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We hear a lot these days about “Fight or flight,” a concept credited to American physiologist Walter Cannon, and described as an internal response to the perception of a potentially harmful event. While this reaction to stress was perhaps useful during days when Neanderthals needed to quickly assess whether to flee from oncoming peril, its overuse in modern society can sometimes result in self-harm when we’re misperceiving a happening as a threat that could endanger our lives. For those of us who are adult survivors of child abuse, which includes me, this can be even more true.
There was a time in my life when I relied on my internal fight or flight response to survive. I didn’t describe it like this at the time. I was very young and acting purely on instinct. But there were many occasions that my and my younger sister’s lives were in literal danger, and I had to react quickly and succinctly to stave off what could have been very grave results.
But that was then. This is now. And I have come to learn that my internal panic button (or fight or flight response) gets “hit” all too often—even sometimes when reacting to seemingly mundane situations. This has led to what’s been perceived as overreactions on my part that have resulted in the loss of a friendship or a professional setback. Yes, stuff happens that we don’t like. But we’re not always in severe jeopardy. This thought-out assessment isn’t always available to those of us who, as young children, were put into dangerous situations that could have resulted in real harm if we couldn’t somehow navigate our way out of them.
Recently, a friend of mine who also happens to be an adult survivor of child abuse was notified that a meeting had been scheduled between her and the head of her department at the end of the day, on the last day of the month. My friend was sure this equated to her being fired. She couldn’t imagine why. But she just knew that meeting with her department head with this kind of timing spelled “Clean out your desk and don’t show up for work tomorrow.”
Despite being a savvy individual, my friend panicked—even as I and others tried to help her to be present and breathe through the situation. In other words, we were encouraging her to not overreact. Well, she didn’t want our encouragement. Aside from logging onto LinkedIn and sending out a few resumes, she also began to belittle her company and her department head. My friend became ugly in her discourse and suddenly everything was about getting revenge on this organization that was taking her for granted and unceremoniously dumping her.
Cut to the meeting, when my friend was told by the department head that her direct supervisors knew how hard she (my friend) was working and wanted to know if she needed any additional staff. They were so impressed and happy with her output, they wanted to do anything they could to make her position with the company more satisfying.
No dumping. No contempt. No taking my friend for granted. Yet her internal panic button (or fight or flight response) had indicated otherwise. In this case, she hadn’t verbalized her anger to her supervisors before the meeting. And she hadn’t enacted any of her revenge tactics on the company—but she had certainly planned them out. And while there was no harm done to her or her career in the long run, the mental state she was in for the days leading up to the meeting was very detrimental to her, both mentally and physically, in regard to stress on her body.
As I coached my friend through this situation, I recognized myself in many of her actions. As children being raised under extremely abusive conditions, we learned we could rely only on ourselves (often after seeking help from others). I remember there was a time when I was younger that I called the police to report my extremely abusive parents and ask for help. Not only didn’t the authorities believe me and refuse to intercede, but when I hung up the phone, I discovered my mother lurking nearby, fuming over what she had just heard. This memory gives me chills to this day. And reminds me why my own fight or flight instinct remains so prevalent.
But that doesn’t mean I should give in to it. This instinct can confuse us, lie to us, and even cause us to perform actions that result in us harming ourselves, friendships, family, career, or even our own health. Never has the need to be present and not necessarily respond in the way our initial impulses tell us to been more necessary.
A calmer and more accepting mind can create better solutions. And sometimes solutions aren’t even warranted as in the case of my friend who thought her career was over when the exact opposite was the case.
A first step can be recognizing when we’re hitting our own internal panic buttons too frequently. Our initial reactions aren’t always the most reliable. Just being aware that this might be a pattern is a beautiful first step. And this can be done without shaming ourselves for using an internal instinct that perhaps saved our lives long ago. Compassion for ourselves is as mandatory as not reacting to perceived obstacles quite so quickly. Only then can we begin to truly assess a situation and what might be done to resolve it.
Photo Credit: Anna Tarazevich
For years I’ve been belaboring the negative side effects of a society that’s glued to its phones and the perils of social media distracting us from genuine human interaction. Although the online arena has opened up a whole new world (the ability to research something in a split second, locate long lost friends or do something as trivial as see how the captain of our high school football team has aged in comparison to ourselves), it’s also created a lot of virtual “single-lane highways,” which have encouraged many of us to narrow our tolerance of people who we might deem as different.
The ugly side effects of being more sole focused have been pervasive in recent years and something I’ve worked hard to overcome—both personally and for others who are open to breaking out of these virtual self-imposed prisons that limit free (and often kind) thought.
And now to add to our solace-addicted society comes the coronavirus and the need to self-isolate (and/or quarantine depending on which hashtags float your boat). Social distancing is necessary and will hopefully help us contain this potentially out of control pandemic. But we need to also pay attention to the side effects of having to shelter in place. To close ourselves off even more from others (extended family, friends and even strangers on the street) has the potential to further harm our society and how we treat one another as a whole. Not to mention how we treat ourselves.
