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Open space

Open space…it is rare these days, especially if you open your calendar or dayplanner.

I left my last job because it demanded that I give all of my open space to the company…that I basically was on call all the time for whatever “emergency” the company deemed necessary to do immediately. There was no regard for family time, self care, or just plain old breathing room. If you weren’t in the hospital or in jail, there was no other reason important enough to decline an invitation to resolve their latest crisis.

I landed in the hospital a few years back and I firmly believe it was due 100% to the fact that I had zero breathing room. There was never a moment in my day where I felt like I could just sit still and “be.” There was always something I could be, should be, needed to be doing which meant there was no time for being still, reflecting, resting, recharging, or filling my tank. Everything on my to do list became “necessary” and there was “nothing I could possibly cut out.”

We all know that “life happens” which meant, with a cram packed schedule already, there was no wiggle room to fit in the unexpected. This caused anxiety to skyrocket and the stress was beyond what I could handle. My body protested and my immune system went on strike causing me to get an infection in my throat called epiglotitus. It is life threatening in that it causes your throat to swell, closing off your airway. It is the closest I have ever been to dying and it still causes me great anxiety just thinking about the incident. I spent 3 days in the hospital on heavy duty antibiotics and I obviously survived but it was a major wake up call to me that I needed to take a very hard look at my lifestyle.

I didn’t make changes overnight and I struggled with my health and the same insane schedule for several more years until my life took an enormous shift. I married a man who recognized my problem and, when I became paralyzed with the belief that I didn’t have a choice in how my day played out, he was willing to step in and do something about it. He gently forced me to take a hard look at why I thought I couldn’t say no when someone “needed” me and then helped me actually say “no” when I needed to. This was a whole new territory for me and it was through his support that I was able to do it at all.

About the same time I started a bible study by Priscilla Shirer called “Breathe.” I met with a friend of mine every week and we worked our way through the book together, sharing our hearts and ideas. I began to declutter my day planner until I had it pared down to the most important things (my priorities)… that was the plan anyway. I didn’t quite make it to that ultimate goal until much later, but that part of the story brings in a whole other topic and will have to be told another day. God was working on my heart, preparing me to make more big changes later.

The best things that came out of that study were things that I could immediately start working on. I began to build some new healthy habits and those are still working for me today. Here are a few..

On Sunday, make a list of all the things you need and want to do for the week.

Review your priorities and fill in your schedule with those most important things first.

Each night, before you go to bed, make a schedule for tomorrow.

Leave open space in your dayplanner every single day for the unexpected…even if nothing unexpected pops up, sometimes what we have planned takes longer than we anticipate and if not, use that time to rest, reflect, recharge…do NOT cram something else into that empty space.

Put self care on your schedule EVERY SINGLE DAY. This does not have to be anything major…a bubble bath, a cup of coffee out on the porch, a walk around the neighborhood…self care means you do something all by yourself to refresh your spirit. And don’t be like me and tell yourself you don’t have time! MAKE THE TIME to keep your mind and body healthy!

Do you have breathing room in your daily schedule? Do you see it as a necessity or simply a luxury?

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I have a routine…

Well, I USED to have a routine.

I’m a type A personality. I like to have a plan, know what the plan is, and check off the steps in the plan as I complete them. Focus has never been an issue for me…I’m usually the one who works harder and longer than is necessary (and/or healthy) and gets more done in a day than should be humanly possible. And I LOVE finishing my to do list every single day.

That’s how I USED to function…until recently. Currently, I make a to do list and schedule my day but I rarely complete any of the tasks on the list. I struggle with staying on task and get sidetracked constantly. I’m frustrated that I can’t seem to complete anywhere near the amount of projects I used to do in a single day without even thinking twice about it. My brain goes round and round trying to figure out why this is and what has changed to affect me in such a dramatic way?

I think it may be long term stress which is now coupled with a new challenge in this stage of life…anxiety. I had no idea that anxiety could start so late in life and be so disrupting. To be honest, like a lot of things in life, I used to think certain things were blown out of proportion and the person dealing with it just needed to “get a grip” I’ve gotten softer and more compassionate the older I get and the more things I experience for myself. Life is humbling and empathy is gained through experience. I truly see everyone through the eyes that say “I see this tiny glimpse of what that person is going through, but I have no idea what the entire tapestry of their life entails and I can’t see inside their mind and heart to observe the hurt and trials that have led them to this moment in time.”

What if we were all a little kinder and looked at others through the eyes of compassion and the assumption that there are hard things going on in everyone’s life? …things we hide because they’re painful or embarrassing or shameful. What if we assumed everyone was just doing the best they can at that moment and behind those irritated or angry eyes is a heart that is about to break?

I know there have been periods in my life where I was just trying to hold together and get through that one day…it wouldn’t take much on those days to tip my scales over the breaking point. I can only imagine that this is a common human experience…we all have days or seasons in which we’re not sure we’re going to make it through. A harsh or critical word can be devastating on those days. Sometimes we hold it all together and move on into a new season with relatively little obvious collateral damage. Sometimes the scales tip and we can’t hold it all in and the stress spills over a little or a lot.

What if we daily remind ourselves that everyone is just doing the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt and some days that’s simply much easier than others? I know I would be grateful for a small measure of grace on those days when I feel like I’m drowning….

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What is a stress reliever?

“I’m so stressed out!”

How many times have you heard this phrase in the last week? It’s perhaps one of the most used phrases in my world today, and probably yours, as well. Everyone is “too busy”, “has too much on their plate”, or is “just completely overwhelmed” It’s obvious that our schedules are way too jam packed, but what can we DO about it?

This year, I have literally been slammed with so many things that were out of my control. I looked at my schedule every week and desperately tried to find something to cut, and could not find a single thing except maybe my weekly Bible Study, however, for the health and well being of myself and everyone around me, THAT is NOT optional!

When you can’t cut activities in your schedule, how do you survive without losing your mind? I’ve found a small way to help me survive and that is…putting myself on my schedule a minimum of once a week. What does that mean exactly? It means blocking out 30 to 60 minutes for myself to either just completely stop activity altogether (as in take a nap, meditate, or enjoy a cup of tea) or do something that allows my mind and body to focus on only the current moment. For me, the stopping activity altogether rarely happens (eye roll) because my assistance is constantly needed by someone especially if I happen to be at home. I do not resent this and in fact, love being able to help others, but I really need to take care of myself as well.

For me, scheduling an activity where I can “lose myself” has worked better because I leave the house and kind of disappear for a while. I’m currently only doing this once a week, but it is my goal to work up to 3 times a week. My “escape time” happens to be going to the barn and spending time riding my horse. This not only gives me something completely different to focus on, it also gets me outdoors for some fresh air, and because I’m training my horse and not simply trail riding at a walk, I’m actually getting some exercise at the same time. For me, it’s a win/win/win in the self care category!

***A word of caution: If you decide to try the “escape” method, you might be like me…you will have a tendency to “reschedule” your time when something else comes up. In order for this to work, YOU MUST STAND FIRM and KEEP that appointment with yourself!!!

What about you? How do you survive an overstuffed weekly agenda? What works for you might actually help someone else and THAT is a beautiful thing!