How to Develop Self-Care

Everywhere I look this month I see reminders of the upcoming holiday: bouquets of red, pink or yellow roses, heart shaped boxes of chocolate or other sweet confections, expensive greeting cards declaring love to a perfect valentine.

While I’m not necessarily cynical about this holiday (and will probably enjoy a nice dinner out to mark the occasion), I plan to celebrate a bit differently this year.

My word for 2017 is “Nourish,” and in that spirit I plan to focus this month on Self-Care.

The saying goes, “You can’t love others without loving yourself,” but I like Joyce Meyers’ expansion of that thought: “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others. You can’t give away what you don’t have.”

For me, the first step in learning to love myself is to accept God’s love for me.

I grew up in a legalistic society, where a good Christian girl followed all the rules and “Thou shalt nots” and never voiced any contrary thoughts. To me, God was a big accountant in the sky, keeping track of my debits and credits in his ledger book of life. No love or grace survived in this equation. Only harsh judgment and the wagging finger of shame as I continually fell short of heavenly expectations.

It has taken a long time to erase this warped view of my heavenly Father. And I must confess, at times it still comes into clear view. But over the past two years I have focused my Bible study on His Love for me, and His Grace and Mercy extended to me because of the blood of Jesus.

I now carry two verses of scripture in my heart at all times to remind me of this powerful love.

The first verse is found in John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.

Jesus did not die on the cross so I will feel defeated, despondent and hopeless. That is the voice of the enemy beating me down with his lies.

And Jesus did not die on the cross so I can merely exist or simply go through the motions. He came that I might experience the joy, excitement and adventure that life with Him offers.

A God who desires I live a full, rich, abundant life is a God who truly loves me. I can trust Him. The fact that the God of the universe chose to create me and desires to fellowship with me, means I am lovable.

The second verse is found in Matthew 23:12. I particularly relate to The Message translation: “If you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”

All God asks of me is that I be who He created me to be. I don’t have to be someone else. I don’t have to compete with others. I don’t need to change my temperament, physical appearance, or personal interests . I only need to accept myself (my strengths and weaknesses) and my life will have purpose. What a wonderful way to show love to myself as well as to my Creator!

While I continue to meditate on these scriptures, I have also adopted some pragmatic methods of promoting Self-Care.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways:

Treating my body and mind with love and respect.

  1. Drinking more water to stay hydrated
  2. Eating more nutritious foods that feed the body and the soul.
  3. Staying disciplined in an exercise routine. I want a strong core to help me overcome physical, mental and spiritual adversity.

Taking time to relax and rejuvenate in a purposeful way.

  1. Relaxing in a hot bath
  2. Reading a good book with a hot cup of tea
  3. Writing in my journal at a local coffee shop
  4. Taking myself on a date … window shopping, the library, the local museum, a movie
  5. Meeting a friend for lunch and sharing life stories
  6. Taking a stroll through the park – not a cardiovascular walk, but a leisurely stroll to admire nature and allow my thoughts to wander
  7. Purposefully spending money, rather than buying what I don’t need in an effort to fill a void
  8. Learning a new skill (like speaking Italian) rather than watching mindless television re-runs
  9. Keeping a gratitude journal – focusing on one positive event for each and every day
  10. Lighting a candle and enjoying its fragrance
  11. Playing soft music in the background (or loud music and dancing)
  12. Breathing deeply

Taking control of internal self-talk.

  1. Choosing to be joyful despite the circumstances
  2. Focusing on what is going right rather than solely what is going wrong
  3. Replacing critical thoughts with positive affirmations
  4. Acknowledging my effort rather than focusing solely on the outcome
  5. Thinking the best of myself (and others) rather than the worst
  6. Forgiving myself for making mistakes and being imperfect.
  7. Forgiving others for their imperfections

Eliminating unhealthy thought patterns

  1. Stop caring about what others think; focus on what God thinks of me
  2. Stop trying to please everyone. It is an impossible task.
  3. Stop comparing myself to others
  4. Stop fearing failure; the only real failure is not trying
  5. Stop taking everything personally; sometimes it isn’t about me
  6. Stop taking care of everyone else at the expense of my own needs
  7. Stop worrying about the future and instead trust God
  8. Stop squelching my dreams and instead believe Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

What about you? What are some practical ways you can develop more self-care? Accept God’s Valentine to you this year and show yourself a little Self-Love.

