3 Ways to De-Stress this Holiday Season

I have a million things on my to-do list. Work is absolutely bonkers with Q4 deadlines. I’m still dealing with my herniated disc and trying to find time to do physical therapy. Holiday parties and social obligations are peppered all over my calendar, and to top everything off, one of our tenants moved out and my husband and I are renovating the apartment.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I KNOW I’m not the only one in this pickle. The holidays bring out the best and the worst in us. Everyday stressors pile on top of holiday celebrations and it becomes chaos. Rather than living in the spirit of giving, it becomes survival of the fittest.

So how do you survive and actually ENJOY the holidays? Prevent the stress from building up with these three tips:

Just say ‘NO’

Remember the ‘Just Say No’ drug campaign from the 80s and 90s? The idea was that you don’t have to give an explanation for why you don’t want drugs. Just say no and move on.

Our obligations to friends, family, and coworkers often peak around this time of year. We worry about office gift-giving, holiday parties, baking picture-perfect cookies, and coordinating our presents with Santa’s always-perfect timing.

It’s so easy to say ‘yes’ to all the holiday festivities. Who wants to decline a party?! Food, drinks, merrymaking, who can possibly say NO? It’s like saying you don’t want to enjoy the holidays if you say no!

But the day comes and you forgot the present and the cookies burned and you have to make frantic runs to the store to get everything. In the process, you spend more money and time doing things that stress you out rather than just politely declining in the first place.

If you feel stretched out…if you feel burned out…if you feel too stressed, just say no. This particular party will NOT be the only gathering this year. Use the other 11 months of the year to get together with family and friends – on YOUR timeline – and make some great memories.

 

Keep Mindfulness in Mind

If you absolutely, positively CANNOT get out of participating in festivities that stress you out, use mindfulness to your advantage.

One way I do this in stressful environments is I change my inner dialogue. Instead of telling myself I HAVE to go to this party, I change one simple thing. I change the word ‘HAVE’ with the word ‘GET’ and it changes everything.

I GET to go to this gathering. I GET to spend time with friends and family (and that one person who is always annoying). I GET to go shopping with the crowds at the mall. I GET to bring my awesome cookies to the bake sale.

Because you know what? We are ALL lucky to be here. And I’m REDICULOUSLY lucky to be here. My doctors gave me a pretty poor prognosis with my cancer, but here I am 2 years later and I’m kicking butt.

We never know when we will leave this world. It may be tomorrow. This may be your last office Christmas party. So enjoy every last second you are standing here on this earth.

Drink in the gratitude with a small change in your inner dialogue. It will help you get through the stressful times and actually enjoy them.

A cup of tea, a couch, and some belly rubs with this guy help me to de-stress

Enjoy a Warm Beverage

When all else fails, have a cup of tea.

There’s something about a warm beverage that helps me calm down. Soak in the warmth. Let go of the stress. It shuts down my brain, warms my heart, and releases my stress.

It’s like holding that mug opens my pores and lets out the angst or something. After a long, stressful day, a cup of tea and a soft blanket on the couch helps me to let it all go.

And by all means, it doesn’t have to be a cup of tea. Try some hot cocoa. Or a warm spiced (or spiked) cider. Whatever warm beverage floats your boat. Take that 5 minutes of your day and truly enjoy something as simple as a warm beverage. Add in a fuzzy friend and it all melts away!

 

What do YOU do to de-stess during the holidays? Let me know in the comments below!  

My Recent Battle with Back Pain

The universe acts in mysterious ways, they say. Sometimes we need just a little sprinkle of life to realize we’re only human.

So the universe sprinkled a little bit of a challenge into my life. About a month ago, I herniated a disc in my lower back. I actually became a potential back surgery candidate.

That’s the irony of the situation. I work with surgeons and patients during spinal surgery and suddenly the tables had turned. Instead of helping patients, now I am suddenly the patient in the surgeon’s office!

I have no idea when exactly I herniated the disc. There was no instant pain. One day I just woke up with numbness in my foot and excruciating pain when I bent over.

My 10 years of experience in spine surgeries told me that this was serious. The likelihood of a herniated disc in someone so young was rare, but completely possible.

But there was another voice in my head that was nagging me. That was the dreaded cancer voice. The feelings of anxiety and fear crept into me once again. I was overwhelmed with the possibility that the cancer had returned from the depths to take over my body.

I called my oncologist and he sent me for an MRI. There were only a few days between the beginning of my symptoms and my MRI, but it felt like an eternity. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. (Not even a hot mess – just a flat out mess!!)

