#selfcaresaturdays

Self-Care Saturdays: Revitalize Your Relationship With God

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In light of Easter this past weekend, I’ve been reflecting on my personal experience of fostering relationship with God the past several years.  I’ve walked spiritual ruts and struggled to find the motivation or energy to connect with God.  I’ve had moments of joy and delight in my spiritual life as well.  As we know from Steps Two and Three in 12 Step recovery, relationship with God is a crucial component of healing and redemption.

What does relationship with God look like for you?

I love the terminology of relationship with God. I worry that others might see my faith as a type of religious exercise: I go to church, read my Bible, and “do the right thing.”  It feels like a checklist of what being religious means.  Sadly, it’s easy to miss the depth of my relationship with God, which is infinitely more valuable and motivating than any dry list of rules.

When I put my spiritual life in the context of relationship rather than rules, it takes on an entirely different flavor.  Relationship with God makes Him real to me.  I can grow closer to Him, learn more about Him, share my hopes and dreams, and feel comforted and cared for by Him.  In the Bible, God personifies Himself and uses relationships on earth as examples of His relationship with us. 

In moments when I am struggling with anxiety or depression, it isn’t a set of rules or following a religious structure that keeps me sane.  It’s trusting in a God who I know loves me and desires good for me, even when the good He gives doesn’t always match up with what I want.  It is a God who sees me, hears me, knows me, and provides for me as He says in Scripture.  When I open my eyes up to that God, I truly want to get to know Him better.

How do I get to know God in this way?

There have been books upon books written about spiritual disciplines, or ways that we can attempt to know God more fully.  (The Celebration of Discipline* by Richard Foster and Discovering Our Spiritual Identity* by Trevor Hudson are two personal favorites of mine.) I am certainly no expert on spiritual disciplines, but I can share ideas to jump start your relationship with God.

Identify what’s in the way of relating to God and submit it to Him.

What do you put in the place of God in your life?  What are the areas of your life that give you value, identity, or worth?  What, if taken away from you, would devastate you to the point where you wouldn’t feel like you could go on?  We all have a tendency to put things before God in our lives.  Timothy Keller calls this tendency idolatry, defining it by saying “it means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing.”

When I realize my heart's tendency to drift away from God toward other sources of identity or purpose, I can tell I’m moving toward idolatry.  When money, power, comfort, success, relationships, or any other area of my life becomes a higher priority than my relationship with God, I know I need to take a step back.  I need to acknowledge that each of those areas is a gift and a blessing from God, and not worship it in place of God.  I need to know that my value comes from my relationship with God alone, not from these areas.  An impactful resource in realizing my own struggles in this area has been the book Idol Lies* by Dee Brestin. 

Interact with the Word of God.

In order for us to have a relationship with God, we need to know Him.  The most straightforward way God has revealed Himself to us is through His word.  Bible study and reading is a regular way to get to know God.  But sometimes, reading the Bible can feel like a chore.

To break out of that rut, I’ve enjoyed reading the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as if I’m getting to know the person of Jesus.  Take some time to imagine yourself in the scenes: what would it feel like to watch the crowds gathering around Jesus?  What would go through your mind when you saw him give blind men their sight, or heal the crippled?  Would you try to get close to Him?  What would you say to Him, if you could?

Meditating on Scripture can be another great practice to help you engage with the Bible.  Choose a passage or verse that speaks to you, and reflect on it in prayer.  Journal about it.  Practice lectio divina, a reflection practice walking through stages of engaging with Scripture.

Pick up a reading plan that works for you.  The Bible app has plenty of resources, but I also have recently been loving the First 5 app.  This resource provides studies and teachings specific to certain books of the Bible, and I appreciate the mix of Bible study and devotional.  I’ve also heard great things about The Bible Project, where each book of the Bible has an illustrated summary video to help you visualize the story in a new way.

Set aside time to rest and be with God, thanking Him and sharing your heart with Him.

Make space in your schedule to pursue relationship with God.  For some, this may look like a daily time set aside for prayer, journaling, and reading Scripture.  For others, this might look like an hour or two on a weekend spent with Jesus.  Maybe you can devote an entire Sabbath day to spend with the Lord.  Set aside time for “dates with Jesus” and spend time doing date-like activities with the Lord.

Prayer is an excellent way to communicate with God, but it doesn’t have to be kneeling down in a pew and saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Talk to God in the way you would talk to your best friend.  Journaling prayers is helpful if your mind tends to drift.  If the weather is nice, go outside and take a prayer walk, thanking God for the beauty of nature around you.

One aspect of prayer that has become more and more vital in my spiritual life has been gratitude.  Expressing gratitude to God for the gifts He’s given to me immediately puts perspective on difficult situations I’m facing or ways I feel unhappy about my life.  Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to foster this awareness of gratitude: no matter how difficult my life circumstance is, I can always make a list of 10 things I am grateful for.

Sacrifice generously to remind yourself that all is a gift.

We live in a world and a culture where we have more at our fingertips than at any time in the past.  Americans are in the upper tier of wealth in the world.  I tend to forget these facts when I’m worried about money or complaining about what I don’t have.  But if I can choose to use my privilege for the good of others through giving generously of my time, talents, and finances, I am reminded of how much I have and how it is all a gift from God.

Another way to access this awareness and gratitude for what we have is through fasting.  I’m not particularly fond of fasting from food: some people can do it well, but my blood sugar tanks and I feel terrible if I don’t eat.  But I can still choose to fast from other things, like coffee, TV, movies, restaurants…you name it.  I can use the time I would normally spend in these areas to spend with God and connect with Him. 

Seek out community with other Christians.

Connecting with other people who are curious about God and desiring to grow spiritually can be an immensely helpful way to build up your spiritual life.  The first step toward community is attending a local church and getting to know the members through volunteering or joining a Bible study.  As you begin to forge relationships with these other believers, you are able to see unique ways God is reflected in them.

As you build these relationships, you can have open and honest conversations with others about relationship with God.  You can share meals together, help one another in times of need, and receive support when you’re going through difficulties.  You can laugh together, cry together, and forge deep relationships that demonstrate the nature of relationship with God.

Invite God into your daily life.

