.

Over the next few weeks, my blogs will focus on the many ways that we can reduce stress levels. Take a moment and reflect on your attitudes, feelings, and patterns of behaviors. What old habits and beliefs that you act upon hurt you? Which creates distress?

Take a piece of paper and write down all the things that you believe are keeping you at high stress levels. Your list may include such things as relationships, time pressures, family and marital problems, lack of finances, job search, depression, discouragement, etc. Be honest. What beliefs keep you captive to fear and anxiety? What losses seem overwhelming? What adversities seem insurmountable?

We can’t live without stress. It is the body’s non-specific way of adapting and responding to any demands made on it. It is normal and natural. When it is working for us, we are able to set goals, make plans, go to work, enjoy our family and friends, and solve problems.

All emotions are important and tell us something. When we are on overload, we no longer hear the messages they tell us, but become flooded with feelings that create ongoing panic, fear, and anxiety.

Follow me in the coming weeks, as we uncover ways to make our lives less stressful.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Rest

When do you experience rest that heals your soul?

Just Rest

When we find ourselves in the midst of turmoil, crisis and difficulty, we want to quickly find a way out of the anxiety, fear, uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings that hold us captive. We want to be doing something, anything that will take us out of that space.

But sometimes we are asked to do nothing. We are asked to stop struggling; stop running around in circles, stop the frantic thoughts of have to, must and should that exert enormous stress and pressure on us to do something or we will not survive. We are to just STOP.

Years ago, when grieving the loss of my husband, I remember asking God, “What am I supposed to be learning and doing in this valley of tears – this desert of dead dreams and barren futures.” And I heard His quiet by powerful voice say to me, “Rest – you are learning to rest. You are not to do anything or try to make anything happen – just rest.”

I remember thinking, Rest? What does that mean? How can I find rest in the midst of all this turmoil? How am I supposed to find rest when all I want to do is get away as fast as I can from this space and find someplace where I can be happy again?

Since I had asked for and received a directive, I decided I needed to think about rest and what it meant. I knew that when I kept busy the distraction kept my mind diverted so I wouldn’t have to feel my loss. Was that rest?

I thought back over the years. When did I experience rest? As a young housewife my days were filled with juggling schedules of three children, two with special needs, and a husband who worked several jobs. Rest then was a time to quietly finish folding the laundry, do some creative sewing or work in the garden when my children were playing or asleep.

Later, when I went back to school to complete college degrees, the schedules became even more complex and demanding. Rest was those times when I could study for class instead of cleaning the house. Even quick weekend trips away with my husband were often filled with activities giving only temporary reprieve from the pressure of ongoing life and work.

I began to realize that I could make “rest” just another item on my “to do” list, or I could actually rest. I believe what God was trying to tell me during those days when I was coming to grips with my loss, was that I was to just “be”. I wasn’t supposed to do anything. I wasn’t to run away from, ignore, or try to resolve my situation – I was to simply rest in it.

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”. If we bring our heavy bags of pain and troubles to Him we need to put it down and leave it. We stop the resisting, the non-acceptance. We stop the struggling.

Rest is learning that we are still okay within our pain. Rest is allowing ourselves to be in the moment. It is accepting that fact that we might never find all the answers or solutions we want. It doesn’t mean we stop trying to solve problems or look for solutions. It means we are still okay if we don’t find them.

And in that acceptance and rest, we discover peace. In that peace our spirits and hearts are healed.

When I actually allow myself to rest, I can feel God’s spiritual arms around me. I hear His words of reassurance and comfort. When I rest in that peace and comfort, I am letting go of stress, uncertainties, pain, loneliness, anxiety and fear that continues to accumulate when I struggle.

I can sit still, breathe quietly and deeply and feel my body relax. In that spot, I do not need to ask for anything. I do not need to do anything. All I need is to “be” – be quiet, listen, absorb the sights and sounds of the moment, and allow peace to permeate every cell in my body healing all wounds.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Opportunities

Are you taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves?

