Stress, as bad as smoking? Not quite, but almost – What you can do

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stress, overwhelm,

The Research

A landmark study (the Interheart Study) of over  13,000 patients, led by Sali Yusuf,  came to the conclusion that those who reported permanent stress either at home or at work had more than double the risk of developing a heart attack. The global effect of stress was less than for smoking, but similar to hypertension or adbominal obesity.  The effects of stress were similar for both men and women.  The conclusion was that for non-smokers with good cholesterol levels, “stress is the most powerful predictor of a heart attack.”  Your stressed heart needs your help.

Salim Yusuf is a McMaster University researcher whose global approach to heart disease has touched millions of lives is the winner of the 2014 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, one of the world’s most prestigious medical prizes)director of the Population Health Research Institute and vice-president of research at Hamilton Health Sciences, a network of teaching hospitals and care centres affiliated with McMaster university’s medical school.

More recently, the Grant study, started in 1938 and following 262 Harvard grads over 75 years, (see the video) , also  provided strong support for the growing body of research that has linked social ties with longevity, lower stress levels and improved overall well-being.  The study found loving, strong relationships to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction and longevity in good health.   As Georges Vaillant, one of the researchers puts it: Connection is the whole shooting match.

I first read about the Interheart study a couple of years ago, as I was relaxing on a lounge chair just looking at the sky and the mountains, waiting to receive my second therapeutic massage in three days in majestic Mont-Tremblant and I felt I was immune to stress and it’s consequences.

Don’t be a frog

However, I know from my studies and extensive reading, and yes from my own life experiences,  that stress is a silent killer.  Unless it happens through a huge crisis, it resembles the story of the frog.  The one where the frog is put in a pot of cold water on the stove and the water warms slowly. The frog gets used to the warmer temperature little by little and does nothing to jump out, until it’s too late.

Just like the frog, we get used to stress to the point of considering it normal. It’s only when it gets so big that our functioning is so impaired that we need to ask for help or take drastic measures to give ourselves some breathing room.

If you are a single parent, you have stress; if you take care of aging parents, that’s stress too; if you have a job with poor management above you, that’s stress; if you have unfinished emotional business from your family of origin or from a previous relationship, that’s stress; if you are a two working parent family, you have stress; if you have too little money, or too much money (afraid to loose it) that’s also stress. If you hate your job that’s stressful. If you are in conflict with someone, that’s also stress.  If you are unhappy in your relationship, that’s stress.

If you feel you don’t have a choice about how you live your life, that’s stress. If you don’t take your lunch break as a break, that’s stress. If you brag about multi-tasking, you are also probably stressed. If you can’t find the time to get that massage or for your eye exam, or…. I could go on and on. If you are a human being, you have some stress in your life, most likely a lot of it.

you can do something about it

relax, bliss, relief, peace

We can’t eliminate all stressors in your life, but there are a number things we can do to either eliminate some from our life or grow ourselves in ways that make us more resilient.

How do I know?  Because I have experienced at least 90% of the above at some point in my life.  And because I still have stressful stuff going on in my life and I can see how I have come a long way in how I manage it.

So now you know you are stressed.  What do you do?  One more thing to add to your already full schedule?  Not exactly.  I will suggest a few ways to find some breathing space.

There are some stressors we can do little about, at least in the short term. There are other stressors we absolutely have some control over.  The trick is to let go – for now – of what we can’t control and that includes everybody else, as well as situations where we are not the only boss.

The first place we can control is in our thoughts (and the words we use). If I tell myself that it’s “awful” or “terrible” or “impossible”, I scare myself and make myself believe that I won’t succeed or even survive.  On the other hand when I tell myself that “‘I can do this, or it’s been done before, I’ll find a way (a favorite of mine), it’s much more likely that I will feel capable to deal with whatever situation I am facing.

There are also things I can change to lower my stress.  My very favorite one is to always give myself extra time to get somewhere.  Whether I am meeting a friend, or having my winter tires installed, or getting to a class, I always make sure to leave early enough to get there at least 10 minutes early, usually 15.  Roadside construction, accidents, detours happen almost daily where I live.  I have been told I am wasting time but I am not.  I bring a book in case I need to wait longer than planned and most of the time I relax by “people watching”.

The second way you can lower your stress is to drop everything that is not a top priority, whether it’s cleaning the kitchen, meeting with a friend, running errands (a huge time gobbler), watching tv, surfing the internet, volunteer work or visiting out of town friends or relatives. One example is if you just had a baby, concentrate on taking care of the baby and taking care of yourself – not cleaning the house, or having people over, or getting to the store, or …….Just you and the baby for now – sleep and eat for both of you.

The third way you can lower your stress is by being better organized.  If you can never find what you are looking for or if your house looks like it’s been hit my a tornado, make time to get organized.  There is a difference between a house that looks lived in and one that looks like a disaster area.  There is also a big difference between being orderly and trying to compete with House Beautiful.  I personally tend to have a little more than not enough in terms of things lying around and sometimes I find it’s bothering (stressing) me and I do a once-all-over pick yourself up Marguerite.

Being organized for me also includes having enough of what I need in the house so I don’t have to run errands to get basic stuff.  That includes pantry staples, as well as bathroom supplies, shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, body wash, etc.  Every trip out takes time (and gas) and if you are like me, it’s not uncommon to come back with a full bag when you just out to get milk.

Another way I am organized is by having a day planner – yes a real paper one, with a page for each day.  I have a very good memory and the most important stuff I don’t need to write down but now I do anyway.

I also use lists to get things done.  Whether it’s something related to my blog or my housekeeping to-do.  What I love most about lists is when I check each item as it is done.  My to-do housekeeping list is priceless for me because it keeps me on track (I am domestically challenged).