Look for moments throughout your day when you can connect with God.  Maybe you can pray at the same time as completing a routine, mindless daily task, like brushing your teeth or waiting for your coffee to brew.  You can incorporate worship music into your daily commute or workout.  You can listen to sermons while doing busy work or cleaning.  Look for ways in which you can engage with God while you’re doing other tasks.

 

As a warning: if any of these spiritual practices begin to feel like rules rather than a way to grow closer to God, give them a rest for a time.  Remind yourself that God is the one drawing you to relationship with Him, and that you aren’t responsible for making it happen.  There is nothing that you can do that will make God love you more - these are simply practices intended to lead to to greater awareness of His presence and felt closeness to Him.

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Are you struggling to relate to God?  Do you have a hard time seeing God in a personal way?  Are you tired of going through the motions of religious practices, but not feeling any connection to God?  I believe that fostering growth in relationship with God is a crucial aspect of self-care.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Ann Arbor to heal from sex and love addiction, depression, anxiety, and stress. I believe your spiritual life is an important part of healing from these areas of pain in your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can support you.

 

 

*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Self-Care Saturdays: Living In Tune with Your Desire and Passion

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

What is the thing you desire most in the world?  What gets you out of bed in the morning?  What events or experiences lead to the most anticipation in you?  The most excitement?  What do you enjoy doing above all else?  What do you feel called to do?  What are you made for?

When we think about desire and passion, it can lead to happiness and daydreaming about what you want your future to look like.  Or it may stir up painful emotions.  You might not be able to answer the questions, or you feel that your current life does not reflect your desires and passions.

How do we define desire and passion?

Merriam Webster defines passion as ardent affection; a strong liking or desire or devotion to some activity, object or concept; sexual desire; or an object of desire or deep interest.  On a different vein, desire is defined as a conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment; something longed or hoped for.

It is interesting that both desire and passion are connected to sexuality or intimacy.  Our sexuality is linked the core of who we are as human beings, to our identity.  Therefore, these passions and desires link into the core of our beings.  However, desire and passion often become warped when they involve constantly searching and striving for that which we desire, just to find that it is disappointing.  Desire and passion need to be tempered so that they do not transform into an addiction to the desired object.

We might respond to the awakening of desire in ourselves negatively, fearing the potential outcomes.  Avoidance and numbness soon follow, but the desires don’t disappear.  Instead, they demand to be expressed, often in the form of addictions.  This addiction numbs and gets rid of the longing, but is only a temporary fix, and the desires rear their heads again soon after.  When we truly get in touch with our desires, we actually protect ourselves from the ways in which that hunger can spill out sideways into addictive behaviors.

Developing desire will be a painful process.  Connecting with our desires and passion can lead to longing and grief as we realize areas where we haven’t been able to experience their fulfillment.  This is why we tend to avoid and numb out when we feel desire come up.  But ultimately, living into our desires gives us a deeper and more meaningful life.

How do I cultivate a life filled with passion and desire?

Identify the moments throughout your life when you’ve felt most alive.

Look for the moments of wonder or awe you’ve experienced in your life.  Pay attention to experiences at work or at play where you’ve felt the power of flow.  Imagine yourself stepping back into memories of feeling alive.  What happened?  How did you feel?  Who was there?  Reflect about moments in your memory of vivid happiness as a child: what images, experiences, or times do you remember most vividly?  Where have you felt an unexpected surge of emotion, maybe while watching a film or reading a novel?  Out in nature?  Sitting across from a friend over coffee?

Consider the moments in your life when you’ve felt the most numb.

Identifying the moments when our hearts have felt dead can actually provide a window into desire.  We avoid desire and dilute our passion by numbing because of the pain that comes with desires.  Where are the areas in which you have numbed yourself to what is good?  Where have you looked at a beautiful sunset or a mountainous landscape and felt nothing?  Answers to these questions can hint at the areas that are closest to your heart.  What is your go-to numbing strategy?  Where do you dissociate? Pay attention to moments when you’ve felt apathetic.

List the losses you’ve experienced that have been the most painful.

These losses could include the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship or marriage, or the loss of a job or dream.  What did you desire to have happen in those times?  What do you regret, or wish you could go back and change?  Where have you felt disappointed?  Where has hope felt lost?  The people, experiences, or things that are valuable to us are often the most painful to lose.  As we pay attention to these losses, we can become more aware of areas of desire.

Listen to what you want.

Often, we weren’t given the freedom to be able to have what we want.  Maybe you grew up with strict parents or teachers, or had financial limitations that prevented you from attending the school you wanted.  When we experience disappointment of our desires and feel numb as a result, we can become comfortable in doing what is “right” or what is expected of us.  This can lead into the trap of perfectionism.  Instead, pay attention to the things you truly want to do.

Write about the live you wish you could live.

We often dream about a different career or become interested in a new skill or hobby that may or may not have anything to do with our present career or vocation.  What is your dream job?  Is it where you work, or elsewhere?  If you could have a do-over in life, what would look different?  What do you feel called to do?  What are you made for?  Write a story, a journal entry, or even just a list of what you wish your life could look like.  Are you able to take steps to make that dream a reality?

Step outside of the daily grind and into an area of passion.

The drudgery of day to day life drags us down and tells us that we can never truly have what we desire.  It is so easy for our passion to be dulled and numbed as face responsibilities.  To find the passion again, we have to be intentional about eliminating busy-ness and avoiding situations in which we feel we have to do something for performance’s sake or because it is “right.”  Maybe even things you enjoyed at one time have begun to feel like a burden or chore.  As you begin to say “no” or give up those areas more and more, you’ll be able to find the enjoyment anew in those activities.  As you release the control that comes with perfectionism, you’re able to trust.

Finally, cultivate patience.

Desire and passion stir up a longing for what is not yet here, and may or may not come.  No wonder it is scary to go there!  As you begin to become aware of these desires, step into what it might feel like to wait.  Yes, it is painful.  No, it is not easy.  But being aware of our desires and willing to walk into the potential pain of not yet receiving them brings us a sense of life and authentic joy.

