Women increasingly find themselves pulled in many directions, striving to balance the needs of others with the need to nurture themselves. This pull is often exhausting and, sometimes, can lead to resentment or burn-out. So how do we manage our work and family and faith and ministry lives if we aren’t able to take care of ourselves as we also take care of others?
Renewed helps women understand the need to put themselves on “the list.” Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passionsand address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice.”
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About the Author
Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a private practice in Littleton, CO. An affiliate faculty member at Colorado Christian University, Lucille is also a member of the Columbine High School community and was thrust into a bed of hurting people after the shootings in April of 1999. In addition, before earning her master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, Lucille was part of a team of counselors allowed into the secured Ground Zero following the events of 9/11. Under the umbrella of Billy Graham’s Prayer Center, she ministered to the uniformed officers in New York City. Lucille lives in Colorado with her husband and two adult children. Find her workshops, resources and more at LucilleZimmerman.com.
Read an Excerpt
Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World
By Lucille Zimmerman
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Lucille Zimmerman
All rights reserved.
RENEWED THROUGH EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE
People are like stained glass windows—the true beauty can be seen only when there is light within.
— ELISABETH KÜBLER-ROSS
* * *
AS I BEGAN TO WORK on revisions for this book, I noticed when I was walking into my office that my chest was tight, and I realized that I had avoided getting started because I was scared. I said to myself out loud, "Lu, it's OK. Just take it step by step. You don't need to be scared. These are just revisions, and you already wrote a whole book. This is the last set of steps. You can do this." As I said the words, instantly my body felt lighter, and a feeling of joy washed over me.
How we think about ourselves and talk to ourselves is very important. Most of us don't need clinical proof showing us that feeling good has a healing effect on our bodies and that our mind-set can influence immunity and the rate at which we heal from injury or illness. There is a powerful link between emotional outlook and physical health. This chapter has the potential to improve your life, and with just a little time and practice you can make major shifts in how you think about and talk to yourself. This chapter will help you understand how the things you say and believe affect your feelings and behavior—and how to make small, positive changes.
WHAT YOU TELL YOURSELF AFFECTS YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH
Basically, it boils down to this: if you say and think you're stupid, your emotions and actions will bear that out. If you say and believe you have value and that you always give life your best, your feelings and actions follow.
What you tell yourself matters.
People can react differently to the same event. Counselors call this tendency to see what we want to see "confirmation bias." For instance, let's say Roger asks Susan out on a date. Susan says no. Roger could say, "I'm a no-good lout for all time," or he could say, "Susan was in a rejecting mood that day." Maybe he could say, "Susan's response was about Susan, not about me." Just read each of those short sentences of Roger's out loud, and notice the shift in the way each can make a person feel.
Back when I was selling scrapbook supplies from my home, I had an experience with giving too much credence to someone's negative response to me. I had sold supplies to a customer, and invested in supporting her emotionally; I knew she was dying of cancer. I went out of my way to give her freebie album supplies that I knew she would appreciate. Many of my customers had also gotten to know her and care for her. When she died, I sent an e-mail asking my customers to keep her husband in their prayers. I had forgotten to remove her e-mail address from my group e-mail list, and her hurting husband received the e-mail and responded with intense anger.
I was so devastated that day that I vowed never to send an e-mail again. I sent him a note of apology, but I continued to lambaste myself over it. I gave more credence to what someone said about me than what I knew to be true about myself.
Instead of lambasting myself, I should have considered whether I had done something wrong, examined what I had done for my friend and her family and realized the words directed at me were sourced in her husband's pain, and ultimately dismissed what he said about me.
In situations such as these, one of the most helpful questions I've learned to ask myself is, What is this person telling you about himself or herself? All of our actions and words are reflections of our past experiences. They are evidence of the lens through which we see the world. When people blow up or overreact, it usually isn't about what we did wrong but about how much those people are hurting or how affected they are by their own emotional histories. The more we are able to back off and see a bigger picture, the more we stop allowing others to direct our lives.
STOP LETTING PEOPLE PUT "CAT HAIR" ON YOU
A person with a strong sense of self doesn't absorb the negative emotions and projections of others or give others more power and authority in his or her life than he or she should. One of my counselor friends told me, "Stop letting people put their cat hair on you!" In a mock gesture she brushed the cat hair off my shoulder. Don't automatically assume that just because someone is mad at you, you are at fault. You don't have to absorb the reactions of others. Step back, brush off the cat hair, and give yourself permission to evaluate what occurred from a more objective standpoint.
People who don't have a strong sense of self, or ego strength, may find it difficult to stop letting others' opinions matter more than their own. Many women in their thirties, forties, and fifties are walking around without a strong sense of self. If the person I'm describing sounds all too familiar, and is in fact you, the next chapter, "Renewed Through Figuring Out Who You Are," will be helpful as you begin building up your ego strength—your sense of yourself and your worth.
