9 Ways to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

It’s December. The holidays bring twinkling lights, the scent of baking cookies, gatherings with friends and family, and stress. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association, Stress in America, showed that even without the upcoming holidays 24 percent of adults report extreme stress. The increased social and financial pressures of this season often create extra challenges. However, implementing these 9 tips may help reduce stress during the holidays.

Reduce Stress by Preparing for the Holidays

Advance planning helps reduce unexpected challenges. Think about some of these tips now to help you enjoy the holidays most fully with peace of mind and joy.

Adopt a Positive Mindset

Don’t let your mind run wild

The first step to creating a positive mindset is acknowledging that you have choice about what is going on in your head.

Rather than mentally rehashing last week’s fight you had with your friend or worrying about your upcoming performance review, choose to stay grounded in the present moment, enjoying or taking action on what is in front of you right now.

Positive thinking reduces the body’s stress response. An optimistic outlook helps you more successfully work with any challenges that arise. Practice catching yourself in negative mental chatter. Break the cycle with a few intentional deep breaths, and replace the stressful ideas with an image of something beautiful.

Look for underlying reasons for unskillful behavior

When people behave like jerks this holiday season, see if you can intuit their underlying motivations.

For instance, before you get annoyed at Aunt Maysie, who continually asks you to try her fruitcake, or your co-worker Steve, who can’t stop telling you about his promotion, take a deep breath. Then, look for the underlying motivation.

Perhaps Maysie is just showing that she loves you. Maybe Steve is merely trying to bolster his own sense of self-worth or is still in awe that his employer saw his value.

Graciously thank them for their attention, then instead of viewing your situation with annoyance, internally express gratitude that you have these people in your life.

Be Realistic With Your Time and Plan Ahead

Choose days for specific tasks

Use your favorite calendar to schedule days or time-blocks for shopping, baking, visiting with friends, cleaning the house, and self-care. Create task lists for each day to help keep you organized.

Solicit help the smart way

If you need help hosting or cleaning up before/after your party, shopping for family gifts, or decorating the house ask for help. Ask people individually for specifically what you need instead of sending out a mass email generically asking for help.

Learn to say no

Pay more attention to your gut or quiet little voice when it says “no” to scheduling yet another event. Often we say “yes” because we feel socially obliged then we end up feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

By saying “no” to events you consider less important, you create more time to say “yes” to the events that truly bring you pleasure and lift your spirits.

Keep It Simple

If you are welcoming out-of-town guests and hosting family festivities, focus on creating simple, enjoyable events.

Know your strengths and what brings you pleasure. If that includes planning and executing beautifully detailed holiday parties, go for it and have fun while you’re doing it. If party planning is not your best strength, create something that utilizes your skills and talents.

Embrace imperfection, let go of control, and be willing to delegate. For example, instead of preparing an entire holiday meal alone, ask all the guests to bring a dish or help you with specific tasks in the kitchen.

Open your heart to spending time with family and friends rather than worry about creating the perfect event.

Set and Stick To a Budget

Know your spending limit

Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can realistically afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. One of the most prevalent causes of stress during the holiday season is worry about money.

Discuss spending limits with friends and family and agree on an amount that fits within everyone’s budget.

Experiment with these alternatives

  • Give homemade gifts
  • Use words and not expensive items to let people know how much they mean to you
  • Let your family know you are not interested in receiving gifts this year, and that spending time together (either in person or via a phone call) is the gift you’re giving them.
  • Give “gift vouchers” for a service or skill-set you can offer

Reduce Stress During the Holidays

Stressful situations may not be completely avoidable during the holidays. But you can plan to respond to them in a healthy way.

Maintain Healthy Habits

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity stimulates endorphin production in the brain. Endorphins are brain chemicals that function as a natural painkiller. They trigger a positive feeling in the body, boost mood, and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.

An easy starting point is to take a walk in nature. The rhythmic nature of walking relaxes the brain, decreases anxiety, and improves sleep. Get into the fresh air and sunshine and spend some time with plants.

Commit to at least 30 minutes of physical activity a minimum of three times each week. Find an activity that works for you and your lifestyle.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Make the most of this holiday season by ensuring you are well rested. The best way to do this is to get regular sleep. Try to stay within an hour of your regular bedtime.

Often we want to stay up late during the holidays to catch up with old friends and family from out of town, or we enjoy the festive parties so much we just don’t want to leave.  However as hard as it seems to do, tuck yourself into bed or excuse yourself from the party before it fully winds down. Your family and friends will thank you most if you don’t turn into the Grinch because of sleep loss.

Zipping across time zones creates the additional challenge of jet lag. Do your best to shift to the current time zone as quickly as possible, and if necessary excuse yourself now and then for a quick nap or some quiet time.

Eat Real Food, Mostly

Inevitably, at this time of year, you’ll find sugary, empty-calorie “treats” just about wherever you go. To be your most energetic, focused, and happy self, do your best to eat vegetables and fruits, choose healthy fats, lean protein, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

A daily squeeze of lemon into warm water with a dash of honey helps balance your body’s pH levels and enhances your immune system.

Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks.

Create quiet time for yourself

Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Try these options:

In addition, when you get stressed out, anxious, or feel overwhelmed during the day, take quick relaxation breaks of 1 to 5 minutes to calm yourself down. Breathing slowly and intentionally can reduce frustration while waiting in line at the supermarket, post office, or drug store.