What’s perhaps even worse about this international crisis is that there is no immediate end in sight. We continue to get different messages based on the latest information. Some of it is valid. Much of it is guesswork. Never has “Wait and see” taken on such prominence.
The good news is that there are some helpful tactics we can take on in order to help avoid some of the prolonged side effects of this mandatory alone time.
For starters, everyone can instill a little peace of mind into their daily lives. If you don’t have a meditation practice, now’s a great time to begin one. There are plenty of apps that can lead us through different guided meditations of our choosing. Many offer the ability to choose a time length and even a subject matter. We can also simply sit down, close our eyes and take deep breaths—thinking “in” as we breathe in, and “out” as we breathe out. A gentle pause between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ breaths will add even more to the experience.
When our brains and our breathing get into sync, our minds calm and we can approach life with a little more thoughtfulness and presence. I’d even encourage you to practice meditation with everyone you’re quarantined with. Even young children get the concept. They might think of it as more of a game (can they be quiet long enough to participate?)—but they can still reap the rewards of a little self-imposed silence. There’s also a free resource being offered by Eckhart Tolle that you can click to for inspiration; as well as Well Being and Healing in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic video you can watch from Deepak Chopra.
Another fun and centering activity for everyone (young and old) is to color in coloring books together. Amazon and other online resources offer coloring books for every interest. There are car coloring books for gearheads. Dinosaur coloring books for explorers. Unicorn coloring books for dreamers, snarky coloring books for adults and even Christmas coloring books for yours truly (I admit it, I’m a Christmas addict every day of the year). You can add a giant box of crayons, which you can place at the center of a dining table. Then everyone in your household can choose a page of their favorite coloring book and create their own masterwork. (I suggest everyone sign and date their works of art as well.)
This simple practice of “creating” while spending time together can be spirit building—even if no one feels the need to talk during the coloring fest. Although certainly there can be a groan or two offered in regard to trying to “Color within the lines.”
People can even use FaceTime on their phones to have coloring book parties with long distance relatives (or even neighbors across the street). You could even put together a coloring book and crayon gift package through an online vendor to send to your favorite people across town or across the country. Trust me when I assure you that even those who participate by rolling their eyes will probably enjoy this ritual (a ritual that can be done daily).
Another fun “at home adventure” for the family could be to celebrate Christmas all over again. Pull out the decorations, the fake trees, the tangled up lights and turn your living room into a magical winter wonderland. (Who couldn’t use a little extra sparkle right about now?)
And there’s never been a better time for cleaning out closets and/or organizing (and digitizing) old photographs and videotapes.
Last but not least, I encourage all of us to keep a journal that lists what we look forward to doing once we can “return to normal.” Normal being the keyword. Encourage kids, friends and other family members to do this as well. Maybe you’ll list a goal of joining a bowling league. Or auditioning for a community theatre troupe. Or eating hot dogs from a kiosk at the zoo. Or even surprising a stranger behind you in line by paying for their drink order at a coffee shop.
Whatever it is, make a list of the simple pleasures we once took for granted and look forward to partaking in again. Don’t be sad about the fact that most of these activities are on hold. Be joyful that we could partake of these pleasures very recently and that, in time, we can enjoy them again. Perhaps with more gratitude and joy than we did in the past.
It’s up to us as a society to preserve a way of life that celebrate strangers participating in community activities. To see a movie together. To stand in line with one another at a grocery store without judging one another. And to pass a stranger on the street and offer a smile.
Or even—and just go with me here—start a conversation and invite them to your next kitchen table coloring book party.
Image Source: CNN
Guest Post by Lisa Goldberg, Certified Dietician & Nutrition Specialist
How are your 2020 new year resolutions going? Sadly, most people give up on their weight loss resolutions by mid-February. Only a month and a half into the New Year!
Has this happened to you? You start off motivated and ready to go and then slowly lose steam. And even worse, you’re exasperated from trying to figure out why this keeps happening. Then self-doubt begins to creep back in and you wonder why you just can’t stay the course.
Maybe you chose a plan that wasn’t sustainable for the long term or you didn’t have anyone keeping you accountable. What I’ve found is that the most people that want to make a change and fail over and over, never address the crucial piece to the puzzle: Changing the habits, behaviors and mindset that got you to be overweight in the first place.
Imagine what it would feel like to:
- Feel confident and in control of your body and food choices
- Break the habit of emotional eating, overeating or bingeing for good
- Have more energy to spend on the things that matter most to you in your life instead of obsessing about food
- Stop self-sabotaging your weight loss efforts time after time
- Feel proud of yourself instead of constantly beating yourself up about not eating ‘perfectly’.