AFFIRMATIONS CAN CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL AND REACT
I had no idea how much a list of affirmations posted on my bathroom mirror could influence my life for the better. As I did my own emotional work in school, I read one or two affirmations aloud each day ("I don't have to make everyone happy today" or "It's OK if I make a mistake"), and over time those words made a huge impact. Your brain believes what you tell it, even if you are saying it silently.
Here is a list of some affirmations that have the power to make a big difference in how you react to life. You may want to pick out one or two to read aloud each day.
I do not have to feel guilty just because someone else does not like what I do, say, think, or feel.
It's OK for me to feel angry and to express it in responsible ways.
I do not have to assume full responsibility for making decisions, particularly where others share responsibility for making the decision.
I have the right to say, "I don't know."
I have the right to say no without feeling guilty.
I have the right to say, "I don't understand," without feeling stupid.
I do not have to apologize or give reasons when I say no.
I have the right to ask others to do things for me.
I have the right to refuse requests that others make of me.
I have the right to tell others when I think they are manipulating me, conning me, or treating me unfairly.
I have the right to refuse additional responsibilities without feeling guilty.
I have the right to tell others when their behavior annoys me.
I do not have to compromise my personal integrity.
I have the right to make mistakes and to be responsible for them; I have the right to be wrong.
I do not have to be liked, admired, or respected by everyone for everything I do.
WOMEN WHO DO WHAT THEY LOVE ARE HAPPIEST
Did you know that doing what you love and doing a lot of it is a secret to happiness? Best-selling author and researcher Marcus Buckingham was surprised with research he did at Gallup that showed that women's happiness had plummeted over the last forty years—the exact opposite of men. He devoted himself to figuring out what made the happiest women happy. He found that the happiest women tended to focus on the few areas where they excelled. If a woman loved marathons, she didn't waste her time on home decorating. If she enjoyed studying rocket science, she didn't focus on entertaining friends. You get the idea (Find Your Strongest Life, 17, 96, 138, 163).
Not only did she do what she loved, she also did something Buckingham calls "catch and cradle": she noticed herself doing what she loved. For instance, if you're with your friends—say, a writing group that you love—sit back, sip some tea, and really pay attention to how much you enjoy writing and being with your friends. Take a mental picture (or an actual one) of the magic moment. Whether your snapshot is real or tucked away in your memory, taking an occasion to savor what you enjoy is a vital step in self-care.
It makes sense that if you want to feel good about yourself, you will spend the vast majority of your time doing what you love.
What activities do you really enjoy? When do you lose track of time because you are doing something so enjoyable that you are caught up in a sense of timelessness?
Researchers call this "flow," and I'll talk more about it later in the book. When do you feel you are doing what you were born to do? My friend Danica experiences much pleasure in the simple art of knitting. For Michele, it's running a quiet trail; and for Antje, it's reading comics. Recently I was at a speaker training and heard comedian Bob Stromberg say that he often sits in his sauna with music and gets so caught up in thinking of creative ideas that he won't realize an hour has gone by. If you want to be happy, do what you're good at and do what you love. Not sure what your strengths or interests are? There are a lot of strengths-finder books and online tests. Try one. A starting place is StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath.
YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK DETERMINES HAPPINESS
Another key to emotional self-care is to choose your networks wisely. It's important to spend time around others who are behaving and acting in ways that you want to mirror and have mirrored in your life. Your brain automatically "picks up" signals from those around you in ways you might never consciously realize. In fact, you become like those you spend time with, so it pays to be intentional in your choices of friends and mentors.
In the book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, authors Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler describe how we are connected to everyone by six degrees of separation, but we influence and are influenced by those within three degrees of separation. That means people I don't even know have the power to affect me (for example, a friend of a friend). Studies have shown that obesity and divorce spread through social networks. Choose your social network wisely and you'll find yourself buoyed by positive support and encouragement.
One of the greatest discoveries of neuroscience in the last decade came when scientists accidentally discovered mirror neurons. You probably remember from biology class that a neuron is a brain cell. Brain cells transmit electrical and chemical signals, and connect to others to form networks. Scientists estimate there are one hundred billion neurons in the human brain. For hundreds of years, scientists thought the brain was rigid and permanent. They also assumed the brain could never grow new cells. Only in the last decade have scientists discovered that the brain is pliable, plastic, moldable, and that it can grow.
A team of Italian researchers placed electrodes in the front of a monkey's brain in order to study the neurons involved as the monkey cracked open a peanut and put it in his mouth. During a break, one of the scientists cracked a peanut for himself, and the monkey's brain made the same signal; the exact neurons fired when the monkey watched the action as when the monkey did it himself. Thus, the neurons "mirror" the behavior of another, as though the observer were doing the activity as well.
SMILING CHANGES THE WAY YOU FEEL
Can you tell a real smile from a fake one? Did you know that biting down on a pencil as you smile actually makes you happy? That's because it works the same muscles as a genuine smile, or "Duchenne smile," which involves both voluntary and involuntary contraction from two muscles, the zygomatic major (raising the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi (raising the cheeks and producing crow's feet around the eyes). A fake smile, often the one we use when our picture is being taken, only contracts the zygomatic major. So when you're looking through photo albums and magazines and you want to know who is really happy, look for the people with crinkles around their eyes, not the ones who are simply stretching their lips across their face.