If necessary, take breaks from group activities. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Spend a little time by yourself if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Embrace change

Celebrate with families in new ways

As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.

Create new traditions

If you’re lonely or grieving, experiment with researching a different culture’s holiday traditions. Plan a gathering based on this newly learned tradition and invite neighbors, colleagues, or friends over to celebrate the season in this new way.

Set Aside Differences

Release expectations

Do your best to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. If others become upset or distressed when something goes awry, treat them kindly and with an open heart. Chances are they’re also feeling the effects of holiday stress and anxiety.

Pick Your Battles

Close proximity with some family members for long periods of time can be stressful. Each person has a unique personality. Because of your differences, it may be easy to rub each other the wrong way.

Set aside your differences, and agree to disagree.  Though it is easier said than done, do your best to take care of yourself and let remarks that challenge you roll off your back rather than burrow under your skin.

Redirect conversations away from touchy topics to things for which you’re grateful and that are going well for yourself or your family members. Don’t let the actions of others rob you of your joy.

Be Content With Imperfection

Be realistic

Release yourself from the expectation that you will create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you. Notice and act upon the activities that bring you peace and joy instead of forsaking your own peace of mind to please others. 

Remember that just because it’s a holiday, family problems don’t go away. If you have a hard time being around your relatives, it’s okay to set limits on your time at events and visits.

Clutter and dust bunnies are acceptable

Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little messy or dinner is on the table a few minutes late. Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Strengthen Social Connections

Maintain close friendships

Strong and supportive relationships help us manage all kinds of challenges. View the holidays as a time to reconnect with the positive people in your life. Accepting help and support from those who care about you helps reduce anxiety.

If you need it, seek support from those you trust. Many people isolate themselves when they’re stressed or worried. However, social support is important, so reach out to family and friends.

Get professional help if you need it

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. We’re all human and we all need a helping hand at times. Taking care of yourself during the holidays is a top priority.

Be Kind to Yourself

Most of all, be kind to yourself. In order for us to sustainably extend kindness to others we must have a strong foundation of self-kindness.  Practice finding ways to be at peace with yourself.

Some people are better at dealing with uncertainties than others. If your tolerance for unpredictability is low, do something you enjoy rather than something you find to be difficult. Remind yourself that it might take time for the stressful situation to resolve, and be patient with yourself in the meantime.

Want more ideas for reducing stress throughout the year?

This article covers a few very quick and practical ideas for reducing stress during the holidays. Making a permanent change takes courage, patience, and continual practice.

Dive deeper into these concepts and more by exploring these options:

FREE 9-Day E-Course ~ 9-Ways to Cultivate Peace During the Holidays. Receive stress-relieving ideas, tools, and techniques to help you: become more patient with loved ones, instill healthy self-care practices, focus on appreciation and gratitude.

Cultivating Mindful Compassion Course ~ Explore all aspects of acceptance and compassion for self and others via weekend workshops or interactive multi-week online courses via Zoom. Curriculum draw’s from Stanford University’s Compassion Cultivation Training and a 25+ Taoist background.

Heart Opening Retreat in Awe-Inspiring Peru ~ This Peru retreat uniquely blends exploration of Peru’s beautiful Sacred Valley with meditation, qigong, and rich conversations about acceptance, compassion, and joy.

Cultivating Compassion: Simple Everyday Practices for Discovering Peace of Mind and Resilience ~ “Amy Colvin offers a crisp, readable, actionable roadmap to a more thoughtful, compassionate, happier you. A gem of a book and a powerful way to start each morning.” — Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google and author of Work Rules!

The Strangest Secret

A friend recently suggested I read The Strangest Secret, an essay written in the 1950’s by Earl Nightingale. In 1956 this essay was turned into a spoken word record and sold more than a million copies, making it the first spoken-word recording to achieve gold record status.

From an early age Earl was curious about why some people live in poverty and others do not. Ultimately inspired a line by Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, “we become what we think about.” Earl realized he saw this same concept appearing in many places, from the New Testament to the works of Emerson. 

Personally, I love the timelessness of the message, and wanted to share it here with you. Managing our mindset is a consistent theme in my classes and blog posts. Consider taking the 30 day challenge, and if you do, drop me a comment below. I don’t need to know what you wrote on your card, only that you were inspired to take action. 

Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret

Some years ago, the late Nobel prize-winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer was asked by a reporter, “Doctor, what’s wrong with men today?” The great doctor was silent a moment, and then he said, “Men simply don’t think!”

It’s about this that I want to talk with you. We live today in a golden age. This is an era that humanity has looked forward to, dreamed of, and worked toward for thousands of years. We live in the richest era that ever existed on the face of the earth … a land of abundant opportunity for everyone.

However, if you take 100 individuals who start even at the age of 25, do you have any idea what will happen to those men and women by the time they’re 65? These 100 people believe they’re going to be successful. They are eager toward life, there is a certain sparkle in their eye, an erectness to their carriage, and life seems like a pretty interesting adventure to them.

But by the time they’re 65, only one will be rich, four will be financially independent, five will still be working, and 54 will be broke and depending on others for life’s necessities.

Only five out of 100 make the grade! Why do so many fail? What has happened to the sparkle that was there when they were 25? What has become of the dreams, the hopes, the plans … and why is there such a large disparity between what these people intended to do and what they actually accomplished?

