A lot of our ideas for what “pretty” is gets determined on the pages of magazines and the screens of our televisions. For little girls, even the dolls we play with say something about waistlines, eye shadow and super cool ponytails. However lots of things are changing for the better! Dove ads have revealed the beauty of everyday women. Clothing lines like Calvin Klein and H&M are featuring models long considered plus size (translation: sizes 6-10) in their campaigns. Now, even Barbie is getting a makeover. Continue reading
Sunday, November 9th was the very first World Adoption Day and people took to the technosphere to share their stories of adoption and family. Sponsored by Adopt Together, an organization that helps families crowdfund a process that can sometime price in the neighborhood of $25,000, they asked that in honor of the day, people draw a smiley face on their palm and share it via social networks. What started with a team in Los Angeles turned into an explosion of more than 10,000 photos on Instagram alone from all over the world including Patagonia, Kuwait and the Duck Dynasty. Continue reading
A Powerful Tip I read about in “Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain” by Dr. Dan Siegel
I was dropping off my 12 year old daughter to her 7th Grade retreat, and I could see that she was nervous. It was a 2-night trip with new classmates from her new school. She is not one who is keen on retreats – in fact, she generally doesn’t like sleep-overs and has never wanted to go to a sleep away camp. At the same time, she was excited with the discovery of independence at Middle School, and knew that the retreat was a great opportunity to make new friends.
I reminded her that when she is feeling anxious, the first step is to breathe. Pause. Take deep breaths. One. Two. Three. Let the air coming in help push the anxiety out. She didn’t smile exactly as I spoke, but I could see her slowing down with deeper breathes as she listened.
I added a new twist to the exercise – something I had just read about in Dr. Dan Siegel’s book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.
“In the brain, naming an emotion can help calm it… Name it to Tame It.”
“For all of us, as teenagers or adults, when intense emotions erupt in our minds, we need to learn to feel them and deal with them… Learning to deal with emotions means being aware of them and modifying them inside so that we can think clearly. Sometimes we can name it to tame it and help balance our brains emotional intensity by putting words to what we feel… There are even some brain studies that show how this naming process can activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the limbic amygdala!”
As Tara was away on her retreat, I found myself practicing the Name It To Tame It technique, and the effects were dramatic. When feeling stressed or upset, I would pause, breathe, recognize the sensations in my body, name the emotion (frustration, anger, anxiety), and continue. In fact, in a particularly frustrating work situation, I named my feelings through my negotiations, and felt I was much more calm, clear headed and non-emotional.
Tara returned from her trip with a big smile and lots of stories about their adventures. She noted that there were moments when she felt alone and anxious, but she reassured me she took deep breaths, recognized her feelings, and proceeded.
Dr. Dan Siegel is a prolific author and presently a clinical professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine. Learn more about him at his website or purchase your own copy of Brainstorm: the Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain and let us know what you think!
On July 23, gravely ill Liberian-American diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew into Murtala Mohammed Airport. He died at a Lagos hospital four days later, after exposing scores of airline passengers and medical personnel to the Ebola virus.
Ebola had arrived in Nigeria. It has since spread to other areas of the country.
I live in Lagos but on the day Patrick Sawyer delivered his terrible gift, I was an ocean away. My three children and I were on vacation at my parents’ house in suburban Massachusetts.
It was disconcerting to be far from Lagos when it was in crisis. I read articles about Ebola in the newspaper, watched reports on CNN, and tried to ignore the panicked emails from expat women I know.
My parents urged us not to return to Nigeria. They suggested I enroll the kids in the elementary school down the road, which I attended as a child.
It was tempting. The children could walk to school along the same forest path I had used. My mother would cook delicious Indian meals and my father’s wine cellar would allow me to remain in a continuous state of inebriation. At 41, I would have no responsibilities and could spend my days in the basement hula hooping and taking naps.
My children, however, were sick of America. They missed their father, their friends, and their toys. They were desperate to return. My husband, John, assured us we would stay safe in Lagos, that Ebola in Nigeria could be contained. But it is very unnatural to willingly travel into danger. It takes courage, which I lack.
I couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. And then one day my husband phoned me from Lagos to complain about our housekeeper. He had broached the subject of Ebola with Marie and was annoyed by her response.
“What do you know of Ebola?” John had asked her, intending to discuss precautions to prevent the spread of disease.
“I don’t know him,” Marie replied. “Is he Yoruba?”
“Can you imagine,” John told me, “she thought E. Bola was a man’s name! Has she been living under a rock?”
And that was how I decided it would be safe for us to return to Lagos. If Marie—my barometer for all matters West African—had never heard of Ebola, it must not be a big deal.
