How 5 Minutes a Day will Change Your Life

Do you ever have a day where you thought to yourself “where did the day go?” That’s me. Everyday. I’m the QUEEN of the day that got away. Every evening around 6 o’clock, my husband laughs when I act so surprised that dinnertime has magically arrived without my knowledge.

And it does! After I suddenly realize that dinner snuck up behind me, I scramble to first THINK of something to cook, and then frantically fix something (somewhat) healthy.

After the chaos of dinner, I’m done. Tapped out. I’ve forgotten whatever I was in the middle of doing before cooking dinner. I feel as though my whole day was flung together and I have nothing to show for it. It’s as though that little bit of chaos threw off my whole day.

So what did I do? I set a new goal in my journal. And it worked.

I’ve been journaling for some time now. In the mornings, I do my own version of the ‘5 minute journal’ approach. I call it “Gratitude and Goals”. Gratitude for the things I have currently and goals for the things I want in the future – and every morning, I write these things down so that my day is a bridge between the two.

And it’s changed my life.

It takes about 5 minutes most mornings. A quick 2 pages of writing, and my mind is clear. This approach to journaling helps me to take on the day without all the clutter usually rattling around in my brain. My day starts and ends more clearly and with a purpose – plus it helps me to remember dinner!

So how do YOU do this? Grab a journal, a pen, and a cup of coffee.

You ready?

OK start with page one. Write down 2 things you are grateful for – and why. They can be something simple, like your family or your home or the fact that you could sleep in that day (I’ve written that one a few times!) Whatever you are truly grateful for in your life and why you’re grateful.

Now close your eyes and see those things in your mind for 2 deep breaths. Seriously. Picture your family/home/sleeping in. Now breath in…out…in…out while holding that image.

Ready for step 2?

Write down 2 goals you have. They can be anything – to accomplish more at work, to be more mindful, to beat cancer (that was my written goal for forever!!) Even just being less nauseous from chemo treatment. Whatever you REALLY want to do.

It can be something you want to accomplish that day (like putting dinner on the table by 7) or that year (like finishing that ‘honey-do list’). Small or large, whatever it is, write it down.

Now, again, close your eyes. Picture yourself reaching that goal. Hold that image and take 2 more deep breaths.

At this point, I usually turn the page and write my thoughts. Whatever has come to mind, I write it down. If it’s a big appointment day, I write down my fears and anxieties. Or sometimes I write about activities from the night before such as a fun dinner party or seeing family. Whatever is rattling around in my brain first thing in the morning is written on the next page.

FIVE minutes. And its changed my life.

How did I come to this? Well, I’ve always found that writing is a great outlet for me. I’ve also been practicing mindfulness since my diagnosis, and I found that this 5 minute journal method combines the best of journaling, visualization, and mindfulness.  Over time, I’ve found it keeps me ‘present’ and less stressed all day. I now direct my day rather than my day directing me.

It’s also helped tremendously with my cancer fears. As Tony Robbins likes to say, you can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time. I am proof that changing your mindset really DOES change your life. This five minutes has helped me to quiet the fears and find a greater meaning in everyday life BEYOND cancer.

Using a journal to focus my morning thoughts has retrained my brain to see the bright side. Throughout the day, my mind thinks back to the things I’m grateful for rather than the things I’m fearful might happen. My gratitude has replaced my fear.

And some days, having a calm dinner with family shows me the happiest and greatest meaning of life. Set aside 5 minutes to try something that may change YOUR life – like this 5 minute journal – and take control of your fears.

The Mental Health Crisis in America

Mental health is one of the few places the medical field has absolutely FAILED in the US. And when I say failed, I mean failed with a big fat ‘F’. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, exit stage left kind of fail.

The numbers don’t lie. The statistics of how we’ve failed, and continue to do so, are staggering. Over half of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, even to this day. Teenage depression rates are rising. 43.7 million Americans struggle with a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is over 18% of the population. These numbers even EXCLUDE developmental disorders and over 8% of adults in America who report having a substance or alcohol problem!

How can this BE? We’re in 2017, people! We can’t IGNORE over a quarter of the population!

We HAVE GOT to do better at helping those with mental health problems. Not tomorrow – TODAY!

This really hit home for me in a one-two punch. My friend’s brother, who had been struggling with depression, committed suicide. The following year, I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t really soak in the hardship of my friend’s loss until I saw myself in a similar boat – struggling to keep myself afloat mentally and physically.

Mental health problems can affect any one of us. Our friends, our family, and ourselves. Just like breaking a leg or having cancer, treatment SHOULD be available to everyone. For any reason.

But it’s not.

No matter how you slice it, millions of Americans struggle with mental health…every….single….day.