THE DEFINITION OF SUCCESS

First, we have to define success and here is the best definition I’ve ever been able to find: “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.”

A success is the school teacher who is teaching because that’s what he or she wants to do. A success is the entrepreneur who start his own company because that was his dream and that’s what he wanted to do. A success is the salesperson who wants to become the best salesperson in his or her company and sets forth on the pursuit of that goal.

A success is anyone who is realizing a worthy predetermined ideal, because that’s what he or she decided to do … deliberately. But only one out of 20 does that! The rest are “failures.”

Rollo May, the distinguished psychiatrist, wrote a wonderful book called Man’s Search for Himself, and in this book he says: “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice … it is conformity.” And there you have the reason for so many failures. Conformity and people acting like everyone else, without knowing why or where they are going.

We learn to read by the time we’re seven. We learn to make a living by the time we’re 30. Often by that time we’re not only making a living, we’re supporting a family. And yet by the time we’re 65, we haven’t learned how to become financially independent in the richest land that has ever been known. Why? We conform! Most of us are acting like the wrong percentage group and the 95 who don’t succeed.

GOALS

Have you ever wondered why so many people work so hard and honestly without ever achieving anything in particular, and why others don’t seem to work hard, yet seem to get everything? They seem to have the “magic touch.” You’ve heard people say, “Everything he touches turns to gold.” Have you ever noticed that a person who becomes successful tends to continue to become more successful? And, on the other hand, have you noticed how someone who’s a failure tends to continue to fail?

The difference is goals. People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going. It’s that simple. Failures, on the other hand, believe that their lives are shaped by circumstances … by things that happen to them … by exterior forces.

Think of a ship with the complete voyage mapped out and planned. The captain and crew know exactly where the ship is going and how long it will take and it has a definite goal. And 9,999 times out of 10,000, it will get there.

Now let’s take another ship and just like the first and only let’s not put a crew on it, or a captain at the helm. Let’s give it no aiming point, no goal, and no destination. We just start the engines and let it go. I think you’ll agree that if it gets out of the harbor at all, it will either sink or wind up on some deserted beach and a derelict. It can’t go anyplace because it has no destination and no guidance.

It’s the same with a human being. However, the human race is fixed, not to prevent the strong from winning, but to prevent the weak from losing. Society today can be likened to a convoy in time of war. The entire society is slowed down to protect its weakest link, just as the naval convoy has to go at the speed that will permit its slowest vessel to remain in formation.

That’s why it’s so easy to make a living today. It takes no particular brains or talent to make a living and support a family today. We have a plateau of so-called “security.” So, to succeed, all we must do is decide how high above this plateau we want to aim.

Throughout history, the great wise men and teachers, philosophers, and prophets have disagreed with one another on many different things. It is only on this one point that they are in complete and unanimous agreement and the key to success and the key to failure is this:

WE BECOME WHAT WE THINK ABOUT

This is The Strangest Secret! Now, why do I say it’s strange, and why do I call it a secret? Actually, it isn’t a secret at all. It was first promulgated by some of the earliest wise men, and it appears again and again throughout the Bible. But very few people have learned it or understand it. That’s why it’s strange, and why for some equally strange reason it virtually remains a secret.

Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor, said: “A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.”

Disraeli said this: “Everything comes if a man will only wait … a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and nothing can resist a will that will stake even existence for its fulfillment.”

William James said: “We need only in cold blood act as if the thing in question were real, and it will become infallibly real by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real. It will become so knit with habit and emotion that our interests in it will be those which characterize belief.” He continues, ” … only you must, then, really wish these things, and wish them exclusively, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly.”

My old friend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale put it this way: “If you think in negative terms, you will get negative results. If you think in positive terms, you will achieve positive results.” George Bernard Shaw said: “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Well, it’s pretty apparent, isn’t it? We become what we think about. A person who is thinking about a concrete and worthwhile goal is going to reach it, because that’s what he’s thinking about. Conversely, the person who has no goal, who doesn’t know where he’s going, and whose thoughts must therefore be thoughts of confusion, anxiety, fear, and worry will thereby create a life of frustration, fear, anxiety and worry. And if he thinks about nothing … he becomes nothing.

AS YE SOW and SO SHALL YE REAP

The human mind is much like a farmer’s land. The land gives the farmer a choice. He may plant in that land whatever he chooses. The land doesn’t care what is planted. It’s up to the farmer to make the decision. The mind, like the land, will return what you plant, but it doesn’t care what you plant. If the farmer plants too seeds and one a seed of corn, the other nightshade, a deadly poison, waters and takes care of the land, what will happen?

Remember, the land doesn’t care. It will return poison in just as wonderful abundance as it will corn. So up come the two plants and one corn, one poison as it’s written in the Bible, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

The human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and mysterious than the land, but it works the same way. It doesn’t care what we plant … success … or failure. A concrete, worthwhile goal … or confusion, misunderstanding, fear, anxiety, and so on. But what we plant it must return to us.

The problem is that our mind comes as standard equipment at birth. It’s free. And things that are given to us for nothing, we place little value on. Things that we pay money for, we value.