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Are you consumed by desires that feel so big and powerful that you can’t control them?  Or are you caught in a pattern of avoidance and feeling numb?  Do you even know what you desire or are passionate about?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Ann Arbor to help you listen to your life in a way that allows you to recognize your desire and begin to create space for passion in your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help. 

Self-Care Saturdays: Take a Mindful Moment

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays!.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Mindfulness is a trendy topic mentioned often by psychologists these days.  Over the past few years my curiosity about mindfulness has been peaked, and I’ve tried out meditation, yoga, and other stress-relieving activities to see what all the buzz is about.

And I’ve found that the reason mindfulness is so popular is that it works.

As I’ve been growing my counseling private practice and seeking to achieve balance between my business schedule and personal commitments, I’ve realized that stress is a common factor in my daily life.  Since research has shown that mindfulness benefits healthcare professionals, I thought I’d give it a go.

I picked up a month-long yoga practice this past month on Yoga with Adriene, and I truly believe it has changed my life.  Doing yoga daily creates space for me to intentionally slow down, practice breathing deeply, and grow in conscious awareness of my body and how I hold myself throughout my day.  My goal for the month was to feel better, and I certainly did.

What is mindfulness?  How does it benefit me?

If your concept of mindfulness includes the image of a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged and letting out a few “om”s, you’re likely not alone.  Mindfulness, however, is a much broader reaching practice than just these examples.  Mindfulness is defined as a state of conscious awareness in the present moment without judgment.  You can practice mindfulness while you’re walking down the street, driving in your car, or playing with your children.

A multitude of studies completed in recent years show all the health benefits of mindfulness.  It reduces stress and improves mood, likely due to slowing down the fight-or-flight stress response.  Mindfulness increases focus and attention, which then links to an improvement in job performance.  It leads to a reduction in symptoms of chronic pain and has shown positive benefits with cancer patients’ recovery.  For recovering addicts, doing mindful practices actually encourage change in the brain structures that have been formed through addiction.  It also offers benefits to those who suffer from depression or overly intense emotions.

What about the benefits of yoga?

Yoga is one major way to target those benefits of mindfulness, but it also carries its own positive effects.  Yoga can be a form of exercise to increase your flexibility, muscle strength, and tone.  It can provide cross training for running or other cardio exercise.  It also can help you to become a more mindful eater as you grow in awareness of your body and how it feels.

Psychologically, yoga targets stress and provides relief through relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving your mood.  Yoga can help you to build a positive sense of self, which is often threatened by the shame or negative self-talk characteristic of depression.  If you are a survivor of trauma and struggle with dissociation, yoga can help you become more in touch with your body and help you to ground into the present moment.

One of the most beneficial concepts for me in my yoga practice was the beginner’s mind.  As a former dancer, I believed that in order to prove my flexibility and be the “best” at yoga, I had to do all the intense pretzel-like postures the instructor was doing.  As a recovering perfectionist, I still felt pressure to do every move “perfectly.”  Luckily, the instructor encouraged me to listen to my body and not push myself beyond my limits.  Being able to slow down on the mat and give myself permission to be imperfect allowed me to approach other areas of my life with the same calm and willingness to learn.

One potential roadblock for Christians who are hoping to try yoga is the potential struggle with its Buddhist roots.  As a Christian myself, I wrestle with this concept too.  I’ve chosen to use poses that involve a prayer posture or my intention for my practice as a way to connect with the Lord in prayer and surrender, seeking to set my mind on Him.  In yoga classes, you may come across language that feels uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with your Christian beliefs, and that’s fine! If it’s too difficult for you, you can try a different instructor or seek out Christian yoga classes.

How can I practice mindfulness in my life? 

Try a breathing exercise.

Taking a few moments to enjoy some deep breaths helps to slow down your nervous system and decrease anxiety.  Practicing breathing can be a task that takes as short as 10 minutes or less – it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of your day.  It can be helpful to use a guided meditation in which to do this.  I really like the Headspace app, which gives you fun animations to help you start and 10-minute meditations to walk through.  For my Christian friends, I’d also recommend Everyday Prayer, a short podcast series with meditative prayers to increase a sense of mindfulness.

Test out mindful eating.

As you eat your next meal, pay attention to the flavors and textures of the foods you are eating.  Notice the smell of the spices in the food.  Pay attention to how your stomach feels, if you notice yourself feeling full or stuffed as a signal to stop.

Go for a mindful walk.

Take a walk outside.  Pay attention to the feel of your feet pressing against the ground, the temperature of the air, and the feeling of wind on your skin.  Look around at the sights around you, whether they involve nature, other people, or buildings.  Smell the fresh air outside.

Yoga.

As talked about before, I’ve become a big proponent of yoga after I’ve seen how I’ve felt as a result of doing it daily.  I love Yoga with Adriene.  She offers hundreds of free yoga videos on her YouTube channel, and if you subscribe to her newsletter you receive a monthly calendar with a practice she’s chosen for each day of the month.  Check out YouTube for other free yoga channels, or join a class in your area.

Practice consistently.

As you likely know if you’ve tried and failed to start a new exercise regimen, you don’t begin to see the benefit to your fitness levels until you’ve made the practice a habit.  Practicing mindfulness daily is an important step to experience its health benefits.  You can choose a time and place that works best for you – I like doing my yoga first thing in the morning (and I go to sleep in my yoga clothes so I’m ready to go when I wake up!)  It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment either: even just taking 10 minutes a day can show a marked difference.

How will you practice mindfulness this week?

 

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Do you feel like you’re constantly juggling a million tasks and struggling to find space to breathe?  Do you love the idea of taking a yoga class, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into your busy schedule?  Are you burned out and tired with the loads of stress you’re carrying?  My hope is to offer you a fresh breath of air through counseling.  At Restored Hope, I offer therapy sessions focusing on self-care and creating space in your schedule and your life for rest.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to chat more about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: Know Where You're Going

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As we approach the new year, this is the time when we think about New Years’ resolutions.  What do you want to be different in your life this year?  Do you want to lose 15 pounds?  Invest more in your marriage?  Discipline your kids better? 