Take Advantage of Opportunities

Years ago, my husband took a two year sabbatical from the college where he worked so we could take advantage of an opportunity to teach overseas. After the first year, his mother suffered serious health concerns requiring an early return to the states.

Upon our return, I started graduate studies for my master’s degree. Half way through my first quarter, my husband asked, “How would you like to travel with the circus for a couple of months?” He still had additional sabbatical time and had been asked to lead a circus band for a short period of time which required traveling across parts of the United States and Canada.

My first thought: I just started graduate school! I can’t leave now. However, once I knew I could skip a quarter and return full time in the fall, without it impacting my program, I asked myself “Why not?” and told my husband, “Let’s do it.”

I am goal-oriented and once made I faithfully stick to my plan of action to its completion. It was my husband who taught me that while it is important to make and follow through with our goals, sometimes life gives us opportunities we might never have again.

Since my husband was an accomplished professional musician, educator and administrator, I both respected and listened to him. I knew that he looked at opportunities within the bigger picture of well planned goals.

Opportunities

It was opportunity that enabled my husband to travel and play with name bands in major cities and in the recording studio. He was able to perfect his skills as a professional musician that would have otherwise been difficult. He got to travel and learned to fly an airplane.

Opportunity brought my husband and me together. It was opportunity that took us on our first trip to Europe, traveling six weeks on a shoestring to return years later to live and teach in England.

But what is opportunity? How do I recognize it? And when is it a liability instead of an opportunity?

An opportunity is a possibility that offers some kind of advantage. It holds within its tenets the ability to experience something new and exciting. It is not something you plan for, but is an option you are presented with to consider within your preset life goals. It is like a present ready to be unwrapped.

Within opportunities, we find the potential for growth that we might not have had any other way. Sometimes we are required to put on hold what we are currently doing – sometimes we can work it into our existing schedule.

I recently had the opportunity to become a part of a local theater arts production of the Wizard of Oz. I had never acted before, although I had been around the theater with my husband when he played in the orchestra. When a friend of mine, suggested doing some bit parts that didn’t require auditioning, I again said, “Why not?”

Are you taking advantage of opportunities?

Remember, opportunities are not planned and present themselves when you least expect it. Sometimes we have to say no. But if we remain open and flexible to opportunities, we can not only meet our well designed goals, but can expand our life in ways we would not have dreamed.

Are you willing to take the risk of trying something new?

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

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Accentuate the Positive

In his book, “Happiness is a Choice”, Barry Neil Kaufman lists “6 key shortcuts to happiness”. The first key is “make happiness the priority”.

Getting all the things we think we must have or need in order to be happy, in reality does not make us happy. In fact, “things” in general will leave us wanting, disappointed and unsatisfied. Instead, being happy is a choice and it is only when we make that choice that we will be able to accomplish things in life.

We choose how we respond to what is happening around us. We form beliefs and world views and act upon them. In the process, we can accentuate the positive or remain locked on the negative. We can choose to turn something negative into something positive or become bitter, angry and resentful.

A lot of scientific research into the body-brain connection indicates that our thoughts create a chain reaction throughout our mind and body. What we think and believe has profound physical consequences.

Consider your response when you experience an unexpected kindness. One minute you may be feeling depressed and discouraged. Then someone tells you how much you are appreciated and suddenly, in a flash, you experience a lift of spirit and energy. 

Do we choose happiness or is it a result of external events? And if we have so much power and control over our happiness, then why are we so unhappy?

It is where each of us is required to ask the question, Am I happy? If not, why not? What keeps me from being happy? Was I happy in the past, and if so, what made me feel happy? What changed? What would it take to for me to experience happiness again?

Like you, I often go on the assumption that happiness depends on external events rather than a state of being that I create within myself.

Dan Ariely, Prof of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, author of “Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions”, cites many experiments and studies in his book that show how the expectations we hold about life will influence how we experience what is happening. Two people experiencing the same event may experience something totally different based on their expectations rather than what is actually happening.

If our expectations can influence and “shape” our responses predicting the outcome, then holding the expectation that we can be happy regardless of what happens, will have a huge influence on every aspect of our life: physical, mental, spiritual and psychological. When we make a deliberate decision to be happy, it becomes a mindset, an expectation, a belief that we live out in any situation.