Exercise of all kinds, whether walking, running, swimming, yoga or taichi are great ways to help with stress but they are only a plaster.  You need to look at the factors in your life that cause the stress and address those.

A bad boss is no laughing matter and exercise or meditation will help but you need to look for a new job.  So is a bad relationship.  In both cases, try to see if it can improve but if it shows no sign of improvement after a few months and or counseling,  value yourself enough to get out.  Bad neighbours can also be tolerated for a little while, but if it keeps you awake at night, look at moving.  Your health is in the balance.

Coach’s tip: Set aside one hour this weekend and look at the stresses in your life.
If you say you can’t take time to do this, that’s a sign that you really need to find the time to do it.  Look at all your “obligations” and other activities. Does this leave you with time to relax and do nothing. Yes, absolutely nothing. Just enjoying the sky and the sound of the birds. Or time to do what you say you want to do: start an exercise program, prepare healthy meals, read that book, take that class, go to bed early, take time to journal.

Often being away from our usual surroundings, whether it’s camping or being at a resort we get back in touch with what’s truly important.  It’s ok to feel self-indulgent.  We are not machines and we are not meant to live like we are.  Remember: stress is a killer.  Take care of your heart.

Let me know if you found something useful in this post.  If so, please share it.  I enjoy writing and I really hope to make a difference in your life.

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Self-care 2.0: Choosing yourself

self-care, relaxation, taking time, enjoying life


The best definition I can come up with of self-care is “a conscious intention and decision to take care of your physical, emotional and mental health and needs.” Putting yourself at the top of your priority list.  Choosing yourself.  Choosing yourself over the ice cream, choosing yourself over the late night, choosing yourself over someone who does not care, choosing yourself over money.  Self-care is being selective about what you allow in all of your life. For a few, this comes naturally. They have grown up in families where the adults were not only good role models, but also good teachers of self-care and self-respect.

For the rest of us, self-care is something we have never learned about, except for the basics of avoiding obvious self-harm (drugs, alcohol, nicotine), or what the media refer to: eat healthy, sleep enough, exercise, or visit a spa, have your hair done or have lunch with a friend.  And even there, the great majority of us don’t meet the basic requirements, whether it’s about healthy eating, or enough regular exercise or enough sleep.

I believe the reason we have so much difficulty to meet the minimum on the physical side is that we have overlooked the mental and emotional sides of self-care and those two aspects are the foundation of any lasting change.

And remember, the better you care for yourself, the better and longer you will be able to care for your loved ones.

Emotional and mental self-care

Let’s look at the emotional and mental health aspect.  I don’t suffer from depression but sometimes life happens and I get in a funk.  I would rather do nothing than face a hard truth, or maybe I had a misunderstanding with a loved one.  In any case, those days, I am not at all motivated to exercise or eat my brocoli.  If you have a tendency to be depressed, it’s almost certain that the physical self-care will take a back seat in your mind.  My work with hundreds of women, both in addiction and in my private practice, has proven that point. While the number of people who are depressed or suffer from anxiety has never been so high, the number of people who don’t consult has also grown.  Our crazy-fast way of life does not leave much space for reflection and the culture is more about being “human doings rather human beings”.  Depression is still seen as weakness in many circles.

self-care, life balance, self-love

What you can do

If you are depressed, or have given up on yourself and ever being worthy, make time to find and attend some counseling with a qualified mental professional whose specialty is depression, or anxiety, as the case may be

Start writing in your journal.  It’s harder to be in denial about any aspect of your life once you see it written black on white.  Writing in your journal will highlight what causes problems in your life.  While we usually know what we need to change in our life, when you consistently feel a certain way in certain situations and you write as it happens or shortly thereafter, it will be harder to gloss over it when you read it a week or a month later.  We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.

Read good solid information about personal developments, relationships, personal growth.  Your local library, if anything like mine, is a good place to start.

Listen to the voice within.  That’s your gut, also known as intuition.  When something bothers me, I can’t shut that voice down.  Oh! I try sometimes because it tells me to do what I don’t want to do.  That voice of the gut wants what is best for me.  It’s our internal healthy animal.   It’s different from the mind, the voice which usually tries to convince you.  One definite truth: if it tries to convince you of something with all kinds of rational arguments, it’s your mind talking and it’s not in your best interest.

Nurture healthy relationships with people who make you feel good about yourself.  I am not talking about people who flatter you, but people who support your dreams and want what is best for you (and yes, they can call you on your …)

Limit the time you spend with those people who make you feel bad about yourself – simple, basic self-care – although not necessarily easy to do

If your job makes you miserable, develop a plan of action to either make it better or to find something else.  If you are unhappy in your marriage, ditto.

Give yourself the permission and time to have fun with good friends, leisure activities, time in nature.  Make a list of activities you enjoy and go do them.  Do more of what makes you happy, as long as it’s healthy.

Treat yourself like you treat an important work or business project.  If you decide to exercise or swim, or play squash so many times a week, write it down in your agenda.  Block the time and consider it sacred.

Learn to say no.  Especially to people who only call you when they have nothing better to do, or want something from you.  Unless it’s an emergency, learn to say no even to people you adore if you have a previous appointment to take care of yourself.

Cheryl Richardson and Extreme Self-Care

Cheryl Richardson, in her book “The Art of Extreme Self-Care“, shares some ways to practice self-care.  She explains that through self-care “we become conscious and conscientious people.  We tell the truth.  We make choices from a place of love and compassion, instead of guilt and obligation.”

