It’s beginning to cost a lot like Christmas….

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Christmas is the time for friends and family and food and festivities…..and worries and stress and ever expanding waistlines and family drama! Ti’s the season to have your life choices mocked at the dinner table, and to gain (on average) 5-7 pounds of peace on earth?! We all love the holidays…right?

It can be difficult to manage all of the “joy” we feel during the Christmas season. Amongst all of the sparkles and melodies and candy-cane flavored goodness, there sneaks the pressure to be perfect; the re-hashing of family misunderstandings and arguments, the “festive fifteen” and aching reminders of any losses or grief we’ve experienced. Mixed up with all that are the constant year round stresses of time and money magnified by all those Christmas lights everywhere! Christmas can be magical and wonderful and spiritual and bright!  So, how does one make the season one of peace and love and joy as it was intended? Here are some tips, thoughts and links to help you get your “piece of peace on earth”:

1. Christmas puts a lot of pressure on us to be happy and warm and lovingly picturesque for the holiday visits and scenes, and this can be tough when that is not the case the other 364 days of the year. Do what you can with what you have where you are…and be patient with yourself and your family for not being perfect. Remember that Christmas will not be perfect. You do not have to be perfect, and if you think others are managing to be perfect rest assured they are just really good and faking, hiding and ignoring the truth. The meal, the gifts and the time together do not need to be extravagant or spectacular…they need only be heartfelt, genuine and thoughtful: a reflection of you and the season. Try not to get caught up in competition, image, reputation or parade!

2. Try to stay in a routine. Sticking to some kind of normal daily routine as you rush to deck the halls and attend all those parties and errands will be helpful in managing it all. Most importantly, routines in the areas of sleeping, eating and exercise will help you to stay healthy, wealthy and wise! See the following link for some ways to stay in your exercise routine during the season! http://www.canada.com/touch/theholidayguide13/story.html?id=9264733

3. If you are grieving or reflecting on losses you’ve experienced, be gentle with yourself and respect both your psychological and physical limits. Grief can be especially hard at this time of year, and you are entitled to some quiet and special time to remember and honour that experience and person(s). For some tips on grieving during the holidays, check out https://www.centerforloss.com/tag/holiday-grief/

4. Find ways to manage your stress and juggle all of the joy. Stress and the business of the holidays can take away a lot of the glitter and magic of it all, and so being able to find ways to slow down, relax and enjoy our time with others, meals, gifts and decor are important! Here are some great tips for rejuvenating and de-stressing during the Christmas season: http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/mindfulness-%2526-awareness/please-be-home-for-the-holidays

5. Money can be a huge stressor during the season as there is the cost for gifts, travel, parties, stamps and cards, food, decor and all the little extras! While this is a reality of the season, there are some ways to be conscious and more comfortable with your spending and money management during the holidays. Check out the link for some ideas! http://christmas.organizedhome.com/get-organized/santa-savings-make-holiday-budget

6. Family is forever…at least that’s what it can feel like during the holiday season when you are surrounded by all that love and togetherness! While we love to see and catch up with our families, time with our relatives is one of the number one most reported stressors during the holidays! Here are some great tips for planning ahead and handling during all that fun with the family! http://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday

7. Depending on your work and/ or holiday schedule “time” is always a factor in the stresses of the season. You either have not nearly enough and get totally overwhelmed with all of the places and people you have to be and see, or…..you have way too much time on your hands. If you don’t have enough, think about prioritizing differently and letting some of the “perfection” pieces go. Consider inviting others to you instead of travelling all the time. Maybe, alternate traditions or visits year after year and consider delegating parts of the meal or decorations to other family members. If too much time is your challenge, consider some fun ways to celebrate the season! There are a lot of ways to fill that time that can bring joy, energy and goodwill in to your life! Try some fun physical activities (skating, skiing, snowman building, walks, snowball fights, sledding etc.), or some cooking and baking. You can also try doing some random acts of kindness in your community or giving your time and energy to a charity! Giving is one of the things that has the most psychological benefits for us and can bring up your mood, health and outlook in moments…tis better to give than receive after all!