The MRI results were very clear that I had herniated a disc, which was pushing against one of my lumbar nerves. I was relieved that I ONLY had a herniated disc. Isn’t it funny how a little perspective changes things? I’d take a herniated disc any day of the week over my melanoma returning.

My herniated disc!

This one incident opened my whole view of the life I’m living. For one, it made me relive my fears and realize that I’m not out of the woods. Melanoma may still come back to get me. I firmly believe that we beat cancer when we overcome the fear of cancer. I clearly still have some work to do in that ‘fear’ category.

It also opened my eyes to what my patients are going through. The pain of that herniated disc was unbelievable. At points, all I could do was try to catch my breath and let the tears roll. It was pain with a capital “P”. I would do ANYTHING – and I mean A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G – to get a little relief.

I can now see how people get hooked on pain medication due to back pain. For a period, I was afraid to miss a dose because the pain would hit me like a freight train. I was watching the clock and as soon as I felt the tiniest twitch of pain, I’d be hunting down that little orange bottle.

But I forced myself to start weaning off the pain meds as soon as I could. I know the harm they can cause and how addictive they can be. According to some data, opioids can be addictive within just FIVE days. Not even a week and you can be hooked. It’s scary!

Even with all my knowledge on the subject, it took some serious willpower to ween off the pain meds. It’s not fun. But I made sure to ask my healthcare team for other nerve pain medications that weren’t opioids and I set daily goals for myself.

Pain medications can be HIGHLY addictive

It all comes down to being in control of your own health. It’s a priority for me, and I had to make sure I was doing the right thing for my body in the long run. I refuse to be a victim of circumstance – I’d rather make lemonade out of these darn lemons. And I PLEAD with you all to discuss pain medication with your doctor before taking them. The more you know, the better.

So as of now, the plan is lots of physical therapy to regain the strength in my right leg. If I have progress over the next month, then I get to avoid surgery. I’ve seen surgery (hundreds of them, actually) and I’m doing everything in my power to avoid it.

To all those who are battling cancer or battling back problems, I’m there with you. In mind, body, and soul…I’m there with you.

My Newest Inspiration

Little known fact about me: I LOVE podcasts. Love, love, love them. I listen to them while traveling (which I do a lot of) and they make traveling so much more enjoyable. I feel like I’m expanding my brain AND being entertained all at the same time.

PLUS it feels like I’m just listening in on an intimate conversation between two people. There are so many times I’ve laughed out loud on a plane and the person sitting next to me must think I’m crazy. (Tom Bergeron is incredibly funny when being interviewed, BTW!)

I listen to podcasts about everything from real estate investing and entrepreneurship to meditation. Anything that can help me learn in different areas of my life. Tony Robbins, the TED radio hour, the Tim Ferriss show, and the 10% Happier podcasts are my absolute favorites, but I have close to 10 that I listen to intermittently.

Recently, Arianna Huffington has been making the rounds on my favorite podcasts.  She is one AMAZING woman! Not only has she written 15 books, she also started the Huffington Post.

She has some very compelling thoughts on self-care. She felt so strongly about helping others handle stress and prevent burnout that she started a wonderful website called Thrive Global (check it out here!) that gives all kinds of healthy living tips.

One of Arianna’s MANY books

Her story and her spirit are inspiring. During one of these podcast interviews, she said something that really resonated with me. She was talking about how times have changed in terms of technology, and she said, “We are drowning in data and starved for wisdom”.

Drowning in data and starved for wisdom. Repeat it. Think about it.

This is such an eloquent description of our times. Not just in the field of business – in the field of healthcare, too.

We have gone down the rabbit hole of data and pharmaceuticals and SCIENCE and we have forgotten our purpose. We are a country leading the way in cutting edge trial studies. But we are also a country leading in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

According to the National Academy of Medicine, the US spends over $200 BILLION a year on unnecessary tests and treatment. Talk about drowning in data! What do these excessive medical tests give us besides an empty wallet??

Why not empower people, educate people, and incentivize a healthy lifestyle? I haven’t seen a meaningful public health drive since the “Just say no” campaign. Creating an education campaign would not be that hard, and it would cost a LOT less.

We should start with the basics before spending billions of dollars on data that doesn’t mean anything. Or better yet, use the data that IS available to create meaningful change. Educating people on stress, sleep, and healthy eating habits would be money well spent.

