Tag Archives: stress

Wound Up

A black lizard with a bright blue tail was sitting on my open journal when I returned to the deck with my refilled cup of coffee. Later, Google told me it is actually a skink and has a venomous bite. Wow. All I know is that’s not usually the kind of thing I usually see on/in my journal.

In the same week, I got frightened by three different armadillos in two different states. What’s up with the scary armadillos?

Oh, and I heard a beaver/nutria/groundhog thing under the same deck rustling, screaming and then running out from the deck in the bright light of day. Every single time I’ve ever heard an animal scream it does me in.

The two times my children have seen me the most frightened and out of control involve animals behaving strangely. Once, we were aggressively surrounded by nutria while on a picnic (picture a mom and two children on a table screaming). The second time was when someone’s formerly pet squirrel crawled up my leg but I didn’t know it was a pet. My kids still talk about these times of Mom losing it.

I’ve been decompressing from a season of too much…too many things my husband and I’ve been trying to do, battling some sickness and allergies, dealing with tough ongoing family situations, sending a kid back to college and all of it in a compressed time period.

Finally, I arrived at a time of many of those things being over and a time of settling back in to routine, relaxation, rest and regrouping.

Then suddenly, skinks, armadillos and beaver things screaming.

What does it mean?

I think it is just God’s humorous way of telling me I’m not quite relaxed yet. I need to settle down more, unwind more, cease doing things for a while. From Jesus Always by Sarah Young, God says look for Me. Sometimes I show Myself in grand, glorious ways. At other times I show Myself in simple, humble ways that only make sense to you. (page 252)

Is there a skink on your journal? Is a groundhog screaming at you? Is an armadillo scaring  you or a squirrel running up your leg?

Might be time to unwind. Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and wildlife enthusiast.        

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Your Plate

You are about to fill your plate at the party or potluck dinner. You tell yourself, like you always do, that you will not over do it. Little by little, with only a bit of this and that, it happens. The empty plate you started with is soon over-filled with small amounts of good things. If you really didn’t plan ahead you may require a whole other plate for salad and dessert. Worst case scenario, it is a paper plate that does not stand up to all your good choices.

We are entering the back to school and fall season of lots of good choices. Summer is winding down and families and individuals are gearing up for the fun and activity of fall. What’s on your plate?

I’m in a season of too much right now. I did it to myself. I said yes to some great things a long time ago and they are now all on my plate at once. That happens sometimes. What do you do when it does?

Here are some coping mechanisms in a season of too much. I’m implementing these myself right now. I’m sharing just in case you also are walking through life with a too full plate.

  1. Remember it is okay to subtract something. Just scrape it right off the plate. You do not have to explain why to anyone. I’m unable to do that will work just fine. Our family once just said no to all select baseball, for example. We just scraped it away and guess what? We have all been just fine without it. One time my middle child asked if he could join a very good organization. I said, No, you can’t. He later thanked me for that.
  2. Your plate has to have white space. White space is margin; space between activities; unscheduled time for breathing, resting, regrouping. You need white space every day.
  3. When evaluating the fullness of your plate, count everything. You need sleep on your plate. You need meal time. You need exercise time. You need time to do the basics like laundry and taking out the trash. The most dangerous time for mental health begins when people start sacrificing these basic tasks in order to get other things done. If your home is filled with trash you don’t have time to take out, you are in trouble. If you don’t have time to wash your hair, body or clothes, you are in trouble.
  4. You also need to count those things you wish weren’t on your plate like grief, chronic problems or new challenges you are facing. These all take time and emotional energy too. You have to be able to be honest with yourself and admit you are in a season of dealing with extra items on your plate before you ever arrived at the potluck.
  5. If your plate is full, turn down some other noise. In my seasons of stress, I end up with a loud tv on or too many podcasts in my ear, when what I need is some silence or soothing faith music instead while I’m carrying around the full plate.
  6. Lean on your spiritual resources. Martin Luther once famously said, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer. I think he is maybe overdoing it on the time allotted there, but I now understand the point. When I have a full day, I get up earlier to pray, journal and read scripture. I do not skip it. We’ve been commanded to honor a weekly sabbath, to see our bodies as God’s temple and to guard the gift of life that we’ve been given. I wonder why we ignore all that and instead worship our busyness? I have had to learn to stop leaning on my own understanding and my own capabilities and instead depend on God for prioritizing and giving me the energy for all the good things in my life. My inability to manage my plate has kept me dependent on God and I am grateful for that.
  7. Practice gratitude. When juggling too much, it is hard to be grateful. With less, it seems easier. Simplify in order to enhance your gratitude. Create white space and quiet so you can see what you have and hear God’s whispers of guidance.