8. If you are worried about the “festive fifteen” as many people are, there are some ways to counteract all of the Christmas calories. Being conscious of your food choices and doing your best to partake modestly are a good start (but there are so many treats!!!0 Check out the link for some ideas to help curb the cravings while still getting in some goodies! http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20646043,00.html

9. Listen to music. Music in general has the very powerful ability to shape our mood and do wonders for our problem solving, decision making and reasoning abilities. It can lift us up or help us find peace, and nowhere is this truer than with the sounds of the season! Christmas music can bring back memories and help you feel the Christmas spirit….find the songs that match your mood and have them create a beautiful background for your holiday happenings! Check out the ways music can ease your tension and lift you mood here! http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/womens-health/health-benefits-of-listening-to-music

10. Finally, recognize and embrace perspective during the holidays. All of that wrapping is overwhelming, yes, but it means you have gifts. The pressure to put on the perfect meal is powerful, but it means you have food. Not knowing whose family to spend Christmas morning with means there are many people who love you and want to spend time with you. The rushing around to deliver means you have many friends and the means to celebrate. The office parties and charity responsibilities mean you have a job and are able….be at peace with your many blessings this season, and find ways to help others find theirs.

Wishing you wellness, joy and peace this holiday season,

Ariel & the Knowledge is Power team

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Just Looking for Attention: The Hunger Games

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. These words by Simone Weil remind us that whether one is a child first learning to listen, a teen attempting to break through the boundaries, or an adult finding and managing life’s meaning, we are all deep down inside in need of attention.  Human beings have basic fundamental needs: food, water, sleep and shelter; safety, security, routine and order.  All for survival’s sake.  Abraham Maslow argues that we also fundamentally need love and belonging, esteem and respect for self and others, and a sense of accomplishment and competency in order to find meaning and value in our lives.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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Maslow, Abraham (1954).  Motivation and personality.  New York, NY: Harper & Row.

 Without love, esteem, connection with others and a sense of belonging to a “tribe” (family, school community, etc.) we are lost; we will not physically or emotionally survive.  These needs build upon one another in a hierarchical manner in that a need cannot be met until the need before it has been.  Maslow’s theory is based upon observation of adults; however in the fields of child development, counselling and education, it has been used to understand and prioritize programming and interactions with children.  This article looks to apply Maslow’s theory to children who are “just looking for attention.”

Maslow states that the most fundamental of needs are the basic physiological needs of food, water and shelter followed by safety, security and order.  The very next level of need is love and belonging, and this author believes that these requirements for connection are co-equal to food and safety making them far more powerful and motivating in survival than given credit for.

It has long been recognized that human beings are biologically predetermined to connect with others, and depend on social interaction. We have an innate desire to love and be loved as part of a group working together to meet our needs.  As observed in adults, Maslow places this need third in line behind physiological and safety needs; most certainly for children and youth, it comes first.  They require others to help them meet their safety and survival needs, and so without connection, love, belonging and a group identity, be it family, peers or community, it is difficult if not impossible for a child to attain the first two functions of survival.  This makes the need for connection absolutely essential for them, and at a subconscious and instinctual level, they know this.

When basic survival needs are not met, humans are left with two choices: first, go out and find that which can meet the need or second, perish.  It is a do or die scenario, and the human brain is wired for the former.  What does “go out and find it,” look like?  It can look like attention seeking behavior.  Behavior that says whatever it takes, seek out, access and keep safe that which is needed.  In infants this is crying for food or comfort and these behaviors and “requests” progresses developmentally into adulthood until we are competent and able to tend to our own needs.  Keep this in mind as we ponder the phrase “that child is just looking for attention.”

When a child does not have their needs met, be they physiological or emotional, their brain goes into “survival mode.”  One cannot circumvent the power of emotional needs as the brain prioritizes psychological needs over problem solving, abstract reasoning and all forms of trust or faith. While all humans experience this survival motivation and its subsequent seeking behaviors, children and youth especially depend on others to meet these needs, and so their “find someone who can help you” instinct is strong.  Survival mode is most obvious in times of starvation or danger, though also very present when one is, ostracized, criticized, undervalued, betrayed or alone. At these times, a state of “fight or flight” ensues: a biological repertoire of adrenaline, cortisol, muscle contraction, blood-flow priority and neurological messaging that enables one to fight or flee what is a perceived or actual dangerous situation.  Fight looks like aggression, behavior, emotion and all outward manifestations of dominance and power. Flight looks like withdrawal, avoidance, running away, refusal and recognition of weakness and vulnerability.  The majority of children and youth’s problematic or attention seeking behavior patterns can be defined as flight or flight and described in these terms.

