Cookies Make You Feel Better . . . But Only for A Little While

You just reached for a cookie. Did you know I can tell you are probably Cookie_Jar_350stressed right now? I know that lunch was an hour ago and you aren’t hungry, but you still reached for your sweet, salty, or fatty snack. You aren’t hungry but you are stressed!

Why do we do that? For me it is cookies, but for you it could be Doritos, cheese-its, ice cream, a snickers bar – what ever it is your snack makes you feel a little bit better. Maybe this is a nervous habit for you and you don’t even realize what you are doing. Well, good afternoon, its time to wake up my friend and do something different. Before we can change what we are doing now, lets look at why we reach for unhealthy snacks.

When you are stressed your body isn’t able to use the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is important for a lot of reasons because of the processes it helps your body perform, things like:

  • Making you feel happy
  • Improving your decision making skills
  • Regulating your sleep cycle
  • Increasing your tolerance for delayed gratification

So when you are stressed and your serotonin doesn’t work properly this is what happens:

  • You feel sad
  • You are a poor planner
  • You have poor impulse control

Serotonin can be replaced by eating food. By eating things that are high in sugar, carbs, and fat we can spike our serotonin and you will feel better. But food doesn’t stay in the body forever, its got to come out and when it does your mood plummets to where it was before and you feel awful again.

When we eat unhealthy snacks we are actually self-medicating. We send our bodies on a roller coaster ride to make up for the low serotonin by eating bad food all because we are stressed out and can’t manage our emotions on our own. When this is your reality you are also a poor planner and you have poor impulse control – you don’t want to think about what to do to address the stressor, you just want a cookie!

There are ways we can replace those unhealthy foods so we aren’t adding pounds along with our high stress but there are also ways to address the root of the problem – your stress level! When you decrease the stress you won’t feel the need to self-medicate.

Here are three easy ways to decrease your stress:

  1. Make a list of what you need to accomplish, then work your way through the list. When something starts to worry you take comfort in knowing that you will get to it because you already have it on your to-do list.
  2. Acknowledge if something is out of your control. So often we worry about things we can’t do anything about. Figure out who can influence that worry and let them worry about it.
  3. Do something that relaxes you. If you are at work it may help to have an inspirational book or devotional to read when you feel overwhelmed, if you are at home maybe you need to sit in your favorite spot with a hot cup of tea. Deep breathing is always a sure-fire way to relax your mind and body.

Next time you reach for that cookie (Dorito, snickers, ice cream, etc.) catch yourself and tackle the root of the problem instead of self-medicating. When you decrease your stress you won’t need to replace your serotonin, your body will do that for you!1


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Justify This! Live Your Live without Explaining Yourself

Erin recently sent me a link to this article listing out 18 things women shouldn’t have to justify or explain. It is a great article, and a fun read and I encourage you to check it out here. But it got me thinking: what is the point and purpose of justifying yourself? Justification is not something that serves us well (and if you have read any of our other posts you know how I feel about doing things that serve you well), so let’s cut to the chase and just live as we will and do the things that bring us happiness, rest, and a sense of wellbeing.


Justification is damaging to the person needing to present the reason or purpose behind an action, event, or state of being. Sometimes things are out of our control and to have to explain away why something is when we had no hand in creating it is ridiculous. Looking at #11, justifying why you wanted to put less makeup on today versus yesterday is ridiculous – it is no one’s business and it brings into question your level of worth as a person through someone else’s point of view. Justification means we have to explain to someone why we are worthwhile and why we are important.

People demanding justification from us are the same people who are trying to put you down or belittle you. I don’t want to imply that this always comes from a malicious place or that people are out to get you because they aren’t! Most people ask for justification because they honestly don’t understand something, they have a different worldview, or they really want to help you be better by examining your though process. I bet you had no idea all that was riding behind, “Wow – you just ate more than my kid brother after hockey practice, were you really that hungry?” This person is probably a little surprised you could hold that much food at one time, and is wondering if it is healthy for you to ingest that much at once. A question that is rooted in concern and surprise grows into a mess of judgment, blame, and guilt.