The paradox is that exactly the reverse is true. Everything that’s really worthwhile in life came to us free and our minds, our souls, our bodies, our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions, our intelligence, our love of family and children and friends and country. All these priceless possessions are free.

But the things that cost us money are actually very cheap and can be replaced at any time. A good man can be completely wiped out and make another fortune. He can do that several times. Even if our home burns down, we can rebuild it. But the things we got for nothing, we can never replace.

Our mind can do any kind of job we assign to it, but generally speaking, we use it for little jobs instead of big ones. So decide now. What is it you want? Plant your goal in your mind. It’s the most important decision you’ll ever make in your entire life.

Do you want to excel at your particular job? Do you want to go places in your company … in your community? Do you want to get rich? All you have got to do is plant that seed in your mind, care for it, work steadily toward your goal, and it will become a reality.

It not only will, there’s no way that it cannot. You see, that’s a law and like the laws of Sir Isaac Newton, the laws of gravity. If you get on top of a building and jump off, you’ll always go down and you’ll never go up.

And it’s the same with all the other laws of nature. They always work. They’re inflexible. Think about your goal in a relaxed, positive way. Picture yourself in your mind’s eye as having already achieved this goal. See yourself doing the things you will be doing when you have reached your goal.

Every one of us is the sum total of our own thoughts. We are where we are because that’s exactly where we really want or feel we deserve to be and whether we’ll admit that or not. Each of us must live off the fruit of our thoughts in the future, because what you think today and tomorrow and next month and next year and will mold your life and determine your future. You’re guided by your mind.

I remember one time I was driving through eastern Arizona and I saw one of those giant earth-moving machines roaring along the road with what looked like 30 tons of dirt in it and a tremendous, incredible machine and and there was a little man perched way up on top with the wheel in his hands, guiding it. As I drove along I was struck by the similarity of that machine to the human mind. Just suppose you’re sitting at the controls of such a vast source of energy. Are you going to sit back and fold your arms and let it run itself into a ditch? Or are you going to keep both hands firmly on the wheel and control and direct this power to a specific, worthwhile purpose? It’s up to you. You’re in the driver’s seat. You see, the very law that gives us success is a doubleedged sword. We must control our thinking. The same rule that can lead people to lives of success, wealth, happiness, and all the things they ever dreamed of and that very same law can lead them into the gutter. It’s all in how they use it … for good or for bad. That is The Strangest Secret!

Do what the experts since the dawn of recorded history have told us to do: pay the price, by becoming the person you want to become. It’s not nearly as difficult as living unsuccessfully.

The moment you decide on a goal to work toward, you’re immediately a successful person and you are then in that rare group of people who know where they’re going. Out of every hundred people, you belong to the top five. Don’t concern yourself too much with how you are going to achieve your goal and leave that completely to a power greater than yourself. All you have to do is know where you’re going. The answers will come to you of their own accord, and at the right time.

Start today. You have nothing to lose and but you have your whole life to win.

30-DAY ACTION PLAN FOR PUTTING THE STRANGEST SECRET TO WORK FOR YOU

For the next 30-days follow each of these steps every day until you have achieved your goal.

1. Write on a card what it is you want more that anything else. It may be more money. Perhaps you’d like to double your income or make a specific amount of money. It may be a beautiful home. It may be success at your job. It may be a particular position in life. It could be a more harmonious family.

Write down on your card specifically what it is you want. Make sure it’s a single goal and clearly defined. You needn’t show it to anyone, but carry it with you so that you can look at it several times a day. Think about it in a cheerful, relaxed, positive way each morning when you get up, and immediately you have something to work for and something to get out of bed for, something to live for.

Look at it every chance you get during the day and just before going to bed at night. As you look at it, remember that you must become what you think about, and since you’re thinking about your goal, you realize that soon it will be yours. In fact, it’s really yours the moment you write it down and begin to think about it.

2. Stop thinking about what it is you fear. Each time a fearful or negative thought comes into your mind, replace it with a mental picture of your positive and worthwhile goal. And there will come a time when you’ll feel like giving up. It’s easier for a human being to think negatively than positively. That’s why only five percent are successful! You must begin now to place yourself in that group.

“Act as though it were impossible to fail,” as Dorothea Brande said. No matter what your goal and if you’ve kept your goal before you every day and you’ll wonder and marvel at this new life you’ve found.

3. Your success will always be measured by the quality and quantity of service you render. Most people will tell you that they want to make money, without understanding this law. The only people who make money work in a mint. The rest of us must earn money. This is what causes those who keep looking for something for nothing, or a free ride, to fail in life. Success is not the result of making money; earning money is the result of success and and success is in direct proportion to our service.

Most people have this law backwards. It’s like the man who stands in front of the stove and says to it: “Give me heat and then I’ll add the wood.” How many men and women do you know, or do you suppose there are today, who take the same attitude toward life? There are millions.

We’ve got to put the fuel in before we can expect heat. Likewise, we’ve got to be of service first before we can expect money. Don’t concern yourself with the money. Be of service … build … work … dream … create! Do this and you’ll find there is no limit to the prosperity and abundance that will come to you.

Don’t start your test until you’ve made up your mind to stick with it. If you should fail during your first 30 days and by that I mean suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by negative thoughts and simply start over again from that point and go 30 more days. Gradually, your new habit will form, until you find yourself one of that wonderful minority to whom virtually nothing is impossible.