Sometimes on our path to greatness, we forget why we started down this path in the first place. We forget the essentials. Health care is an industry built on the premise of helping people improve their health.

It is just that simple.

So thank you, Arianna, for being my inspiration this week. You are a breath of fresh air.

Career vs Cancer

Before cancer, I was a self-described work-a-holic. I moved from Georgia to Boston for work opportunities and then back down to Florida 3 years later for anesthesia school. I took on everything and anything that would advance my career, with a 60 hour work week becoming the norm.

Late nights, TONS of unmanaged stress, a poor diet and lack of sleep all began to creep into my daily life. My weekends and relax time became shorter and shorter. I found myself wishing for a different job, a different life that I could enjoy.

But I trudged on, thinking that this was what people did to get ahead in life.

My career was my life. It was my personality. It involved everything I stood for and everything I wanted (or THOUGHT I wanted) in my life.

In Santiago, Chile for a neurosurgery conference

But when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really had to rethink what I wanted in life. Do I want a career? Or do I want a life? I knew that it was a decision that would change the direction of my whole being. I had the chance to rewrite my future chapters before they got away from me.

And the most important question boiled down to this: Did I want to make a life or make a living?

I knew that if I dedicated the same amount of time and energy to fighting my disease as I did to my career, I’d win the fight. I’d been a work-a-holic, and that took time and dedication. If I switched that time and dedication over to fighting cancer, how could I NOT win?

It became a clear decision for me – I quit my career to fight my disease full-time.

This decision wasn’t easy. But for me, it was the best decision I could make for my health. I dedicated my time to a healthy diet, yoga, meditation, and researching everything I could on the immune system, cancer, and holistic health.

I’ve never looked back.

Once I was through treatment and had a clean set of scans, I began to think about work again. What did I want in a career? This diagnosis had changed my life, my mindset and my future. I wanted a career that was rewarding, but I needed it to work with my new way of life and my new normal.

On a mission trip in 2007

I didn’t want to go back to the life I had before cancer. My “career before self” mentality had passed. I chose to make a life rather than a living when going back to work.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they say they want a “work life balance”. Balance is a choice – you have to mentally decide what you want in life. Cancer forced me to make a lot of tough choices, and my choice in career was one of them.

After cancer, you have the ability to rewrite your future. There’s something about looking at death that makes you reevaluate life.

Do what you love, make life worth living, and create your own happiness.

Journaling with Cancer

I often talk about the stress and the mental battle I went through with my melanoma diagnosis. Being diagnosed with cancer is INCREDIBLY stressful – nothing else compares, really – and it forces you to reevaluate your life. At the ripe old age of 31, I was trying to come to grips with all of life’s deepest questions. Why me? How did this happen? When all this is over, what do I want out of life? How is this going to change me? Am I living a life worth living?

My head would spin with questions every night, and instead of sleeping, the worry would take over. I knew my thoughts weren’t helping my mindset. I needed an outlet to clear my head.

I didn’t want to go to a shrink, though. I mean who does?? I’m not having suicidal thoughts and I’m not on the verge of breaking down. If my family found out, they would think that I wasn’t handling it well, and THAT would be a whole other stress-inducing problem. I just needed to vent.

So I started to write.

I started this blog as a journal. I started a garden journal. I started a ‘journal’ journal. And I started to write every chance I got.

It was such a relief to get allllll those thoughts out of my head. Writing them down seemed like instantly unloading all my crazy thoughts onto the paper – like cutting and pasting them from my head to the journal. It became my external hard drive, where my all my deepest thoughts were safe and sound.

Don’t know where to start? More info to come!

And slowly my mind felt more clear. I felt as though I could really face the day without those constant fears chirping in my head. My therapist became my journal – I could openly examine my thoughts and writing them down made me accept my own point of view more freely. My goals and aspirations became clearer. It was like venting to my best friend that would never tell another soul about what I had complained about that day.

You may think “this journaling stuff is only for teenagers to relieve their emotional angst”. Heck, when I started I thought it would save me the trouble of seeing a mental health professional. In researching the effects of journaling, however, I discovered it’s a lot more than both these things.

Journaling has been a habit of highly successful people for ages. Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, and Oprah, just to name a few. Journaling their thoughts, ideas, dreams, and daily goals has helped them all attain amazing lives.

And my goal is to have an amazing life. I want to make my life worth living. Every day is a blessing, and keeping a journal is a way for me to reflect on what I have, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Do you keep a journal? How does it help you? Let me know in the comments!