When we don’t understand things we ask for an explanation. Now, truth be told, I think that is a good thing. When you don’t understand or you are interested to know more you should ask questions and dig around a little bit to find answers and deeper understanding. But seeking understanding and seeking justification are two different things.

  • Understanding is non-threatening and is validating to us.
  • Justification is judgmental and harmful to both the asker and the person asked because of its sneak attack on personal worth.

Justification has become so ingrained into our culture that we often provide justification for the things we do without being asked. We are questioning our own self-worth before anyone else is. That is how deeply rooted this guilt-seed has become. You wear leggings and you have to say that it is because they are comfortable; you want to spend all Saturday watching your favorite show and that is ok because you worked a full 40 hr week. What is that like, to have to prove why your thoughts, feelings, and actions are valid? To have to prove that it is ok for you to be you at your best and worst times? I think that is kind of hard, and it takes your biggest advocate (YOU) and forces them to be your first critic.

When we have self-compassion and we cherish ourselves, then we know that we are innately worthy and that our choices are good just because they serve us well. You love leggings – so enjoy wearing them. You love your favorite show, so watch it relax!1


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Roadblocks in Goal Setting

So the last post was about creating a road map to setting your goals, making things easier for you to do the things you want to do by just doing a little bit of upfront work. There is another side to this though, we haven’t talked about the things that might get in your way. This happens to us time and time again where we are ready to do something and then out of left field – WHAM! We are stopped in our tracks because something comes up, someone objects to our forward motion, or life just happens.

Sometimes we can plan for these things and sometimes we can’t. Bills roadblockare predictable and we know in advance we will have to pay them but sometimes paychecks aren’t as reliable as we would like them to be, especially if you are on commission or part-time. Sometimes unexpected expenses come up, someone gets sick or the car breaks down. These things can really take the wind out of your sails.

Sometimes we are our own roadblock. How many times have you heard someone say “My diet starts on Monday,” or “I’ll won’t put off my paper until the last minute next time.” That all sounds like bologna to me, and if you are honest it will sound like bologna to you too. Roadblocks are a fact of life; they take us off guard and hinder our motivation to reach our goals. But they don’t have to keep you from getting to where you want to be!

Its all a question of priorities. Where are your priorities? Is your goal your priority or someone else’s? That is an important question because I guarantee that the only goals you will reach and sustain are the ones that you own and are at the top of your priority list.

If roadblocks have been a problem for you, despite great intentions and planning you can’t seem to make it all the way to your goal then here are some things to thing about.

  1. Decide who owns this goal. Like I said before, if this is important to you then we are on the right track. If this is someone else’s idea then do some soul searching and see if there is any part of this you can get behind. Maybe you don’t want to lose weight but you do want to live a healthier lifestyle. You don’t really care if the kitchen gets remodeled but you do want to cook more at home (and a new grill and range makes that a lot easier!).
  2. Identify what could get in your way. If you are trying to get better about keeping your books at work and having better accounting, then late nights might be a problem that would keep you from staying at work and getting it done. If you want to reduce your carbon foot-print by riding your bike to work, rainy days might really discourage you from pedaling for 4.3 miles.
  3. Make a plan for those roadblocks. When you have a solid list of the things that might get in your way, make a plan for what you will do when they come up (because they will). You can schedule an hour towards the end of the work day, during business hours to work on the accounts and books, assign other staff to take care of the other end-of-day tasks. When it rains be sure you know where the bus route is and grab the bus instead of driving or have a carpool worked out with co-workers.

The key to success with goals is planfulness and intention. When you plan ahead and you are invested in what you are doing, you will definitely reach the goals you set for yourself. And goals can be contagious! Once you reach one you can’t wait to set the next.1


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Taking the Guesswork Out of Goal Setting

goal-settingWe all have things we want to be able to do in our lives, and sometimes we end up getting to where we want to go. If we work hard, have a direction and remain focused things generally work out the way we had hoped. But not everyone is organized and focused, not everyone is able to maintain drive to get to where they really want to go. If you are that person sometimes things can seem overwhelming and you seem to constantly get distracted by life that your goals never seem to get any closer.