Unfortunately, the problem with these resolutions is that they’re usually thought up on a whim.  We could have just looked in the mirror two days before January 1st and decided we wanted to lose weight, or had a particularly hurtful argument with our teenager the night before.  If we want to make lasting resolutions that aren’t just forgotten by the end of January, we need to set reasonable goals that fit within a larger version of our future.

In short, we need to understand our why.  Why do we want to lose weight?  Why do we want to stop our bad habits?  We need to create a vision or mission for our lives if we expect to follow through on any of these goals.  This is a form of self-care because as you begin to know yourself and your greater vision, you are able to make choices in alignment with your desires for your future.  It can help you leave behind the pressure of the urgent in favor of prioritizing what’s important.

Why is purpose important?

In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he coins a phrase called the Stocksdale Paradox, informed by a conversation he had with Admiral Stocksdale, who was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War.  When asked how he survived the prison camps for seven years, he answered that he had to both face the reality of the situation he was in, and also hold that in tension with hope and vision that he would overcome.

Similarly, Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, speaks about how he survived the concentration camps in World War II.  He names that those who were most likely to survive were those who had a purpose to move toward.

When life gets difficult, it can be easy to lose sight of our vision for the future.  This lack of purpose can lead to hopelessness or apathy about what’s yet to come, which can easily morph into depression.  Alternatively, when you are living out your purpose, you can find yourself in a state referred to as flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  You might recognize flow by feeling "in the zone".  When you find yourself in this state, you can find hope and connect to something greater than yourself.

How can I find my purpose?

For most of us, we aren’t born knowing our purpose for our life.  This develops over time as we discover our passions and our gifts.  But what might be some ways to facilitate that exploration and understanding?

Imagine your funeral.

Okay, so this one might be a little bit morbid.  Imagine that you’re at your funeral.  What do you hope people are saying about you?  Make a list of the qualities you’d hope to have describe you, and think about how your life reflects those current values.  As you uncover what you truly desire to be remembered about you, the values important to you become clear.

List your gifts, talents, and skills.

What are you good at?  What do you enjoy?  What have others indicated are your gifts?  What skills do you have?  The place where your greatest passion and talents meet is where you will find your purpose.  These give us a sense of intrinsic motivation, where we do work that we love just for the sake of it.  This intrinsic motivation drives goals more than external motivations, and it also improves our mental health.

Prioritize.

The reality is, you can’t tackle all of your goals at once.  If I could, I’d be a master baker, a proficient knitter and crocheter, and a sewing maven.  Sadly, I am none of those things.  But I am becoming an increasingly skilled therapist by working on that particular area because I know it is a priority for me.  Choose one area to focus on, perhaps that has to do with your vocation or your most important value.

Start big and then narrow down.

I’m a big culprit of losing the forest for the trees, so it’s helpful for me to think about my life in terms of a long-term vision, then narrowing it back to the present day.  Start with goals you hope to achieve five years from now.  Then ask yourself: what can I do in the next year to prepare for that five-year goal?  Once you’ve identified that, look at what you can do this month to meet the yearly goal, and what you can do this week to meet the monthly goal. 

For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon in the next five years.  Maybe that means at the end of this year you want to run a 10k.  This month you want to be up to running 2 miles straight without walking.  This week you need to go out for two 1-mile runs.

Studies show that depression leads to setting vague goals that are difficult to follow through on, which feeds back into the depression.  Breaking these goals into smaller chunks makes them more manageable.  Find that first small step you can take to move toward your goal.  Each step you take can help you to gain momentum.

Create a routine that implements some of these goals.

Schedule these goals in to your calendar!  Adding these activities to your schedule makes you more likely to carry them out.  If you struggle with depression this can be a great way for you to break out of the funk.  As you begin to achieve more simple activities that move you toward your larger life goals, you will feel a sense of agency and control over your future. 

Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure you’re living into your goals.

How many times have you set goals for yourself and then immediately forgotten about them?  Instead, display them somewhere prominent where you will see them on a daily basis.  Set an appointment with yourself to review these major goals each week or month.  Do a quick assessment each month to see where you’ve done well with your goals and what changes you could make to improve.

Have patience and don’t beat yourself up!

Change in habits to align with our values is a slow, long-term process.  Cultivate patience with yourself to prevent spiraling down into depression if your goals go unmet.  Give yourself grace to make mistakes, and use that as an opportunity to troubleshoot and see what’s in the way of your goals.

Stay accountable with a friend.

Do you have a friend who’s hoping to change some of their habits this year?  Use this person as a resource and hold one another accountable for exploring your purpose for the future.  Talk with them about your vision.  Discuss your weekly review of your goals or your monthly assessment with them.  Having a friend to talk about it with can make all the difference!

 

My hope is that as you set this intention and begin to make changes to align your life with your values, you’ll experience a sense of achievement and purpose that you wouldn’t have felt otherwise.

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Do you struggle to keep to your resolutions?  Maybe you feel purposeless, or like you don’t really know what you’re doing with your life.  If you’re looking for more clarity and hope about your vision for the future, I’d love to help.  Restored Hope is a therapy office serving the Ann Arbor area of Michigan, and I offer counseling services that help you sort through some of those messy questions in life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out my form to schedule your first appointment.

Self-Care Saturdays: Nourish Your Body

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

For most of us in the US, we’ve just finished off a massive meal on Thanksgiving Day.  Thoughts surrounding food can go one of two ways.  On one side, food can provide an unhealthy source of comfort.  It can lead to overeating, obesity, or weight gain.  In extreme cases, an eating disorder can develop.

But food can be used for self-care as well.  Food is meant to nourish our bodies.  The right kinds of foods help our brains to work better and stave off the effects of mental illness.  Staying fed and hydrated gives us the energy to make it through the day.

I would love to change the way we think about food.  We might see food as something we manipulate to gain or lose weight, or to make our bodies look a certain way.  Instead, I would love to see food as a tool for our health.  Food can provide self-care as long as it isn’t the only means through which you receive comfort.  I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with eating a piece of candy, as long as it doesn’t become a binge (which is good, because I love candy!)

Here are some ways to practice self-care with food.

Make a delicious meal.

