Birthday Celebration

20170323_194717906_iOSThis weekend was Cody’s 12th birthday, and we had a great time celebrating! We had breakfast out, then attended a Nature Day event at the local park, went out for a special lunch, and then attended Seussical the musical at our local Center for the Arts. For someone who doesn’t like to be out around people, Cody did a great job with all the events – even with the packed house at the musical! It was a lot of fun getting to walk the trail with him at the Nature Day event, especially since I’d been trying to get him to walk it with me for over a year! I enjoy him getting older because he is getting more courageous about doing new things and going out in the community, and there have been a lot fewer meltdowns. Woohoo! In fact, over the last few months, he’s even gone grocery shopping with me which was Meltdown City not too long ago. Even though I’m enjoying him getting older, he was pretty upset about it on the eve of his birthday. He understands that as he gets older, there is more expected of him, and he will have a lot more responsibilities. But, I told him that with age comes the freedom to make choices on his own without so much oversight. By the next morning, he had recovered nicely, and we had a wonderful birthday celebration together out in the community – something I didn’t think was possible just a few years ago.

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Tools to Lessen Anxiety Part Three

20170313_145137893_iOSAs you probably already know, most anxiety comes from our feelings of powerlessness to change or control situations and people. In order to reduce anxiety, it does take a little faith in something greater than ourselves – be that God/Goddess/Universe, the inherent goodness of humanity, or a belief that somehow things will work out for the best even if it doesn’t seem like it. A technique that Cody and I use to help lessen some of this anxiety is a worry/wish jar. If there is an item or outcome that we desire, or if there is a situation we truly feel powerless over, we write it down and put it in the worry/wish jar. Around the neck of the bottle, there is a fortune we received from a fortune cookie that says “Don’t Panic.” Next to the worry/wish jar, we also have a gratitude jar. We use the gratitude jar as a way to express our gratitude in general but also to hold those worries/wishes that have been resolved. At the beginning of every new year, I empty out the worry/wish & gratitude jars and write how many wishes and worries were resolved in my journal. We have been doing this for two years now and it is astounding how many have been resolved (98% in those two years). What is interesting about this ritual is that when we reviewed many of the issues, we were surprised that they had been issues at all because they had lost their scariness and anxiety-inducing power in retrospect. This is helpful to remember moving forward because it instills a kind of faith that things will work out in the end. Additionally, it helps to lessen anxiety because every time that issue comes up (1,000 times a day), you can tell it (mentally or out loud) that the issue is being taken care of. This has worked particularly well for me. When something I’m anxious about keeps stealing my mental energy, I can remind myself that I have already put the request in the worry jar and a resolution is on its way even if I have no idea how it will occur. This does require a little faith at first, but eventually, when you start to see these issues resolved or wishes granted, your faith will grow. The trick is to surrender the fear and the want along with the outcome and allow that power greater than ourselves to intervene on our behalf for a perfect resolution. I keep the jar in the living room where we spend the majority of our time so that it is easily accessible whenever we need it.

As I am sure it is becoming clear, lessening anxiety is not an easy, quick fix. It takes a combination of different techniques that are easy to implement. It also takes a lot of experimenting to find what works for you and what doesn’t. What works for you may not work for your partner or your child. Everyone has to experiment to determine what is best for them. My only suggestion is that you stick with something for a while even if it doesn’t seem to be working right away. Sometimes these techniques take time for you to reap the benefits. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and allow yourself to be suspended in the unknown for a while before that big hand reaches out to catch you and place you safely on the ground.

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Tools to Lessen Anxiety Part Two

CoinsCody and I had an interesting conversation this morning. He is struggling with how to accept the things he cannot change. He has been spending a lot of time trying to figure out a way to make those things change and is frustrated because he cannot come up with a solution that works. Sound familiar? I always assumed this was an adult issue so I tried to answer with an adult answer. I told him that he just had to identify that he could not change something, and if he couldn’t truly change it, he had to let it go. That didn’t go over so well. His response was, “But what’s happening isn’t fair!” Again, sound familiar? I had to tell him that life is not always fair even though it frustrates me to admit that it’s true. The only thing we truly have control over is ourselves and our perceptions. I have often felt the way Cody does. I see something I believe is not fair, and I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out some way to “fix” it even though, most often, it is something I have zero control over.  I don’t want him to get caught up in the same cycle, but my explanation of HOW to let go of the things we cannot control was inadequate. I needed to get creative.