What if you created a road map for yourself? Took the difficulty of focusing right out and just followed the steps laid out for you? The good news is that this is actually pretty easy, but it does take some insight and some ability to look ahead. And then you will need to stay committed to it too; you need to follow your map. But here is how to make one.

  1. List what your goal is and when you would like to achieve it by. Be specific about this, if your goal is to worry less say something like: I will be ok with last minute changes to plans by the end of May 2014.
  2. Outline what qualities or skills you need to develop to make that a reality. If your goal is more task oriented, outline what steps you need to take to get things done. Following the example, you might need to develop flexibility, better communication regarding spontaneous changes, and better relaxation techniques.
  3. Write yourself a recipe for success. Give yourself deadlines when you would like to have developed your skills or complete your tasks by. When you pace yourself and are constantly checking in about when things should be moving along, a big goal seems so much more manageable.  You may want to have 2-3 great ways to relax by the end of January, be comfortable and effective in telling others that you are stressed or anxious by mid March, and be more flexible by May.
  4. Share your goal-map with someone who can keep you on track. This is like a workout buddy or an accountability partner. This should be someone you can count on and someone who is invested in your success! Find a time to check in every week or two weeks so they can give you encouragement and help you meet your goal.

By following this process you are taking the fuzzy edges around the things you know that you want for you life at some point in the future, and you are trimming them away, defining things and framing a new lifestyle for yourself.  When you start your outline process you will see how much more you can achieve and how doable your goals really are.1


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Out with the Old, In with the New

It is amazing what we can learn about life by listening to our bodies. I have been working on breathing a lot lately, especially when it comes to helping people deal with issues around anxiety and stress. When we get really worked up and our worry, our anxiety, starts to run the show then deep-breathwe don’t allow our body to fully exhale. The body hyperventilates and the breath is shallow. When that happens the inhale becomes rapid and short and the body doesn’t take in the oxygen it needs.

All of that is to say that when we breathe the way our bodies naturally breathe best (the kind of breath that occurs in deep, restful sleep) we are exhaling fully, emptying all of the air and breathing deeply to fill the lungs with fresh oxygen. When we take in that fresh oxygen we are giving our body another opportunity to sustain life, another opportunity to move forward. The complete exhale makes room for that deep inhale, that full opportunity, to happen.

What would it be like to draw a parallel between our breath and the way we look at life?

When we exhale fully we are letting go, shedding the air that no longer serves us, the air that has completed its task. When we let go we are freeing ourselves up for new and full opportunities. Sometimes it is difficult to do that, scary even. What if we aren’t able to take in enough air? What if we start to feel lightheaded and uncomfortable? There is something about holding onto the air we already have (as used as it may be) that is comforting. We want to hold onto it because it is familiar and it gives us the illusion of fullness.

If we don’t let go off that used, hot air, then we can’t fully take in the new, fresh air around us. Just the same, when we don’t let go of the things that no longer serve us, the stuff that is used, we aren’t able to fully pull in the opportunity to start again. To breathe in fully is the same as moving forward to new opportunities in our lives where we can be refreshed and fulfilled. By keeping old air in that space is to deny ourselves of the full opportunity to move forward.

Where in your life are you holding onto old, hot air that has already served its function? Are you wanting to feel better about your work performance but can’t let go of the comfort of letting others take the lead? Are you wanting to take your relationships to a new level but are hesitant to move forward? Are you wanting to start a healthier lifestyle but find that letting go of certain creature comforts is overwhelming?

For every space in your life where you feel afraid to fully let go of the old things that no longer serve you, consider what you have to gain by exhaling fully and inhaling the new possibilities. Is it worth the temporary discomfort to potentially move yourself to a new, fresh place? A place you have been wanting to go but have been hesitant to go there?1


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They are driving me crazy!: How to deal with Holiday Conflict with Family Members

Graphic from The Family Stone. A must-see family conflict flick!

