The Recovering Farmer

Monday, January 28, 2013

One Step At A Time

Over the course of the last two weeks I have talked to numerous people about stress management. It has been interesting and refreshing to compare stories with others. It seems that, without fail, everyone has significant stress in their lives. We live in a busy, hectic, fast paced world. It becomes difficult to find our place. The stress can become overwhelming. As we all know, this stress may be real or perceived. We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are. None the less, it is stress. One farmer I talked to, who is facing financial ruin, put it into perspective when he talked about the fact that most of his worries and concerns never materialized. I am reminded of the old man who said on his death bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.

One workshop participant came to me and shared how she had heard me on three different occasions over the last year. She went on to share how she took home the message but found it difficult to bring down her stress levels. She would try one of numerous coping tools but always ended up feeling like a failure. That only made the stress worse. She was frustrated. I challenged her to take it one step at a time. Baby steps even. To practice stress management techniques takes practice. Far too often we become so consumed with our lives we forget. Like everything else in life, it takes an effort. The results are worth it.

One of my greatest downfalls is an over exposure to stressors. Sure, as my psychologist has told me, my type of work can contribute to emotional distress. Dealing with people in crisis does that. Without realizing it, I am ingesting negativity. My emotional gas tank gets drained too quickly. I need to make that extra effort to keep gas in the tank. Even something as benign as facebook can create problems. I heard a news report this week that suggested that a large percentage of people who are on facebook have increased anxiety. I have at times felt that way. It always seems like my “friends”, and I use that term loosely, have only positives happening in their lives. They are away on holidays, they have made a new purchase, a new job. The list can be extensive. Others post extreme political views. These things have the ability to upset me. Hearing the news report actually cheered me up. It normalized and validated my own thoughts. Interesting how often I need to have my thoughts normalized and validated. News reports can have a tendency to add stress and anxiety. I used to watch a lot of news. Not so much anymore. News reports always seem to be negative. Always something bad happening in the world. My son showed me a website that only has good news stories. That is refreshing.

Last week I mentioned mindfulness as a coping tool. Have you been practicing that? We also need to laugh more. Laugh so hard that you have tears running down your legs. Okay, perhaps that comes with age. And no, that does not happen to me. Yet! Kids laugh up to 400 times a day. As adults that can drop to as low as 12. That is not enough. My week of vacation and the week of facilitating workshops provided many opportunities to laugh. Sometimes it did not take much. The bottom line is I came back refreshed. Laughing is good. It helps. Laughter can be the best medicine. Make it a good one.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting a Better Sleep

Did you know that you spend one third of your life sleeping? That means if you live to be 75 you will have spent 25 years sleeping. Almost seems like a waste of time. However, as I have found out this week, having the right amount of sleep is very important for maximising your life. In work and play.

Who knew? Having a hot bath before going to bed is a bad idea. I told someone just last week that I could sleep better if I had a bath before going to bed. Apparently that is not the case. I also should not be having anything hot to drink. No tea. Hmmm. Destroys some myths, me thinks.

Having done the tour with the Sleepless In Manitoba group has given me so many tools to utilize to better fall asleep. Not that I normally have issues, but like everything else, improving something like sleep can only be a benefit.

While participating in a call in radio show early this week, one caller asked which came first, stress or lack of sleep. My response was that it was not a chicken and egg thing, it is more a matter of each individual. In my work I see many people who are facing an incredible amount of stress and because of this have a difficult time sleeping. I have also heard from people who feel that their stress tolerance is lowered because they have a difficult time sleeping. Depends on who you are.

Aside from sleep issues such as sleep apnea, stress does create difficulties in sleep. Some people have a difficult time falling asleep. Others have no problem falling asleep but wake up during the night and when the anxiety hits, have a tough time going back to sleep.

I am like that. At times it felt like my brain was screaming for my body to shut down. Have a sleep. Perhaps it realized that when sleeping at least I would not be stewing about all the stress in my life, real or perceived. But then I would wake up and the anxiety would strike with a vengeance. That would make me toss and turn and not get the rest I so desperately wanted and needed. I learned a trick that really worked well for me and one that I still use. I found my happy place.

I realize that may sound hokey to some. However, let me explain. As you know by now I am an avid golfer. So what I would do is conjure up a golf game in my mind. I would pick a golf course that I know well and start playing it in my mind. It worked. Not sure I ever made it past the 4th hole and I would be back asleep.

In reality it is a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is an excellent tool to use. It is a well-known fact that it is virtually impossible to force anxious thoughts from your mind. It is a lot easier to force pleasant thoughts into your mind. Doing a breathing exercise also works well. Take the time to breath. Take note of air going through your nose as you inhale. Feel the various sensations in your body as the lungs fill. Then exhale. Clear your mind as you do this and focus only on breathing. This takes practice but works. It brings you back to the present. Away from those thoughts that are creating anxiety, thoughts of things that happened in the past and fears for tomorrow. Try it. It works. Make it a good one.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Countdown to Spring

I saw an interesting post on Facebook. Someone suggested that now that Christmas was done we were into a countdown to spring. Works for me. Similar to how I felt when we finally hit December 21. We all have certain checkpoints. A point in time that we realize the next step has come. My next checkpoint is January 31. If I make it till then I will have conquered winter, again. I know. There is February which can be cold. March has a mind of its own. Last year the golf courses opened middle of March. Earliest ever. Could we be so lucky again?