I told him to imagine he has a jar with ten coins in it. He gets ten coins every day and only ten coins. He cannot save the coins for another day, but he has control over how they are spent. I told him these coins represent his mental energy – where he places his focus each day. So, he must decide how to best spend these ten precious coins.  Then I asked him to think about how he would like to spend them. After giving him some time to think about it, I asked him if he would be willing to hand over one or more of his coins to someone or something that offered him nothing in return. He, of course, said No! I told him that’s what happens when he uses his mental energy trying to force something to change that he has no control over. He is throwing all of his coins at things that cannot acknowledge their worth. I explained to him that if he truly had come to the conclusion that there was not an action he could take that would change the situation/person he desperately wanted to change, he had to make the decision to spend his coins elsewhere.

Letting go, however, is easy to suggest, but not so easy to put into practice. So, I offered him a suggestion. I told him to write down everything he could about the situation or person he felt powerless to change in a journal, that this would help him move the frustration from inside his body to outside his body. He told me, though, that he had already started to do this using the Notes app on his iPad, but he still couldn’t seem to let these issues go. So, I suggested that we create a practice of writing out our frustrations and anger at the things we cannot change on paper and then ripping up the paper and throwing it in the garbage. Sometimes we need to physically act out letting go of something for our mind and body to understand that we are serious about letting it go. Even though he was getting it out on his iPad, he wasn’t actively, physically letting the issues go.  We decided we would start an experiment to see if doing some action physically would help. We are going to practice writing our feelings on paper, ripping them up, and then throwing them in the garbage to see if adding that physical action will help us finally let go of things we have no control over. I will keep you updated to see how it goes!

St Patricks DayHappy St. Patrick’s Day! Recently, I had an ancestral DNA test done and found out that I am 58% Irish/British ❤

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Tools to Lessen Anxiety Part One

AnxietyBoth Cody and I experience a lot of anxiety. Oftentimes, it is just a feeling and we have a difficult time pinpointing exactly where the feeling originates. We experience anxiety psychologically through our thought processes (immediately going to the worst-case scenario in every situation), but we also experience it physically (nausea, shaking, headaches, and genuine physical fear that ignites our fight-or-flight response). We have both been doing a lot of work trying to identify where our anxious feelings are coming from. I know that the best way to help Cody incorporate healthy coping skills into his life is to model them for him, so as I learn new skills and ways of coping with anxiety, I try to model them for him to see if they have a positive effect. Our whole life has become a giant experiment where we try different things and decide if they have any positive effect on our life. If they don’t, those tools get discarded. If they do, we try as best we can to incorporate them into our daily routines. What’s important to remember is that every person is different. Tools that work for me might not work for Cody and vice versa. However, there are a few tools that seem to be helping both of us lessen our anxiety. One of the tools is talking to each other about what might be causing our anxiety – a kind of investigative process into what situation or event might be triggering our anxiety. What usually happens is we first feel anxiety that manifests as irritation and aggravation with each other which leads to arguments. But, if we take time for reflection during or after the argument, we usually come to the conclusion that what we were arguing about had nothing to do with why we were originally feeling anxious. For example, I might be feeling irritated in the morning and come across as mean to Cody because of the comments that I make – such as expressing frustration with some aspect of what he is doing that morning (e.g. not eating breakfast fast enough and we are going to be late for school). Often with Cody, it is not the words I say that he reacts to, but the tone in which I say them. So, even if I think I am just stating a fact, it is the way I say it that causes the rift between us. If I catch myself doing this, I apologize, let him know that he is not eating any differently than he does any other day and that the source of my frustration is coming from something else. I will then try to pinpoint what it is, working through it out loud with him by naming off possible causes – such as realizing that my mind was filled with anxiety over all the things I had to get done that day, and I projected the need to get things done quickly onto him when it was really about me. There are many times I have to tell him that my anxiousness and irritation is not caused by him even though the easy, simple way would be to just blame him. I could choose to tell myself that if he would just hurry up and eat, brush his teeth, and get his shoes on instead of playing with the cat, I wouldn’t be feeling this way. That would be the easy way to blame my anxiety on someone else. But, that wouldn’t help me truly pinpoint where the anxiety was coming from so that I could implement a tool that would truly help me process it. It is important to mention that there are also many, many times I have to tell Cody I feel anxious and irritated but I have no idea why because sometimes I really don’t know why. I believe trying to work our anxiety out verbally with each other is the key. It helps us to get what we are feeling out in the open and share it with each other even if we don’t understand why we are feeling a certain way. It keeps us from being hurt by the other’s actions and lessens the chance for misunderstandings. It also helps us to work out verbally what might be going on to help us pinpoint its origins, but also keeps us from blaming each other for our own behavior. It helps us to take responsibility for how we behave. Also, going through the process verbally helps us model our internal thought processes for each other in a positive way. This has had a tremendous impact on how we communicate with each other and has helped us improve our relationship – though, in all honesty, it is a work in progress, and we sometimes forget to use it even though it’s so beneficial. The more we do it, though, the more natural is it becoming a part of who we are instead of what we do. In the next post, I will share a few more tools that we both are using to help lessen the anxiety we feel every day.