©2017 Molly Totoro for GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

11 Tips for Dealing with Holiday Grief

The lyrics from a famous Christmas song suggest December and Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.

Yet for women who are grieving, the holidays represent fresh sorrow. They do not feel joy nor do they want to find enjoyment at such a difficult time.

How do we survive the holiday season when everyone else acts like cheerful elves while all we want to do is curl up in the fetal position and forget?

Perhaps some of these tips will help:

Express Your Feelings.

It’s okay to grieve, even during Christmas. Others may not understand but you are not responsible for how they feel. You are only responsible for yourself and your own reactions.

Allow yourself the time and space to grieve – in whatever way is best for you. No one else can tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve.

Be with People You Trust.

Although it IS okay to grieve, it is also important not to isolate yourself too long. Surround yourself with a support group that encourages you and helps you through the grief. Choose friends and/or family who allow you to be real.

Embrace the Memories.

Hanging ornaments on the tree often brings back special memories. Or baking a special Christmasy treat may trigger the smells and textures of Christmas past with that wonderful someone.

Go ahead and make that special holiday food or play that favorite Christmas song. Remember the good times and be grateful for the time you had together.

Re-examine Your Priorities.

You do not have to do everything you once did to make the holidays special. This is the time for self-care, so eliminate any unnecessary stress.

Set realistic expectations. Simplify. You don’t need to finish thank you notes from the funeral and then send out a bunch of Christmas cards. Do only what feels right for you.

Take Care of Yourself.

It’s easy to eat too much of the wrong foods, drink too much and miss out on rest. Especially during the holidays and especially while you are grieving, take care of yourself.

But maybe you need to have a toast of rum-filled eggnog to best memorialize Grandpa. Or maybe you need to make some fudge to remember Mama. Enjoy the treats of the season – within moderation.

Self-care might also include getting away. Plan a trip to the mountains or the beach. Use your Christmas money to escape from the craziness all around you and the constant memories. Whatever you need to do, give yourself the grace of self-care.

Exercise.

This tip follows the idea of taking care of yourself. Perhaps this is NOT the time to schedule an intense workout at the gym, but what about a brisk walk in the cool air? Or a few minutes of yoga stretches?

The movement will clear your head, boost your endorphins and help you deal with the holiday stress. Just the movement of walking can keep us from diving into depression.

So grab a friend you trust and take a quick walk.

Remember, Christmas is just one day.

The holidays will soon be over and you can launch into a new year. This difficult season will be past and everything that happened to you will be a memory – part of your history.

Keep looking forward. Keep trusting God to complete the good plan he has for your life. Think about tomorrow and be grateful for the days ahead when everything won’t hurt quite so much.

Do What Feels Comfortable.

Set boundaries around your life. You do not have to meet everyone’s expectations. You do not have to be involved in the same activities as before. Do what you want to do – whatever feels comfortable to you.

Eliminate anything that feels stressful or too overwhelming to deal with now.

Create New Traditions.

Your world is not the same as before, but you still have the freedom to do whatever you want. Try something new and create a new holiday tradition.

A writer friend of mine lost her daughter to brain cancer. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, my friend takes a gift to the children’s hospital and gives it to the first little girl born on that day. She memorializes her daughter and blesses the new parents. She has created a new tradition around the holidays that helps her deal with her grief.

Do Something for Others.

One of the best ways to move beyond our grief is to consider the needs of others – just as my friend does every year. Think of ways you can bless someone else.

Visit a nursing home and adopt one of the residents for a few hours of joy. Make a treat for your neighbors – maybe something your loved one especially enjoyed baking and eating. Go caroling at a hospital and bless those who can’t leave for the holidays.

Move beyond your own grief for a moment and offer hope to someone else.

Consider Counseling.

If you’re feeling as if you can’t cope with the holidays, consider counseling. We have licensed, professional counselors at GateWay and we also have a Grief Recovery Program. We can help.

Take care of yourself by doing whatever is necessary to make it through the holidays and move forward with hope.

What about you? How do you cope with holiday grief?

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

How To Do Self-Care During Recovery

This blog post, written by our Program Director and Life Coach, recently appeared at www.angeladmeyer.com.

When one of our loved ones is working through an addictive behavior, the focus seems to be on him and his problem. After all, he’s the one who made these destructive choices, so he’s the one who needs to deal with the consequences.