Several years ago, I loved Olive Garden’s delicious risotto dish with shrimp and asparagus.  It was my go-to meal at that restaurant…that is, until they took it off the menu.  I was heartbroken, but one day I stumbled across a copycat recipe for the meal online.  Within a few hours, I was able to make a delicious dish that was a near imitation of my favorite!

Take some time at home to make a copycat recipe for one of your favorite restaurant foods, or make a home cooked meal that reminds you of a certain time in your childhood.  If you’re not much of a cook, treat yourself to a meal at a restaurant that you love. 

You can also make a meal with your loved ones.  Cook with your kids, and set aside any worries about how messy the kitchen will get.  Make a meal for someone you love, like a friend who just had a baby, your spouse, or your parents. 

Eat mindfully.

In an earlier post, I discussed several ways to use mindfulness exercises to reduce anxiety.  These same exercises can be used while eating to remain connected and present.  In particular, I like using the 5-4-3-2-1 senses exercise.  Smell the food as it cooks and as you take your first bite.   Listen for the sounds of sizzling in the saucepan.  Listen to music while you’re cooking or eating.  Look at your plate of food.  What textures do you see?  Does it look appetizing?  What colors do you see?  Notice the taste and the texture of the food in your mouth as you chew, paying attention to if it is warm or cold.  Notice the taste: is it sweet or sour, bitter or flavorful?

Be mindful as you bake or cook a slower dish.  This is easier when you have time set aside to take as long as you need.  This past Thanksgiving, I decorated an apple pie with the shape of a turkey, and I knew I was able to have fun because I set aside a whole day to do it.  While this might not be practical for every day, it is a great idea to set aside a chunk of time to cook or bake.

Pay attention to your body.

Mindfulness extends past the present moment of cooking or eating a meal to the way you feel throughout the day.  Pay attention to how your body feels after eating.  Did you eat too much and feel overstuffed?  Are you still hungry?  How is the food sitting with you?  Are you thirsty or well-hydrated?

One way I love to pay attention to how much water I’m drinking is the Plant Nanny app, which encourages you to track your water intake by “watering” a plant on your phone.  Notice how increase in water intake or eating of different foods makes you feel throughout the day.

Learn about new foods.

Pick up a cookbook from your local library or read an article in a magazine for a new recipe.  Learn about the nourishing qualities of food by reading studies about the effects of different foods on your body.  I love to watch Food Network to learn about new recipes and techniques to try.  As a baker, I’m currently reading through a baker’s cookbook to learn about the chemistry behind how ingredients combine.  Learn about and follow health guidelines for food and portions.  In particular, pay attention to the foods you eat after exercise, such as taking in more protein.

Care for your allergies and sensitivities.

As you observe your body’s response to foods, you may notice the effects of a gluten allergy or sensitivity to dairy, or you might see how eating greasy food wrecks your stomach.  Think about the foods to which your body doesn’t respond well.  It can be self-care to give yourself something that is not so hard on your body.  When I worked at a Starbucks, I learned that dairy-milk lattes affected my stomach.  I switched over to soy milk, and it’s made all the difference.  Yes, that means that when I go in now to order a drink, I have to pay and extra 60 cents for my soy milk, but it’s worth it because it makes my stomach feel so much better (and it tastes delicious!).

Be aware of your mental attitude toward food.

When dieting comes into the picture, our food intake can become harshly restricted.  When we have endless rules about what we can and cannot eat, it’s easy to fall off the wagon.  Dieting focuses energy on thinking about our weight such that we pay more attention to it, which discourages us and can lead to emotional eating .  Instead of becoming wrapped up in following a certain diet and then feeling guilty and shame-filled when you break it, set realistic expectations and don’t beat yourself up.  Take baby steps.  Celebrate the little victories, looking more at the positive than the negative.

If you have difficulties around food, seek professional help.

If you struggle with an eating disorder, binge eating, obesity, eating to escape or self-medicate, insecurity about your weight, or guilt or shame about food, it is imperative that you get professional help.  You deserve to see food as a self-care comfort rather than a burden for you.  If you notice this article is triggering for you, or you identify with a difficulty listed above, seek help.  You deserve it.  You can call the hotline for the National Eating Disorder Association at 1-800-931-2237 or look at their resource page for a trained professional in your area.

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Do you often feel insecure about your eating habits?  Do you tend to run away from painful emotions with food?  Have you tried several diets and failed?  At Restored Hope, I believe food should be a source of nourishment and energy, not of shame and guilt.  I offer counseling services at my Ann Arbor therapy office, and I’d love to meet with you to make a plan for your relationship with food.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: Treat Yo' Self

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

If you’re familiar at all with the NBC show Parks and Recreation, you’ll be familiar with the phrase (and holiday) that’s gained popularity in our everyday vocabulary: “Treat Yo’ Self!”  The premise, as described by Donna and Tom, is to spend a day shopping, eating delicious food, and generally doing fun things for yourself that you wouldn’t normally do otherwise.

Treating yourself, while inherently fun, also has health benefits that make this practice worth it.  When you practice self-compassion, or being kind to yourself, research shows it can improve your psychological well-being and physical health .  It improves your productivity at school and at work to take occasional breaks.  It can increase your happiness and positive mood, make you more resilient, and help you respond more positively to negative events or beliefs about yourself.  Self-care as a whole has huge benefits for depression, as it directly combats the negative patterns of thinking that so often characterize this disorder.

A huge component of treating yourself is the idea of self-nurture.  It is unfortunately common to grow up without a good understanding of how to nurture ourselves.  We may have had parents who struggled to nurture or care for us, or didn’t have the financial resources to provide that care.  As an adult, however, it is crucially important to practice this self-nurturance to improve your self-worth and self-value.

If you find yourself skimping or depriving yourself often, treating yourself can be a big gift to yourself.  At the same time, it’s important not to go overboard.  If you splurge too much or too impulsively, you can get hit with financial stress or regret afterwards.  If it’s out of a heart of self-indulgence, this can develop into an addiction or unhealthy reliance on that “treat” to cope.  It will leave you feeling like you never really get what you want, or it's not enough.  Avoid this trap by making a specific plan ahead of time to treat yourself, rather than doing so impulsively.  Then if you feel uncomfortable with the treat, you can adjust it to what feels right.

