Sunday, December 28, 2008

Our First Guest Blogger!

Get excited, Everyone! We have our first guest blogger! I moved to a new state when I was 12 years old. I was a bit of a nerd (I wore a grand total of 3 different shirts), but there was a small group of girls who accepted me for who I was and became my friends. One of these remained my friend through high school and we reconnected shortly before I started this blog. She has always impressed me as a very kind and genuine person. Genuine people are very rare, in my opinion, and I feel very blessed to know her. I am and always will be very grateful for her support back then and now. Thanks, Nikki! This is her post.

Cheryl has graciously allowed me to be a guest blogger on this lovely joy-focused blog. Thanks Cheryl, I hope I can post something half as wonderful as you manage to do every week.

As I’ve gotten older I have noticed that there is a certain phrase that seems to come up in during conversation; usually when I am talking to the people who know me the best like my husband or my family. The phrase is typically some variation of, “Nikki, stop worrying so much,” or “Nik, you worry too much,” and “You’ve got to stop worrying.” You get the picture. I never really thought I was an anxious person (even though it is pretty obvious that I am) until I began to listen to what people were telling me. The more I got to think about it, the more it dawned on me, that it’s true. I am a worrier. This is not a fun realization, but, in my opinion, acknowledgment is an important first step towards calmness and peace.

Most of my anxious feelings are based in fear. Fear of what, I am not sure, but my guess is that it involves the fear of loss of control. I have an extremely active imagination, so I allow myself to imagine all of the worst-case scenarios of the things I fear. Recently, I have really tried to rework the way I think, so that I catch these thoughts before they become a full-fledged, worse-case scenario, catastrophe. Occasionally it is helpful. The problem is there is way too much in the world that I can’t control. So an important second step is for me to understand that I can’t control things I can’t control.

I am by no means an expert on this, but I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me reduce my urges to dwell in a state of anxiety. Hopefully this will also give you the opportunity to share what works for you (Cheryl did have a nice blog about holiday anxiety and there were some very helpful tips there as well).

o Practice makes perfect: Although I can’t control some of my life circumstances, I can control whether I let my imagination run wild with all of my anxiety provoking worse-case scenarios. As soon as I find myself imagining the worse-case situation, I have to tell myself to stop it. Literally, I tell myself to stop thinking that way. Maybe not out loud, but I do say it in my head to myself. Worrying will not help the situation, nor add any days to my life, so it is important to stop the thoughts before they run rampant in my head. Easier said than done, right? Well, I have found that the more I practice doing this the better it works and the less anxiety I have in the future. The problem is, though, I am not so good at practicing.

o A listening ear: Sharing my thoughts with others (meaning people I know and trust, or a professional counselor) helps me see how ridiculous my thinking can become. When I talk out my anxieties it also helps me to understand the root of my fear. In most cases the object of my anxiety isn’t the problem at all; it is usually something much more deep-seeded. Talking it out sometimes uncovers those deep-seeded fears. It allows me to acknowledge their existence, and therefore try and stop them when they surface.

o Prayer: In psychological research prayer (or meditation of any kind) has proven to contain a calming effect. I do find that I am calmed by the act of prayer. Prayer can mean different things to different people, and in my case I like to meditate on a Biblical verse or talk out my anxieties to God. Philippians 4:6-7 is my favorite Biblical inspiration to meditate on: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

These are some important things I keep in mind when anxiety comes up; however, they are not sure fire. But I do see a difference when I try to incorporate these things into my life.

What are some things that work for you when you are faced with anxiety? Have any of the things I’ve mentioned worked for you as well? We can all learn from each other, so please pass on any nuggets of wisdom that you have to share.

If you would like to contact me about this blog entry, my name is Nikki and you can reach me at purlsbeforetwine (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Tidings of Great Joy

With Christmas only a few days away, I want to post about the Ultimate source of joy in my life--Jesus Christ. I don't know if all our readers share this faith in Him, but He is the source of all joy for me, so I want to share my thoughts and feelings with you here.

As I've been pondering this post the past couple weeks in my head, it occurred to me that Jesus Christ set the example in nearly all the things we've discussed on the blog. He showed us how to serve others, to develop faith, and to express gratitude. I know that if we follow the path He set while here on earth, as mapped out in the scriptures, it will lead us to joy--both in this life and in the life to come.