This rings so true for me.  When we practice self-care consciously, not telling the truth is not an option, for many reasons, the first one is that not telling the truth causes stress, which is the opposite of self-care.  Telling the truth is a statement that we know our worth and we want to live in integrity.  It’s about choosing ourselves.  I call it choosing peace.

Here are some of the ways she suggests we practice self-care.

1. Discover when, where, why and how you feel deprived.

Feeling deprived – you feel something is missing

First, it’s important to figure out where you feel deprived in your life. From there you have a good idea on how best to approach your self-care. Richardson suggests asking yourself some key questions

. What do I need more of?

. What do I need less of?

. What do I really want right now?

.What is causing me to feel resentful?

. What am I starving for?  No, the tub of ice cream is not it.

The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to solve the problem.  For example, if you feel your relationship is not fulfilling, decide exactly what you would want, for example, time with your partner without tv or computer, so you can reconnect at the end of the day, or a weekly date, without the kids

2. Develop your own routine and find your rhythm

To develop your own rhythm and routine, Richardson suggests asking yourself this powerful question: “What one routine could I put into place this month that would improve my life the most?”

Once you’ve named the routine, write it down.  Then think of how you’ll schedule it into your life for the next 30 days. After a week of your new routine, take stock of how you feel:  more relaxed and healthier, more energy?

3. Create an “absolute no list.”

I love this one.   Make a list of what you will not allow in your life.  This leaves the space for what you truly want.  The “Hell, Yes” list.  Knowing what you don’t want to do is just as important as knowing what you do. This list represents the things that you refuse to tolerate in your life. The ultimate goal, Richardson says, is to create a list that “makes you feel safe, protected, taken care of, and free to be your best self.”

She asked her friends what’s on their lists, and they give these great examples:

  • Not rushing
  • Not using credit cards unless you can pay them off fully at the end of the month
  • Not keeping anything that you don’t love or need
  • Not answering the phone during dinner
  • Not participating in gossip.

According to Richardson, create your own list by “looking for those activities you no longer do, no longer want to do, or would like to give up at some point in the future.”

My Absolute NO list inludes

  • Refusing to attend parties, get-together unless they include some of my favorite people – life is too short to spend it with people I don’t enjoy
  • Refusing to pretend – when my inner voice won’t shut up, I need to speak up
  • Refusing to be in relationships, friendships where I cannot be myself

Also, she says to pay attention to how you feel and where you feel it in your body. Frustration, unhappiness, anger all show up in the body (and cause havoc). Whether it’s things, situations or people, pay attention.  Your feelings and your body are your internal GPS.  Tightness, tension and pain are only normal in that they bring a message.  Listen.

Post your list in a visible place, and read through it every day.  Don’t expect to change everything overnight.  A lifetime cannot change without some work, and time.

Extreme self-care takes practice.   To change our behaviours, we also need to change some of our beliefs.  If you have told yourself you were not deserving for 40 years, it’s going to take a lot of self-talk to allow yourself to honor yourself. At first it might seem awkward to say no to something or someone. At first, you might feel guilty for taking time for yourself. But with practice, it’ll become more natural and automatic. And you’ll notice that you feel a whole lot more fulfilled.

Imagine how much self-care you would want a loved one to put into place.  Then do it.

Let me know how this article inspired you to take much better of yourself.  Please share it with your friends and network.

Emotional Intelligence will make a world of difference, in your world

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emotional intelligence

Do you know what Emotional Intelligence is and, do you rock it?

Most people will answer no to the question “Are you difficult to live with?”  We all like to believe that we are perfect or at least close to it and we all know someone who is definitely difficult to live with (I do).  Or do you find it difficult to live with yourself?  Your moods, your anger or worry, your blues?

Those who are the most difficult to live with usually have the least insight into their behaviour.  We are seeing an extreme example of this during the Presidential elections.  Applying a little more Emotional Intelligence will make a world of difference, in your world.

One way we can be difficult to live with is in how we handle our moods. If you are in charge of people, do your employees fear you?  Do they avoid you? Do you glow in the knowledge that people are scared of you, that they won’t disagree with you?  What about your family?  Do they have to walk on eggshells around you? Do you, overtly or covertly discourage feedback on how they perceive you? Do you justify your bad mood on your stress, your fatigue, the weather, etc. Are you often angry, upset, moody, worried?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can change and become someone who can learn to manage your moods and improve your relationships at the same time.  Emotional intelligence (EI) is a set of skills that you can learn to practice to make your life (and the life of those around you) less stressful and definitely more pleasant.

Emotional Intelligence has a direct impact on the people around you and it has a very high impact on the quality of your life and even more important, on the quality of your health.

Emotional Intelligence has two major facets: one  about the Self, and one  about others.

Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions

Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others

About the Self

  • Self-awareness – You recognize what you are feeling, what situation, event or thought is at the source of that feeling,   and you see how those feelings make you want to act (or react).  You are aware of what you are thinking and how it either helps or not.   You know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.

Self-management – You’re able to control acting impulsively, talk to yourself to lower the intensity or directions of your feelings, manage your emotions in healthy ways, (take time to breathe, leave the situation to see more clearly),  take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.

How it affects your life

Your physical health. If you’re unable to manage your emotions, you probably are not managing your stress either. This can lead to serious health problems. Uncontrolled stress can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. The first benefit of improving emotional intelligence is to help lower your stress.

Your mental health. Uncontrolled emotions and stress can also impact your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you are unable to understand, be comfortable with, and manage your emotions, you’ll be at risk of being unable to form strong relationships which can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.

Your relationships. By understanding your emotions and how to control them, you’re better able to express how you feel and understand how others are feeling. This allows you to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in your personal life.  Learning to recognize the emotions of others helps you avoid thinking the worse when conflicts arise.