You can find many more statistics and resources at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/

I found myself struggling with anxiety and depression after my diagnosis. I couldn’t accept that cancer could happen to me. I became terrified of the sun’s UV “death rays” and scared of being in the sun (see my post about conquering that fear here). My entire career has been in healthcare, but I developed “white coat syndrome” – it’s a real thing – where before every appointment or scan, I would sit in the waiting room, sweating profusely with my blood pressure and heart rate skyrocketing. My dread and anxiety when seeing the doctor became the norm.

Does this sound familiar?

When I finally decided to take control of my thoughts and emotions, things slowly became better. I decided that cancer may take my body, but I wouldn’t let it take my soul. I became stronger mentally and started to bail out the sinking ship to weather the storm. I did this through mind-body connection methods such as mindfulness meditation and journaling that I discuss in this blog.

Many people can do this same thing and eventually bail themselves out. Many others, however, need professional help to lead them in the right direction through the storm.

BOTH methods towards mental health simply DO NOT have enough support out there. Those who want to take control of their thoughts on their own don’t have enough support. And those who need professional help don’t have easy access to professionals.

We HAVE GOT to help each other and ourselves. We need to acknowledge that America needs better access to mental health services. Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. And every day, more and more people are struggling.

Mental health doesn’t have to be this way. If you see someone struggling, don’t ignore the symptoms. If you need help, please reach out. Anxiety, depression, anger, and fear don’t have to be a daily part of your life.

Let’s admit America has a mental health problem.

Because as the saying goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing the problem.

Overcoming my Fear of the Sun

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, the fear is overwhelming. Fear of painful treatment, fear of the unknown, fear of death. Fear begins to creep in and take over your life. I know – I went through lots of tearful nights and inner turmoil. I wanted to be positive and my old, happy self; but how can you be happy with a gray cloud surrounding you?

After I was diagnosed with melanoma and came to terms with my fear of death, I still had another constant fear. I became terrified of the sun. Every dermatologist and every doctor uses the guilt-stick to beat skin cancer patients into avoiding the sun completely. “Wear sunscreen on a daily basis” “Don’t go outside in the middle of the day” “Avoid tanning and ABSOLUTELY avoid tanning beds” (the latter one I agree with, but the others are mostly fear-mongering).

As if my cancer fears weren’t crippling me enough, now I had to completely change my way of life. I started to super over-analyze the tiniest bit of sunshine as though the UV rays were my kryptonite.

I distinctly remember my tipping point. I was at an anesthesia conference in Orlando, Florida (PERFECT place for someone with melanoma, right?!?) and my entire group was hanging out by the pool. There they all were, in bathing suits, splashing around, having a grand-ol time socializing and sunning. And there I was, covered in sunscreen and almost all clothed, sunglasses and hat and all. The dark cloud in a room of sunshine.

I couldn’t have a good time. The entire scene was just terrifying to me. Every moment out in the sun just made me think more and more about how my life had changed. I was imagining all my moles bursting into melanomas, one by one, for every extra UV ray that was hitting my body.

After about 20 minutes, I went to my room and broke down.

That was my fear-tipping point. I knew I would never be the same, but I also knew it didn’t have to be THIS way, either.

I didn’t want to totally go hog-wild and go sun bathing or anything CRAZY like that. I just wanted to control my fear to be able to make the most of life. I absolutely did NOT want my life crippled by my fear.

So I used a little bit of mindfulness to change my thinking. Every time I was in the sun, I thought of all the good qualities it brings to earth. When I really got to thinking, skin cancer was the ONLY bad thing about the sun. The sun existed for eons before humans. It helped life form on this earth.

So during my walks, I would look at the daisies and say to myself “the sun helped give those life”. Or if I saw an amazing sunrise/sunset, I would give a little nod to the sun for creating such beauty. Even during grace, I would give a little mental thanks to the sun for nurturing the fruits and vegetables on my plate.

Consciously making the effort to bring the sun into my positive thinking was paramount to conquering my fear. It took time for me to begin to feel comfortable stepping outside without focusing on the kryptonite, but slowly it happened. It was not an overnight miracle. But slowly, using positive thinking and mindfulness, my mindset changed.

Slowly I became my thoughts; not the fearful ones…the positive ones.

As Tony Robbins (one of my personal favs) states “When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” I took this mantra to heart – every…single…day – to conquer my fear of the sun.

And to this day, I’m happier because of it.

What are you fearful of? Have you ever used mindfulness to conquer YOUR fears? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How I kicked my cancer fear to the curb

Recently, I’ve had many people ask me one of the most important (but most overlooked) questions about cancer treatment. How did I learn to cope?