Personally, as families and even as spiritual beings our life depends on good plate management skills. It is a balancing act for sure. What’s on your plate?

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller and Pace and breast cancer survivor. 

The Counter Pose

I’ve now been practicing yoga for one year. This new year I even added another class each week. I’m hooked. I pictured that one year out, I would have a really lean, healthy yoga body but as these things go, I still have my same body which can now do yoga.

I’ve mentioned before that one thing I love in addition to the stretching, balancing, core strengthening and deep relaxing are the teachings. Every time I practice yoga,I learn something that applies to life.

I’ve discovered the art of the counter pose.  Yoga is about balance, alignment and focus. Our teacher leads us through a pose and then a counter pose, the opposite of what we’ve just done. Picture bending forward arms down, rounding the back, then leaning back with arms extended, arching the back-that is a counter pose.

I’m learning to honor the counter pose. I spent a majority of my life not doing this. A busy, overfilled day was followed by an equally full night and then another overfilled day and on and on. When vacation time came, I was running on fumes, never really winding down. You know how it goes.

We were created to counter pose. The wisdom literature of scripture reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3, There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. The text even spells out activities and counter poses, “A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot….” Fourteen different poses and counter poses are listed for us. The writer of Ecclesiastes knew we needed it spelled out I guess.

It seems so simple like pure common sense. Thirst, then quenching thirst. Work, then rest. Winter, then spring. Feasting, then fasting. Lent, then Easter. Pose, counter pose.

We just don’t seem to be that good at honoring the counter pose. We push. We ignore our season. We seldom stop to ask ourselves what do I need for balance? Is it time to stretch the other direction now?

Jesus had the counter pose perfected. He worked, then rested. He took naps. He ate. He drank. He immersed himself in crowds and then intentionally pulled away. He saw people’s pain and heard their cries and then separated from it. In one particularly stressful time, he withdrew only a little bit (a stone’s throw way) to gather his thoughts, counter pose and pray. Luke 22:41-44.

Where are you right now? Which way have you been bending and stretching lately? What counter pose do you need in order to honor your body, your life or your season? There is a time for everything….

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa to Keller, a breast cancer survivor and yoga novice. She especially enjoys wearing yoga clothes when not wearing yoga.

In Celebration of Women

I just spent an entire weekend at a women’s retreat. In between my speaking segments, I listened to lots of women’s stories. It helped me remember all over again how much I love the bonds between women and our strength, compassion and resiliency, especially when we have each other. While we were retreating, other women marched, spoke up and found their way to the streets all over our nation to express their hearts. Recently, through the Me Too movement, women are drawing lines in the sand about what we will tolerate. Something is happening, women are in the middle of it and I love it.

Recently, I had a request to republish a column I wrote that ran in the Colleyville Courier in 2013 in a newspaper column I had at the time called Real Life. Today seems like a good day to do just that.

It happened 25 years ago. To me it was a non-event; to another person it was a major event. How could two people have such different recollections of the same thing?

I have two girlfriends I still talk to regularly who were my friends then. I called both of them and asked for their memories of the event. “Do you remember that day when…?”

I am grateful to have women friends I have counted on year after year. And, of course, both of my friends remembered the event like I did and immediately took my side. That’s what girlfriends are for.