With Thanksgiving over and family tucked safely back into their dwellings, some of you may be missing family already, while others may feel a slight sensation of relief that the whole Thanksgiving business is over….or a large sense of relief.  Not that we don’t love the holidays, (or our families) but sometimes, amongst other things, conflict between family members can cause stress and anxiety to pounce up unexpectedly.  While many of us hope for the idealistic family holiday, ala the picture of Jimmy Stewart surrounded by his family and friends at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, we do have to remember that even in that movie this came after a lot of conflict and soul-searching (Clarence didn’t get his wings for nothing!).   Family Conflict can come from a variety of places including unspoken & unresolved family events (Thursday’s Blog) and personal symptoms of holiday depression (Psychiatrist James Cattell called this in 1955 “Holiday Syndrome.” Next Tuesday’s blog) but can also come from our past creeping up on us like Scrooge’s “Ghost of Christmas Past.” 

Family Conflict can occur between family members that are decidedly different or remarkably the same, but either way, one thing is certain, and that is that in some way, the person that we are in conflict with is touching an emotional part of us that may be raw and aches to be protected.  Do you have unresolved conflict with your dad and suddenly your brother-in-law is acting just like him? Your family was a mess and your cousin’s perfect family shows up and you can’t understand why you can’t stand them? These events are mirrors of our past that challenge us to deal with our stuff.  Sometimes even very admirable characteristics in others hit a place in us that is vulnerable and we can become confused when we don’t understand why we are having such a reaction that seems so visceral.  This can be a result of them awakening in us parts of ourselves that either feels undeserving of what another has, not accepting of a piece of ourselves, or a misunderstanding of what that person represents in our lives.  When this occurs we react as if attacked (even if no danger of attack is present) in our flight, fight or freeze reactions, basically laying us out our adrenals as if we had been punched in the stomach.  This could also come from a feeling of lack, or a thought that we could never have  for ourselves what they have and that in accepting this part in ourselves we can feel decidedly weak, inferior or more vulnerable.

We can be reflecting pools for one another and when we look across the tables at those we love, those we have struggled with; we are looking at our own teachers, our own struggles, our own path. We have particular strengths and weaknesses for a reason and examining those as an integral part of what makes us “ourselves” can help us appreciate the ones that have been put on our path with us.  It also helps us accept ourselves as we are as well. 

Questions to ask when these feelings arise:

What particular behavior of theirs is driving me crazy? (Or does their entire person represent something or someone…and who or what is that?)

Does this behavior remind me of anyone?

What have I been told about this particular behavior and by whom?

Do I have any judgments surrounding that behavior?

Is their behavior a direct cause of something I did or is this due to them going through something unbeknownst to me OR are they acting just as themselves and I have the issue with their behavior?

Oftentimes if we can find the source of why someone is actually getting on our nerves we are better able to cope.  We also can learn a bit more about ourselves and learn to examine those areas which may seem a bit vulnerable….or at any rate, enjoy the Thanksgiving stuffing and avoid flying drumsticks. 

Finding Your Own Version of Normal

The more I spend time with other people, watching family interactions, or watching movies, I find that we all have our own definition of normal.

Family #1
where-credit-is-dueThis family knows that things are right on track when the oldest two kids are fighting with each other, the babies are crawling all over Mom and Dad hollers from the couch for everyone to settle down. The house is a general wreck because the baby’s toys are everywhere and Mom can never seem to get the kitchen fully in order. Dad has a “man cave” and when he gets home he retreats there for 20 min to pull himself together for the tornado that is home. Regardless of the chaos, you can feel the love (maybe not between the older two) and there is a lot of support for each other.

Family #2
family-room-lWhen you walk into their house everything is spotless, the house is well maintained and everything, while not new, is in its place. The children pick at each other when the adults aren’t around and make faces when Mom or Dad is in the room.  Mom and Dad never yell, they have a look that the kids know means trouble. It is quiet and orderly and instead of bear hugs and sloppy kisses, the children get a pat on the back and a soft kiss on the cheek. There is little to no physical contact but everyone still orients toward each other and there is a sense of safety.

Family 1 and 2 could not be more different, but neither way of interacting is wrong or better than the other. Each of our families have their own version of what normal is. We as individuals also have our own version of normal. Maybe you know your anxiety is normal when you have acid reflux as a symptom but when you start to feel tense in your chest and shoulders you know this is something serious.

By understanding what our usual is we are better able to notice when we have drifted off course and we are more likely to know what to do to fix it.

Where do things get weird for you? Is it in your family interactions? In you own stress levels? Is it your self-esteem?

