You are a unique combination of experiences, perspectives, values, talents and strengths. Of all the people in the world, there is not one person exactly like you. You are a rare and valuable gem. Flaws, faults, failures and all. You are still special. Just the fact that you are still standing, still trying, still fighting for your dreams and goals, still finding joy in big things and small, still seeking out things to strive for and laugh about…in spite of everything. That’s your evidence. Remember that when tapes of old stories play in your head and consume you with worry that you should give up because of every real and imagined thing you think is wrong with you and your life. You are worth fighting for, no matter what has happened in your past. No matter what comes your way remember that there is nothing common about you. You are special and you are equal to any challenge. It matters not what anybody else around you has accomplished. You are uniquely you. You may have to stop, rest, get help and regroup to get through but you are equal to the challenge and get through is what you will do. And so it is.
Care for yourself at least as well as you care for your cell phone. Plug into a source that restores you every day. People need to be recharged, too.
Why does it feel so hard to say no? Some common reasons are:
- It makes me feel strong, proud and important when others turn to me.
- I am afraid of starting a conflict or hurting the other person’s feelings if I say no.
- I worry that I might lose the relationship if I say no.
- I am embarrassed to say I don’t have the money if I can’t afford to lend it.
- I don’t feel like I have the right to refuse.
- I want to help.
- I always say yes, I can’t just start saying no now.
- I feel guilty when I say no.
If any of those reasons sounds like you, here are some suggestions for learning to say no.
- Practice letting yourself feel uncomfortable. Saying yes to someone else only because you feel guilty is a way of saying no to yourself, your goals and your needs.
- Establish short and long-term goals that you share with others. If no is not yet a complete sentence for you, it may be easier to refuse with a reason that points to your goals so it is clear you are being purposeful rather than mean.
- Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. For example, I can’t loan you money but I can help you brainstorm alternative solutions or explore other resources.
- Especially if you feel pressured, delay your response until you’ve had a chance to review the situation.
- Remember that you don’t have to rescue or save everyone all the time. Sometimes, deciding why your needs are important is the priority.
- Offer a compassionate no. Acknowledge the need and express regret that you are unable to help in the way requested.
- Remind yourself that your value lies not in what you are able to do for someone or give to someone. You are valuable just because you are you.
It is nice to splurge when you have a little extra cash. It is important to save, too. Decide to use a portion of your refund to make your financial life a bit more secure. Here are some ideas:
- Create an emergency fund. Put at least $500 ($1,000 if you can) in an account that you never touch unless there is a dire emergency – as in rent, utilities or repairs on a car you need to get to work. Add something to the fund – even as little as $2.00 every time you get paid. You can also open a retirement account. Start saving with myRA, a retirement savings account from the United States Department of the Treasury. No costs or fees, no complicated investment options, no risk of losing money. Don’t worry, you can withdraw your money without penalty if you need to. Learn more at myra.gov.
- Pay down debts – if you have outstanding utility bills, medical bills, student loans, etc., now is the time to negotiate with creditors. Ask if they will accept a smaller, lump sum amount to pay the debt off so it doesn’t get in your way later. If you have a lot of debt that you do not realistically expect to be able to repay, consider using the money to file for bankruptcy. Talk with a credit counselor first, ClearPoint, formerly CredAbility, is a good resource – credibility.org. You may also qualify for an income based student loan repayment plan. In December of 2012, Obama signed into law a federal student debt relief plan called Pay As You Earn — PAYE for short. The program limits your monthly payment to 10 percent of your discretionary income. You may even qualify for loan forgiveness. Learn more at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/paying-for-college/repay-student-debt/
- Invest in your car – if your vehicle has been needing work, get it done now so you don’t find yourself on the side of the road later.
- Pay off any evictions – This is really important because you will be in a stronger position to rent when you are ready. Ask if you can pay a reduced amount. Get payment documentation in writing. Check your report for free at annualcreditreport.com to be sure derogatory rental history has been removed.
- Pay off fines – pay off or catch up any tickets, fines or probation fees.
- Buy a washer and dryer – trips to the Laundromat can be a drag. This may be the time to invest if your home has connections.
- Pay your car insurance in advance for the year. You might also make rent or car payments ahead, just be sure the creditor understands your intentions and credits the payments properly.
