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!  

Ethiopia’s Attitude of Gratitude

I just arrived back from an amazing experience in Ethiopia. I mean…AH-MAZ-ING. There are only a few things you really remember vividly your whole life, and this will be one for me.

The people, the culture, the love and gratitude were all shockingly more than I had expected. Ethiopians are a beautiful people, and the whole group that went on the mission acted like one cohesive team right from the start.

Experiences like this always make me look at my own life through a different lens. We complain about our healthcare, but some of the families we worked with walked for days to see a doctor about their spine deformity. YES – you read that right – they WALK for DAYS. Not miles. Days.

He gave me a thumbs up for the lollipops!

Could you imagine your family walking for that long just to see a doctor? Once at the hospital, these patients will be taken in – no questions asked. The care and determination help make their hospital system an amazing thing to see.

I’m not saying that any healthcare system is perfect. The US has lots of room for improvement, too. But in striving for the biggest and best in healthcare, we forget the basics. We shoot for super precise scans rather than a better primary care system. We demand individualized cancer treatment, rather than focusing our efforts on prevention.

The best healthcare systems have BOTH great technology AND a great basic standards of care. A great standard of care that every person – every patient – has access to sets the foundation of better health for everyone. The best care shouldn’t be limited to those with the biggest wallet or the best employer-based insurance.

The CUTEST little girl who we got to visit

Honestly, traveling to Ethiopia made me realize how gosh darn spoiled we are in America. All the little things that many of us take for granted were HUGE for these kiddos. Handing out candies, for example, made these kids light up like Christmas morning. Their gratitude for all the little things is something we should all remember in our daily lives.

Their attitude of gratitude is forever memorable.

I’m ever so grateful for this amazing trip across the world to help these remarkable people. They will always remain in my heart.

 

Follow me to Africa!

There is so much craziness going on in the world right now. Everywhere I look, I see chaos. Multiple hurricanes, earthquakes, shootings…it just seems like the world is getting crazier by the day. There is so much out of our control that surrounds us and affects us every day.

And I don’t think it will ever get better. Not because the situations are completely dire – I do believe the people affected by these situations will heal and overcome. I just believe that the world is heading towards MORE chaos.

To me, this is the law of entropy. Entropy – the law of order and disorder in physics. It’s defined by the fact that nature leans from order to disorder in isolated systems. (I know…I hated physics, too! But this one kinda made sense for me!)

So what does this mean in real life? Well, when you think about life, things tend to get crazier. We grow up and then do what we call “settling down” AKA get married and have kids. Whew, kids are absolute chaos. I have NO IDEA why this is called settling down. Then those kids have kids, and the amount of children in the family keep multiplying, one generation at a time.

This example of entropy isn’t exact by any means. Its just what I think of when I think of the craziness of life. The stress and the chaos never get better. When it rains, it pours. That’s life.

And that’s why we need to understand how we can help each other. Everyone is going through their own problems. Everyone has their own stress. Without each other, we’re just a big pile of emotions and chaos.

Seeing the chaos of what’s been going on the past few weeks, I also have to say that we can do better. WE CAN DO BETTER, PEOPLE!! It just starts with one simple act of kindness.

A few weeks ago, I was offered a chance to go on a medical mission trip to Ethiopia. I will be providing neuromonitoring for scoliosis cases during this amazing 11 day trip. These are people who have severe back curves – so bad that they might suffer collapsed lungs or paralysis without surgery – and neuromonitoring is imperative to prevent damage to the spinal cord during surgery.

Off to Ethiopia!

I jumped at the chance. How could I say no??? This type of kindness is life-altering. No matter how badly we’d like our lives to be in a bubble, we don’t live in a bubble. We live in this huge world with billions of people who need our help.

There is someone out there who needs help. Just think about that. There is someone in this world RIGHT NOW who could use your help.

This world is moving forward at a wild pace. Rather than burrowing in our safe place, we need to branch out. We need to lend a helping hand to our fellow humans. The laws of entropy show us that we are headed towards more chaos rather than less – so we might as well get used to our world rather than hiding from it.

So I have a challenge for you. I challenge you all to do something to help someone this week. Whether it’s donating to a cause or volunteering or joining a support group or bringing a meal to a neighbor. Do some good this week.

Stay tuned to follow me on my journey!

Hiking with Heart

This past weekend, my husband and I went on a hike. We live in the mountains, so we try to do this often.

But this hike was different. This hike was with hundreds of our friends.

JEEZ, does this girl REALLY have hundreds of friends?? Well, in a way, yes! We hiked with an amazing organization called Jen’s Friends and it was an all-out community effort.

One of the many inspiring signs along the hike

I was first introduced to Jen’s Friends when I was going through cancer treatment. I had heard of the group, but I had never really taken notice until I was going into the local hospital for hydration therapy during treatment. The nurses practically shoved the paperwork into my bag to sign up as a patient.

Of course I didn’t really want to be labeled as a cancer patient (although I certainly looked the part after losing 20 pounds). I reluctantly signed up thinking I might need the support in the future.

I quickly found out that this group does it all! They help local people with ALL things related to cancer treatment. Groceries, gas, transportation, bills, EVERYTHING! They ought to be a part of the “Miracle Network”, because they are truly a life saver for many people in the area with cancer.

The organization was first started to help a girl named Jen with her cancer treatment. It grew to be a completely non-profit volunteer organization with 100% of the proceeds going to help people with cancer throughout all stages of treatment and healing. They provide monetary and emotional support in ways I wish ALL communities would provide.

So last weekend, my husband and I climbed a mountain. It was a tough climb, but the few hours we spent huffing and puffing were nothing compared to the climb we had through cancer treatment. If we could hike this mountain last weekend, we could hike any mountain, big or small.

And we did it with hundreds of our friends.

To find out more about Jen’s Friends, please visit their web page at http://jensfriends.org/wordpress/

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.