Identify what the problem is likely to be. Then outline what your normal response is, the one that lets you know that this is your usual and you can handle it. Finally take note of whether or not you are drifting off course or if you are on target, if you are drifting see what needs to happen to bring yourself back to your version of normal.1


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Love Your Holiday: Prepare, Don’t Anticipate

Anticipation. This is the time of year for it. We are all excited for what is coming, we are adjusting our efforts and schedules to get things done so we can enjoy the payoff of the holidays. It is supposed to be fun and joyful – but is that what really happens? My guess is probably not. I highly doubt everything goes according to plan and that all of the stress ends up being worth it come January. You are left being stressed, broke, and maybe a bit disappointed. With all that anticipation, why didn’t things pan out the way you had hoped? What stopped your days from being merry and bright?

I think the A in Anxiety stands for anticipation. Anticipation is the feeling of strained excitement (can be negative or positive) that builds before an expected event or situation. When we set ourselves up to anticipate an event that we expect will be positive we are dropped to an all time low when it doesn’t met the Everest we were hoping for. On the other hand when we anticipate things will be stressful or bad (in-laws anyone?) we find that our anticipation is confirmed with a strained and stressful interaction.

If anticipation usually leads to a bad outcome with you feeling let down then how do we deal with that? How do we stop anticipating? The simple answer is “you don’t.” We are biologically wired to anticipate. There is something evolutionary in our make-up that helped us survive by anticipating so we were ready to protect ourselves, to seize opportunities, to act when called upon. So I hope that makes you feel a little bit better – we all do this.

The people who are successful at not letting their anticipation lead their experience have mastered to art of realistic thinking and maintaining a calm mind. So if you don’t want your anticipation leaving you feeling like you missed out on something, check in with the reality of the situation. What are the facts going into this event? What do you KNOW? When you have that sorted out, what are the likely outcomes based on history and your personal experience? Just try to take the rosy picture you have painted and stick it under some light. Examine the parts that may be a bit too rosy, too optimistic and make them more realistic.

Once you have your realistic picture, when you know what you are walking into, then trust yourself to handle it. Take peace in knowing that you are the best person to have in this situation and that you have done your homework on this. You’ve got this! Maybe it would be a more reassuring to see where you have more control for if things get hairy or uncomfortable. Do you need to drive separately so you can leave if you want? Maybe taking 15 min to make a phone call or check something would be just enough time to collect yourself.

The holidays are meant to be a time of joy where we can spend time with those we love. That always comes with its own bells and whistles, but when we prepare ourselves for the season’s events instead of anticipating them we can actually enjoy them like we want to.1


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Mastering Hard Conversations (Instead of Running from Hard Truths)

I hate having tough conversations. I will avoid a person for hours until I am able to figure out how to bring up a new subject or distract them (or mostly myself) from whatever the issue was. We have to have hard conversations all the time and with people that are important. It wouldn’t be a hard conversation if you just had to tell some stranger that they were a jerk. No, hard conversations are hard because they matter. They matter to us and they can cart the course of a relationship depending on how successful or royally awful they are in the end.


Hard conversations mark turning points in our lives. This is the difference between being a mom and her little girl and being a mother and adult daughter. Two friends go into a hard conversation and come out as bros, or feeling like sisters, the friendship is now lasting and more important to both people. A couple goes into a hard conversation and they come out stronger than ever.

A hard conversation means that growth and change is happening and those things are never comfortable. The way we feel going into these moments can be agonizing. The anxiety that builds up in your body makes you feel sick, your stomach flips, you get a headache, you keep clenching your fists, you clench your jaw, you can’t see straight. The anxiety builds until you either break down and talk about what’s bothering you, or you talk yourself out of it.

We already know what happens when you have the courage to say what needs to be said. But when you don’t, when you decide that you would rather avoid the point all together then things can get ugly. Avoidance sends a message to yourself that your feelings are not important enough to do something about. You are writing yourself off and your self worth takes a hit because of that. Avoidance also doesn’t take care of the issue, whether we pin it on ourselves for being out of line or upset without a good reason does not matter. We are still left with a pile of tension in the room and someone is going to have to wade though that sooner or later.