Above all … don’t worry! Worry brings fear, and fear is crippling. The only thing that can cause you to worry during your test is trying to do it all yourself. Know that all you have to do is hold your goal before you; everything else will take care of itself.

Take this 30-day test, then repeat it … then repeat it again. Each time it will become more a part of you until you’ll wonder how you could have ever have lived any other way. Live this new way and the floodgates of abundance will open and pour over you more riches than you may have dreamed existed. Money? Yes, lots of it. But what’s more important, you’ll have peace … you’ll be in that wonderful minority who lead calm, cheerful, successful lives.

Mindfulness, Kindness, and Self-Appreciation

 

 

Mindfulness, Kindness, and Self-Appreciation

How often do you find it easier to see your flaws rather than appreciate your strengths? If you answered, fairly often, you are not alone.

Societal norms, educational environments, and/or family dynamics condition us to look at our failures rather than our successes. We internalize criticism and shrug off compliments. For some of us the idea of looking in the mirror with open-heartedness and love then saying to our reflection, “Hey, I think you’re fantastic; I genuinely appreciate and like you,” makes us squirm uncomfortably.

Fear often negates self-appreciation

A primary fear arises from comparing ourselves to others. We strive to do our best, trying to achieve perfection. Yet at the same time we forget that we are human, and by nature, imperfect. We are conditioned by a desire to please others by doing well and fear reprimands for poor performance. Our grades were established by comparison to other students, our wages and promotions are determined by comparisons to our peers, and sometimes the love we receive from our families arises from comparison to our siblings.

Change our mindset to embrace self-appreciation

Choose to set an intention each day to do your very best—whatever that means for you. If you follow that intention, then you have succeeded in your goal for the day. Give yourself a hug of self-appreciation, and start over the next day. Even if you didn’t achieve perfection—again whatever that means to you—by doing your best, and being pleased with it you begin to move into a space of self-appreciation. Self-appreciation does not imply vanity or narcissism. These two traits arise when you flaunt your “daily best” to others and expect praise and accolades in return.

How do we embrace our positive qualities in a healthy way? First, we need to acknowledge that all people have strengths and weaknesses. Then, when we enjoy what’s good about ourselves, we embrace and celebrate our goodness without evoking feelings of arrogance or pretentiousness. We treat ourselves with mindfulness, kindness, and a sense of common humanity when considering our perceived flaws.

Mindfulness and Self-Appreciation

Just as we need be aware of good qualities in others in order to appreciate them, we need to intentionally acknowledge our own positive aspects. However, because we are conditioned to focus on our mistakes and flaws, we are often not aware of things going well. Where do your thoughts linger when presented with a work evaluation, the nine points of praise or the one point of criticism?

This isn’t to say we ought to ignore valid areas of growth. Rather, we mindfully choose balance our perspective so that we continue to grow as well as appreciate what we do well. Every human being has both positive and negative traits. Instead of mindlessly creating exaggerated story-lines about either good or bad, intentionally practice honoring and accepting ourselves authentically. No better and no worse. The key is having balance and perspective so that we can see ourselves without distortion.

Kindness and Self-Appreciation

Do you take for granted, without ever acknowledging them, the best qualities in your friends? Probably not. Yet many of us forget to recognize our own best qualities. Demonstrating our approval of our own actions with sincere praise is the great gift of self-kindness. We don’t need to express this praise aloud in front of others, making ourselves and others uncomfortable in the process. However, self-appreciation grows as we quietly give ourselves the inner acknowledgement we deserve.

Common Humanity and Self-Appreciation

Common humanity, as it relates to self-appreciation, means we appreciate ourselves not because we’re better than others, but because all people possess goodness. Celebrating our achievements is no more self-centered than having compassion for our failings. When we appreciate goodness in others, while ignoring our own strengths, creates a false division between us and them.

Our gifts and talents arise from a combination of personal mindset and intention, our ancestry, the nurturing and support of our parents, the generosity of friends, the guidance of mentors, and the wisdom of our social community. Appreciation for our good qualities, then, is really an expression of gratitude for everyone who’s influenced us as we move through life. Self-appreciation quietly honors all those people and life experiences who have molded us into the person we are today.

Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, once wrote, “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” Cultivating mindfulness, kindness, and a sense of common humanity allows self-appreciation to blossom. As self-appreciation blossoms we begin living the wisdom of this beautiful quote daily.

Learn more about Self-Appreciation by enrolling in a Cultivating Mindful Compassion course, listening to this free Cultivating Self Appreciation Meditation or read my book Cultivating Compassion: Simple Everyday Practices for Discovering Peace of Mind and Resilience.

How to Breathe While Meditating

How to breathe while meditating

​How to breathe while meditating

​How breathing works

Breathing is a natural part of life. When we’re not consciously controlling it, the autonomic nervous system controls our breath. This system works automatically, without conscious effort.

Unlike other visceral (e.g. digestion, endocrine cardiovascular) functions, breathing is unique because it can be regulated voluntarily. Automatic breathing requires no attention to maintain, whereas voluntary breathing involves a given amount of focus.