The kids and I arrived in Nigeria in mid-August. As we taxied to the gate, the newlyweds beside us slipped on latex gloves.
After deplaning, the passengers queued up in neat lines for body temperature scans. This was the first time I had ever seen thermometers used at an airport or anyone in Nigeria stand in a line without trying to cut to the front.
The ordinarily bustling terminal was silent. It was as unsettling as in the weeks following 9/11 when New Yorkers stopped honking their horns and giving each other the finger. I felt like a cold hand was squeezing my heart. This wasn’t the Lagos I remembered. Was coming back a mistake?
I noticed a number of people pulling out bottles of hand sanitizer and squirting their palms as we cleared customs. Suddenly every surface seemed to be writhing with toxic germs. I wished there was a giant barrel of sanitizer I could dip my children into by the ankles, Achilles-style.
We exited the airport, dropped the suitcases at home then drove around looking for a place to eat. It was 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night and Lagos was dead. We tried three restaurants but they were all closed.
We ended up at The Radisson, a shiny hotel perched on the lagoon.
I took a seat by the water and waited for my family to join me outside. From my table I had a view of the lobby. I saw a man near the bar lurching back and forth, vomiting. Then his face tipped up and I saw white discharge covering his mouth. At that moment, John and the kids walked by him.
John was stoic. As I saw my husband and children become infected with the Ebola virus, my eyes filled with tears. We had just become a cautionary tale.
My 4 decades on the planet, my 22 year romance with my husband, and my 3 beautiful children were about to be reduced to a handful of hysterical Facebook posts and a few mistakenly pressed thumbs ups.
Then the man straightened and I saw a shiny vacuum in his hand. His back was bucking because he was cleaning. What I had thought was white vomit was a surgical mask over his mouth.
John and the kids joined me at the table. They appeared to be Ebola-free.
Our first week back in Lagos was tense. I considered offering Marie an immediate early retirement because she coughed twice in an afternoon.
Despite my anxiety, we settled back into Nigerian life. My daughter got her hair twisted at the salon. I went grocery shopping. The children spent a happy day at the pool splashing with friends.
My fear began to dissipate. The number of Ebola cases in Nigeria, meanwhile, began dropping.
Aside from the strategically placed dispensers of hand sanitizer that had materialized around Lagos, it was business as usual.
I had no way to know how severely the Ebola virus would impact our lives when we returned. My decision was a bit impulsive, perhaps, but was borne from a desire to reunite my husband with his children. And I am certain I made the right choice. This is home.
It is in moments of adversity that we see the true worth of a people. Against all odds it seems that this awful virus has been contained here. Nigeria has been tested and I’m proud to say that she has come through with flying colors.
In the end, all I suffered was anxiety, nightmares and sleepless nights. Compared to thousands of our fellow Africans, we got off easy.
I am on safari in the Serengeti in Tanzania as I write these words on my iPhone for this week’s newsletter. The power of intention could not be more powerful here where the circle of life plays itself every day. Watching a cheetah scope out its prey, baboons playing in the trees, giraffes elegantly chewing leaves, and elephant leaving behind downtrodden trees as they slowly walk through the bush, a mother lion suckling its young cubs. Such images are nature perfectly, harmoniously, acting out intention in perfect balance. I feel blessed to be here. Here are some photos which I hope give just a hint of the extraordinary magnificence of the gifts of our planet. Enjoy!
If you made a compilation video of one second of every day for a year, what would it look like? A campaign video to raise awareness of the political strife in Syria wanted to show you what it would look like for a child stuck in the middle of a war zone. It follows a little girl from blowing the candles out on her birthday cake to exactly one year later. She goes to school. She reads books. She hangs out with her parents. Then small things start to change and rapidly her one one second a day shows her being scared, being shuffled from place to place, her neighborhood being bombed, refugee camps and hospitals.
The world doesn’t change with one person but we can start making a small difference with one intent at a time. Thanks to this video I intend to live with more empathy. What can you do to make the world a more compassionate place?
I was nine years old when my father, Deepak Chopra, taught me to meditate. Meditation has become an invaluable tool in my life to help me stay calm, centered, and focused since then.
A vital part of meditation is breath. It is also an important aspect of yoga in wisdom traditions. We know through sciences that breath is a critical component of the cardiovascular system, supports our digestive and lymphatic systems and is a reflection of our nervous system.
I use breath constantly as a tool to calm down when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. And my daughters have also been taught to meditate to help them deal with stress at school. Your breathing is an expression of the activity of the mind. When we are settled, our breath slows down. When we are excited or anxious our breath gets faster.