To demonstrate how readers of the Just Stop Eating So Much! blog can get there, I’ve created a 5-day challenge called Master Your Mindset for Lasting Food Freedom, which begins on Thursday, February 27th. If food, weight and dieting is a struggle for you, click here to take a health step towards real food freedom.
About the Guest Blogger:
Lisa Goldberg is a nutritionist with a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. In addition, her certifications and Licenses include: Certified Nutrition Specialist, Certified Dietician/Nutritionist licensed by New York State, Certified in Adult Weight Management by the ADA. Lisa is also a personal trainer certified by the American Counsel on Exercise since 1994. She was the Nutritionist at the New York Stock Exchange from 2003-2007 and for 10 years served as the nutritionist to traders on Wall Street. Anyone who would like to discuss their weight loss goals with Lisa can schedule a free 30-minute weight loss consultation with her by clicking here. (Simply let Lisa know you found out about her on the Just Stop! blog.)
A Note from Gregg:
As some of you Just Stoppers might remember, I have been lucky enough to be a guest in nutrition rockstar Lisa Goldberg’s recent weight loss summits not once, but several times. I love Lisa’s total approach to wellness, which not only includes getting to a healthy weight, but also enjoying life and learning to love and appreciate yourself in the process. Any Just Stopper who wants to find out more information (without any obligation), can click here to schedule a free 30-minute Discovery Session with Lisa herself to find out more about the upcoming Master Your Mindset for Lasting Food Freedom Lisa writes about above.
The word “acceptance” has become credo for many who are doing their best to evolve mentally and physically. And for good reason. Arguing with reality can prove to be a frustrating experience with little positive outcome. So accepting one’s current situation (no matter what it relates to) can be a necessary step toward reaching goals that might include inner peace, mental or physical wellness and various definitions of success.
There are times, however, that the concept of “acceptance” can become an excuse we fall back on as a reason to not work toward positive change. There’s definitely a yin and yang to this in the dieting community. Some claim that accepting (and loving) their excess weight is a positive thing and even hold up popular celebrities like Lizzo to prove their point. And Lizzo certainly is a beautiful example of loving one’s self no matter what the scale might register. But does this kind of body-acceptance mean someone who’s morbidly obese (usually defined by being at least 100 pounds overweight) shouldn’t try to get down to a healthier size?
The good news is that the edicts of “acceptance” and self-love can work hand-in-hand with setting goals that can result in a happier and healthier you. As someone who used to tip the scale at over 450 pounds and who had been overweight my entire life up to that point, I know all too well the dangers that come along with being very heavy. I couldn’t talk on the phone without becoming breathless. I could barely find pants to fit my 60″ waist. I wore out the floorboard of my the car I drove during my college years because of the amount of weight I was putting onto it when getting in and out of the vehicle. And I even broke a movie theater seat when on a date during my time in high school. So I had some very good reasons to lose weight (in addition to all the medical benefits I would reap if I took off the excess pounds).
Certainly “acceptance” did (and still does) play into my going from fat to fit (not to mention keeping the excess weight off). And it can for you or someone you love who’s fighting the battle of the bulge as well. For starters, you can absolutely look to someone like Lizzo (follow her on Twitter or Instagram) and be inspired by her bright outlook and declarations of self-acceptance. You can also start a daily practice of writing down your current attributes in a journal. Or volunteer somewhere to get the kind of fruitful feedback that lets you know you’re making an important difference in this world.
Our self-worth is a virtual muscle. The more we “exercise” it, the stronger it becomes. And we need to love ourselves to strengthen that muscle and initiate positive change.
Consider someone you don’t really care for. Is this a person you’re concerned about? A person you want to live a happier, healthier life? Probably not. Now think of someone you do care for—a family member, a close friend, a romantic interest or even a cherished pet. Chances are these are the ones you would like to see living their very best lives. Perhaps it’s time for you to see yourself in this same loving light.
If a negative voice inside your head is constantly reminding you why you don’t matter or why you’re “less than,” then you may have less success when trying to lose weight for healthier reasons.
I always encourage people to live “as if.” (Meaning as if you’re already at whatever goal you’re currently striving for.) You don’t have to turn to extreme diets that leave you feeling unfulfilled. While some food plans or guidelines can be helpful when starting out on a healthier eating regimen, selecting food and nutrition options that give you lots of choices and leeway allows you to live your life to the fullest (even while journeying toward change).
You’re a celebrity in your own right. Why shouldn’t you be happy in every moment? You can have a cookie while on a healthier eating plan to take off excess pounds. The trick is not having the whole bag of cookies.
So yes. Accept where you’re at (on the scale) today. At this moment. And love yourself for it. For whatever reasons you put on the weight in the past, it was somehow serving you. But now? You’ve come to accept that you’re a rockstar in your own right. And that can translate to eating healthier, getting thinner and walking life’s runway like you’re a supermodel. Because guess what? Just like the fabulous Lizzo, that’s exactly what you are.