However, recovery is a joint process – a journey for everyone in the family.

rjt - 2013 picWe can’t help our loved one if we aren’t in a healthy place ourselves. As the airlines know, Momma can’t help the children unless she first grabs the oxygen mask for herself.

So how do we find ways for self-care while our loved one is going through recovery?

We first have to admit we are holistic people. Our physical selves affect our mental capabilities and our spiritual health affects our emotions.

So let’s look at each of these aspects:

Physical

Taking care of our physical selves will help us have the energy to deal with this difficult situation.

It’s important to make nutritious meals, to stay away from the sugars that cause brain fog and keep us from thinking clearly.

Exercise will release healthy endorphins and give us the endurance we need for this long recovery journey.

Sometimes taking care of ourselves physically also means doing some extra good things for our bodies: massage, yoga, a mani/pedi or a new haircut.

Making sure we’re in bed at a decent time with a solid eight hours of sleep will help us deal with whatever we face the next day.

If we feel better physically, then we can deal with the mental battle we face.

Mental 

Keeping our brains healthy will enable us to make difficult decisions and set careful boundaries.

Nutrition does play a factor here. Including healthy herbs such as rosemary and turmeric can help keep our brains in working order.

Another way to increase self-care on the mental front is to have plenty of resources available. Research about his addiction helps us learn how to cope. Reading brochures, pamphlets or books about addictive behaviors increases our knowledge so we can make wise choices.

And taking the time to just read a good book will also refresh the brain. Angela’s Meyer’s 1st book, “Where Hope Starts” and the new one, “Where Healing Starts” are great examples of good books that also teach important points about addiction and recovery. Check out her books at: www.angeladmeyer.com.

Remember this maxim: whatever is good for the heart is also good for the brain.

Emotional

When we’re dealing with recovery, we experience a bucket full of emotions. Shame, regret, false-guilt, sadness, rejection, anger…to name just a few.

It’s important to acknowledge these emotions and realize it’s okay to be sad or mad. God made us emotional creatures, so when we feel these things – that means we’re being authentic.

But how can we deal with them? We need to honestly grieve what has happened to us and to our family. It may help to journal through the emotions or share with a good friend how you feel.

And counseling can also help. At GateWay of Hope, we offer counseling, coaching and support groups to help women deal with the difficult emotions of recovery.

As we take care of ourselves emotionally, we begin to heal and find that sacred place inside that needs God’s touch.

Spiritual

Many women who have journeyed through recovery with an addicted spouse recognize their true Husband and Maker is God (Isaiah 54:5). He is the one who will never reject them, never fail them and never abandon his covenant with them.

It’s possible to grow spiritually even while going through the consequences of a husband’s betrayal. And with God’s help, we can become stronger each day and eventually share what we have learned with others.

How do we make certain that self-care includes the spiritual aspect?

Stay deeply dependent on God. Trust him with all your heart. Tell him exactly how you feel, because he feels your emotions anyway.

Share prayer requests with your most trusted friends – those who will keep your requests confidential yet will pray for daily encouragement.

Spend extra time with God’s word and journal about what God tells you. The Psalms are a wonderful place to camp.

Be willing – in time – to consider forgiveness. This is a process and only God can teach us how to forgive those deep wounds. But if we’re at least willing to learn about forgiveness and to step forward in that direction, God will teach us how to release the pain.

As you’re going through this scary and difficult journey, take care of yourself. God still has a good plan for your life and you want to be healthy when he reveals it.

©2016 RJ Thesman

How to Care for Yourself After Sexual Assault

saam - women 3By now you probably know that GateWay of Hope is honoring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). In our first blog post this month we looked at who is affected and how it affects them. (Click here to read the previous post.) We also examined how to help prevent sexual assault/abuse. In our second post, we explored how both individuals and churches can offer support to survivors.

Before we consider today’s topic – caring for yourself – I want to add three more suggestions for walking beside a survivor of sexual trauma:

  • Acknowledge your own inadequacies – to yourself AND your friend. You don’t have to have the answers or solutions. You are not called to make everything okay. You are simply called to be there and offer love. It’s okay to feel weak and not know what to do. Now you know how your friend often feels.
  • Be willing to witness intense pain, multi-layered anger, and unanswerable questions. The kind of evil your friend has faced will be hard for you to hear and look at. You may be uncomfortable at times. You may also be triggered if you have your own unresolved pain. If that happens don’t ignore it, but take care of yourself. Know this will be hard for you as well as her.
  • Pray. Pray. Pray. This woman is in a battle for her life. She needs your prayers. But always ask her permission before you pray in her presence. She may be angry at God and not want to have anything to do with Him at this time. Don’t force God on her, but keep praying for her anyway.