Your performance at school or work. Emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in your career. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and use EQ testing before hiring.  Studies have shown that people usually their employment because of the boss, not because of the work itself.

First step to increase EI

  • To recognize, understand and manage our own emotions we have to learn to be more mindful, to take the time to assess what we are feeling, link to what’s happening in our life and how those emotions translate into body sensations. This requires that we slow down and stop being on the automatic pilot.  This in itself is most difficult in our fast-paced-always-on-the-go life.

    I believe that EI was greater in previous generations when there was less distraction of all kinds and the pace of life was slower.  I just had a thought that what we used to refer as common sense was the result, not of more reading and learning, but of living mindfully and having the time to reflect on what was happening in the life of the people 50 or more years ago.  And reading on the subject just confirmed what I thought: common sense is what we see in people of high EI. (see article).

    Practicing being mindul

    I don’t meditate so I won’t tell you how to do it.  What I practice is living mindfully, which means to stop and listen to how I feel in my head and my body.

    Being mindful can be practiced when we perform everyday activities, like brushing our teeth, eating a meal, peeling vegetables, washing dishes, taking a shower  or cleaning the house or gardening, listening to music or walking to work.  It’s first about paying attention, keeping our mind on the task instead of thinking about the million things you have to do later or what happened earlier.  It’s about just being with the sight, smell, feel, sound of what is happening right now.

    Because new behaviours can be challenging, you can use different ways to help you practice throughout the day.  Being mindful or paying attention,  needs to be practiced before a crisis happens.  It can be as easy as to set an alarm on your computer or watch or cell to ring every hour or two hour and take 30 seconds to see how you are feeling (relaxed, upset, happy, worried, angry, etc,) and do a body scan to see if you are feeling hungry, tired, have a backache, have a headache, etc. and to do what you need to do to feel better.  Some things you can do right away – have your meal, get up, go for a walk, take a nap or go to bed. Some other actions may have to wait because they are linked to a situation or problem we cannot solve right now but by identifying what is happening we are better empowered and we can choose to set at time to deal with it later.

    When you learn to practice being mindful in times of peace, you will be better equipped to do it when a crisis occurs (a time when we easily lose our capacity to think clearly).

    Let me know if you find this article useful and if so, please share it with your network.
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Pay attention to your interests

stop paying interests
Stop paying interests







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Would you like to have much more money in your pockets?  By more, I mean thousands more dollars, tens of thousands more.

Well, you can.  But only if you are willing to change certain things about the way you handle your money.  Only if you are willing to stop giving it away to the banks in the form of interests.  Money issues is what keeps singles and couples awake at night.  Money is one of the top causes of fighting for married couples.  Financial insecurity is a kill-joy.

I am talking here about the interest you pay on everything when you “buy on credit”.  What is buying on credit?  It’s buying something without paying for it right away or not paying it in full before the due date on your credit card statement.  Things you may have bought on credit include, but are not limited to cars, boats, shoes, clothes, drinks, food, either at the restaurant or the corner grocery store, gifts, trips, furniture, useless stuff,  stuff you don’t remember, stuff you no longer own,  etc.

How much interest have you paid to get stuff on credit in the past 5, 10 or even 25 years?  This can hurt but we only change what we acknowledge.  Putting your head in the sand will not change your life, or if it does, it will make it worse.

You see, when you buy stuff on credit, whether it’s a car or a new pair of shoes, we are not really borrowing from the bank, we are borrowing from our future earnings, from our future self.

How much interests

Buy a car on credit over 5 years.  let’s say the car sells for $25,000 and the interest is 3% (really low, I know).  Interest paid over 5 years: $1,953.  If the loan is at 6%, interest is $3,999. Yes four thousand dollars, so the cost of the car is now $29,000. I don’t know about you but for me $4,000 is a good chunk of money.  And that’s after tax money.

If you look at the example above, $4,000 after tax money, how much does that mean for you in before tax, or gross income?  Around $5,500 to $6,000. maybe more.  OK, you may say, that ‘s not much.  Maybe a month or less of work.

Let’s say that like many of us you buy 6 cars during your life.  Now that puts you at $24,000 in interest alone.   To that let’s add the times you bought that big screen TV and only paid minimum each month for 2 years because your car payments and the payment on your honeymoon were taking most of your money.  Or the furniture you bought on credit, and the inground pool because they offered such a good rate.  Try adding all those charges and if you are the typical middle-aged North American citizen,  you have most likely given away between $30,000 and $150,000 in interests alone throughout your life.  The more you lived “the good life” the more the giveaway to the banks.

Now calculate how many more years you will need to work to make up for that money, remembering that we are talking after-tax money.  One year, two, three, four maybe.  I am not kidding you.  You may have to work 3, 4 or even more years to make up for those financed expenses.  How does that sound?  Instead of leaving at 61 like you planned, you will now have to work until past age 65.