What are some ways you can treat yourself?

Splurge.

Every once in a while, take the opportunity to spend a little extra money on yourself. 

  • Get a fancy manicure or pedicure: go a tier up from what you usually get.

  • Go out to a nice restaurant that serves your favorite cuisine.

  • Purchase something beautiful from your favorite store.

  • Put together an outfit at a clothing store (from shoes to shirt to earrings) and buy it.

  • Gift yourself a floral bouquet.

  • Buy a gift for a friend just because.

  • Take a class on a topic you love (cooking, art, music).

Spa.

The most physically relaxing and comforting experience might be giving yourself a day at the spa, whether that’s inside or outside of your home. 

  • Soak in a bath with essential oils.

  • Give yourself an at-home manicure or pedicure – and don’t skimp on any step! Soaking, buffing, cuticle care, filing…make it as much like a spa nail treatment as you can.

  • Wear comfortable clothes, like a fluffy robe or fuzzy slippers.

  • Get a massage.

  • Care for your skin with a face mask.

Sabbath.

I can’t seem to get enough of talking about how important it is to take a day of rest (likely because it’s the area where I need to grow the most).  Rest can feel countercultural and like a treat in our busy, fast-paced lives.

  • Sleep in.

  • Indulge in your favorite hobby for an entire morning or afternoon.

  • Go to see a new film in theaters or watch an old favorite.

  • Plan a vacation using websites like Groupon or LivingSocial.

  • Play a game you enjoy.

  • Have a dance party!

Snack.

They call it "comfort food" for a reason: having a delicious treat can fire up the feel-good neurochemicals in your brain.  Take care to make this an occasional practice, rather than turning to food every time you need a boost.

  • Bake a delicious dessert or craft a savory treat.

  • Make a special breakfast or meal that reminds you of your childhood.

  • Cook yourself your favorite meal.

  • Buy your favorite coffee or tea drink from a coffee shop.

What are the ways you can treat yo’ self this week?

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Do you long for a day to treat yourself, but feel too busy or guilty about taking one?  Are you struggling with depression and believing that you aren’t worth nurturing?  At Restored Hope, I’d love to come alongside you on your path to healing from painful experiences.  At my Ann Arbor therapy office, I offer counseling to help you experience freedom from depression and anxiety.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with me today.

Self-Care Saturdays: Keep it Simple

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Simplicity has become an increasingly popular concept in our culture.  In a time when technology is advancing faster than we can keep up, multitasking is the norm, and we’re constantly accessible through our phones and emails, we can feel overwhelmed by complexity in our lives.  De-cluttering and minimalism are trends made popular by Marie Kondo and other organization gurus.  We find ourselves reminiscing about “the good old days” where life was just a little bit slower and a whole lot simpler.

This summer I read a childhood favorite book series of mine: Little House on the Prairie.  As I read, I thought about pioneers and felt a longing in my heart to live in the simplicity of that generation.  When I'm overwhelmed by stress and complexity in my life, it is easy to forget how technological advances have made our lives simpler and more automated.  I find a need to balance using technology to create more simplicity in my life without letting it rule over me.

It can feel near impossible to create simplicity in your life.  You may be in a season where simplicity is unrealistic because of the demands of family or career.  Often, as we grow older and gain more responsibilities, simplicity seems like a pipe dream.  We need to begin to create simplicity by eliminating the extras that add unnecessary overwhelm to our lives so that that we can focus on the areas that bring us life and that fit alongside our values.

How can you create more simplicity in your life?

Breathe.

Stop for a moment and notice your breath.  When was the last time you physically felt the breath in your body as you inhale and exhale?  This process is unconscious: we can go for days without actually noticing our breath.  Slow down today and remind yourself to breathe.  Practice mindfulness exercises or meditation throughout your day.  Use a meditation app like Headspace to do a daily meditation or to meditate at various points throughout the day.

Take a Sabbath each week.

I’m a recovering perfectionist.  I have a tendency to overfill my schedule to the point of overwhelm and sometimes even burnout.  When I see this happening in my life, I know that I need to prioritize a day off for myself.  A Sabbath is my go-to way both to recharge myself and to spend time reconnecting in my relationship with God.  Spend one day a week intentionally doing things that refresh you and help you to go back into your work recharged.

Allow yourself to feel bored.

With the easy accessibility of iPhones and media, we are constantly within reach of being entertained.  Because of this, we have become intolerant of boredom.  When we feel bored, we can always find a way to keep our minds occupied and our thoughts entertained.  When you notice yourself becoming bored, allow yourself to sit in that emotion instead of immediately seeking a way to be entertained.  If you’re standing in line, choose not to check your phone.  If you’re waiting for an appointment, choose to sit and wait rather than finding a way to distract yourself.

Get rid of clutter and unnecessary items in your home.

It can be easy to accumulate massive amounts of material things over the years.  Sometimes we don’t even know how we got it, but our home is suddenly full of "stuff".  Often we don’t need or even really want some of these items, but the effort it takes to get rid of them can feel like too much.  Spend a day going through your closet or drawers and clear out anything you don’t love.  As Marie Kondo suggests in her book, save the items that bring you joy and trash or donate all the remaining items.

Say “no” more often.

Simplicity in our schedules is near impossible when we have overcommitted ourselves.  It can be easy to say yes to everything we are asked, especially if we’re people pleasers.  In her book The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst talks about learning to say no more often so that we can give our best yes to the commitments that align with our values, bring us life, and fit within our gifting.  Save your yes for those moments, and begin to practice the tough work of saying no.

Uni-task.

Multitasking wears on our brain as we’re trying to focus our limited attention on several different items at once.  Our brains become overloaded by this multiple focus, so we tend to do each task to a lesser quality than we would otherwise.  Choose to focus on one task at a time and spend your energy in that one direction of focus before moving on to the next.

How will you choose to press into simplicity this week?