During this time of year many people plan a holiday. Find some place warm to go. Get away. Life has this tendency to become tedious. Stale. We need to get away. Many times it becomes a matter of filling the emotional gas tank. Our jobs get to us.

I am no different. I lucked out. Got an invitation to join three others for a week of golf in Phoenix. Never gone on a holiday without my better half. It feels strange planning this. A certain amount of guilt. I know she needs a holiday more than I do. When we moved last spring she changed jobs. Aside from adapting to a new place to live my work continued as it had been. Now I am the one that gets to take a week off. Not quite fair. Will have to find a way to pay her back for this one. Hopefully my emotional gas tank will be over flowing when I get back.

I suspect that there is a very fine line between needing to recharge the batteries and escaping from the reality we call life. Why does it seem that so many people do not seem satisfied with life? So many seem to be searching. What is it that we are looking for? Financial independence? Relationships without challenges? Health challenges? What really would it take to be able to sit back and say, “I have it made”? I wish I knew the answer to that. I see people who have no financial worries and yet they are not happy. I see people in relationships that are better than I could ever imagine but are not happy. I see people that have achieved their life goals but keep searching. I see people that seem confused and lost. What is it? What are we looking for?

Read an interesting quote the other day. “Instead of wondering where your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don't need to escape from.” -Seth Godin. It got me thinking. Perhaps that needs to be our focus. Perhaps what we are looking for is right there in front of us. In other words we might already have found what we keep searching for, just don’t recognize it. Life is too short to spend it in some futile search for something unknown, supposedly better. But life is also too short to keep doing what we are doing if we are just not happy. Make life changes before life changes. Make it a good one.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hello 2013

Perhaps as we end one year and begin another, seeing the world did not end on December 21, we should take a minute to check on our emotional attachments. And by “we” I suppose I mean “I”. Should not put this burden on others. But then again, and I am not trying to be judgemental, I suspect there are others that could use a gentle reminder to assess and reassess certain attachments.

To most of us the word attachment refers to something positive. However, we must be aware that just as often as not our attachments can be negative. We have certain “emotional attachments” in life. Far too often, and I refer again to my stinking thinking, our attachments create negative energy. We are consumed. And the more we are consumed the more our worries, our resentments, our ruminations, control our lives. They ruin relationships. They ruin our health, our wellbeing. We need to gain an awareness of these thoughts that are controlling us. Not always easy.

I recall, a little too vividly, that my parents had a strong attachment to the church and all that that brought with it. It controlled their lives. Everything in life, work or socially, was done in the context of their faith. Many of the farm families I deal with have an attachment to their farm. It may be a farm that has been passed on from generation to generation. It may be an attachment to the soil, to livestock. An attachment that many do not understand. My wife and kids would likely suggest that one of my attachments is golf. At times I seem to be consumed with the sport. I spend many hours in playing the game. And now, in the winter, I spend many an hour watching golf on TV. My son and daughter in law have shown an amazing attachment to their new born son. Everything they do is based on the wants and needs of the little boy.

The attachments I have just mentioned would be considered positive attachments. They are ones that help in shaping our lives, our future, our very being. But some of us, and again I refer to myself, have certain attachments that bring negativity to our lives. We are so consumed by certain events in our lives that they become attachments. Perhaps we often don’t recognize this. We carry them with us not realizing the impact they have on our lives. They may deal with financial issues, ways in which people wronged us, diseases I “may” have, things I have said or done, the “what ifs” in life. These would seem to be based on perception, rather than reality. There are real ones. Actual health challenges, true financial difficulties, broken relationships, etc. Don’t get me wrong. I am not minimizing any attachments we may have, real or perceived. It becomes a matter of doing an inventory. It is a matter of recognizing ones that we can deal with and ones that are perception only and can be tossed aside.

I find that recognizing what brings about many of these negative thoughts and feelings becomes an interesting exercise. When I follow the string I realize that the issue most upsetting me today is not really the root of my problems. Sometimes the string I follow leads me through areas I would just as soon forget. The problem is, I have not forgotten them. They keep popping up. I need to deal with them.

There are ways to detach. It takes recognition and practice. It means a shift in our thinking. As I suggested earlier, the first step is recognition. A self diagnosis. Then it becomes a matter of emptying ourselves of this negative attachment. Easier said than done, right? Absolutely. It takes practice. And lots of it. I have learned a valuable lesson. When I hold my grandson all of life’s worries and cares, all of my negative emotional attachments disappear. You know why? For that fleeting moment I have brought my thinking to the present. It really is a form of mindfulness. My wish, go ahead, call it a New Year resolution, is to practice being in the present. Fill my thoughts with positive attachments. Out with the old, in with the positive. Make it a good one.