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If you’re a giving person who has been hurt or let down, or if you want to achieve a healthier balance in your relationships, this is for you. I’m going to share 3 tips on how you can foster your wonderful quality of giving while still taking good care of yourself—how you can balance your innate generosity and enjoy giving to others, without burning yourself out (i.e. without “giving yourself away”). Good Intentions, Bad Habits I saw something recently that surprised me. I watched an interview with Neale Donald Walsch, author of a series of books I really enjoyed called Conversations with God. Walsch shared what he said was one his most important realizations at the end of the video:  “Your life is not about you, it is about everyone whose lives you touch.” That’s not what surprised me. I thought this was a beautiful and meaningful insight.  What surprised me was how many people commented on the video in response, saying things like: “No way. I’m done with doing things for other people. I’ve only gotten burned. I’m focusing solely on myself from now on.” … and so on.  There were many comments like these. And while at first I was taken aback, I quickly understood the subtext of what these commenters were really saying: I’ve tried to be giving, given myself away, and I feel drained, hurt, and disappointed. I used to give and give and eventually felt let down when people keep taking and taking and I can’t do it anymore. Therefore I’m going to put up my defenses and close off to avoid feeling hurt again. As a counselor, I’ve learned to hear not only the words people say, but also the source and meaning behind them. I’ve learned to listen to what isn’t spoken. And I’ve learned a lot about patterns in human behavior, including in myself. Common Patterns of Unhealthy Giving One of the most common patterns I’ve encountered is when people who are giving, kind-hearted and well-meaning—wonderful traits to be sure—wind up exhausted, drained and burned out because they only give of their time, energy, attention, love and resources, without filling themselves up too.  This can happen for lots of reasons, such as: Giving to others but refusing to receive anything in return. Giving with “strings attached” (i.e. unspoken expectations of what you want back from the other person), which can lead to resentments, bitterness, hurt, etc. Taking care of others but neglecting your own needs. Getting taken advantage of by those who’ve proven themselves untrustworthy through abusive or manipulative behaviors.  Do any of these ring true for you? Whatever the case may be, it’s important to recognize the patterns as well as where they might come from. Common Misunderstandings In many ways, we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that giving is all-important and that receiving is somehow lesser. Or that to take for oneself is somehow bad or “selfish.” We’ve all heard “it’s better to give than to receive.” I believe the intention of this quote was to encourage us to be giving and remind us not to obsess over only getting. And it really does feel awesome when you can give from an unconditional and genuine place, doesn’t it? But the truth is, giving and receiving are equal parts of one process . To give something naturally implies (and requires) that there is also receiving. Likewise, I believe the classic quote above, and Walsch’s quote, while both well meaning and filled with truth—are easily misinterpreted. Many of us formed the false belief that one should ONLY ever give. We’ve internalized a flawed message that it’s bad to receive or to focus on your own needs or wants. And these simply aren’t true. The Problem With Flawed Beliefs Flawed or one-sided beliefs often result in unhealthy behaviors—such as martyrdom, burnout, resentment, or failing to set reasonable limits and boundaries with others. I really believe that the commenters on the video above had good intentions in whatever situations led them to becoming bitter. However, I would be willing to bet that their giving vs. receiving, or their self vs. other focus was out of balance. Because this is such an easy trap to fall into—and because it can be so damaging—I want to share three tips on how you can achieve a healthier balance of giving in your relationships. These will help you to continue growing your innate capacity for giving while still feeling filled up yourself and not “giving yourself away.” 3 Tips for Healthy Giving Practice Being a Good Receiver   Like I mentioned above, it’s natural for most of us to demure when offered something—whether it’s an actual gift, or someone’s time, attention, love, energy or other resources—due to social conditioning and politeness. However, this can become unhealthy when you always say “no thanks.” So try to be conscious of allowing more into your life. Allow yourself to receive when you have the opportunity. In addition to balancing out the scales of your own energy & resources, you’ll also be giving a hidden gift of allowing the other person the enjoyment of giving to you. Plus, you’ll naturally have more to give when it’s your turn to be the giver. Think of it this way: if you never allowed yourself to receive, you might be robbing the other person of the joy of giving. By gracefully receiving from someone, you are in many ways giving them the gift of enjoying that experience. And when the time comes, you can enjoy the other side of that exchange as well.  So if you’re a person who is always focused on doing for others, practice being a good receiver too. Remember, giving and receiving are two equal parts of one beautiful process.  Practice Setting Boundaries Guilt can be a strong motivator. Unfortunately, many giving people feel  unnecessarily  guilty when it comes to saying “no” or establishing limits on their time, energy & resources.  This can result in becoming a “yes-man” or a “people pleaser” – both unhealthy patterns where the scales of giving are out of balance. Remind yourself that it’s okay to say “no” to requests sometimes, that you don’t need to always  go the extra ten miles, and that it’s okay to take breaks from your commitments when you need to recharge. In fact, remind yourself that it’s healthy and necessary to do these things. Try to let go of worries about what other people will think, as these will just get in your way. For even more tips on how to set healthy boundaries, check out my blog “Enough: How to Set Limits and Say No.” Practice Self-Care Make sure you’re giving to yourself in addition to the other people in your life. I promise, it’s not “selfish” in a bad sense. It’s healthy and necessary for each and every one of us to practice self-care—especially if you’re a giving, caring person by nature. What helps you take care of yourself? What helps you feel rested, refreshed, recharged, or re-energized? Make it a priority to carve out some time every day or every week for self-care. By giving to yourself in this way, you’re helping to ensure that you’ll be able to continue giving to other people. Because if you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to take care of others indefinitely either. By becoming drained or burned out, you won’t be doing anyone any favors—least of all yourself.  