He also provides me joy by offering hope. Through His life, Atonement, death, and resurrection He provided a way for me to not only overcome death, but also to be with my family forever. I believe that if we live worthily we will remain united as a family unit throughout all eternity. I cannot fathom finding joy in the afterlife without my husband there by my side. My family is an amazing source of joy in this life; it makes perfect sense that our loving Heavenly Father would provide us a way to continue to abide in that same joy for all time.

This principle is especially important to me right now. My grandfather is very near to death. The thought of him not being there the next time I visit my grandma is a heartbreaking one, to say the least. However, I know that Jesus Christ provided a way for my grandpa to live forever. And I know that I will see him again one day and his body will be whole and healthy. So, even at this time of horrible pain I find immense joy in that knowledge. I am indescribably grateful to my Savior for the sacrifice He endured to make that possible. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55)"

This is connected to yet another way that Jesus Christ provides me with joy. It is amazing to me that He endured all that He did on my behalf. I feel greatly aware of my many shortcomings and I know that He is also aware. And yet, He still provided a way for me to achieve these amazing blessings. Though I often forget, Jesus sends a powerful message with the gift He offers each of us--He believes in us. He has faith in me and in my ability to follow Him and endure well the challenges I face in life. He knows that I possess the ability to do all that He has asked me to do in order to be worthy of His gifts and to accomplish all that He desires me to.

In Ether 12: 27 (in the Book of Mormon), Jesus tells us, "If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

I especially love the part where He says, "my grace is sufficient for all men (and women!)". I know this to be true, but I don't always remember it. I still doubt myself. I am often overwhelmed by this blog, for example. I believe that this blog is a part of what the Lord wants me to do in this life. But when I forget and think that I have to do it all by myself, I just want to curl up and cry. I want to write helpful, applicable things here. But I don't profess to be more capable of that than the next person. So, when I remember to be humble and turn to Him in prayer, He reminds me that this is indeed His work, and He is blessing me with the opportunity to assist. And He lives up to His promise to make up the difference for all that I lack.

I'm using the blog as my example, but that is a true principle in every aspect of my life. He completes my efforts as a wife and a mom and a friend and everything else. If I were to try to accomplish everything on my own, I cannot imagine succeeding very often. More importantly, I can't imagine finding the peace and hope necessary to experience joy in much or any of it.

So, as I ponder the meaning and reason behind Christmas, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love for my Savior Jesus Christ. Suddenly, all the words in my vocabulary seem very small. Nothing can convey what I feel when I ponder His love and His mercy on my behalf. And I will strive this upcoming year to draw ever nearer to Him because I know that He is the Source of true and abiding joy.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Good Night, Moon

Wow! Thanks for all the advice (and sympathies) for dealing with stress. I'm cured! Well, maybe not quite. But I did throw together a get together with some friends last night without a single ounce of stress tainting the preparations. Let me add that HH was out of town from Thursday morning until 30 minutes before the party started. KN and BW were, of course, as helpful as a toddler and preschooler can be (translation: more of a hindrance then a help). So, I'm really proud of myself. But I did have a total meltdown the day before over a phone call. There is still a lot of room for progress.

Are you ready to help solve my next major problem?

I can't sleep.

Can anyone relate? Probably everyone? And being sleep-deprived is a MAJOR joy killer. So, how do you find a way to get some Z's?

For me, I'm pretty sure it's related to the stress thing. But I also have poor sleeping habits. I blame my genes and HH. When I met him I was going to bed early and then waking up between 6:30 and 7--without an alarm. I just felt rested. But he's sort of a night person. Definitely NOT a morning person. And instead of letting my good habits rub off on him, we went the other direction. The only problem is, I wake up early in the morning, every morning, and then can't go back to sleep--no matter how exhausted I am.

Because my brain is busy trying to sort and solve all the major issues going on in my life. Like what to do with the guilt I feel over all the phone calls I've needed to make since April (I hate making phone calls), what outfit to wear to the gym that day, debating whether or not to throw my daughter a "friend" birthday party, pondering how I'll ever muster the energy to take down the Christmas decorations, debating whether it's better to wrap the Christmas presents now, or to just keep trying to hide them in various places, trying to remember where I put the present I bought for HH last week... and I think you get the point.