The solution(s)

  • Postpone all purchases now – you must not add to the leaks
  • Make a list of your debts, including your student loan if any
  • Make a list of what you could do with that money if you did not pay so much interests
  • Decide what you are willing to eliminate from your expenses to apply to your debt repayment
  • Redo your list of debts, with highest interest ones at the top
  • Decide how much money you are going to put toward repayment of that debt each month to pay it as quickly as possible.
  • Find money in your budget (make more cuts if needed) to start an emergency fund
  • Once you paid the highest interest card, do the same for card no. 2 and any other consumer debt you have – including your student loan
  • Continue adding as much as you can to your emergency fund, until you have at least 3 months, preferably 6 months living expenses covered
  • Once all your debts are paid off, celebrate.  Yes you can have dinner out, as long as you can pay cash for it
  • Revisit the purchases you need or want, and decide how you are going to save money to buy – or if maybe, it’s not a need anymore
  • Downsize whatever purchase you plan – a $20,000 car will serve you as well as the fancy $35,000 one – better yet, try to find a good second hand for $10,000 – and a $700 stove cooks as well as the fancy stainless stell one at $2,000
  • Keep a tab of everything you spend – food, restaurant, coffee, magazines, drinks, movies, etc.
  • Sit down once a month and review your finances – and see if you are on track

One more piece of advice is to read as much as you can on personal finances. Changing our ways can be a challenge.   Changing from being a spender to being a saver and, even better, a frugal shopper, will not happen without some work. The best way to help yourself along the way is to have a mental vision of what you hope to achieve in the long term, whether that’s early retirement or being financially free to leave your job and start your business or simply to go to bed each night secure in the fact you have savings and no debt.

I did not include the mortgage in the above discussion but let me say a few words.  It’s OK to have a mortgage.  Problems arise when people buy too much house.  Banks are in the business of making money.  They will offer to lend you as much money as they assess your ability to pay.   Interests ony a $200,000 house over 25years will run you in the tens of thousands.  They do not take into consideration the breathing room you need to feel relaxed about your finances. They don’t care if you can’t take a holiday for the next 10 years or if you can’t afford to fly home for the holidays.  You should not borrow as much money as they are offering to lend.  Do your homework.  Look at monthly payments of all a house entails – taxes, repairs, utilities, etc.  Leave some money to be able to make extra payments to lower that mortgage quicker and reduce the amount of interests paid.

I love reading about how even rich people still use coupons, or drive a 10 year old car or like Warren Buffett, live in the house he bought 40 years ago.  It makes me feel on par with people who know the value of money.  And that makes me very happy.  So again, read as much as you can.  Educate yourself financially and be one of the ones who sleep peacefully knowing they can face tomorrow financially.

Check out this post to keep more money in your pockets:





Avoiding a hard truth?

Image result for change is messy at the beginning


Are you avoiding a hard truth?   Is fear running your life” (and ruining it). Fear is potent master – while it’s job is to protect us, it often ends up preventing our growth, because it sees us as helpless children, not powerful adults and it always reminds us how we screwed things up in the past.  Fear’s job is to keep us safe, but safe can be suffocating, and that means emotional death.

I remember a few instances in my life where my dis-ease, or lack of being comfortable in my skin was a clear indication that I needed to take some action but was too scared to do so.  Most of us, including myself, stay stuck for a number of months, even years in certain jobs, relationships, before we muster the courage to take the leap that can potentially bring us more happiness.

How do you know you are avoiding facing a hard truth?

Here are some of the signs

  • You hope someone else will make the decision
  • You develop headaches, stomachaches, insomnia (especially on Sunday evening if it’s about work)
  • You dream off ideal (magical) solutions
  • You avoid people who tell you the truth
  • You are always tired
  • You discourage yourself – you tell yourself it’s not possible for you to do anything
  • You stay in your head, avoiding your feelings
  • You wish and wait for something to happen to change the status quo
  • You jump into busyness or a move to run away from what you don’t want, without much forethought
  • You avoid to have a medical check up (even though you are worried about something not being right
  • You use an addiction to avoid feeling: running, food, tv, shopping, etc.
  • You start obsessing about something that has never been an issue before, you clean a lot, or worry about your health, etc.
  • You start being really fearful driving or even being a passenger in a car or you develop other phobias.
  • You daydream a lot and envy those who have what you want
  • You feel depressed, moody, anxious, angry for no reason
  • You get sick a lot
  • You just plain know

If you realize you have been avoiding a hard truth (through lying to yourself and others), the first step is to write down what is bothering you that you have avoided.  Write it all down – nobody but yourself will see it.

If you are really serious about doing something to change the situation, confess.Talk to a trusted person, someone who is living a healthy life – a friend or a counselor.  If talking is difficult, show them what you wrote. When we say out loud what we truly want, it removes the weight of the secret.  The universi is now informed and you can get support to make the change.

I put the emphasis on talking with someone who is living a happy, healthy life, because talking to someone who is himself or herself not facing their hard truth, will only serve to add to your fears.  Fear Junkies (Fearless Living) can be people who love us but because they are so afraid we will be hurt, they will convince us to stay within our comfort zone – not take risks and stick to the status quo.  They are the ones who will say “it could be worse”.  Then there are those who will envy our newfound thirst for growth and will scare us so we don’t change.  Misery loves company.

Once you have shared, one useful exercise is to write down all it’s costing you to not change and again, to share that with your trusted person.  I have often worked with people who were afraid of change because of what could go wrong and how it could hurt them.  They usually forgot to do the calculation of what not doing anything was costing them, in terms of lack of happiness, lost opportunities and personal growth.

Again, I cannot overemphasize how a support tribe, network of good friends and family can be life saving.  Change is usually a big challenge and having support will help make the transition smoother.

Are you avoiding a hard truth?  Let me know if these tips help.  Please share with your friends if this article has been useful.




Don’t shop for love on an Empty Heart

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choosing from an empty place

If your emotional fridge is empty, you could make a mistake and end up with a more bitter than sweet sweetheart.

 Do you know how to choose a watermelon?  That’s something I did not know for years, so I would do what I saw other people do.  I would look at how people did it.  Some would smell it, others would knock on it.  Still others would turn it around and give it a good look.   The problem is even as I was imitating the melon pickers, I had no idea what it was I should look for or avoid.  In fact if I saw some yellowish dirty patch on the watermelon, I thought it was bad and did not choose that particular one. A few times,  I even asked a few people who seemed knowledgeable to choose one for me.  I have since learned, from one of the people I asked to choose for me, that it’s a good sign for a ripe watermelon!!!!