Next Steps  Finally, try doing some honest self-reflection to look at the reasons why you give. If you’re like most people (myself included), there are probably some pure, altruistic and genuine reasons motivating you to help others, but perhaps also some hidden motives too. For example, maybe it makes us feel more important. Maybe we tie it to our self-worth, or identity. Maybe we’re seeking to get something in return. Or maybe we’re motivated by fear or guilt. Of course it’s usually not all one way or the other. But honest self-reflection can help us make more honest and authentic choices about how, why and when we choose to give to others and ourselves. So what are your next steps? What are you going to focus on to help you continue being a giving person , without giving yourself away? Let me know in the comments. Be Well! Tad
You’ve probably heard about breathing techniques and how they can help to calm your body and mind. And you’re absolutely right. Breathing techniques are so simple, so immediate and so effective that it’s easy to overlook them or simply forget to breathe when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or upset. So in this blog, I’m excited to share with you three specific techniques you can use at any time to instantly calm yourself. Why Do Breathing Techniques Work? Breathing happens automatically. And thank goodness we don’t have to concentrate on breathing. Can you imagine how difficult life would be if we constantly had to remind ourselves to breathe—if it required focus and effort? It would be impossible to get anything done (and we’d all probably be passing out a lot more often). Yet, because breathing is automatic, it’s easy to take your life-giving breath for granted. It’s also easy, and incredibly common to forget to breathe deeply—especially under stress or other heightened emotional states. For example, think about what happens when you’re tense, stressed, frightened or even angry… Chances are, in addition to muscles tensing and heart beating faster, your breathing quickens or becomes shallower. When that happens, it only exacerbates the intense sensations you’re experiencing. However, when you intentionally and consciously deepen and slow down your breathing, it signals your parasympathetic nervous system that you’re safe and it’s time to calm down. The stress hormones start to metabolize, your muscles relax, your heart rate returns to normal, it’s easier to think clearly, make rational decisions, etc. What Are the Benefits of Breathing Techniques?  In addition to physiologically relaxing your body, practicing breathing techniques with your conscious awareness helps you slow down the racing thoughts that often accompany stress, anxiety, anger and so on. Furthermore, when you’re able to do that, you’re able to self-regulate your thoughts, emotions, and body. That’s powerful! So here are a few proven breathing techniques that will help you calm your mind, emotions, and body, virtually instantly. “Square Breathing” This one is called square breathing because it has four parts to it (don’t worry, it’s really simple). First, inhale slowly through your nostrils until your lungs are full. Second, hold the breath in for several seconds (for example, a slow four-count). Third, exhale slowly and controlled through your mouth, as if you were exhaling through a straw, until every last bit of air is out of your lungs. Finally, hold at the bottom of your breath for a few seconds (again, a slow-count) before inhaling again. Do this for a few rounds and notice how you feel. “4-5-6 Breathing” Inhale slowly and deeply through your nostrils while slowly counting to four in your head (“one Mississippi, two Mississippi…”). Hold at the top of your breath for a slow five count. Then exhale through your mouth for a slow six count. In addition to the physiological effects of the deep breathing, this technique forces your mind to focus on the counting which is helpful for interrupting whatever stream of racing thoughts might be going on when you’re upset about something. The increasing counts also force you to be slow and controlled in your breath, which enhances the benefits. “Diaphragm breathing” This technique is actually good to practice as a part of the others above, as well as by itself. When tense, we tend to breathe shallowly (up in the chest and shoulders), and this technique brings the breath down low for deeper calming effects. First, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. As you inhale through your nostrils, focus on bringing each inhale down low into your diaphragm (the muscle between your abdomen and chest). When you do this correctly, you’ll feel your belly expand like a balloon. Your chest should stay mostly still. Breathe in as deeply as you can, then exhale slow and controlled through your mouth until all the air is gone. Repeat as many times as you wish. Now, Give Them a Try! When you use any of these techniques, practice noticing the sensations of your breath with your conscious awareness. Put your attention on it. Go ahead and try these now. I also encourage you to practice one or more of these (whichever you like the most) every day, even at times when you already feel calm and any time you catch yourself getting worked up about something. Practicing breathing techniques is an excellent mindfulness practice and the more you practice this, the more you will strengthen the adaptive connections in your brain that will make this calming response natural for you. In fact, a client recently told me he noticed that mindful awareness of his emotions, and the ability to calmly decide how to respond to his emotions—rather than reacting—has become so natural for him, he doesn’t even have to think about it anymore. It just happens.   As a result, he said that while the last month was one of the most difficult and stressful he can remember, he handled it exceptionally well—without getting angry, overwhelmed, or blowing up. He told me that he and his wife didn’t even have one argument in the last month due to being able to regulate himself this way. How cool is that! What Do You Think? So what benefits might these breathing techniques have for you? Do you have any additional breathing techniques that you personally like to practice?  Comment below and let me know how it goes! I always love to hear from people about how applying these skills in your life has helped you. Be Well, Tad P.S… Interested to learn more simple and powerful techniques you can use everyday to better manage your emotions? Check out the rest of my blog and be sure to subscribe below for tons of helpful articles on all things mental health & wellness. You’ll also love my eBook, The Stress Solution.