- Invest in your health – maybe you have put off visits to the doctor or dentist because you didn’t have insurance. Use a portion of your refund to have your body and teeth checked out.
- Invest in yourself – maybe you have been wanting to get your CNA, GED, or learn to be a bartender or hair stylist. Now is the time to get trained and licensed.
- Start a small business – do you crochet, make plates or jewelry? Use a little money to invest in some supplies. Use the proceeds to buy a few more. Get a PayPal account and sell your goods on Etsy, Amazon or eBay.
About self help
Whether you are completing exercises in a workbook, reading the latest self-help book or article, or organizing a peer counseling/support group (may also be called a sister circle), you are engaging in self-help strategies. Self-help is a powerful emotional health tool because it requires an active, ongoing choice to face and work through challenges you are facing. Choosing self-help is like saying to a problem or challenge, I am still in charge of my life.
Take Action! Set up your own sister circle
Choose 2 or 3 other women and decide together what your circle will be like. Some ideas to discuss:
- Shared values around confidentiality and trust
- Meetings (when, how often, where, how long)
- Group goals (will your circle focus on a particular topic or problem like getting out of debt, parenting, or will it be more general)
- Expected commitment(s) from group members, etc.
You may need to revisit the values conversation periodically until you find just the right group groove. Sister circles are a great way to invest in your well-being, be accountable for your choices and goals as well as be heard.
Why not give it a try?
There is no one right way to ask for or get support. The only thing you can do wrong when it comes to support is try to do without it. No matter how strong, smart, talented or resourceful you are, you need the support of others. Even if it has been difficult in the past, don’t be afraid to rely on support. Look for support among friends, co-workers and family.
Be careful to choose people that care about you and are emotionally healthy enough to give and receive support. You can also look for support from strangers, such as in a support group.
What is a support group?
A support group is a gathering of people around a problem, period or theme for the purpose of sharing ideas, encouragement, resources and experiences.
Support groups are great because they:
- Are good places to be heard. Use this time to be honest about what is on your mind, what you need and how you are feeling.
- Offer safe space to explore your feelings. Chances are someone in the group has felt the same way and can relate.
- Are places where people know what you are going through. It is easy to feel isolated or like you are alone when you don’t have support.
- Can help you get unstuck because you are sharing information and ideas that give you motivation to move.
- Support ongoing personal development because you get encouragement to try something different.
- Are a great chance to give and get a pat on the back.
Find support groups at local community centers, at non-profit agencies, in the local paper, online, in faith communities or through employee assistance programs. Or you can start your own support group.
As promised, eight more self-care tips for protecting your emotional health:
- Decide that there is no real value in always putting yourself last. In fact, it is important to sometimes put yourself first, even if you are a parent.
- Know it is okay to expect happiness in your daily life. Look for small pleasures you can be grateful for and relish throughout each day.
- Rest your mind. Spend time regularly in meditation, prayer or silence. Commit to this practice even if your life is very busy or doing so feels strange. You may even be surprised to find that you feel calmer, more productive and focused. Start simply by taking three or four deep breaths each time you visit the bathroom. Or you might set your alarm clock ten minutes earlier every morning to pray or meditate.
- Avoid people, places, media and situations that leave you feeling bad or drained. Protecting your time and space is one of the most important ways to practice self-care.
- Set up and honor personal boundaries. Yes, you can say “no” sometimes without bringing the world to an end.
- Be deliberate. Do things that don’t contradict what you say is important to you.
- Give yourself a break. The next time that voice in your head starts bad-mouthing you or putting you down, tell it to STOP. Choose an affirmation and repeat it for calm and comfort.
- Keep a journal, sing, color, dance, create…
Take Action Challenge: How will you practice self-care?
Tomorrow…the next building block for protecting your emotional health – support.
We all understand the importance of protecting our physical health by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and adequate rest. What we don’t think about as much is the importance of protecting our emotional health. Taking care of our emotional health is important because our attitudes, how and what we think, play a big part in shaping our experiences, our worldview and even our accomplishments.
Just like the food pyramid is designed to help us make the best dietary choices for our physical health, the personal care pyramid helps us make the best choices for our emotional health. The building blocks of the pyramid are self-care, support and self-help.
Much as the words suggest, self-care is about finding ways to gentle, loving, affirming, nurturing, supportive and encouraging of ourselves. There are many ways to practice self-care. Here are some suggestions:
- Check in with yourself throughout the day. What thoughts and feelings have been coming up most for you? Can you identify their source? Is there anything you need or are ready to do about your feelings? Pay attention to how you are feeling and what you are saying to yourself.