Knowing this, adults need to interpret these behaviors and “requests” as products of a child’s brain in survival mode.  There are needs not being met.  They are out seeking the solution to this deficit albeit it in a less developed or mature way.  This is not surprising given that they are less developed and immature.  Thus, if a child is looking for attention, then give them some.

If one subscribes to the “give them some” philosophy, they are often met with objectives driven by theories of behaviorism and tough love:

“That child is just looking for attention.  If you give it to them, then the behavior will continue.  You are reinforcing it.”

Given the understanding we have established regarding a child’s hierarchy of needs, the correct response to this objection is twofold.  First, it is true that for a time the behaviour will continue; however if the adult chooses to ignore or punish the seeking, the behavior will not only continue, but will escalate. It is being reinforced that if a child “asks” for help (keeping in mind that behavior is the language of children and youth), and the significant adult does not attend, they are reinforcing that the need cannot be met.  This will heighten the survival instinct and stress response (fight or flight) in that child, until the “do” in the “do or die” scenario is exhausted and the child gives up.  This may seem successful; however the quiet often comes at too high a price.

The second, more hopeful response to the “reinforcing negative behavior” statement is informed by the following.  When a person is starving, they will seek nutrition at all costs.  They are driven to find that which they need and will make choices and behave in a variety of unskilled, irrational or desperate ways to meet the need of survival.  They may hoard whatever scraps of food they are given, and may become selfish and narrow-minded focusing on only attaining provisions.  The solution to this hunger is not to withhold food but rather to feed them.

For a time, even after being given food, this individual is still in “survival mode.” Their brain mistrusts that this will always be the case and continues to protect life at all costs.  They will continue to hoard and seek out satiation, perhaps even over-indulging until a new belief that there is enough food and more will come is reinforced and evidenced repeatedly.

If a child is hungry, then feed them.  The basic fundamental needs of security, self-esteem and particularly love and belonging are no different.  A child seeking attention is starving.  Yes, at first they will continue to request that attention, and until their brain believes that more will come if they need it, they will protect themselves by continuing to seek more.  Give it to them.  If a child is “asking” you, then they are attempting to meet a need. After a time, once they can trust the need is being and will be met, the asking will stop.

Attention seeking behaviors are a part of a person’s innate “do or die” survival instinct, particularly in children and youth.  They are literally crying for help. Even a “cry of wolf” has a motivation.  For youth, the strongest and most fundamental of these is belonging and connection.   The way to meet a child’s need, and save their physical and psychological life is give them that attention and sense of connection and belonging.  It will be by far the most important thing ever done for them as they build their esteem and work toward actualization.  “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Children are the rarest and purest form of humanity.  It just seems right that the two should find each other.

A.

The Work-Life Tug-of-War

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“Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster” ~Tom Atlee

This is the world we live in.  Everything is happening very quickly, and the argument as to whether this is a good or bad thing will keep many occupied at coffee shops and photocopiers for a long time to come.  Like or lump it, we are living it.  We are surrounded by a world that wants innovation and efficiency, and that means we need to design, create, produce and evaluate every minute of our days….regardless of our calling.

The long-time common response when someone asks “how are things?” has been “good.”  I am starting to notice (with myself certainly and more often with others) that a more common response lately is “busy.”  Things are busy.  Things are happening faster and faster and there is more and more of it to do and to care about and to wonder and to try!

No matter what your career, family situation, volunteer experiences or daily “to-do’s, we’ve all found ourselves busy.  We have also all craved the precious and just out of reach “down-time.”  Also known as “me-time” and “out-of-office.”  In a world of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi ad video-conference though, I think the “out-of-office” is becoming less and less respected.

So, how can we possibly try to strike a work-life balance when we are required to keep up?  If one takes time for oneself are they sacrificing promotions? Recognition? Opportunity and possibility?  It might seem so, but if you don’t have a work-life balance (i.e. if work IS your life) you won’t last long.  First of all, you get sick.  Your body sends clear “I give” signals that look an awful lot like heart disease, high cholersterol, diabetes, headaches, ulcers, and on and on and on.  Too often, these signals are ignored or quieted with prescriptions, caffeine, alcohol, Ambien and protein smoothies, all of which have a time and place for a SHORT time and place, but not because you are working too hard…not good enough.  Once your body is done with you, your mind takes over the distress signals.  You have trouble concentrating.  Your creativity dwindles.  Your people skills decline.  You get cranky and unproductive.  You become miserable and lonely.  You become TOO invested (believe it) in your job and you lose perspective…not the things you listed on your resume.  Better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster.