If you want to learn a foolproof way to control anxiety and stop worrying, this is for you. First, just a little bit of helpful info about anxiety. Anxiety is largely driven by your thoughts. Even though we typically notice anxiety as an emotional and even physical experience, it begins—and is maintained—in the mind. When your thoughts are consumed by worries, this of course puts your brain, body and emotions on alert. Tension rises, thoughts race, and the cycle continues. Why Do I Worry So Much? Because the human mind was programmed for survival in the ancient past and therefore attuned to possible dangers and threats, we often tend to hyper-focus on negative possible outcomes.  We mentally project into the future or fill in the unknowns with predictions about worst possible outcomes in an unconscious effort to protect and prepare. Most of the time however, especially when thinking becomes repetitive ruminating, the pattern is unproductive and unhelpful. It’s easy to forget that by pondering the “what ifs…” as only negative possibilities, that we are only looking at one possible outcome . What about other possibilities, such as things going better than expected ? What Can I Do?  Here is one mental trick you can use to control anxiety and stop worrying: I call it asking the right questions. However, most of the time, people ask all the wrong questions—the unhelpful ones such as, “what if ___ goes wrong?” “what if I can’t ___?” or “what if ___ doesn’t work out?” and this only increases anxiety, without really solving anything. Asking the “right” questions helps stop the cycle of worry and anxiety in its tracks. This method is also known as “Socratic” questioning, and it’s extraordinarily simple, yet effective. The basic steps are to 1) identify your anxious or negative thought/worry, and then 2) put it to the test by asking the right questions. So what are the “right questions?” Asking the Right Questions Here are some of the best questions to ask yourself (and answer) when you feel stuck in worry and anxiety: “What’s the best case scenario? Knowing the worst and best case scenarios, what’s likely to happen?   What’s the evidence for this thought? What’s the evidence against this thought? Am I looking at all the evidence, or just what supports my thought? Is this thought on facts, or feelings?   Am I making any assumptions? Is this a ‘black & white / all or nothing’ thought when reality is usually more complex? Might other people have different interpretations of the situation? What would [close friend] say about this? What would I tell [close friend] to encourage or help them feel better? Could my thought be an exaggeration of what’s true? Am I having this thought out of habit, or do the facts truly support it? Is this thought a likely scenario, or a worst case scenario? Here’s Why This Helps  Asking yourself these kinds of questions is helpful because it engages your logical, rational mind and helps you see the situation from different perspectives.  In other words, it helps you break out of your limiting box of anxious thinking. By counterbalancing the anxious thoughts and worries with more rational assessments, you balance out your emotional response to the situation as well.  This helps you calm down, slow down, and approach things anew. So the next time you catch yourself spiraling down the cycle of anxiety and worry, remember to stop and ask yourself the right questions.   This will really help you to control anxiety and stop worrying. So what worries have you had lately? Where do your thoughts tend to go when you’re anxious? What are your favorite techniques for combatting worry and anxiety? Please feel free to comment! And whatever it may be, try putting your worry through its paces by asking these questions. Then notice what feels different. Do you feel a sense of relief? Can you breathe a little easier? Do you feel more hopeful about the situation? More calm or neutral? Or at least able to handle it?  Thanks for reading friends, and as always – BE WELL!  Tad P.S… If you struggle with high stress or an anxious mind, you NEED to check out my powerful eBook, The Stress Solution. It teaches you exactly how to calm your mind and boost your confidence every day, in just a few minutes a day with simple yet powerful techniques and life hacks. I wrote and structured this in-depth eBook specifically with high achievers, perfectionists, and busy people in mind, and I know you’ll love it. Lots of people already do…
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