We choose our expectations and our attitudes. Changing our mindsets can impact every aspect of our being: physical, mental, spiritual and psychological. We can choose to be happy or we can choose to be a victim of whatever is happening in the moment.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

A new perspective

What new perspective has helped you re-build your life?

A New Perspective

Years ago I worked for a company contracted to help injured workers in chronic pain recover and re-enter the workplace. Some had been injured on the job even with all the safety precautions.

As part of their rehabilitation and recovery program, they attended a two week all day class. Most were not happy to be there; in fact some were downright hostile. Yet after one week, we began to see a transformation of attitudes, mind-set and way of thinking.

It was always amazing to watch this metamorphous from hopelessness, despondency and despair to one of possibility, hope and motivation. Some didn’t let go of what had happened to them. They were angry at the injustice of it all and did not want to hear about ways they could re-frame their circumstances. They hung onto their grievance and left with the same bitterness they were generating when they arrived.

But, it was those who took the information presented and applied it that humbled and encouraged me. While there were many people who I came to admire, one lady in particular resonated with me. Her injury left her unable to continue in her job. She would have to be retrained in some other line of work. Her benefits would soon run out. She was a single Mom living in a tiny one-bedroom house and the enormity of her losses was severe. Life seemed pretty grim and hopeless.

After the first week, she returned to class from the weekend off, glowing. She was not the same person who left on Friday. She shared with the class what had happened to change her outlook.

She went home and thought about all the information we had taught them and decided to apply it to her situation. The first thing she did was “re-frame” how she looked at her current existence.

She went through her tiny cramped house, room by room, looking at it with a new perspective. There was only one tiny bedroom. She decided to give that room to her children and make the living room her bedroom. During the day it was a living room, but at night it became a cozy, spacious bedroom. She positioned the sofa bed in front of the fireplace, and when she crawled into her “bed” that night, she lit a small fire in the fireplace and snuggled down to watch the flames and thought to herself, how many people do I know who have a fireplace in their bedroom. She helped her children make her old bedroom into their special space. They were happy and she was happy. In fact, she told us she slept soundly for the first time in years.

What had changed? Only her perspective. During the remainder of that last week in class, she actively sought out information about re-training and potential jobs. She was excited about the potential of a new job from a re-training program that paid more than her previous job.

Was she going to have to struggle? Yes. Would it take hard work? Yes. Would she still have to live with limiting conditions? Yes. But she would be bringing into that space a new outlook – a new perspective – that held possibility, options and renewed energy.

The world we live in today has drastically changed. We are challenged as never before to be innovative, creative and flexible. The beliefs we hold about ourselves can seriously impact our ability to move forward.

We may experience events that seem catastrophic, limiting and hopeless. But within each of us is the ability to take what we have and create something new from it. Out of the ashes of one disaster we can create the promise of a new beginning, if we are willing to re-invent ourselves, grow and change.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Expand Your World

In a recent local theater arts guild production of the Wizard of Oz, I played the role of a munchkin reporter. Munchkins were the little people Dorothy first meets when a summer tornado spun her out of the mundane and ordinary life of a Kansas farm into the exotic, make believe world of Oz.

So what does a Munchkin Reporter do? How does she act? Is she confrontational or hesitant and a little shy like the other Munchkins? Does she stride boldly on stage, pushing her way in front of the others so she can write the story about this Dorothy who has dropped into their lives. It was up to me to create the role and act out the part.

At first I felt awkward as the Munchkins were very active on stage, both speaking and dancing. It challenged my sense of propriety and good manners. But after awhile, I was able to carve out a role that I felt represented both a reporter and a munchkin.

My world was greatly expanded as a result of becoming a member of this theater group – not just in terms of meeting new friends, but in my personal, inner world. Since I had never acted before, my learning curve was huge. But the directors were enthusiastic, motivating and encouraging and I experienced acceptance, tolerance,  love, encouragement and support from them, the cast and crew.