Today’s blog post is for the woman who has survived the tragedy of sexual abuse or assault. If you don’t happen to be one of those women, thank God…but please keep reading. You too can learn something.

In our first blog post we learned sexual abuse affects our entire lives: bodies, emotions, relationships, thinking and spirits. In today’s post, I want to encourage you to take care of yourself in all of those areas! I know this will be hard because some of you may not think you are even worth taking care of. But that just isn’t true. You are valuable. You have worth. It’s time to take care of you.

  • Physically – Be kind and sensitive to your body. It has been through a lot and needs your care. But first you will need to acknowledge your body. For many of you who have faced sexual abuse/assault, you have disconnected yourself from your body to such an extent you hardly know it’s yours. Or if you do know, you may hate it. Some of you may be rolling your eyes or shaking your heads, but please hear me out. You know the basics such as: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, but I want to go beyond this to include your attitude toward your body. Reconnect to and appreciate your body. Embrace yourself.
  • Emotionally – Acknowledge how and what you feel: rage, grief, fear, numbness, helplessness, discouragement. These emotions are normal. You don’t need to act on them; just accept them. Many survivors are adept at pushing emotions down, trying to bury them, deny or ignore them. It doesn’t work…at least not long term. Until you acknowledge how you feel, you can’t do anything about it. Try journaling or talking with a trusted friend or counselor. Do some artwork that expresses your feelings. Here’s an exercise for you – identify what you are feeling and then assign a color that represents that emotion.
  • Relationally – So many survivors of sexual trauma find it difficult to trust – men, women, God, anyone. They also find it hard to say “No.” They want to be in relationship, but to do so feels unsafe. They must take a risk to be in relationships. So it is very important to learn how to know whom to trust. Take small, very small, steps. Not everyone is trustworthy and safe; but neither is everyone unsafe. Consider reading “Safe People” and “Boundaries” by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Or sign up for a Boundaries class at GateWay.
  • Cognitively – Lies, lies, lies. So many lies develop when you face trauma. Healing comes when you replace the lies with truth.

        In her book “On the Threshold of Hope” Diane Langberg writes, “All of our thinking has been shaped by the experiences and people in our lives.”  

Sexual assault impacts the way you think. Find a friend, pastor or counselor who can help you sort out the lies and then replace them with truth. Here at GateWay, we are ready to help you. And don’t forget to ask God to speak truth into your heart so you can displace the lies that are controlling you.

  • Spiritually – When scripture is twisted to sanction abuse, it keeps us from trusting God. Or when your father (or father figure) sexually abused you it seems impossible to trust God as your “Father.” But know that your heavenly Father is so very patient and, unlike your earthly father, God NEVER forces Himself on you. He will wait until you are ready. Be honest with Him because He can take your anger. Write out your prayers and questions to Him. He’d much rather have you be angry and honest than pretending to love and worship Him when you really just want to shake your fist and scream. I promise you, He loves you, even if you don’t love yourself. Please allow Him to comfort you in your fear, grief and pain.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, take care of yourself. At GateWay of Hope we are available to help you in any way. Please call 913.393.GATE (4283) or email (deborahs@gwhope.org). We are here for you.

©2016 Deborah Simon, LCPC – Director of Counseling – GateWay of Hope Deborah Simon

 

Keep the Balance

Is it possible to live a balanced life? imbalanced scale - attributed to Flaticon

Women play so many different roles in the course of a day: at home we are wife, mother, cook, homemaker, and chief bottle washer; at work we are employee as well as employer; at church we are active in ministry (often more than one); we strive to be the dutiful daughter and the available friend, and if there is any spare time, we might consider a bit of self-care.

I am exhausted just thinking about it.

So how do we find balance in the midst of all this activity?

Merriam-Webster defines balanced as being in harmonious arrangement. Really? Often my life seems at odds rather than in agreement, even though I have consulted countless books on time-management.

One suggestion I tried was to develop my perfect “ordinary” day. I thought if I intentionally focused on creating a balanced life, I could somehow manufacture its existence.

I meticulously planned each hour with the hope of achieving peace and productivity. Multi-tasking was the keyword; I reasoned if I combined activities for greater efficiency, I could do it all.

I was wrong.