If you try to hold your breath, your body will override your action and force you to exhale and start breathing again. The respiratory centers that control your rate of breathing are in the brain-stem or medulla. The nerve cells that live within these centers automatically send signals to the diaphragm and intercostal muscles to contract and relax at regular intervals. ​

​Chest breathing

Typically, when we pay no attention to our breath, it will do its basic job of oxygenating our systems and keep us alive. But, we can choose to do more with the breath than simply stay alive. The first time this idea entered my awareness was many years ago when a shiatsu instructor ​told me I breathed only enough to stay alive, but not enough to really do my body any good.

​At that time in my life I was a “chest breather”.

  • I took small shallow breaths into the top lobes of my lungs, using the chest muscles to inflate the lungs by pulling on the rib cage.
  • My chest expanded and contracted with each breath and my abdomen was not involved. 
  • These breaths were short and quick, using only a small part of the lungs and delivering a relatively minimal amount of oxygen to the bloodstream. ​

​Belly breathing

A few years later my meditation instructor told me to “breathe, breathe!” For some reason I thought he was speaking metaphorically, and I finally asked him if he really meant, you know, breathe, like inhale, exhale. He looked at me, cocked his head, and said, “Yes. Inhale, exhale… from your belly.”

Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing.

  • The term refers to breaths that use your entire lung capacity.
  • The diaphragm and abdominal muscles pull down on the abdominal cavity to fully inflate the lungs.
  • The chest expands very little if at all while stomach breathing, while the abdominal area expands noticeably.
  • Breaths taken while stomach breathing are slow and deep, taking longer to inhale and exhale and delivering a significantly larger amount of oxygen to the bloodstream.

​Which kind of breather are you?

​Lie on your back with your hands on your abdomen to see whether you typically are a chest or stomach breather. If you feel your hands rise and fall, you’re a stomach breather, but if your hands remain mostly stationary, you’re a chest breather.

Practice bHow to Breathe While Meditating: Put your hands on your belly. Inhale and let the belly rise. Exhale and let the belly fall.elly breathing with these 3 easy steps:
1) Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed. Use a pillow under your knees to support your legs if needed. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.​

2) Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.​

3) Breathe out slowly through your nose or mouth. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhaleThe hand on your belly moves toward the floor and the hand on the upper chest remains as still as possible.​

Hint:You may notice an increased effort is needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you may get tired while doing this exercise. If you want to strengthen your diaphragm and abdominal muscles involved put a book or a light weight on your belly and practice deep breathing for three to five minutes. Make a conscious effort to breathe from the diaphragm whenever you notice that you’re breathing from your chest. As your body becomes accustomed to stomach breathing, you’ll naturally take deeper belly breaths with less conscious prompting.​

How to breathe while meditating
​​How to breathe while meditating

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to breath deeply, let’s explore how breathing deeply enhances your health and meditation practice.

​You can breathe into and out from either your nose or mouth, which ever is more comfortable for you in the moment. However, during each meditation, choose one method and stick with it. 

Close your eyes, or soften your gaze. A softened gaze relaxes the mind, disengaging it from the energy of the external environment.

Belly breathing creates an anchor for our mind (to keep it from drifting) as we pay attention to the rise and fall of our abdomen.

We choose to focus our attention on the inhale and exhale and not on the shopping list or the next chore. This focused attention, or freedom from distraction, is a foundation for meditation practice.

​As you are learning, it is helpful to experiment with the following tips while breathing deeply:
​1) Silently say for yourself, “inhale, exhale” with each cycle of breath.

​2) Count your breaths. Some suggest counting to ten or five, but Dr. Herbert Benson found that people experienced a stress response when counting to ten, as their minds often drifted off. Dr. Benson suggests counting to one, then counting to one on the next breath.

3) Practice a fully flowing breath. This technique is simultaneously stress relieving and energizing and helps oxygenate the blood. Begin by in a comfortable upright position. On the inhalation, allow your diaphragm and lungs to expand fully, first from the belly, then from the ribs, then into the chest, and finally into the throat. On the exhalation, hollow out the lungs first, then pull the navel in toward the spine. Repeat several times.

This conscious connection with breath enhances our qi (internal energy) and can decrease physical and emotional stress and increase a sense of calm and relaxation. Breathing deeply with intention and attention also connects us to our intuition and the divine within.

Four-Part Breathing Cycle


This is a helpful technique not only during your daily meditation practice, but also during times of stress. It allows you to create a moment of calm in a chaotic situation which may in turn allow you to respond rather than react. It can be practiced anywhere at any time… in the grocery line, before a meeting, or as part of a longer meditation practice.

Find a comfortable posture. Close your eyes or drop your gaze. Take a moment to focus on relaxing the muscles throughout your body (including your tongue).

  • Breathe into your belly for a count of four.
  • Pause your breath for a count of four.
  • Exhale for a count of four.
  • Pause again for a count of four.

Repeat as often as you wish. Do not worry about whether you have achieved a deep level of meditation. Simply enjoy the fact that you chose to take this time for yourself, your mind, your body, and your spirit.

As your meditation practice deepens you can simply let your breath wander on its own without paying any intentional attention to it. But remember, it is a wonderful anchor if you find yourself distracted.

If you’d like to learn more about using breath to support your meditation, or cultivating mindful compassion join us for one of our upcoming programs.

 

Maintaining Hope in Troubled Times: 4 Practical Tips

4 Practical Ways for Maintaining Hope in Troubled Times: Actively manage thoughts, connect with breath, consider that unskillful behavior comes from unmet needs, move from empathy to compassion.A friend recently asked me, if I could offer any quick and practical suggestions for maintaining hope during troubled times — times of polarized politics, international uncertainty,  and when determining if news stories are true or false becomes difficult.  She said she was beside herself with overwhelm and stress, and knew that I’d published a book on compassion.

The answer to her question can be complex, but in keeping with her request for quick suggestions I wanted to share these ideas.

1) Choose to manage or control what occupies your mind.1) Choose to manage or control what occupies your mind. 

This may sound overly simple, but at the most basic level we DO have a choice over our minds. We really CAN choose to manage what stories spin in our brains.

However, choosing to control what occupies our minds takes patience, courage, and practice. Often it is easier to let our mind run wild rather than reining it in.

Think about it, how often do you let your mind run wild? We all do it. We all come up with stories about the future. We all ruminate about the past. However we do have a choice about how long we let those stories run.

When we hear reports on the news about another shooting, another bombing, or another investigation it is easy to become overwhelmed. But, we also need to continue living our lives, doing things in this present moment to help ourselves, our families and friends, and communities. We can’t afford to let our overwhelm and distress bog us down, as that does not serve anyone.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, observe the choices you’re making in the moment. Noticing these choices brings you into present moment awareness. Present moment awareness helps prevent ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Check out this Infographic for ways to help settle your mind. 

If you are motivated to and can actively create positive change, by all means act — send postcards, make calls, go on marches! But if  what troubles you is elsewhere and you don’t have the ability to do anything but think or theorize about an event, consider shifting your mindset to something that is positive and productive right where you are. 

2) Pay attention to your breath.2) Pay attention to your breath.

Now that you’ve made the choice to rein in your wild mind, turn your attention to your breath.  Try this breathing exercise as a way to slow down your breath, slow down your thoughts, and connect with your body.

  • Inhale slowly, all the way into your belly, for a count of four.
  • Gently hold your breath for a count of four.
  • Exhale fully for a count of four. Gently hold the exhale for a count of four.
  • Then repeat that process a few times.

Sometimes something as simple as connecting to your breath and body in the present moment is enough to break a cycle of distressful thinking. This technique is also really effective for dealing with stress, for example if a conversation is becoming overheated, or if you’ve just received some difficult news but you’re not in the right place to sit with it.

3) Consider the idea that unskillful behavior comes from unmet needs.3) Consider the idea that unskillful behavior comes from unmet needs.

When we hear of tragic events such as mass shootings, bombings, or ongoing legislative uncertainty, it can be easy to direct our ire to the we perceive to be the cause of the problem.

Often the last thing we want to do is extend compassion to the person or people that have wrought havoc on the lives of many.

However, what would it feel like to consider that the ones committing crimes were people too. They all have parents (in one form or another); they all have friends (of one sort or another); they’re all human beings. Somehow, at some point something caused them to decide harming others was the right course of action.

But, we don’t know their back-story. We don’t know what their lives were like. We don’t know what they needed— love, security, food, role-models, training— to help them make different choices. Sometimes the worst choices arise because people are afraid, hurt, hungry, or lonely.

I’m not saying that harmful unskillful actions are just. I am saying that perhaps we can come to some sort of internal peace if we recognize that each of these individuals is human, and as such we share a common link.

Often extending compassion to another, even if we don’t know that person directly, can help us move into a place of peace. Perhaps it can help us move from being beside ourselves with grief and outrage, to a place of uncomfortable acceptance.

4) Move beyond empathy to compassion.4) Move beyond empathy to compassion.

Compassion combines:

1) Awareness—acknowledging distress in yourself or others;

2) Empathy—being emotionally moved by this distress;

3) Action—making some sort of response, which could involve some sort of physical action, or it could be as subtle as mentally/intentionally sending someone well-wishes.

Sometimes when we get stuck in that place of overwhelm or grief, it is because we’ve stopped at the second step, empathy. With empathy I “feel your pain,” and sometimes I get stuck right there with you.

With compassion we move beyond that stage of empathy and take action. Taking action allows us to move through that  stuck place of distress. Truly, the action can be as simple as intentionally wishing someone well. Bring to mind an image of someone in distress. Open your heart to the idea of compassionate action. Take some slow deep breaths, and with each exhalation imagine sending peace, love, kindness, support, compassion to the one you’re holding in mind.

Want more ideas for maintaining hope?

This post just covers a few very quick and practical ideas for shifting from distress to hope. Making a permanent change takes courage, patience, and continual practice.

Dive deeper into these concepts and more in the Cultivating Mindful Compassion course. Or for daily inspiration pick up a copy of Cultivating Compassion: Simple Everyday Practices for Discovering Peace of Mind and Resilience. 

3 Useful Benefits of Participating in a Personal Growth Group

How do YOU nurture personal development?

Are you inspired by positive personal growth, extending acceptance and compassion for yourself and others? 

Do you experience days when striving to be your best-self is overwhelming and you want to hide under a rock?

Both of these perspectives are aspects of being human. Some days being open-hearted is easy, and some days it isn’t. Welcome to the duality of being human!

Choosing to be your best-self in all circumstances takes diligence and hard work. Social and cultural norms are often stacked against us.

Many of us grew up learning that good girls don’t talk back, ever. Good boys don’t show vulnerability. Nice people put others first at all costs. If you extend compassion to yourself you’re a slacker.

This is why finding a community of like-minded people is critical. It provides support on your down days, and allows you to encourage others when they need it. 

As each person  grows on  his or her own, while assisting other members in the community, a ripple effect of kindness, acceptance, and compassion flows outward to your loved ones, to people you see often but don’t know well, and even to those you find to be difficult.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

As you strive toward being your best-self daily, let’s examine the benefits of joining a like-minded community

1) A group creates accountability and reinforces good habits

Some days, when you’re on your own, it is easy to give up and revel in small mindedness.

Like meeting friends at the gym for group fitness class motivates you to work out, finding a group focused on personal growth provides encouragement for developing a consistent outlook. Being accountable to a group while you’re enhancing your personal development reduces the likelihood that you will throw in the towel.

Joining a group reinforces why you’ve chosen to do the hard work of being an inspiring, fantastic, open-hearted person. It gives you a boost of encouragement to continue with your own individual cultivation at home.

Walking a path of acceptance and compassion for self and others takes mental and emotional effort and energy, which often, in turn, gives rise to resistance. Participating with a group of like-minded people, who share your ideological beliefs and values and are focused on personal growth, creates accountability for actually walking that path.

2) A group offers opportunity to receive feedback and share ideas

Personal growth groups often include participants of varying levels.

If you’re new to embracing self-acceptance or working with your inner-critic, you may find that other members of your group provide useful insight and help you see new ways of viewing difficulties. Group members share their own experiences, successes and challenges, which often provide new perspectives. The group dynamic uplifts and empowers everyone present.

Working on self-acceptance and self-compassion with only books or online guides as aids often leads to sporadic practice. Therefore, facilitated groups provide an opportunity to maintain something more than is achieved at home alone.

Knowing others around you face the same challenges helps ease isolation and builds resilience. Often hearing stories of how someone else dealt with the same challenge inspires you to continue moving forward.

3) A group creates community

Participating in community supports your individual inward journey. Connecting with others who share your intentions for world peace is inspiring and motivating. Participating in a group reduces isolation and loneliness and helps you recognize that “just like me”, others experience these same challenges.

Sharing this path for personal growth also lets you come together with shared intentions for change. Global movements often begin with a small handful of people strongly unified by a common intent. Applying Gandhi’s suggestion to “be the change you wish to see in the world” becomes easier when you are part of a collective crowd.

When actively practicing personal growth strategies you become part of the planet’s evolution, not its degradation. Individually you may not see the effect of living life with acceptance and compassion, but the group effect multiplies each single member’s actions and intentions.

We’d be honored if you choose Cultivating Compassion Club to be your personal growth group!

“Cultivating Compassion Club is a supportive and uplifting way to dedicate time, compassion and energy for oneself, so that one can authentically and graciously dedicate time, compassion and energy to others. Amy’s experience and expertise serve as a gentle guide for each participant in their path towards more ease and joy for life.” MPP

Cultivating Compassion Club provides:

  • Weekly small group meditation, coaching, and conversation sessions geared toward helping you move toward peace of mind and resilience
  • Support from like-minded people who are inspired grow and become even better
  • Daily inspirations and rich conversation via a private FB group
  • Access to a library of Amy Pattee Colvin’s guided meditations, with new additions monthly

“Amy is an excellent group moderator. I was impressed by her ability to tie our discussions back to the overall theme of compassion that we were focusing on. The group discussions were encouraging, comfortable and I left feeling lighter and thoughtful of things I would like to implement in my practice of mediation and self compassion.” Melissa Kinsky

Be sure to check out Amy Pattee Colvin’s Amazon Bestseller, Cultivating Compassion available on Amazon.com

5 Elements of Meditation

Five Elements of Meditation (Infographic)

All of us have heard about the benefits of eating healthfully, exercising regularly, sleeping well, spending quality time with loved ones. And, many of us are familiar with the concept of meditation but either convince ourselves that we can’t or don’t know how to do it, we don’t have time for it, or don’t fully understand its impact on our daily life.

However, meditation has been shown to be an excellent exercise for the brain. By deliberately and actively choosing where we place our attention we begin building new neural pathways and networks.

Meditation for long periods at a time, 45 minutes or more, has value. But most of us simply don’t have the freedom to carve out that much time. Instead committing to a short daily practice of 3-5 minutes is a great way to get started and create a sustainable habit.

Take a moment right now to try a simple mindful compassion meditation.

Read through the infographic, and then choose an anchor for yourself. Your anchor could be your breath, the center of your body, an image—real or imagined— that brings peace and calm. Anything can be the anchor for your attention. It is simply a place upon which to rest your attention.

5-elements-of-meditation

Settle yourself into a comfortable position then set a timer for three minutes. All you need to do is pay attention to your anchor, detach from other thoughts, be aware when your mind has wandered and note where it has gone but don’t linger there, then kindly bring yourself back to your anchor. Repeat this cycle as often as necessary within the three minutes.

The process seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? In fact it may seem like you’re not really doing much of anything. But every aspect of this cycle strengthens your mind. You are practicing patience, and honing your ability to self-compassionately focus your mind and emotions. This in turn helps you deal more nimbly and resiliently with all of life’s challenges.

If you’d like to learn more about developing a mindful compassion meditation practice join us for one of our upcoming programs.