Gale Berkowitz writes, “Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our female friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach quivering-stress most of us experience on a daily basis.” She cites a UCLA study on friendships among women, which reports that women respond to stress differently than men. Women produce hormones, which make us actually seek one another out to “tend and befriend” rather than the male stress response of “fight and flight.”

The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely we are to develop physical ailments as we age, and the more likely we are to be leading a joyful life.

So there it is, scientific proof that women need women and that spending time together is good for us.

Jennifer Louden, in The Woman’s Comfort Book, suggests women should ask themselves the following questions regarding friendships:
Who do I call when I’m down?
Who energizes me?
Who do I like to play with?
Who would I call in a crisis?
Who would bring me food if I was sick?
Who would I give my house key to?
The answers you give are clues to your nurturing network.

Another set of questions:
Who makes me feel tired?
Who causes me to have tension in my jaw or a stomach full of flutters?
Who do I find myself breathing shallowly around?
The answers are clues to your toxic relationships.

The rest is simple. Spend more time with the life-givers and less time with the energy-drainers.

Today, I celebrate energy-giving friendships among women…where we can talk for hours and never run out of things to say; where we can ask each other, “do you think it’s menopause or am I just always this snappish?”; where we can commiserate about men and children and what’s wrong with society; where we can trust that our tears, our laughter and our occasional inappropriate words are going to be heard in the spirit intended; where we are given the “just right gifts” that our friend just knew we needed; where we can compare parenting techniques, recipes, work and body issues—and wonder of wonders, live longer and stronger because of it.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a writer and pastor. This column is written in honor of L.P. and her amazing circle of friends. 

Beautiful Letting Go

It’s finally fall. In Texas we’ve been enduring ridiculous October days with high temperatures in the 90s. This makes us cranky, unable to breathe and creates fashion problems because you cannot wear sweaters and cute boots when you are having a heat stroke. We can’t decorate because pumpkins rot so fast in hot weather and rotting pumpkins is not the look we were going for.

Just this week the weather finally has turned for us. There are no words for how this feels. I made tortilla soup and pumpkin bread as fast as I could. I was ready with long pants, a long sleeved shirt and fuzzy socks for the first time in what seemed like decades.

Yesterday, I saw this quote for the first time, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.” I don’t know who said it, but it caught my imagination. My yoga teacher often says at the end of our practice, “let go of that which no longer serves you.” In yoga, for me, that is stress, a busy mind and the bound up feeling in my joints. I always think about what else I might need to let go of as well.

I’ve never before tied autumn to the practice of letting go. But, as the leaves release, perhaps so should we. Maybe it is time to let go of a bad habit, a toxic relationship or  the clutter in our homes. Maybe it is a season to let go of an old hairstyle, a resentment, an anger or a destructive grief. Maybe it is time to release the clothes we’ve not worn once 1977 or from 3 sizes ago. Maybe it is time to let go of a job, a burden or that worry that you will never fix. Maybe it is time to release our resistance to help and call the therapist, the doctor or call on God.

More than once, I’ve had to call on God’s spirit to let go of something that was no longer serving me. The prayer was simple, “God, I need you because I cannot let go of this alone.”

Imagine, in this new season as we marvel at the golden, orange and red leaves of fall, breathe in the crisp cool air, make and eat pumpkin everything, that we are also taking our cue from nature and allow a beautiful letting go.

 

 

 

Emotionally Able

Sometimes there are just seasons of emotional ups and downs. Sometimes you and I just get into times of being stretched, challenged or pushed just a little too far. One unfortunate thing about being in such a season is that the high emotions make it difficult to realize we are in a time like no other and we simply need to be gentle with ourselves.