Obviously the best course is to build our courage to talk about what is bothering us.  And that is hard. I literally walked in and out of a room 3 times before I could talk to my mom about something that had been bothering me for years. Whatever you need to do before talking it out. Power pose maybe? But at any rate, how do you have these conversations well?

Give yourself some space and think about what you are really upset about.
You are not really mad that Joe didn’t do the dishes last night, you are mad because you feel like he doesn’t value your time.

Outline what your feelings really are and identify their trigger.
The trigger was not doing the dishes and while you still want them to get done that is not the real problem. Your feelings of being invalidated are the real problem and dirty dishes are a raw spot for that vulnerable feeling.

Use “I” statements to explain your feelings.
Finger pointing and emotional hurricanes accomplish nothing. They feel good for about 2 min and then you feel terrible. Use the template at the end of the post to tell the other person how you feel, when you feel that way, and why you felt that way.

Give them some space to process what you said.
Often when we talk about what we are really feeling, not the obvious “I am pissed because you left the dishes dirty. Again,” but the more subtle and honest, “I feel like my time isn’t important to you,” the other person has no idea they have hurt us. They know we are mad or that we are acting “weird” but they don’t know the depth of our pain. Give them time to let that sink in and space to ask for clarification. The people that mean the most to use don’t want us to feel hurt.

Follow those steps and that will get you started with the tough conversation. After that it is all up to you. You got this! After the ball gets rolling, things usually take care of themselves and words flow like the need to flow.1


“I feel ________________, when you __________________, because _____________________.”

Ex: “I feel angry when you don’t do the dishes at the end of the day because it seems to me that the time I spend working isn’t worthwhile enough and that I must also do the dishes to contribute to the family.”


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Cultivating Happiness

With Thanksgiving right around the corner I have been hearing a lot about being thankful and noticing where we can have an attitude of gratitude instead of dwelling on the things that we wish were better. If you have been reading anything I have posted you know I am a big fan of being proactive and intentional. Can you tell what is coming? That’s right – we are about to get intentional with our happiness and gratitude.

Yesterday Erin wrote a great post on keeping a Gratitude journal. It is an awesome idea and if you haven’t read the post please check it out here. It will be time well spent! I want to take that idea of noticing good things in our lives and take it a step further. How would it be if we created opportunities for ourselves that we are thankful for or that made us happy?

happinessHere’s the challenge: If you have been thinking how nice it would be to get together with family, to call up an old friend, go for a hike, whatever it is – I want you to make an opportunity for yourself to do just that! This does not need to be something that takes a lot of time or money or effort. Does it get any easier than that? A phone call takes minutes and is free. Spending time with your family can be a lot of fun and with the holidays coming up you have the perfect moment to get folks together to do something a little out of the ordinary.

There will always be a million things that we want to do and a million and one reasons why we shouldn’t go and do them. Those reasons that are keeping us from the things that make us happy are keeping you from cultivating an experience of joy. When you take care of everything else on your list but the thing that would make you smile or just feel good then you are doing yourself a disservice. You are your most important investment and when you take the time to take care of you then the other things on your list the things you need to accomplish will be so much easier to knock out.

Now taking time to invest in ourselves and as Erin put it to “build our family timehappy” is a difficult thing to do in today’s culture. We constantly hear that we need to do things for us, we are number one, but then we get a mixed message that we should not be selfish or self-serving. We need to be humble and still do everything to stay on top. That is confusing and it wears a body out! We are getting mixed messages and it is darn near impossible to please both sides. Of course we want to be able to be there for others and do avoid that selfish label like the plague, but we also want to be happy and do good things for us.

So how is this challenge of creating opportunities for happiness different from the cultural messages we are slammed with every day? I would venture to say that by cultivating a lifestyle of happiness through small experiences of joy we are setting ourselves up to be able to pour out to others. We proactively build our happiness through small attitude and action shifts and when we do that we have more energy to be our best with the people around us. Happiness is contagious and when we are happy, through shifting our attention to an attitude of gratitude or creating opportunities for happiness, the people we come into contact with have a prime example of how to cultivate happiness in their own lives as well.1


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