Those highly invested in their careers are struggling to buy this….they will eventually, unfortunately.  Those recognizing these things for what they are, I have a few ideas for you on how to slow down and get a little leverage in the tug-of-war:

  1. Just because you have “free time”, does not mean that you are available. If someone asks if you are able to attend or organize or volunteer at an event, and you have the empty block of time, that does not mean you have to say yes.  A little empty time in your schedule is good for you for a number of reasons.  The most obvious is “balance.”  Secondly, it gives time for you to do something you WANT to do or ENJOY (What???) and finally, it gives “fudge” room in case life happens and you need time to address a crisis or problem that arises.  I often tell people it is great to be busy and going all the time as long as all is well…as soon as life happens, there isn’t enough time to be busy!  Another thought on “free time: if you get some “by accident” (someone cancels a meeting or is a no-show, etc)…leave it empty.  Don’t jump to fill it.  Enjoy it.
  2. Keep it Organized.  Make a list or use a calendar or have a day-timer.  There are any number of apps and software possibilities to find what will work for you.  Your mind is an expansive and awesome resource, but it is paying attention to a LOT of things you don’t even realize, and it decides FOR you what is important to remember and what can be remembered later….like at 3AM.  Just a note: your own subconscious desires, values and attitudes help it determine these priorities.  Get a calendar of some sort and use it.  I would even recommend colour coding it to get a good picture of your work-life balance! This is a bit of work on the front end learning how to use it and remembering to use it, but in the long run will be invaluable to you.  Secondly, the whole point is to get it OUT of your mind right?  Having a calendar and being organized not only externalizes all that data, but gives it a place outside of your head….this helps your mind to relax a wee bit, because it knows, it’s been written down and there is time scheduled to do that.  Just a note, if it’s not on the calendar, it probably won’t get done (this is especially true with things like a fitness routine, date night etc….you have to schedule them in if that’s the lifestyle you live!)
  3. Learn to say No.  There is not much more to say about that. It isn’t easy, but it’s an important skill.  You can do 100 things half-assed or you can do 5 things really well.  If it isn’t required of you or interesting to you or a value you hold dear….just say no.  On that note, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  There are some things you will want to do with 100% gusto and with spectacular amounts of work and investment so that they turn out second to none.  And then, there are some things that can be “good enough.”  Have a look at which is which for good sense of where your priorities lie.
  4. Sometimes, time is more valuable than money.  This may have 2 meanings for some: yes, first-off your children and spouse and friends would much rather spend time with you then have gifts or treats.  I’m talking more about the second meaning.  There might be some things that you can “hire out” to relieve your stress.  Most of us take a lot of “pride” in being a do-it-your-selfer.  But that’s about you and not the others in your life or your “other” self who wants some down-time.  Maybe, a housekeeper?  An accountant? A lawn company? Someone else to make the birthday cake or iron you clothes?  Just something to consider, as there is NO question that time is more valuable than money.  There is always more money to be had.  Time is something we are losing every day and there’s no changing that or getting more of it.  It is by far the most valuable thing we have…and our relationships and our health remind us of that often (hopefully sooner than later…)
  5. Put first things first.  Your brain is organized into priorities, and the first of these is survival.  This includes food, water, sleep, exercise, safety, and shelter.  Your mind needs this foundation in order to be productive.  Make sure you are eating and sleeping and exercising.  Your brain considers these a must.  Second, is belonging, emotion, relationships and love.  Without these things, your brain again begins to worry about survival and happiness (which are far more important to your brain than the bottom line).  If you are healthy and have your basic physical and safety needs met, and if you are in healthy and loving relationships and are HAPPY, then your mind opens up to creativity, logic, possibility, abstract thought, innovation and the understanding all of the mysteries of the universe…your job description fits in there somewhere!  But you have to have had enough sleep to access it. And, you will find more joy and reward in your work if you allow for it.

There are all sorts of other ideas that you know: prioritize, meditate, communicate with your friends and family, find a job you love, ask for help etc.  Most importantly, and sometimes the very hardest part, is to forgive yourself for needing and wanting down-time…..you will be ahead of the game in the long run if you can appreciate and understand that it’s okay to have “life” win every once in a while.