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Have you been struggling with feelings of overwhelm or burnout?  Do you feel like self-care is a lofty goal that is outside of your reach? At Restored Hope, I’d love to help you find space in your life to live more mindfully and experience care.  I offer therapy at my Ann Arbor counseling office to help you experience freedom from the anxiety and depression that can accompany these seasons of busyness.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: Embrace Your Creative Side

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Have you ever uttered the phrase, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body?”  Or maybe you’re more naturally artistic and consider yourself more right-brained than left-brained.  In my family, I’ve always been the “non-creative” one, at least when it comes to crafting or visual art.  (If you could see some of the disasters of Christmas ornaments I attempted to craft in elementary school…)

The reality is that all of us are creative, even if our creativity lies unused in the darkest corners of our mind.  Creativity isn’t just about making art.  In fact, the definition of creativity references creative expression as the use of imagination in the formation of original ideas.

Creativity has a multitude of benefits for your physical and mental health.  Many creative activities involve repetition and slowing down, both of which are soothing and relieve stress.  Practicing creativity improves brain function and mood.  Creative thought and behavior requires a slower pace: we cannot be creative and rush at the same time.  Have you ever noticed that when you give yourself the time to think and slow down, your best ideas come to you? 

In the counseling office, art therapy and music therapy are used to process emotions and experiences through creative expression.  The philosophy behind art therapy relates to neuroscience: art and music use the nonverbal, expressive area of our brains.  Emotions, trauma, and other painful experiences are often stored in these areas, and using our creativity connects with these emotions. Benefits of art therapy include improved mental health due to relieving the tension of those negative and painful emotions.

Keep in mind as you seek to explore your creativity: the point of creating isn’t to make something perfect: it’s to enjoy the process of creating.  What you make might not be on par with the Mona Lisa, a meal at a five-star restaurant, or one of Beethoven’s symphonies.  The point of creativity is not the end goal – it’s the journey of getting there.

Here are some ideas about how to practice creativity:

Coloring Books or Painting

Adult coloring books have become increasingly popular the past few years, often because of the benefits mentioned about the soothing nature of repetition and increased focus.  I even think there’s something fun and playful about coloring in a children’s coloring book with crayons, which you can do on your own or with your children.  Similarly, painting, either in a class with friends or on your own can be an enjoyable way to relieve stress, and can be relatively inexpensive with the purchase of your own crafting supplies. 

Crafting, Knitting, or Crocheting

These type of projects can be just as soothing and relaxing as a coloring book.  Look for ideas for projects on a Pinterest crafting board or a magazine that strikes your interest.  Start at the skill level you have in order to keep yourself from being discouraged by a project that ends up being too difficult or expensive to complete.

Food

Cooking and baking offer many opportunities to be creative.  Try a new recipe or alter ingredients or flavors in a recipe that you already love.  Play a version of Chopped where you start with four random ingredients in your kitchen and put together a meal using all four.  Brainstorm unique ways to decorate or style a dessert that you’ve made.

Gardening

Spending time weeding in the garden or growing plants, vegetables, and flowers can be surprisingly therapeutic.  The repetitive actions of tending the garden, watching as your plants grow, spending time outside and breathing in the fresh air, and feeling the sun on your skin are a perfect combination to awaken creativity.

Music

If you play a musical instrument or sing, spend some time playing some of your favorites, learning a new song, or creating your own.  You don’t need science to tell you that music has mental health benefits – you can experience it for yourself when you hear your favorite song and immediately feel an impact on your mood.

Writing

Whether you write professionally or you just like to keep a daily journal, a regular writing practice is a great way to relieve stress.  Spend some time journaling,  write a poem, or draft a mini-article about a topic of interest.

Scheme on a Friend’s Behalf

Dream up a creative way to make a friend or family member feel special.  If they have a birthday, special event, or you simply want to make sure they know they are loved, creatively brainstorm ways to bless them and love them well.

…and so much more!

There are so many options out there for being creative.  Whether you’re a fan of home improvement projects, hair and makeup, creating videos or photography, or even sports, there is a form of creative expression that fits with every personality.  Find what works for you and make it happen!

How will you embrace creativity in your life this week?

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If you’re feeling run down, stressed out, and exhausted by life, we know that self-care can feel like your last priority.  At Restored Hope, I believe that self-care is an essential part of recovery from anxiety, depression, addiction, and a whole host of other mental health struggles.  At my Ann Arbor counseling office, I offer support in your journey to mental wellness and wholehearted living.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: Get Some Fresh Air

Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself.  

Whether you’re trying to soak up the sun, grow a beautiful garden, or just take a walk, summers in Michigan are the perfect time to be outside.  As a native Michigander, I know “up north” as code for vacationing in the wilderness where beautiful views of nature are on display and relaxation is the main goal.  (Do I sound a bit like Tim Allen in the Pure Michigan commercials?)

Michigan’s tourism campaign aside, we’re given an opportunity at this time of year to take full advantage of the health benefits that being outside provides.  Research has proven that spending time outdoors increases desire for exercise and corresponding weight loss, boosts energy, leads to better eye health, improves sleep , and enhances attention span and concentration.  Beyond the physical benefits of being outside, there are plenty of mental health benefits as well, like improved brain function and creativity, a decrease in stress and anxiety levels, and a shift toward more positive moods. 

A common struggle for those of us who live in the northern states is seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.  Seasonal affective disorder is similar to depression in that it involves symptoms like difficulty focusing, decrease in energy, moodiness, sleeping too much, or losing interest in things you normally enjoy.  SAD is associated with low levels of vitamin D, a hormone produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight.  The theory behind the connection between vitamin D and SAD is that vitamin D increases levels of serotonin, which improves symptoms of depression.

What are some ideas on how to fully soak up everything the outdoors has to offer this summer?

Start your day outside.

The first few hours after you wake up is the best time to take advantage of the sun’s major benefits.  At this time of day, the UV index is lower, limiting the negative effects of sun exposure.  Pick a spot outside where you can sit for 5 or 10 minutes each morning and observe nature unfold around you.  Or incorporate outdoor exercise into your morning routine, which has the added perk of giving you extra willpower to resist urges to eat throughout the day.

Go for a walk.

If you work in a windowless office during the day, going outside for a walk on a lunch or rest break during your day can help you feel refreshed once you return to your desk.  Breathing in the fresh air slows down your breath and leads to a sense of calm.  As mentioned earlier, walking or other exercise outdoors is a nice change-up from hours spent in the gym in the winter months.  Studies have shown that exercising outside will increase the likelihood that you’ll be motivated to continue to exercise.  Participants in the study also named that they felt less tension, depression, and anxiety after exercising outside.