Anyway, like I said, being tired makes finding joy a real challenge. A lot of times when I begin to sink into a depression, being tired is the main or only culprit. Even when I'm not depressed, fatigue still makes me cranky. I'm more prone to snapping at HH and my kids. And I don't like it. It just feels yucky. Inside and out.

I know I should be better about going to bed early, but I'm still working on being more disciplined. Does anyone else struggle with this? Any ideas for generating motivation to take care of myself? Does anyone else have the overactive brain problem? Have you found anything that helps you to shut it down? The other problem, is that I can pretty much always think of something that seems more urgent than the sleep. At night that is either cleaning my house or spending time with HH. In the morning that includes studying the scriptures, cleaning my house, organizing my shopping list, returning emails, etc. Sleep is always one of the last priorities, even though I know it's important. Has anyone else needed to make a similar priority shift?

And what about the times when you can't avoid being a little sleep-deprived, like when your child gets sick in the middle of the night and keeps you up until dawn? Why do kids always get sick in the middle of the night? Okay, you don't really have to help with that one, but does anyone have advice for keeping the nasties away when you are tired? Any tips for regaining that ever-elusive patience?

The other thing about fatigue is that I'm less capable of eliminating and/or dealing with stress in my life. When I'm tired, it's kind of like I gather in all the possible stresses around me and clutch them tightly to my bosom. Why? I don't know. But when I'm tired, that's what I do. And it's SO STRESSFUL! But I feel incapable of letting go of any of it. Yet I'm way too tired to actually deal with it and work through it. But I'm too stressed to sleep. And so the vicious cycle continues. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Or am I just the freak of nature that HH thinks I am? He is a grrreat sleeper. Anytime, anywhere. I'm not jealous.

I hope you don't feel that I've turned this into my own personal self-help board. It's just that stress and sleep-deprivation go hand in hand in my life and they've both been playing lead roles lately. And I'm plumb tuckered out. And I figure I'm probably not the only one dealing with these things. And when you're exhausted, it's harder to find and appreciate the joy in your life. At least it is for me.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

'Tis the Season

Well, thank you for indulging me in our month of gratitude. I just hope I can hold onto the change it made in my daily life to focus a little more on being grateful, expressing it, and keeping the balance with Random Acts of Kindness.

But it's time to move on. Where to go after discussing gratitude--a great joy provider? Naturally, stress was the first thing that came to my mind, it being a great joy remover after all. Actually, I just figured it was probably a prominent figure in a few other peoples' lives right now and not just mine.

All year long I look forward to this time of year. But since becoming an "adult", sometimes I let the stress and pressures overwhelm the excitement and general feeling of goodness. I want to find everyone on my list the perfect gift while staying within a *reasonable* budget, get my Christmas cards out before Presidents Day, make the most delectable dessert at the party, explain to HH why we need to get a hostess gift and then go out and find a suitable one, etc. And then there's the small day-to-day stresses like getting both kids dressed in their snow gear before the "potty trained" one needs to go again, not spinning out of control while driving on slick roads, keeping one eye constantly glued on the Christmas tree to ensure that it doesn't get pulled over, the ornaments stay put, and the presents below remain unopened, and--you get the picture. And I know you all deal with stresses of your own. So, it's easy to understand why we sometimes lose that "Holiday Cheer".

I understand it, but I don't like it. I feel cheated when that happens because I'm missing out on potential fun and JOY. Not fair. HH refers to me as a "stress case" year-round, so you can imagine what I'm like these days. But, I repeat, I DON'T LIKE IT. Well, I don't. So, I'm trying to get beyond it this year. I try the breathing and/or visualization exercises, but then a little stress peaks through and before I know it, I'm totally distracted away from the relaxing and focused on the stress.

So, what do you do? I think achieving and maintaining the proper perspective (i.e. she'll probably like the doll with the pink hat just as much as the one with the purple hat, so don't ponder it for 25 min. while BW screams for lunch) is very effective at eliminating some stress. Does anyone have good advice on how to actually do that? What about staying cheery even amidst the necessary stresses?

I used to be a pretty mellow and relaxed person but then it was like a switch flipped and now I get panicked over just about everything. I'd really like to go back to the relaxed me so I'd appreciate any advice you have on this one.