We often follow the same method to choose a sweetheart.  We look at what others (our parents did), we assume that’s what we should do too. If we belong to the minority who saw their parents have a healthy and loving marriage, our mate picking radar is well calibrated.  Otherwise, when we really don’t know what is truly important and healthy, we buy based on appearances and we often avoid someone who is right and just ripe for a good relationship because they lack the shine factor.

Or sometimes, we don’t spend much time choosing.  We take the first person who shows interest, while it would never occur to us to grab the chicken or bag of apples because it was the last one on the shelf.  Unless we were really starving.

How do you know if your emotional fridge is empty?  First, your fridge could be empty because you have just been dumped, or because you have not been in a relationship for a while or your last partner made you believe you were flawed and nobody would ever want you.  Maybe your fridge has been empty since childhood because that was a time when nobody could fill it well.  When our emotional fridge is empty, we think this is our only chance to have a relationship, we tell ourselves that we are too old, that we are not pretty enough, that this is the last boat.  We become clingy.  We obsess over our looks.  We do too much.  We give too much.  We let our life and our interests go.  We excuse poor behaviours.  We obsess over everyting. We become insecure and jealous.  We don’t inspect to evaluate whether this is the same kind of “love” that got us sick before, or if it shows signs of toxic mould (people who criticize you, your appearance, put you down, make off-hand jokes, use you, laugh at you, how you look, what you are trying to accomplish, etc., etc., etc.)

Is  your emotional frideg empty? What would fill it?

-The first way to fill your emotional fridge is to learn to love your own company. I know, you probably heard this before.  I can assure you it’s true. Learning to love your own company is more than spending your evenings vegging out in front of the tv.  It means getting to the point where your time alone is so precious you will not give it up unless you are getting quality company.  See how this is important.  You will not accept a date or to go out just because you are bored or lonely.   It won’t guarantee that you will find your sweetheart, but what it will guarantee is that you will be happy, even without a sweetheart.   This is the foundation and there is no shortcut.

-The second thing you need to do is to find activities that you love to fill your days.  Activities with others and activities and creative pursuits you can do alone, when there is a snowstorm and you are trapped in the house for the whole weekend.

-Nurture your family relationships.  Visit and invite your family over for brunch or a game of cards or to watch a movie.  Make time to call your kids or parents regularly.

-Grow a small group of friends.  Here quality is better than quantities.  I distinguish friends from activitiy buddies.  Close friends are those you can confide in and count on and they can also count on you.

-If you like group sports or activities, find a group to walk or play bridge, or go to movies.  Meetup has thousands of different groups, for all ages.

-If you have the time and energy, get involved in your community as a volunteer.  Some require that you commit for a number of months, others need volunteers once in a while, for a few hours, or a day.  Volunteering is also a great way to meet new potential friends.

-If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of filling your emotional fridge, get support.  Find a good therapist to help you heal what’s keeping you stuck.

Loving your own company and enjoying your life will help immunizing you against “buying” out of fear, boredom or loneliness.

Did you ever settle for the last “chicken”?  If you find this post useful, please share on social media and with your friends.  Please let me know how it was useful for you in the comments section.


More fun to relax

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relax, stress, relaxation
Have fun relaxing

I practice tai chi and I love it.  This was not always the case.  When I first enrolled in a tai chi class, maybe 25 years ago – the exact time is vague – I left just about each class with a headache and I did not know why.  Tai chi at that time litterally stressed me out, or more accurately, I was stressed out, too stressed out to relax and I did not know it.

Now that I am generally a lot more relaxed and in sync with myself, tai chi is totally wonderful.  I wish I had had more insight then.  It would have helped me understand where I needed to make changes in the rest of my life.

So how did I go for a stressed-out working full time and studying single parent to where I am now?  Yes the kids did grow up and are now building families of their own, but other things happened to help me to relax.  No I did not learn to meditate – in fact I tried it and it too left me impatient, which is about as far from relaxed as one can be.

What actually helped me relax is the fun I put into my life, specifically in the form of ballroom dancing.  About 16 years ago I started taking ballroom dance classes.  And to help me improve, I also started attending the weekly dances at the studio.  This was so incredibly liberating from all the stress I had in my life and a huge counterbalance to my work as a psychotherapist in addictions.  To get the most benefits of dancing I had to leave my perfectionist self at home and be in beginner’s mind to avoid comparing my humble progress to that of more advanced dancers.

How did ballroom dancing work on my stress?  Music for one is a great de-stressor.  There is a saying in French that says “la musique adoucit les moeurs” or “music soothes the soul”.

Then learning to move and do certain steps, in order, occupies all of the mind. When the mind is occupied on a specific task, it cannot roam and worry.

Third, the atmosphere in a dance studio is fun and light.  There is a lot of laughter and laughter is the best destressor there is.  I still do take classes and they still have the same beneficial effect.

I understand that not everybody wants to learn to dance.  For some it may be equal to torture.  What would you like to do that would both be physically active and engage your mind too?  One thing I am sure of is that if you try meditation or tai chi or even yoga and it makes you want to pull your hair out, you really need to find a way to relax on a regular basis, ideally a few times a week.

Yoga or tai chi are two other physical activities that like ballroom, also require concentration and coordination. In another category there is tennis, or other ball sports – racketball or team sports.  Some swear by knitting – and if you choose knitting, do add a physical activity to your life, be it ballroom or jogging or swimming.  That part is essential to evacuate the stress.