What's going on in the brain that creates these two different smiles? Scientists have discovered that these two types of smiles are actually controlled by two completely different parts of the brain. When a patient with damage to the motor cortex on the brain's left hemisphere attempts to smile, the smile is asymmetrical, with the right side of the smile not moving, as it should. However, when that same patient spontaneously laughs, the smile is normal with no asymmetry. The motor cortex controls the fake smile, whereas the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain) controls emotion-related movement, such as the Duchenne smile.
You can proactively manipulate your brain into being happy by giving yourself a small treat; for example, a funny video clip, a day out with fun friends, or remembering some of your favorite happy experiences. Matt Harding made Internet fame dancing in more than seventy countries on all seven continents. Whenever I find myself in a slump, I jump over to YouTube and the clip titled "Where the Hell is Matt? 2008." Seeing people from all over the world dancing and smiling with Matt never fails to lift my mood.
Taking a few moments to make yourself happy is a wonderful and creative form of self-care. Just as you feed your body good nutrients, you can nourish your soul by feeding your brain good, uplifting thoughts and pictures. About once a month, I go to lunch and a movie with my friends Charlotte and Sue. The first time we did it, we went to see the movie Mamma Mia. In order to get us in the mood, I brought along my ABBA CD. We sang and laughed all the way to the theater. From that point on, we dubbed ourselves "the Mamma Mias," and we refer to our monthly outings as "Mamma Mia days."
What kind of uplifting activities—Mamma Mia days—are you giving yourself?
EXTREME THINKING AFFECTS YOUR EMOTIONAL STATE
Ever find yourself saying things like, "Oh no, that's the worst!" or "Oh, how awful!"? Do you catastrophize things? Or maybe you go to extremes, saying things like, "I never get what I want," or, "They always leave without me." Black-and-white thinking like this is common for people pleasers. It also recurs for trauma survivors, who tend to see the world in extremes—as all or nothing. Perhaps they had to be hypervigilant in order to prevent repercussions from demanding and abusive parents. But when we catastrophize, the brain releases various stress chemicals, including cortisol. Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream have negative effects, such as:
Impaired cognitive performance
Suppressed thyroid function
Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
Decreased bone density
Decrease in muscle tissue
High blood pressure
Lower immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems (heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol) than fat deposited in other areas of the body
If you find yourself going to extreme responses, make a small change. Try to exchange knee-jerk negative responses with a sense of curiosity. Instead of engaging in extreme thinking, teach yourself to say, "Hmm, this is interesting," or, "I wonder what's going to happen?"
Other negative signal words detrimental to emotional health are ought, should, or must. In future chapters we'll look at how beliefs like perfectionism, impossible expectations, learned helplessness, fear of losing control, filling in the blanks, and unrealistic comparisons all work against our emotional well-being, whereas opening new pathways of thinking can help us become healthier and happier people. In the next chapter, we'll start with one of the basics and bedrocks of living renewed: figuring out who you are.CHAPTER 2
RENEWED THROUGH FIGURING OUT WHO YOU ARE
Cherish your visions; cherish your ideals; cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts, for out of them will grow delightful conditions, all heavenly environment; of these if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.
— JAMES ALLEN
* * *
PROBLEMS AND STRESS are a regular part of life. But have you noticed that some people seem better equipped to deal with difficult relationships and the stressors of life? For example, I used to wake up and wonder where the day's problems were going to take me, and felt trapped by poor interpersonal boundaries, whereas my friend could be in the midst of all sorts of drama and tension in his workplace and have none of these struggles. He would smile, giggle, and say lightheartedly, "I love my job."
People who have a strong sense of self have a zest for living; they are able to handle stress and bounce back from adversity. They have a sense of meaning in their lives. They are flexible and able to adapt to change. They have a healthy balance between work and play, and they have self-confidence and high self-esteem.
Excerpted from Renewed by Lucille Zimmerman. Copyright © 2013 Lucille Zimmerman. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Renewal Through Self-Care? 1
Chapter 1 Renewed Through Emotional Self-Care 11
Chapter 2 Renewed Through Figuring Out Who You Are 23
Chapter 3 Renewed Through Healthy Boundaries 39
Chapter 4 Renewed Through Spiritual Self-Care 57
Chapter 5 Renewed Through Solitude 71
Chapter 6 Renewed Through Sharing Your Secrets 81
Chapter 7 Renewed Through Appreciating Beauty 93
Chapter 8 Renewed Through Play 103
Chapter 9 Renewed Through Exercise 113
Chapter 10 Renewed Through Forgiveness 119
Chapter 11 Renewed Through Creating a Place for Grief 131
Chapter 12 Renewed Through Counseling 143
Chapter 13 Renewed Through Connection 159
Chapter 14 Renewed Through Generosity and Gratitude 171
Notes and Personal Gratitude Lists 191