- Take regular, deep breaths. Sometimes this is all it takes to calm and refocus yourself. It is okay to do this several times a day. Know what works for you and when you need a time out.
- Make your emotional well-being a priority – you are important enough and no matter how busy you are, you have the time. Decide to make time for things that nurture and restore you.
Check back tomorrow for eight more self-care tips and later in the week for more about support and self-help.
Everything that matters is still true. I used to use these words as salve when some small thing, in the larger scheme of things, went wrong. This patch of perspective covered it all. I relied on my raft of words to keep me afloat when troubles, real and imagined, threatened to overtake me. A wildly expensive repair bill, minor irritation, major disappointment… uncomfortable feelings didn’t fester too long with my mantra as salve. Nothing else really mattered as long as dear ones were safe, healthy and well.
Then my brother died.
It happened in the wee hours of a September Saturday. Even before I arrived at the dawn darkened course or took my first step of the Singleton 10-miler, Brad was dead.
The weather was deceptively beautiful. It gave nothing away. Everything that mattered was not still true, but the gentle breeze carried no signs. I crossed off each race mile in blissful ignorance.
I have heard others talk about the sudden death of one beloved. They speak of signs. I knew something was wrong, they brag proudly, holding up their angst. It is evidence of their bond, unassailable and true, with the loved one, cruelly lost. I expected to know, too. But I didn’t. Me, the oldest sister who read Brad bedtime stories as boy, welcomed him for summer visits as a teen and admired his kindness as a man.
My brother died as I slept undisturbed then later toed the start line thinking only of the finish – not his life, already ended. I did not feel any shift or change. I did not dream or startle and bolt upright. I had no hint from my heart or bones. I did not know until the calls came.
They started in the check-out line at Sam’s club. Race participants had parked there before the store opened to the usual throngs eager to check Saturday chores off their lists. Until the calls came, I had counted myself among them – an ordinary person doing ordinary things on an ordinary day.
The cashier looked giddy with surprise. Her pitch had landed a “yes.” Sure, I said. I’ll upgrade my membership to Advantage Plus. You’ll save four dollars on your paper towels today, she said, eager to assure me I had made a wise choice. The phone buzzed in my pocket. It stopped and started again immediately, insistently. I pulled it out, five missed calls, and knew… something was wrong. My sister doesn’t ever call on a Saturday morning, and never so many times in a row.
Filling the gas tank, usually a dreaded chore was a welcome task then. I needed time, just a few minutes more with the pretend comfort of willful ignorance. The tank filled too quickly. I had to call back. Stalling hadn’t helped though, my brother was dead.
Brad died on September 24, 2011. He would have been 36 on his birthday, just two days later. Instead of celebrating we mourned. No, we didn’t really. The shock was still so fresh. We didn’t fully understand yet how vacant the space he occupied in our lives would be. We could still torture ourselves by pretending it wasn’t true that he would be separated from us forever.
Now I need new comfort words.
I am without protection from life’s upsets. Something that mattered is no longer true. A dear one, my younger brother, is not safe or healthy or well. My brother is dead, and I am left without my mantra to steady myself on grief’s rocky path.
When there’s an anxiety-producing event looming – an important presentation, dental surgery, a first date – you can start to calm your nerves the day before with this exercise. Close your eyes and gently bring your lips together. Inhale through your nose. As you exhale (also through your nose), make a humming sound: “Mmmmmm.” Let this hum last as long as it is comfortable. Then inhale and repeat. Don’t try to control it too much. Just breathe in and hum out. If you try to extend the hum longer than is natural, you might tighten up. Play with the tone until you find the place where your “mmmmmm” flows out in a comfortable, lowish pitch, audible but quiet enough that no one except, say, the person right next to you on the bus would hear it. The humming breath has a way of loosening your jaw, mouth, lips, and tongue – areas that tend to tense up when you’re nervous. Once you’ve found your hum, repeat it whenever you start to feel anxious – whether you’re standing, sitting, or walking. Let it be easy and fun. Over the course of the day, the soothing effect will build, helping you become more and more relaxed for the big event.
Exercise by Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga. Taken from Real Simple Magazine, September 2015