There are a few simple breathing techniques you can try to help you stay calm and focused in a nerve-wracking moment. I go through a few of them in these guided meditations from The Chopra Well.
Ann Bruck, a trainer with Sports Club/LA explains that there are two different types of breathing when you are doing physical activity. There’s stimulating breath which aims to increase energy and alertness. You breathe in and out rapidly through your nose with your mouth closed for 15 seconds at a time. The other type is relaxed breath, where you inhale for a count of 1 and exhale for a count of 1. Then inhale for a count of 2 and exhale the same, until you reach a cycle of five. This will help calm your nervous system and bring your body back to balance.
What kind of breathing techniques do you use when you are working out? Do you have any meditations or exercises you use during the day to help you stay focused? I’d love if you shared in the comments below!
by Becky Karush
Resilience is the key to bearing up under stress—not just for you, but for your kids, too. Their worries may seem innocuous enough, but you only have to think back to your own memories as a kid to know that childhood stresses are not just traumatic at the time, but can also affect you in the long run. Building resilience is the backbone of the meQuilibrium system—and resilience is not just a skill you can strengthen for yourself, but something you can teach your kids as well.
Take my friend Darcy, for example. She grew up in poverty in Boston. Her family wasn’t just going to the food pantry for a bag of groceries now and then; theirs was a “we own one bed and no one’s making it to college” kind of struggle. The odds were stacked against her, but Darcy had two amazing things going for her.
First, she found a strong, supportive, and inspiring connection with a caring teacher. Second, no matter what downright awful situation hit her, she kept moving in the direction of her dreams, whether it was going to the library, getting into a private high school, or working in China as a financial analyst.
Darcy achieved all those things. During vacations at the private boarding school she attended on scholarship, she cleaned faculty members’ houses for extra cash, and one day she flipped through book on a psychology teacher’s shelf. She called up her roommate and best friend. “I found the word that describes my life!” she said. “It’s ‘rez-a-LEE-ance’!”
So she couldn’t pronounce it, perhaps—but she knew it because she had it. And so can you.
Teaching Kids Resilience
Given that stress is inevitable for all of us, a parent’s job is helping a child learn how to meet it. meQ’s Chief Science Officer Andrew Shatte says, resilience is the key to keeping ourselves strong in the face of stress. It’s a hands-on skill that affects how you and your kids deal with stress now—and later.
For younger children, Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Parenting Without Fear offers simple tips to help give kids a foundation for resilience; below are a few of our favorites.
1. Establish healthy sleep patterns. Nothing will throw a kid off like going to bed and getting up at irregular times. Setting a regular bedtime for every night of the week, not just weekdays, ensures that your child has a solid foundation of rest–without which resilience is going to be next to impossible.
2. De-structure playtime. When a kid’s days are scheduled to the minute, he loses the chance to learn to think for himself. Free play, which might include that uncomfortable feeling of having “nothing to do,” promotes independence, creativity, and confidence in children in ways that structured activities can’t.
3. Spend time outside. Being outdoors is literally used as therapy for kids who have suffered loss or trauma. Activities like climbing a tree or simply cloud-watching have a natural restorative effect that loosens the grip of stress on the body and helps kids return to the problem at hand refreshed.
4. Read more books together. Not only does reading together strengthen your bond with your child, it also begins to build her understanding of how the world works and how to move in it. Picture book characters can become role models and companions of a sort to guide a child through a hard moment.
(Read the complete list of Dr. Donahue’s tips.)
Showing Kids Resilience
Bottom line: You need to model resilience to foster it in your children. When you practice building up your own resilience, your children get to see what it looks like when a grown-up handles obstacles with grace, and even uses that stress energy as a catalyst for action.
Darcy’s first baby is due early in 2014. What a lucky kid that will be, to have a mom whose life got bigger, better, and more resilient with every hard time she faced.
Becky Karush is a writer and editor in New Hampshire specializing in healthy child development and child health care reform. Becky is also a writer for meQuilibrium.com, a website and app designed to help you manage stress.
Close that door, it’s freezing out! has been the most often heard command in my house this week. It has edged out, No candy canes before dinner!, Don’t throw ice at your sister!, and even the recurrent Put-on-your-snow-boots-we’re-gonna-be-late!!!!!
Welcome to winter in New England – five plus months of chattering teeth and cracked lips, drippy noses and numb fingertips. The cold here is called biting for a good reason. The wind has teeth and its nips can hurt.
