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4 Ways to Thrive in the New Year


Without Hope we live in desire.
                                                                                                         ---Dante Aligheri

December is the darkest month of the year for me---literally, scientifically, and emotionally.  Whether it's the lack of sunlight, the solstice, or the yearning for loved ones that have passed, December always finds me reflective and melancholy. It's a time of looking back over the year, a time for taking stock of the living I've done.  

This particular December has felt particularly dark.  It is my first December, my first Christmas, without my mom. My mom was the queen of Christmas.  Memories of my childhood converge into grand collages of Christmas pageants, choir rehearsals, mom's soprano voice, cookies, fancy family dinners with her best china and cloth napkins.  And salt and pepper shakers. Who knew that decorative salt and pepper shakers in Target could bring a person to such tears that strangers would offer Kleenex and hugs in the housewares aisle?

Last year at this time, I was thinking and writing about finding balance in my teaching and personal life.  And then, the day before my birthday, January 24th, my bright and brilliant mom died.  I spent the rest of the year teetering on life's balance beam.  And here I am again, another December.  When I look back over this past year, there are four behaviors that I practiced that helped me survive, and yes, even thrive, during my grief and upset with the world at large.  

Grounding


When school, family, and life in general became overwhelming for me, I sought out experiences that I knew would ground me.  What I mean by grounding is this: The feeling one gets when they lose all track of time and space...the times when you are most yourself because you are engaged in something you love.

For me, that means I must move, and it must be outdoors.  I used to train for and run marathons because distance running "cleaned out the attic" of my mind.  I can't do those distances anymore.  But I walk.  And hike. And it must be on a trail in the woods somewhere.  I go to city parks, county parks, and state parks around me.

It also means that I might pick up my Native American flute or sit for hours at the piano.

In the spring or summer, it means that I have my hands and feet in dirt, digging and planting.

Whatever I choose, when I'm done, I can better handle what life is throwing at me.  I can breathe again.

This past year when I felt panicked or anxious, I went into the woods. It works.

Here are some popular grounding activities that many people use:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Hiking
  • Playing an instrument
  • Creating art
  • Crocheting/knitting
  • Playing with pets
  • Bread making
  • Gardening


Here & Now

A second strategy I tried was to focus on the here and now.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that this is extremely difficult for me.  I think I was born thinking about the future.  I have a mountain climber personality: I always focus on the summit ahead. In my year of grief and other scary "stuff," I learned to center my thoughts on the day...not the week, not the month, not the year, not the decade (yes, when I'm anxious, I go there).  Some days, I found myself self-soothing, "It's okay. Right now in this moment, you are fine. You have everything you need."  

Sound silly? I feel a little silly admitting it to you. But, it worked.  As a very anxious teacher who is greatly concerned about her contract, her job, her country, her family, her pets and friends, her own well-being (this is what my mind was doing on a regular basis), I needed to remember the present moment.  When I did this, I often found that it was pretty wonderful.

Gratitude

I practiced gratitude daily.  This past November, my sewer pipes had to be dug up and replaced with materials that tree roots would not destroy.  On my dime. Big money. And yet, I thought about what could've happened had this happened in the dead of winter in January or February when the ground is frozen solid.  It would've been a small catastrophe for me. Michigan's winter temperatures have been brutal over the last five years.  Gratitude. 

I sound like a self-help guru. A little. But in the past year, writing about my gratitude helped me be less of an Eeyore.  Remember Eeyore?  He is the beloved but depressed donkey in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  I whined less.  I recognized the "good stuff" I have in my life.


Get-To's

This last behavior is my favorite, because it has had the most impact on me.  We all "have-to's" in our lives. I have to take out the garbage. I have to grade 30 writing prompts. But I noticed that when I replaced the words have to with get to, the task and my angst around it, changed.   I get to take out the garbage. I get to grade my students' writing prompts.  The change in language fosters a change in my mindset.  On particularly bad days or weeks, I planned some "get-to's" that helped me get through.  I would soothe myself with, "Just one more hour, and then you get to go home and walk Gracie. "   At those especially stressful times, I noticed that my get-to's were about self care.

Looking back over this past year, grief has taught me many lessons about myself, my values, and my beliefs. I would be lying if I said that I'm sad to see 2016 end.  I feel an intense relief that this year is coming to an end. My wish for you and yours is that you thrive, and that you find the tools to do so.  I've created a little "somethin'-somethin'" to help you in your new year.  It's free and for the taking.  Simply click the picture below.  

May your new year be prosperous, happy, and full of peace and love.  And if it isn't, my wish for you is that you grow beyond your wildest dreams. 




16 comments

  1. What a beautiful and heartfelt post. So sorry to hear about the loss of your mom. I know your pain. Your positive attitude about today, tomorrow and future are inspiring, especially after the election. Getting to something rather than having to do it, is a great way to look at things. I'm going to try it. May the new year bring peace, love, health and joy to you.

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    1. Deann,
      Thank you so much for stopping by to read, and for your words of encouragement. I'm looking forward to our joint venture in the new year!

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  2. So sorry to hear about your loss. Your inspiring words are so meaningful for all.

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  3. This post resonates with me for so many reasons. I especially love your "get to" approach! It makes even the most daunting task seem doable. I am newly inspired every time I read one of your posts!

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    1. Retta! Thanks for returning to read again and again! The "get to" has helped tremendously with my procrastination...from which I suffer, oh how I suffer! :-) Thank you for your feedback!

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  4. So sorry for your loss. Grief is a unique process for each of us. I also love to walk and enjoy nature. I pray while I walk which helps to restore my peace. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Kimberly, thank you for your words of wisdom.

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  5. So sorry for your loss. Great post and great ways to help everyone start the new year

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    1. Julie, Thank you so much for stopping by to read.

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  6. So sorry to read of your loss. But it was a wonderful and heartfelt post.

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    1. Tracy, thanks for stopping by! Happy New Year to you!

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  7. These are all fabulous tips to write into the blank pages that are presented before us this new year...let's make 2017 amazing and look forward to writing this chapter of our life!!!

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    1. Thank you, Kathy! You're right! I'm so ready to THRIVE this year...so much so, that it's my word for 2017. THRIVE my friend!

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  8. So sorry for your loss. I too find staying active helps me. I find gardening very peaceful.

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    1. Gardening is the best, isn't it? I think it has to do with nurturing living things.

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