I soon discovered doing it all and having it all are the antithesis of harmony; this logic only leads to overwhelming stress and feelings of not being good enough.

Even the best organizational efforts cannot account for daily emergencies outside our control. Soon the tyranny of the urgent began to dictate my schedule, which meant life’s priorities such as maintaining quality relationships and self-care were often neglected.

Eventually I learned the calendar was not going to give me the peace I desired. Only God could fulfill that need.

This required I put aside others’ expectations and instead accept myself as the person God created. I needed to take an honest assessment of my core values and beliefs and learn to live my authentic life.

Unfortunately, this required I release a few strongholds, like perfectionism. I learned the homemade meal was not as important as sharing time with one another around the kitchen table; I accepted my daily walk was far more valuable than a showcase home; I traded in the accolades of “I don’t know how she does it all” for a sense of peace at the end of the day.

I also had to learn to say, “No,” which came with the risk of disappointing others.

While I know all ministry is important, I realized I did not have to do it all myself. By focusing on my core values and spiritual gifts, I could say, “Yes” to the few that clearly resonated with me, and feel free to say, “No” to others.

This not only eliminated stress and resentment in my life, but it allowed someone else the opportunity to serve.

Philippians 4:13 says: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

This does not mean I must do all things, but rather, all things God calls me to do. By discerning the things that fit my core values, spiritual strengths, and authentic self, God will give me the strength, time and patience to complete them.

His way is the only way to achieve a balanced, harmonious life.

©2015 Molly Totoro
Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Milestone Memoirs, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations. Molly shares the importance of leaving a legacy at Stepping Stones Publications, and she frequently blogs at My Cozy Book Nook.

Image attributed to Flaticon.

Why Chocolate is Important to Women

“An apple a day will keep the doctor away” … but what about an ounce of chocolate? Recent research supports this claim.choc torte

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate made with a minimum of 70% cocoa, and eaten in moderation, actually improves physical and mental health.

• Chocolate lowers blood pressure. Cocoa flavanols help arteries to relax, which in turn reduces blood pressure.

• Chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke. Cocoa powder extract helps prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad cholesterol), which means less cholesterol that blocks arteries.

• Chocolate is rich in antioxidants, which helps prevent certain types of cancers and slows the signs of aging.

• Chocolate is high in fiber, which helps us feel fuller faster. We are less likely to eat more because our hunger is satiated.

• Chocolate increases serotonin levels, which helps us feel happier and less depressed. We are better able to gain a proper perspective on life rather than feel overwhelmed or anxious.

So we see the scientific evidence for the importance of chocolate, but what about the emotional impact?

The 21st century woman is often so busy taking care of others she forgets to tend to her own needs. She gives 100% to work, children, spouse, and ministry with little leftover for self-care.

Over a prolonged period of time, continued self-sacrifice can have damaging effects; she is no longer able to care for others because she has not cared for herself.

The airline industry recognizes this need for putting ourselves first. Emergency protocol dictates the adult place an oxygen mask over her face before trying to assist others.

Meeting our personal needs is not selfish; rather, it is essential to maintaining good health so we can be of value and service to the Lord’s purpose for our lives.

Carve out a bit of time each day for self-care. This would include time for daily exercise, a good night’s sleep, and a bit of chocolate. Give yourself permission to indulge and take time to savor the experience.

Slowly unwrap the foil square with child-like anticipation. Allow the aroma to whet your appetite. Hold it in your hand, perhaps allowing it to melt a bit on your fingertips; savor that last bit at the end.

Try these two methods of eating chocolate: you can put the entire piece in your mouth at one time, or you can nibble small bites over a prolonged period of time.

Whichever way you choose, close your eyes, rest in the moment, and take time to savor the experience. Allow the morsel to slowly melt. Feel the cream as it gradually coats your tongue.

Notice the complexity of flavors…how many can you name? Like a fine wine, chocolate provides a variety of taste experiences. The initial attack may be bittersweet, but the finish will linger with a developing aftertaste.

Once the candy is gone, remain in the moment a while longer. Relax, breathe deeply, and thank the Lord for sweet indulgences that are not only good, but good for you.

©2015 Molly Totoro
Molly Totoro is a writer and a recently retired English teacher who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share” and is currently establishing a ministry, Milestone Memoirs, where she helps others discover and write their stories to impact future generations. Molly shares the importance of leaving a legacy at Stepping Stone Publications, and she frequently blogs at My Cozy Book Nook.