Whatever you choose, choose something that appeals to you and give it at least 3 months.  This is just enough time to develop some skills and decide if you want to continue or find another activity.  And yes, even if it is challenging, it should also be fun.  If you are not having fun, choose something else.

Let me know what you decide to try to de-stress.  If you find this post useful, please share it with your friends.





From negative to healthy self-talk for more energy

negative self-talk

Self-criticism can be a real downer.  The trouble is if you are someone who does it, you have come to believe it’s ok to talk to yourself in a way you would never think of talking to someone you love. Negative self-talk has become like emotional abuse is: almost invisible but often the most lethal.  You may continue to do it because it was done to you, a a child or in a relationship and you may actually believe you are not too bright, or not pretty enough or any other “enough”.   I regularly hear and read how some people talk to themselves out loud using words that are cutting and amount to character assassination: “I am so dumb, I am so stupid, I’ll never get it, I am so fat, I am so ugly, I don’t have what it takes to succeed, to be loved, etc.”

While you may think that it’s no big deal, I can assure you that it negatively reinforces your insecurities and your feelings of not being good enough.  I remember at the beach last Summer I heard a young’ish, 30 or so woman, keep on telling the man she was with that no she would not get into a bathing suit because she hated her legs.  She was wearing pants.  This seemed like a “dating” couple and I felt so sorry for her and wondered how the fellow with her felt at her constant self put-downs.  When she finally did change to a bathing suit, she looked perfectly fine, legs included.

You may argue that it would not help you to change if you simply ignored your mistakes or other flaws, imperfections,  and that reminding yourself that you need to improve is the way to go.

Well, let’s try another way.

First no one is perfect.  We all make mistakes, klutzy things, our bodies do not resemble that of a photoshopped model or that of an 18 year old or 25 year old.

When we are down on ourselves through negative self-talk, it’s usually as a result of some kind of comparison (the 18 year old’s body) or the successful colleague, or the glowing energetic neighbour, or someone’s car or holiday or bigger house.  Up to there, there is nothing wrong with seeing others have what we want.  Or with feeling dissatisfied with some of the things we have, whether it’s success, love or better health.

The way to start is to ask “is this something that I really want to change or am I reading too many glossy magazines, comparing my 45 year old body with that of an 18 year old or comparing my success as a beginner, dancer, entrepreneur, blogger, to someone who has been at it for the last 10 or more years, even 1 or 2 more years.  The same way, if your friend was born “into money” or married someone who makes double or triple your salary, you can’t compare.  It’s like comparing oranges to something else.

Then the second question is to ask “what am I willing to do to get better at this, and do I value it enough to give it my all?” or can I just accept that I will never win a dance competition but want to continue for the exercise and the fun (that’s one of mine), accept that I am not the greatest houskeeper around, but I prefer to read and to blog instead of having a spotlet house, or that I should not compare my starting blog to that one that has been around 5 years or my body has changed because I have had children and I could be the grandma to that 18 year old!

Then, commit to first stopping the abusive self-talk and accept that it will take some time to get it (perfect).  Second, do a reality check every time you catch yourself comparing yourself to others.  Third, commit to making the changes you want.  Whether it is to put more working hours in your business, or getting a cleaning lady if you really want a spotless home, or taking better care of your health, both with nutrition and exercise.

Finally, end each day with writing 3 things you are grateful for in your life, whether it’s your health, your kids, your partner, your best friend, the country where you live, today’s sunset.  And appreciate yourself for 3 things you did today: caught yourself about to insult yourself, ate better, took a walk at lunch, had that talk with your spouse to clear a misunderstanding, cleaned the fridge, talked kindly to yourself, made for time to accomplish your goal.

Just like toxi relationships are the greatest energy suckers, so is sel-abuse and negative self-talk is self-abuse.  When you change the way you talk to yourself, you will have more emotional energy and this will translate into more physical energy.  It may feel imperceptible at first, but one day you will wake up and be totally in awe of the wonderful human being that has emerged.

You may want to enlist the help of a friend, or a partner to remind you when they hear you being hard on yourself.  Changing an ingrained habit takes time.  Be patient with yourself.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know and share with your friends.




Energy: 7 drains and a simple 5-Step plan to stop the leaks

emotional energy

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Energy is essential for a great quality of life, yet even with enough sleep and good nutrition and vitamins and all kinds of supplements (and a clean medical checkup), many of us go through life without much of it.   And when we don’t have it, life feels like hell.  You don’t care to go out and meet friends, you stop working on your favorite project, you feel grumpy, blah.  Pessimism is your new best friend and you wonder if this is all there is.  You think it’s because you are getting older, but there is a part of you who still hopes for an answer that brings a solution.

I have good news for you.  Energy is not age-dependent.  All things being equal – you can have more energy at 40 than 30, at 60 than at 50 and I can go on.  You probably know a few people who have more energy than many people their age. They are vibrant, active and have many interests.  They can’t wait to get up in the morning.

What is that missing ingredient that has nothing to do with sleep, nutrition and exercise?  It’s emotional energy.  Mira Kirshenbaum, author of The Emotional Energy Factor has defined it as “a special energy that’s all about feeling young and deeply connected to the fun and hope in life”. I would add “it’s like being 20 again”, whether or not you slept enough the night before.  Yes lack of sleep and age will slow you down but emotioal energy will keep the twinkle in your eye.  Annie Perrin, of the Emotional Energy project, says “the greater the alignment between what you say you value and how you actually live, the more energy you have available to you”.

What we value is what we find important.  However, we do not always live in accordance with our values.  Here are some ways we unconsciously sabotage ourselves and end up depleted and exhausted.