No one will argue with me that our country is today in a time like no other.  Emotions are beyond high and roller coaster like. I watched a news piece last night where they brought together a group of widely diverse American strangers in a focus group, about 15 of them, to talk about the election and how they are feeling. In minutes, they were yelling and crying and were just sort of beside themselves. Strangely, it made me feel better about my own ups and downs. I kept telling my husband as we watched, “See, look at them.  They are taking this whole thing pretty hard too.”  Thank you, out -of-control focus group, for making me look somewhat normal as we head to whatever happens tomorrow.

We are now on day 29 of work happening in our home. Some things are done so there is light at the end of the tunnel. Other parts are just sadly hilarious. The floors and ceiling work, led to wall and trim work. This led to taking down every set of blinds and all window treatments. The painter suggested gently and tactfully we might want to clean all that window stuff. Cleaning curtains and blinds is not that easy, especially when they disintegrate when doing so. My husband and I are learning all over again that WE ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT PEOPLE. He is thorough and painstaking in his approach to home projects. For example, he likes to find studs in the walls before hanging things. I am fast-paced and streamlined in my approach to getting things done. We each think our way is best. Our two styles create a bit of emotional clash from time to time.

Last week, I went for my every six month mammogram. When you’ve had breast cancer this is a BIG EMOTIONAL DEAL. Making the appointment is hard. Waiting for it is hard. Going to it is hard. This time when I arrived, I was told I had scheduled the wrong kind of mammogram and would have to leave and reschedule. I said, “No.” As they looked at me, puzzled, my voice got sort of preacher loud for the whole waiting room to hear. I explained the part about mammograms post breast cancer being a BIG DEAL and not without a lot of angst. As all the other waiting women listened, I found myself saying, “I cannot leave and reschedule. I’m just not emotionally able to do that right now.” They worked me in. My mammogram was (whew) all clear.

Here’s what I’m learning in this season. It is okay to admit that we are in a season of high emotion. It’s okay to be election-stressed, home-stressed and mammogram-stressed. It is okay to not be emotionally able to do what others want you to do.

It is okay to say to relatives or others, “I cannot have this conversation right now.” It is okay to trim back your schedule or to do things you know will nurture your soul or level you out. For me that is getting lots of rest, exercising, writing and making banana pudding.

I’m bringing all this up in case it helps you; in case you are in a season too. Feel free to say to whoever is demanding something of you, “I’m just not emotionally able to do that right now.”  Take good care of your self. All will be well.

A Few Thoughts on Marriage…and Geese

A wise man once told my husband and me to think of our marriage as “the goose that laid the golden egg.” After I processed through a few weird visual images, I started to get it.  He meant our marriage partnership was stronger and more productive than either of us was apart.  He was trying to tell us to take care of the goose, for heaven’s sake.  Feed it, water it, shelter it, take it for walks, give it nutrients and vitamins and good goose food. Our marriage needed intentional nurturing to produce good fruit. I mean, eggs.

The same man asked us if we had a weekly (weekly!) date night.  He asked if once a quarter we got away together for long weekends.  What?  He had the nerve to ask us if we’d ever gone on a trip alone for two weeks or more. Are you kidding me?

We still have not achieved the once a quarter get away much less the two weeks gone thing but we got the point.  The goose needs love and attention, now.

As a pastor, I see it too often.  Marriages running on fumes.  Relationships depleted.  Couples so stretched, busy and out of the habit of tending to their marriages that they have almost nothing left.  There are some very malnourished, emaciated geese out there.  How did it happen that we put careers, kids, sports, community, hobbies and friends before our marriages?  How did our geese get so feeble?

Dr. Richard Swenson is a physician who writes about margin, making space in our lives for what matters. He writes, “Relationships require time.  Marriage requires time. Love requires time….Shared experiences, romantic date nights, reconciliation, errands, play, all require time.” He writes a “prescription” for marriage: “Make time for it.  Schedule time for communication….Have regular dates. Keep short accounts….When culture makes home deliveries of stress and overload, don’t open the door.  Guard the atmosphere of your home and the resilience of your marriage.” A Minute of Margin

Or, more simply put, wake up and take care of the goose, now.