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Sparking Creativity

Art Supplies

I’ve had a challenging time getting Cody off of his electronics (laptop, iPad, iPod). If I am not vigilant on the weekends, he will spend ten to twelve hours on them, stopping only to eat. Just saying he cannot have access to his electronics doesn’t work. In a way, it is like punishing him for doing something that he really loves to do (he spends the majority of his time on Minecraft building and/or story building or playing the math game Prodigy). So, in order to lure him away from his electronics in a way that puts the decision in his own hands, I had to come up with some creative ideas. Of the many ideas that I have tried over the years, two have been the most successful.

The first was to create a list of tasks for Cody to complete each Saturday and Sunday. These tasks include things like: build something with Legos, write a poem using word magnets, jump 500 times on the trampoline, and read a book for thirty minutes. Additionally, I add a few specific chores like getting his laundry ready to be washed or putting it away, making a meal of his choice, cleaning up after a meal, or sorting recycling items in their specific bins. I write out a list first thing in the morning and give it to him. Then I allow him to decide when he will complete the tasks on the list. This teaches him time management and also gives him the power to decide when it is best for him to complete each task throughout the day. I have had a lot of success with this method as long as I don’t continue to bother him about when he’s going to complete the tasks. I offer gentle reminders if it is getting later in the day, but otherwise, I take a hands-off approach and let him figure it out on his own.

The second idea was to rearrange the living room (where he spends the majority of his time) to include items that would spark his creativity and lure him away from his electronics naturally. I put a desk in one corner of the living room and filled it with all our art supplies as well as other items to spark creativity such as his Legos. This has worked well because when he gets bored with his electronics, instead of looking online for more games to play, he now has available to him physical items within eyesight that he can choose to engage with instead. This has had a miraculous impact on him. There are some days he will now spend a couple of hours engaged with his Legos or creating his own medical report documents and scientific experiments on the desk. Even though the desk had been available to him in another room before, the act of bringing the things he would most likely engage with into the room he spent the most time in helped change the way he did things naturally. Of course, this idea was a bit challenging at first because I kept imagining that our living room would become a chaotic mess all the time. It is the first room people walk into when they come to our home, so I didn’t want it to look too messy and disorganized. However, for the most part, this hasn’t happened. Cody has done a great job of cleaning up after himself and keeping the space in good order – an unexpected positive outcome. This new arrangement has benefited me as well. I’ve begun creating art again now that all the art supplies are so easily accessible to me in a space where I would normally just sit and watch television or read. So, as is usually the case, the changes I made to assist Cody have had a positive impact on my life too.

Something to consider: In what ways might you spark your own or your child’s creativity by rearranging the room you spend the most time in so that it includes the things that you or your child are most likely to creatively engage with?

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Saying I Love You with Lunch Napkin Doodles

Napkin Message 2In last Monday’s post, I mentioned that there were other ways that I try to fill Cody’s days with positive messages. I have to make Cody’s lunch for him each morning before school because he has a dairy allergy. It is the best way I can ensure that he doesn’t eat anything with dairy while he’s at school. I was trying to come up with ways to impact Cody’s days with positive messages when I wasn’t around. Enter lunch napkin doodling! I decided that each morning I would write him a special note to let him know that I love him. I heard many, many years ago (I don’t remember exactly who said it or when) that it takes saying “I love you” a hundred times a day for your child to actually hear it. That has always stuck with me. I imagine it takes even more than that for Cody to really hear and process that I
love him. Also, he is prone to more anxious thinking than most children, especially at school, so I thought this could provide a kind of happiness refresher in the middle of the day when he likely needed it the most. I’ve been doing it for several years now, and he looks forward to them every day. I’m not always so artistic early in the morning, so even if I don’t do an elaborate doodle, I put a positive message on the napkin for him that says at the least: “I love you” and “Be the best you today.” I believe that all these small, positive messages add up, and will have an impact on him well into the future. In what small ways can youNapkin Message impact others with a positive message on a daily basis?

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Dancing It Out

cinderella-cinderella-24299959-500-379Recently, I made a commitment to start listening to my inner voice and to stay open to the messages that it brings me from the Universe. This led to an epiphany – the Universe most often communicates to me through random song lyrics, and what happened this morning is a perfect example. I woke up at 4:00 AM with the song lyric “I feel good, I knew that I would now…” from James Brown’s song I Feel Good, playing in my head. I thought, “well that’s a good motivating song to wake up to,” and went on with my daily morning routine – meditation, journaling, reading – with the lyrics playing over and over in my head. Then at 6:30, I woke Cody up for school. When he got out of the shower, he was crying. This kind of day can get out of hand quickly if I’m not on point. His anxiety can build, and sometimes he will refuse to go to school. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that many of his teachers would be out of school today. This meant that he would have to deal with the unknown – substitute teachers. Change, especially unknown change, can be incredibly difficult for Cody to process. I am working with myself and with him to try to change the words and the pictures in our heads that cause our anxiety to grow exponentially especially since much of what we fear is going to happen doesn’t actually happen. So, I told him to try to imagine having a good day with really great substitute teachers, but that didn’t work. Then I thought, “why not turn them all into fairy godmothers who will grant him a wish for each class? Why not just throw a little magic into his day?” I told him to imagine all his teachers today were fairy godmothers and asked him what the first fairy godmother would look like. After he answered, I asked him what wish he would like granted for that class. He was reluctant to play along at first (I sometimes have to get quite animated to get him involved), but as we went through each of his six classes he was more and more enthusiastic about it. We had fairies with wild, curly hair; fairies with devil horns and black wands; and even one fairy with hair standing straight up on her head! Some of his wishes included a confetti gun for all of his classmates and an iPhone 7! I repeated back each class, each fairy description, and each wish – and then said “Boom! It’s yours!” Then we danced it out – because it is really difficult to be upset when you’re shaking your butt. I started singing the lyrics that had been running through my head earlier in the morning, and Cody started to sing along with me. Then during breakfast, I played the song and we sang along. By this time, Cody was motivated and excited to go to school. We danced a little more, and then I played him an excerpt of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo just to seal in the magic for the day. By the time I dropped him off at school, he was more than ready to face the day. What I find most fascinating in reflecting on our experience this morning is that I have always told myself that I’m not really good at improvisation, that I need time to think things through especially when it comes to my creative process. I had never thought about how often I have to come up with something on the fly to help Cody stay calm and to shift his perception of what is happening around him and inside him. This experience helped me understand that the story I’ve been telling myself about who I am needs to be rewritten because it’s simply not true – and it all started with a song lyric and a commitment to staying open to the messages and lessons the Universe is sending my way. What messages might the Universe be sending you in a creative way? In what ways might you be telling a story about yourself, that upon reflection, is clearly not true?

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