I don’t mean physically cope with getting through the treatments. Coping with treatments and healing after surgery is really just ‘grin and bear it’. There’s no secret to physically getting through treatment – you just have to put on your rally cap and fight like hell.

But how do you MENTALLY cope with cancer? How do you endure a diagnosis like stage 3 melanoma and NOT want to crawl into a hole and cry yourself to sleep?

Well, I have to admit, there was definitely a little bit of that for me – at first.

 

I’ve always said that cancer is more of a mental battle than a physical one. My melanoma diagnosis hit me very hard. I’m in healthcare – I should KNOW the warning signs. I should KNOW to take care of my own health first and foremost. But I put my changing/bleeding mole on the back burner while I worked 60 hours/week taking care of other people.

I felt a HUGE amount of guilt and blamed myself for months. I felt defeated. I felt lost. Why me? How could I do this to my family? What if I don’t make it? How am I supposed to live my life like this?

And then I gradually began to realize that this was a battle of wills. Much like any sport, the team with the best mental state wins. I was NOT going to let this stupid cancer win. This cancer was NOT going to bring down my spirit. If I was going to fight like hell physically, I also had to fight mentally. My whole being had to fight – and fight hard.

I knew the odds weren’t in my favor. I knew that melanoma defeating me was more of a likelihood than a possibility. At the age of 31, I had to come to grips with my own mortality in a very real way.

But you know what? As the old saying goes: there are only 2 certainties in this world – death and taxes. If my life was going to be cut short, I better make it a damn good one.

So I came to the conclusion: cancer may take my life. But cancer would NOT take my soul.

 

Sometimes you have to endure the rain to experience a rainbow

I have a soft spot for country music, and Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying” to this day makes me cry. There’s something about facing death that makes you realize how precious life is – and you have to soak up EVERY MOMENT. Every day is truly a blessing.

Thousands of people have survived cancer and been given a second chance on life. And since treatment that has become my new mentality – I’ve been given a second chance at life. And you can’t have a full life when you’re constantly worried.

So I permanently shut off that leaky faucet of fears and guild and questions that kept creeping into my mind.

How did I do it? Mindfulness meditation.

I began reading books such as The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh and it made me realize that meditation doesn’t have to be all granola and incense and “ohm”. Just being mindful – learning to soak in every moment – was something we could all do. Soaking in the joys of everyday life has made me more grateful and more introspective about how I want to live.

Think about it. Think about what you want to accomplish in life. REALLY TRULY accomplish. Because YOU are the only one who can make these dreams a reality. YOU are the only one who can choose to live in a beautiful state rather than living every day in fear.

Because living in fear is no way to live. And I choose living a life that’s worth living. And so should you.

So say NO to the fears. Say NO to melanoma and cancer. Put your foot down and choose to take back your life. Start LIVING your life while you still can. It’s that simple.

So get out there and start living!!

Mindfulness in the Garden

When I moved back to New Hampshire after being diagnosed, I really wanted to change my lifestyle. I knew I needed to decrease my stress level (a proven primary cause of inflammation) and boost my immune system. Before the move to New England, I was living in Florida, with organic fruits and vegetables everywhere you looked.

But in New Hampshire? Not so much!

Growing up, we always had a garden and I used to LOVE LOVE LOVE eating tomatoes and beans and strawberries right off the vine. There is something so delicious and satisfying about growing your own food. Taking a seed, seeing it sprout, and nurturing it to flourish gives you a new perspective on life and what living really means.

I don’t always wear gloves. But when I do, I’m in my happy place.

So a greenhouse and three raised beds later, we have a garden! It has been such an awesome learning experience. My garden is my happy place and a great place for me to practice mindfulness meditation. Every moment I get a chance to play in the dirt is a moment well spent.

What the heck does gardening have to do with mindfulness? Everything! I’m a tactile/kinesthetic person, so getting my hands in the dirt is incredibly relaxing for me. Getting my hands in the ground is like becoming one with the earth. I don’t need to think about anything…I can just be.

I never see the garden as work. I see it as a place to relax. A place I can absorb the beauty around me from every angle. A place I can breathe.

My happy place
My happy place. And yes, those are tomatoes growing out the vents of the greenhouse!

My tomatoes don’t care that I’m not wearing makeup. My beets don’t judge me or cause any drama. It’s a place I can put my hair up and let it all go. I can be myself, flaws and all, and create a beautiful world to surround me.

My garden, just like life, is what I make it. The more effort I put in, the more it grows. And the more it grows, the more I grow…emotionally AND spiritually.

Plus I get to reward myself with strawberries 🙂

How do you practice mindfulness meditation? Let me know in the comments below!