Acting involves putting aside your usual safe self-image and identity to put on another. When rehearsals began, I was unsure of what was expected, how to act, or what to do. I was no longer a counselor, author, teacher, facilitator, etc. I was now a beginner, a novice, an experimenter, a singing apple tree, a singing jitterbug, and part of the great community of the Emerald City. It was exciting but scary – humbling but re-affirming; and in the end, life expanding.

We often miss opportunities in life because we fear taking a risk. We risk appearing foolish or lacking in some way. We choose to stay in positions where we feel safe and can continue to carefully craft facades that hide the vulnerable inner child inside each of us. With our masks firmly in place, we focus on the appearance of confidence which is unreal and unsustainable.

But unless we remove our masks, we cannot become genuine. Acting gives you the opportunity to remove your mask to expand your understanding of the character role you are representing.

If we don’t risk, we lose; we lose opportunities to grow – to expand our thinking and our accomplishments. Early in the learning curve, we learn humility and the ability to give and accept grace and kindness. We learn to become more tolerant and accepting – looking for and building on commonalities rather than differences and separation.

Everywhere in life there are opportunities, in every situation we find ourselves. We choose to see them or remain stuck in our comfort zones of anonymity, false security or brash bravado. We miss opportunities because of our fears: fears we won’t be accepted with all our warts, deformities and insecurities, fears we might not measure up or experience rejection again as we did in childhood.

Step out – risk – expand your world. The rewards are not applause – but a new layer of confidence.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Step Out of the Old

We get stuck in the box

Any unknown creates a certain sense of anxiety. When we don’t know what to expect it can leave us feeling insecure and unsure as to what to do, what is expected of us and how we should proceed.

It takes courage to step out

It takes courage to leave what we know to step out into the unknown – to challenge our status quo. Yet staying in our box of comfort can be limiting. I would never have known my wonderful daughter-in-law if she hadn’t been willing to have the courage to come to America to marry my son.

Change requires risk

Every day the world is changing in some way around us. I often find myself out of step with the fast pace of technology, and the changes it brings make me feel at times as if I am being dragged unwillingly behind the bus. We want to feel we are the ones initiating change and are in control of that change.

Yet much of life involves change that occurs outside our control; the loss of a loved one, a divorce, the impact of a chronic illness, or the loss of a job that requires re-training or abandoning of careers to survive. When change “happens”, new choices are required that take us out of our comfort zones and away from our well-planned goals.

How prepared are you for unexpected changes

How flexible are you? Can you roll with the punches and end up back on your feet? Change requires adjustment of some kind. It is an exchange from what we had or knew to something different – a substitute or replacement of some kind.

When we make and follow through with goals, we feel we are in charge of the outcome and our lives. When change removes something that was valuable to us without our consent, we scream our protests and struggle to come to grips with it.

Ways to deal with change

1. Become flexible in your thinking. The evergreen trees that live along the Northwest sea coast survive the winter storms by being flexible. They are shaped and molded by the winds, but their roots dig deep within the crevices of the rocks and remain strong. And they become things of beauty.

2. Sink your internal roots into God’s promises, positive thinking and an “I can do” attitude.

3. Develop an adventurous spirit. I would never have had the wonderful, life expanding experiences I have had without the ability to ask, “why not” instead of “no way” or “impossible”.

4. Be prepared. When we go on a trip, we service our car, check the route on a map and make reservations. With all our preparations, however, we may be required to go to plan B or C or take a detour. Plan for the unexpected ahead of time. It’s well worth the small amount of time and effort.

5. Check your attitude. Life isn’t perfect. It will have lots of detours, mountain passes and steep grades. Look at unexpected changes as opportunities, even if they don’t seem pleasant at the moment. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this? How will I benefit from going through this difficult time? What might I discover about myself or the world that can benefit me? What jewel of important learning will I forever have as a result of this unexpected change?

Challenging the way we respond to life’s unexpected changes can forever paint our life with new and vivid colors. Change can be the brush stroke that enhances instead of detracts. Unexpected changes can become the best thing in life.

©2012 Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC