Built for Hard Times

Built for Hard Times

by Joel Christie

Life can be really hard. Most would acknowledge that, but can our awareness of that actually help us in any way, or simply doom us to further misery? When asked what might help them deal with the fact that life so often feels overwhelming, unfair, mean, brutal, impossible or heartbreaking, I have heard many people say they'll feel better when their circumstances improve, which is certainly understandable. Circumstances impact how we feel, but they are also often largely beyond our control. So we need more reliable things to lean on. Friends and family. Life purpose. Faith. The pursuit of our dreams perhaps. And I think all of these are invaluable. All of the suggestions below pertain to your beliefs and your worldview, which means they are ultimately within your control to accept or reject as you so choose. So: what might help?

Accept that hardship is an inescapable, unavoidable part of life. Gosh, thanks for that uplifting gem? Yeah, that may have come off as grim, but I don't mean it to be fatalistic, I promise. The fact that life is often brimming with hardship does not nullify the possibility for it to also contain vaults of goodness, joy, and satisfaction. Along with this, when we accept that hardships are part of the gig, we become a little freer, strange as it sounds. We spend less time wishing that hardships wouldn't happen, pining for a world where we don't always end up getting hurt, only to end up hurt by our own impossible desires. This doesn't mean we simply discard hope. If you lived in the Game of Thrones universe, then yes, perhaps it would be best not to bother with hope. But here, hope is a wonderful compass for us when coupled with realism. It tells us what we want and what we should spend our efforts seeking. We must simply know that hardship will still accompany us along the way. This knowledge--this integral part of our beliefs--can normalize hardships, removing them from the category of "things that should not have happened," to things that have happened and will happen, and must, therefore, be faced.

Start recognizing how resilient you are. There are things in life that will grieve us no matter how strong we might be, such as the death of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, debilitating health issues, and several others. Grief and sadness are precisely the right emotions in such situations. Yet it is critical that even in the midst of tragedy we do not completely lose sight of who and WHAT we are. Our brains are natural problem solvers. It's how we survived as a species in the past, and how we survive now. You could even say we are built to handle hardship. Certainly there are times we may not feel able to handle everything, but I think there can be a danger in allowing ourselves to accept this despair too often. I can't handle my bills. I can't stand one more of my kid's temper tantrums. I can't deal with my evil boss. My messy husband. My condescending wife. My noisy neighbors. Traffic. Politics. Society in general. Stop, and please try giving yourself a little credit. These things may all be substantial problems. But the more you are able to see yourself as a person with a brain that is highly adept at problem-solving, and the more you see yourself as durable, resourceful, and resilient, the less you will likely feel undone by anxiety and despair. And here's the cool part: you'll feel the effects of this diminished anxiety and despair even before these problems are fully resolved. If you realize that you are indeed often capable of facing the onslaught of life's tribulations it will change how you feel about the problems themselves. You will not likely suddenly come to love your problems, but you will likely feel far less dominated by them because you'll know that you are cut out to deal with them. And for those of you who think, "well, that may be nice for the lucky people who happen to have such confidence," I would invite you to dare to believe that you too possess numerous strengths and problem-solving abilities and that you are far more durable and resilient than you currently realize. After all, how many times have your bills or your boss or your toddler actually succeeded in killing you? Seriously. Consider all the stuff you've been through already. That should tell you that you're durable. Take some comfort from that.

Find things to invest yourself in that feel worth the effort. As I mentioned, our brains are wired to be problem solvers, so it comes very naturally to most of us to fixate on what's wrong. But it's critical that we also allow ourselves to strive after things that generate excitement and passion. I'm not talking so much about fun, per se, although fun is fine. But on those rough nights at the end of a brutal week, a little fun peppered in--or even a lot, with a whole big rush of dopamine and all that lovely stuff--will likely prove inadequate to buoy us indefinitely against the reality that there are always more glacier-sized hardships on the horizon. We need things that have a lasting potency to deal with that, things we can pull with us when we're feeling low, or uncertain about our future, or yes, even just bored. People tend to fair better in life both in the high seasons and low when they believe their lives matter and that they have a purpose. So invest some time in that question, because a part of your brain will likely remain hungry for answers. And the more pieces you find along your journey in this regard, the more stable your ship is likely to be as you face the many storms of life.

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The Value of Play

The Value of Play

by Aubrey Gainey

Work Hard, Play Harder. We have all heard that motto from time to time, maybe in a meme we saw on Facebook or from a friend describing their weekend festivities. This simple saying can emerge as a justification for a recent vacation to Vegas or serve as an excuse to play golf for the third time this week. Are there any actual benefits from this life mantra? Is it actually healthy to work hard, but play harder? As a counselor in training, I explored this notion of play and the benefits adults can acquire from this simple, yet easily forgotten behavior.
As a counselor education student, I am studying and learning about play therapy (in particular for children aged 3-12). Research has shown that play therapy has helped children overcome obstacles, cope with trauma, and grasp stressful life challenges through the use of play. Although it may seem very simple, there is an art and science to this type of therapy. Young children cannot verbally discuss their concerns, so they are able to express their emotions through the act of play. Unstructured play gives children a sense of control in their lives and provides them an outlet to express themselves. As Friedrich Froebel once said, "Children's play is not mere sport. It is full of meaning and import."
So how do we play as adults? Is it forbidden once we are no longer children? What does it look like in adulthood? Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives that we forget to have fun on a daily basis. We go to work, then come home tired, and find ourselves doing obligatory activities like laundry and dishes. Why should playing only be every now and then? Who said it should only be for kids?

Here are some ways you can incorporate play into your daily life:

1) Play through your long lost hobbies...
When was the last time you did an activity that you really enjoyed and that you would consider play? I know that forcing myself to go to the gym is not one of them, but riding my bike on a beautiful day around a lake? Bingo! I used to love to ride my bike as a child and somewhere on the path to adulthood, this fun hobby got lost. Think back to things in life that you truly enjoyed doing. It doesn't matter if you were "good" at it, just that you genuinely loved the process. Try to remember what activities brought you a feeling of happiness and contentment. Pick up that paint brush again and start painting. Turn on your favorite music and start dancing. Grab your basketball and head to a nearby court. Try not to judge yourself, just accept and enjoy this moment.

2) Play with your pets...

Try playing Frisbee or throwing a ball with your dog. Not only will your pet be thankful for this, but you will also get exercise without realizing it. Playing a simple game of throw and catch can also create a sense of mindfulness. Throughout the day, our mind is in a million places at once and focusing on one activity can decrease stress by allowing us to stay in the present moment. The simple act of petting your dog/cat can act as a relaxation technique and reduce that tension from all of the stressors in life.

3) Play with your kids...

Playing with your child helps build a strong connection and a healthy parent/child relationship. Instead of just watching your kids play, join them. Even though sitting on the park bench may seem like the adult thing to do, playing with your kids can be beneficial in many ways. Not only will you burn more calories moving around than sitting, playing is fun! Push your child on the swing set and then swing yourself. Kick around a ball with your kid, and then play a game of Simon Says.
Don't have children? Take your nieces or little cousins to the park. I'm sure your relatives won't mind the free babysitting. Another great bonus: laughter is guaranteed! It will bring you right back to childhood.

4) Play for exercise...

We all know the benefits of exercise and at some point have bought a membership to the gym. Does going to the gym have to be the only way adults get fit? No! Playing can be a great way to stay active and will help you feel more energetic, happier, and more alive. Instead of going out to dinner or sitting on the couch with friends or loved ones, do a fun activity together. Not only are you connecting to others, but you are also doing physical activities that will reduce your stress and get you healthy. Take a walk in a park with a friend or go jogging with your partner. Join an adult kickball team or sign up for a salsa dance class with a buddy. Make exercise fun again so that you will enjoy incorporating it into your life. It doesn't have to be torture when you think of it as play.

5) Play for wellness...

Play can serve as an easy, fun, and cost effective stress reducer. Although the act of play can be very simple, it is often abandoned once we leave childhood. William Glasser, an American psychiatrist, said that fun is an essential part of our basic human needs. Notice that he didn't say want but need. Even as adults, we need to include fun into our lives in order to make us feel balanced and healthy. How do we have fun? Play!
Don't underestimate the power of play, because not only can it help you stay balanced, it can make you happier and less stressed. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "It is a happy talent to know how to play." Just because we have been on the planet longer, does not mean that play is restricted from our lives. Play can be a valuable asset to add to your life, no matter what your age. When's the last time you played?

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Illness and the Family Unit

Illness and the Family Unit

By Keisha Delva

      In terms of serious injury or illness happening to a loved one, I tend to use the metaphor of being in a really bad car accident. Like a car accident we don't necessarily see it coming, and the impact is sharp and sudden. It may throw us into a state of shock or we may become very emotionally reactive. The aftermath can be long-lasting, costly and cause us a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Since certain adjustments have to be made, we are reminded of the incident on an almost daily basis, until we have resolved all resulting issues, which in and of itself is re-traumatizing.

      There are obviously many things to consider when a loved one becomes ill. Some of the common questions are: Will they recover? Are we able to get them the best care? How will we cover the expenses of the recovery process? When my mother had a stroke, I found myself asking all these questions and more; most of which I didn't have the answers to. You may not either. Finances are a major concern for many people and if your family member is no longer able to work or care for themselves, there may be a shift in the roles of many of the members of the family. Understandably, the person who is ill suddenly becomes the focus of the entire family. There doesn't seem to be much time or space left to address how that loved one's illness is impacting the rest of the family unit. Depending on the nature of the illness, our family member may change in ways that causes them to become almost unrecognizable. If it is an illness that has affected their brain, such as stroke, a traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease, we may find them behaving in ways that are strange or foreign to us. The family member is still living, yet we may find ourselves still going through the grieving process, as the person that we once knew them to be, is gone.

      Whether the illness we are speaking of is mental illness or a physical medical condition, it is undeniable that it will take its toll on the affected person's loved ones. We will worry, feel stressed, and feel sad. We may begin to neglect to take care of ourselves by developing unhealthy eating and sleeping habits, as a means of trying to cope with our stress. Concurrently, we may find ourselves wrestling with feelings of guilt or shame for any of the conflicting thoughts or feelings that we may have throughout this time. Feelings of resentment may develop for suddenly becoming our family member's caretaker, yet we may feel that we don't deserve to have a break or to take time to process our emotions, much less have the right to complain.

Here are a few of the tips that I found helpful in the early stages of my mother's recovery:

1.    Ask for help: You do not have to handle everything on your own. If the people in your life have some idea of what you and your family is going through, they will be more understanding and will likely want to do anything they can to assist you. This applies both at work and at home.

2.    Talk to a therapist: Talking to someone who is trained in techniques and interventions to cope with stress in healthy ways can be very helpful. They will listen empathetically, without judging you or trying to tell you what you "should" be thinking or feeling during this time. Our family and friends mean well, but you may find that they cannot relate to what you are going through, or are trying to rush you through the healing process.

3.    Nurture yourself: Making rest a priority and eating nutritious foods goes a long way. Make time to do simple things that you enjoy such as taking a warm bath, going for a run, or reading a good book. It may seem silly, but engaging in small, pleasurable activities is a very effective means of relieving stress and naturally boosting our mood.

      It is crucial that we take time to address our own emotional and physical needs during the distressing time of illness in our family. If we ourselves are not well, we certainly will not be of any use to someone that needs our help or is dependent upon us. Preventative care has been proven to be the single most important means of maintaining good physical and emotional health over an extended period of time. While you are caring for your loved one, remember to care for yourself too.

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