This morning I took a quick drive downtown to run errands, nestled cozily in my car’s seat warmers. I parallel parked and pushed the door open, gasping as a frigid shock of air flooded the driver’s seat. Heaving myself carefully onto the slippery pavement, I skated to the curb, searching out salty spots to plant my feet.
Making my way to the bank, I skidded over the brick sidewalk, involuntarily tightening my lower back muscles with a shiver and tremble, reflexively recoiling from the cold, adjusting my balance to stay upright while defending a blast of wind. I hustled into the bank and scuffed the salt off my boots, relishing a few minutes of warm reprieve before heading back into the bluster.
As I walked out the door and stiffened immediately, I realized I was fully engaged in an internal battle against the cold – clenching my body so much my back felt achy. The discomfort triggered my mindfulness practice. I don’t need this discomfort. It’s only here to tell me something. And I’m listening carefully to what it’s saying.
I took a deep breath, inhaling frigid air into my warm lungs, releasing it as steam through my mouth. Warm steam. I could produce warmth. I relaxed my tense muscles and took a few steps, continuing to walk that way until I noticed my lower back aching and mindfully melted the contraction again. Thich Nhat Hanh would’ve been so proud of me.
This time I envisioned warm blood flowing freely through my body, heating up my skin and keeping my muscles loose. Cold isn’t bad. It’s just another way of being. Be comfortable, I thought over and over. I considered my young children who dive into the snow hatless and spend hours digging out forts from the plowed white heaps along the driveway. Why is it they don’t seem to battle the freezing cold like adults do? Maybe it’s because joy trumps discomfort. They’re not surviving the storm; they’re reveling in it.
I walked with this thought for a block or so, doing my best to fill up on joy, when another blast of wind surged, stopping me in my tracks. My head lowered, my watery eyes squeezed shut, my hands plunged deeper into my coat pockets. Be one with cold, be joyful in the cold, I urged myself, this time out loud. I looked up and caught the eye of another soul braving the single digit temps. “Brace yourself,” he warned. “The Almanac calls for a harsh winter.” I smiled and tried to feel thankful for all of the opportunities I’ll have to practice mindful freezing this year.
I climbed back into my car, the radio tuned to Christmas music. “I really can’t stay… Baby, it’s cold outside.” You can say that again.
My father likes to explain life using a juggling metaphor. “Life is all about juggling glass and wooden balls. Sometimes you can’t keep all of them in the air. The trick to being successful is that if you have to drop any balls, make sure they are the wooden ones.” If a wooden ball drops on the floor, it’ll just roll away whereas the glass ones will break and cause an even bigger mess. So now not only do you have to juggle, but you have to watch your feet so you don’t step on any of the shards. Inevitably that will cause you to drop all the balls – and that’s a full fledged level 5 disaster.
I’ve always found that metaphor useful when I’m starting to feel stressed out. Like recently as I’ve been trying to finish projects for the end of my first quarter of school, scheduling blogs, making appointments with my over-priced personal trainer, writing stories for my storytelling seminar… It gets to be a bit much. And I’m not even trying to pretend to be like many of you who are juggling jobs, children, relationships with everything else.
Those responsibilities can grow exponentially during the holiday season when you add buying gifts, cooking family meals, sending out Christmas cards, making that pot luck dish for the office party – it never ends. So how do you deal with it? Get out a piece of paper and start identifying what balls you have in the air.
How do you tell if something is a glass ball? If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s glass.
Is this essential to me paying my bills at the end of the month (aka keeping my job, etc)?
Does not doing this negatively affect my health or the health/safety of those around me?
Is this essential to the happiness and stability of my family (or for you personally)?
If it does not fall into one of those categories, no matter what pressure anyone else is putting on you – it’s a wooden ball. This means the world isn’t actually going to end if one of them drops, even if it seems that way. However, there are still more important wooden balls than others and prioritizing them will only help you further. Try these tips for figuring out the most important tasks.
- Order the tasks by timeline (what has to be done the soonest?)
- Tackle the tasks that will take the most time and effort first (as you complete one hard task it’ll only energize you to tackle the others)
- Are there any tasks that completing them will make the others easier? These definitely go first!
- Which tasks reap the largest rewards? Whether that’s time with family (or for yourself!), financially, or space in your calendar – line them up in order of payoff.
At this point you should have a good idea of the essentials and know the order of your task list. Now you can get started, and if the clock starts winding down and you know you aren’t going to get to everything – start dropping from the bottom. It’s all wood, you’re going to be okay. Breathe. Keep tossing and catching. Toss and catch. One at a time and steadily the list gets smaller and smaller until you get down to only the essential balls that hopefully will feel by instinct at this point so you can rest.
How do you determine your glass and wooden balls? Leave your tips below!