Energy drains

  • the one I put first is the failure to set clear boundaries, which is usually due to not feeling good enough to assert ourselves.  So we tolerate bad behaviours, intrusion, lack of respect, lack of mutuality – which makes it hard to look forward to tomorrow, since you can’t envision a change in the future
  • lack of being clear on what we want  (again not feeling we have the right to say so) which leads to do things because of what others expect or what we expect we “should” do.  “Should’s” then become our mantra, instead of asking for what we truly want.
  • we are hard on ourselves – we totally lack self-compassion (again based on not feeling good enough).  This often leads to ignoring your pain, minimizing it and not seeking help when needed.
  • we don’t recognize the voice of intuition – that little persistent inner voice- or we ignore it.  Again not feeling good enough runs the show.
  • we worry about what people will think – Again this can be bundled with the “should’s”.  We dress, live, and show up to either impress or to avoid criticism, confrontation or anything potentially different from your colleagues, friends, family, etc.
  • we are unhappy but stay in relationships, marriages, friendships out of obligation, for fear of displeasing, making waves or being seen as the “bad” one.  Because close relationships – marriage and other family connections,  are what feeds or destroys our soul on a daily basis, this energy drain is a biggie.  The closer the relationship, the more it takes our energy if it is not a healthy and loving one, or worse a toxic one where there is emotional, mental, verbal or physical abuse
  • we go through life on the automatic pilot, never asking ourself what we are feeling, what we want, because it has never occurred to us to treat ourself as well as we treat others in our life.  Learning to live consciously is essential to be mindful of what is going on in our life and to see how it affects us.

Energy fill-up

Now that we know why we feel drained even with good physical self-care, and we are clear of depression, we will look at what to put in place on the emotional side.

I am pretty certain that you have already identified your main energy leak(s).  If you did not know before you read the list, now you do.  We always do, even when we resist seeing the truth.  Because change is not easy, the status quo often wins even when it’s totally not in our favour.

To make it easier to tackle the changes,I have summed up what sucks our energy into 3 main categories:

  • Relationships – that is what others bring to the table which can be pretty challenging, whether we are talking about life partners, friends, neighbours, or business, work colleagues, boss.  Whether you need to set boundaries, express your needs and stop accepting less than, or walk away, this is often the most challenging area.  Working on your mindset, your self-compassion and self-love will help you stand up for yourself, stop living according to others’ expectations and ultimately clarify who deserves to stay in your life.  The more toxic the relationship, the harder it is to walk away because the most toxic people are good manipulators.
  • Our mindset – our thoughts – our often learned way  (in childhood) of seeing the world and ourselves – our tendency to pessimism, comparing ourselves, etc., because there is a thought, conscious or not that precedes every emotion. You will have to fire your inner critic and treat yourself as your best friend. 
  • Our behaviours – what we do, often unconsciously, throughout the day. Including what we put in our mouth, our ears (the news and our internal gremlin), whether we exercise or not, how we keep our environment. Start honoring what you truly want by taking action.

Let’s start. Get a notebook and a pen. This is a simple 5 step plan.  I said simple, I did not say easy.

Step 1

First write down what you really, really want.  What you want in terms of relationships, environment, work, fun time.  What you dream of and maybe never thought you could have.  Write down the major energy drain you have identified in your life.  Be specific.  Give it a name.  Write down how it affects you, how you feel when it’s happening.  Write down a few instances when it happened.  Write the when, where, how and what of each instance.  Make it so specific you can see it in your mind.  Take as much time as you need to complete this first step.  This is the foundation of change, because we cannot change what we don’t acknowledge. Writing it down will also make it harder for you to minimize the problem.

Step 2

Now write down what that drain leak has cost you on top of being an energy sucker.  It may have cost you sleepless nights, nightmares, money, time, to do what you want, to spend with people who really matter to you, to sleep, worry, headaches, stomachaches, even depression and anxiety. It may have also cost you friendships, jobs.  Be ruthless.  Don’t hide any cost. This too will help you when you doubt whether this is important enough, whether you are important enough.

Step 3

Decide whether you are willing to live with the consequences identified in Step 2 or whether you would rather live with the consequences of taking action.  Because there are always consequences to our choices.  If you choose to continue to live with the consequences of the cost identified in Step 2, I urge you to seek support, because it means you don’t value yourself enough or there is some fear making the decision for you.  This is usually traceable to childhood – you deserve to be happy and it’s not possible to be happy when you don’t have emotional energy.

Step 4

Make a list of specific things you want to change: say no, catch yourself when you start comparing yourself, change a pessimist thought to a possibility of a good outcome, spend less time with negative people, choose to treat you more kindly, overlook what you see as your flaws and concentrate on your gifts.  Talk to yourself like you would to your best friend.

Step 5

Start practicing and keep a journal to document every attempt and success at the new you.  Acknowledge yourself for taking even the smallest of steps.  Document how you felt – yes scared but maybe excited and alive?  In your journal, imagine in writing how your new life could look like, feel like.  Draw a mental image, in full color, see yourself in that picture, with who you would like there, how you will look like and feel: happy, contented, excited.

We need to start by changing on the inside before we make changes on the outside.  In most cases changing our our beliefs about ourselves is the first step -we need to believe we are worthy of happiness.  That’s why getting outside support is important.  Then it will be easier to say no, set boundaries, express our needs, not worry about what others think, show more self-compassion and generally do what is best for us.

Please leave a comment if you enjoy this article.  And share if you think it could be useful for someone else.

This article is my opinion and is not meant to replace therapy or any other form of professional help.  It is meant to inform and entertain only.

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