Have a picnic lunch.

I’ve started a tradition with my toddler-age nephew recently: when he and I spend time together, we pack a picnic lunch and walk down to the park.  There's an adventurous quality to the combination of packing an on-the-go meal, spending energy walking to the park and playing on the play structure, and eating a leisurely meal by the river on a picnic blanket: he eats and naps easier those days, and I feel more relaxed and calm.  We’re lucky to live in a state where there are so many green spaces and forests and lakes – let’s take advantage of the nature we have around us!

Go camping…or “glamping.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never actually been pitch-a-tent, cook-over-a-fire, sleep-under-the-stars camping.  I don’t think I’d survive without access to my hair dryer!  But when I visit an up north cottage in the summer months, where I can spend time next to a lake, soaking up the sun and playing yard games in the grass, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.  Set aside a weekend for yourself to visit a campground or a cottage in the middle of nowhere where you can spend time out in the sun (with sunscreen, of course!)

Puddle jump!

Summer months in Michigan often come with scattered rain showers as the heat affects weather patterns.  While thunderstorms might be something to avoid, who says you have to stay inside when it’s raining?  Some of my favorite memories have come from getting stuck in a pop-up rain shower, eventually giving up on staying dry and going full force into splashing through puddles.  Embrace the playfulness of getting soaked, whether you’re with your kids or a friend.

Garden or do yard work outside.

I imagine some of you have a green thumb and can create beautiful landscaped creations in your garden or yard, while others of you can’t keep a cactus alive.  Whatever your gardening skill, spend some time weeding your yard or mowing your grass.  You’ll likely see immediate results, which can be encouraging, and the repetitiveness of the actions can be calming.  With gardening, there’s a beauty and simplicity in watching plants grow and harvesting vegetables, herbs, or beautiful flowers to enjoy.

How will you spend time outside this week?

Are you having a hard time feeling motivated to take action and feel better?  Does self-care feel like a foreign phrase?  At Restored Hope, I know that depression or anxiety can feel crippling, and you may not be aware of the tools you can use to step out of these painful patterns.  At my Ann Arbor therapy office, I’d love to meet with you for support as you seek freedom from the depression and anxiety you are feeling.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how I can help.

Self-Care Saturdays: Mastering the Art of Play

Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

When we were kids, our main objective in the world was to play.  We could spend hours traipsing through the outdoors, creating our own games and imagining stories we’d act out with our friends.  But somewhere along the line, that sense of play was slowly overtaken by work –schoolwork, university, careers, and family life.

According to the Google, the verb “play” is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”  As adults, this time can feel wasted or pointless because nothing is accomplished. 

But we need to bring play back into our lives.  There’s a simplicity to the idea of play that is missing from our experience as adults.  When we were children at play, we weren’t worried about anything other than the game or the imagined story in which we found ourselves.

There is an inherent value to engaging in play.  Play is an expression of freedom where I choose what I want to do right now and stop my play when it is no longer fun or enjoyable.  In this freedom, we experience greater creativity.  Children are encouraged to engage in play as a therapeutic technique to help them process pain and trauma they’ve experienced.

Oftentimes, play gets confused with leisure time, defined by distraction, disengagement, and emotional disconnection.  This is a sign that we’re using our leisure time to escape instead of rest.  In contrast, when you watch a child at play, you can see how engaged and curious they become in whatever exists around them, even if it seems trivial or unimportant.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on how to incorporate play in your life.

Remind yourself of how you used to play.

Over the course of time, we can lose touch with the playful spirit we had as children.  Dan Allender, in a series of podcasts on play, names a few questions to consider when you think about this topic.  What games do you enjoy playing?  What activities do you engage in that bring a sense of joy?  What did you used to play as a child that you enjoyed?

Be a kid on summer vacation again.

Think about all the ways you used to play in the summertime as a child.  What were some of the activities you loved?  Playgrounds and swings?  Exploring in the woods?  Schoolyard games?  Swimming in the lake?  Drawing with chalk?  Flying a kite?  Playing pick-up soccer or football?  Spend an afternoon doing some of these things!

Go to a museum or park designed for children and explore.

Some of my favorite memories of class field trips or family day trips involved visiting a zoo or a children’s science museum.  There was always so much to see and do, and I’d always learn something new.  Visit one of these parks or museums that you loved as a child with a curious and playful attitude.

Do a summer reading challenge.

As a lifelong book nerd, I always loved tearing through books as a kid to win a prize at our local library for amount of books read.  Many libraries have now extended the fun for adults and have broadened the ways you can earn points to include exploring the library buildings themselves, writing reviews for books, or attending library events.  I’ve joined in on the Ann Arbor District Library summer game for the past few years, which has plenty of options for fun and encourages me to attend community events I may not know about otherwise.

Throw a kid-themed party!

Friends’ birthday parties were always some of the highlights of the summer growing up.  Typically these parties involved themes, games, favors, and all the candy you could eat.  Invite your friends to a party and have a water balloon or water gun fight, get a piñata, or play children’s games like pin the tail on the donkey.

Learn from a child in your life.

Spend a day with a toddler or kid in your life, whether it’s your own child, a niece or nephew, or a friend’s child.  As you interact with them throughout the day, pay attention to how they view the world around them with curiosity and a sense of play.  Find ways to imitate that childlike spirit in your own life.

 

As you start to incorporate play into your life, pay attention to what emotions you feel.  You might find yourself distracted by embarrassment or shame.  You might feel silly or childish.  This is normal, especially at first, because play isn’t always encouraged in our day to day.  Observe your emotions, give yourself space to feel them, and know that the more you practice play, the more natural it becomes.

How will you begin to play this week?

Having a playful spirit can seem difficult when you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or trauma in your life.  When these issues are present, self-care is one of the most important things you can do, but it can also be the hardest thing to practice.  I’d love to help provide support for you on your journey of self-care and health.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based counseling office focusing on helping you experience freedom from patterns that prevent you from living a wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear how I can help.