Overwhelm can creep up on you. It did on me. You truly want to serve God and your heart is to love others as God loves you. I’m a parent and I work to provide for my family. I have my own ministry and I serve in my local church and another faith-based organisation. I am passionate to use my gifts for the glory of God. But my inability to stop, celebrate and plan has led to an overload of my schedule and overwhelm of my coping resources. I didn’t envisage ending up here but now I’m here I have to do something about it.
What about you? You love God and you want to serve, but over time you’ve collected more meetings. By responding to crises in the lives of others you continue to provide support to an expanding group of people. You may have stepped into roles and ministries to fill gaps and you’re still there. You have a sense of overload and overwhelm.
You and I can avoid this by regularly stopping, celebrating and planning.
Stop. Celebrate. Plan.
At regular points you need to stop and look at all that you are doing, celebrate what you have achieved and then plan for how to continue in the future.
You may have been taught to stop, evaluate and then plan but have ignored the celebrating. Celebrating even the small steps can help motivate you to keep going, but it also helps you to let go as you recognise you have done enough. In this process as you refocus your direction, you can let go of some activities that you’ve accumulated along the way.
Where some of the overload has come by spreading yourself too thin supporting people, it may be time to learn a ‘strength based approach’ where you help the person find their assets and empower them to move forward using these new tools. Future blogs will address using a strength-based approach. You may need to learn about how to set limits and practise personal boundaries.
Happy second anniversary!
It’s been two years since I reinvigorated His Heart Ministry Training website and commenced blogging fortnightly. So, I am stopping to celebrate this achievement. I’m giving myself some pats on the back for the fact that I have consistently written new content, even started doing videos on YouTube (if somewhat inconsistently) and started an online school, all to provide resources and training so you as individuals and churches could be equipped to support others and self-care in the process.
My celebration includes creating the list at the bottom of what has been blogged over the past year divided into topics.
My stopping and planning includes making choices to simplify my life which will consist of more overhauling and simplification of my websites and retiring from some of my volunteer jobs.
This shedding process is to make more room for what I believe I am called by God to do, rather than busy myself with good activities that serve God’s kingdom, but someone else could do. I am created on purpose for a purpose so I’m shifting my focus to live that purpose.
I am stopping, celebrating and planning.
Putting legs on it
Take a moment to stop, celebrate and plan.
Celebrating what’s been covered in the last year (a lot of self-care posts)
‘It was an often repeated event. It could be a ‘meet the teacher’ for school parents, watching a concert or the basketball final. I was there to support my kids and sitting alone. Through rose coloured glasses I saw everyone else sitting grouped in families – two parents chatting, grandparents and the odd aunt or uncle in the cheer squad while I sat by myself in a cloud of dark thoughts and self-pity. I felt that others were looking at me, mocking me for being by myself. To overcome this I reminded myself that we are a family, we are not a broken family, we might be a small family unit but we are a family nonetheless. It stopped me feeding the paranoid, self-absorbed thoughts.’ From my One Together blog 8 steps to see yourself as a family – not a broken one
My family maybe non-traditional by the values of society and the beliefs of some people within it, but we are not broken. Here are three steps to challenge how you see, talk about and interact with a non-traditional family.
think about your definition of family
do not refer to families as broken
encourage a ‘love family’ to see themselves as a family
Think about your definition of family
What is your definition of family? Within this will be your values and your beliefs. Is a family defined by biological relationship? Is a family defined by love relationships?
I saw a post on Facebook where primary school children were given the task of creating a family tree. The person who was posting was a foster carer and said that such a task created great angst in the children she was caring for. She suggested doing the same task but calling it a ‘love tree’. Instead of mapping biological relationships which could be unknown, fractured or abusive, a map is drawn of those who love the child.
Karina Hudson of Blended Not Shaken Ministries, has written a book called ‘My Family Bush,’ encouraging children of blended families to understand the connections they have with non-biological or ‘half’ biological family members.
She mentions in the book that Jesus was from a blended family. As God was His biological father, Jesus had a stepfather in Joseph. He also had half-brothers and half-sisters (Matthew 12:46). This can be of great encouragement to share with those whose families are blended or may be classified as non-traditional. It helps to know that Jesus in His time on earth experienced a family that wasn’t of the traditional structure, and He understands the intricacies of such a relationship.
Is a single parent family, a family? As I am in one, I would say yes.
By thinking about your definition of family and working through your values and how these impact on your thoughts and reactions to those – families that may have a different structure from the one that is traditional in your culture, or your values and beliefs about family, you are better prepared to love those you meet without judgement.
You can take it a step further and facilitate non-traditional families to seeing themselves as one.
In writing this blog post I decided I really like the term a ‘love family’ rather than non-traditional to express when a family would be classed as non-traditional by the culture or the values of society. It is positive language as opposed to a definition describing the family by what it is not. Language is important as it expresses our values and beliefs.
Do not refer to families as broken
I’m standing on my soap box here but the image of something broken is negative. The word broken is defined as ‘fragmented, shattered, torn, severed, in bits or having given up all hope and despairing.’1
To describe a family is broken, you are saying it is less than, not whole and needs fixing.
As a single parent I find the term ‘broken’ offensive. We are a whole family. We may not be traditional by some people’s values, but we are a loving, caring, encouraging and safe place for the three of us. In fact, as many single parents find, we are a closer and tighter unit than some two parent families. To function we need to work together and support each other and this encourages unity within our family.
Often in single-parent homes the siblings are closer. If they move between households they have a unique experience that even their parents don’t participate in. This can reinforce the bond between them.
Encourage a ‘love family’ to see themselves as a family
I’ve written a blog for single parents about seeing themselves as family. 8 steps to see yourself as a family – not a broken one. Click here to read the blog and think about how you could facilitate that process in a love family.
Putting legs on it
What is your definition of family? Is a family defined by biological relationship? Is a family defined by love relationships?
What words do you use when describing a ‘love family’?
What is one step you can take to facilitate a ‘love family’ to see themselves as a family?
‘I existed rather than lived…I was ashamed and numbed by disbelief. I hid myself from the world, wanted to retreat, to leave reality. I was a robot, trying not to think or feel because it hurt so much to do so. All this was a normal part of the shock stage…I would often explode in anger, screaming blame and hate, then plunge quietly into despair. I had long showers where I thumped my fists on the tiles before sliding onto the floor to cry until I was empty…I remember crashing from a high of thinking I can take on the world to a low of lying in the foetal position on my bed with the door shut, ignoring my children…I developed anxiety attacks; fear and worry took over my thinking. I woke up tired, mentally and emotionally drained. But all of this was normal.’1
Grief is normal
The above descriptions of grief come from my book, ‘New Life in the Mourning’, based on the feelings recorded in my journals. They are a real and personal account of grief. The last statement – ‘all of this was normal’ is important for you to recognise as the person supporting someone through loss and grief.
Grief is a normal response to loss. It is how we process change due to loss. Many people in grief will state they feel like they are going mad. It can be helpful to remind them it is normal. It’s helpful for you in supporting the person through grief to have an understanding of the grief process; not to analyse the person or the grief and tell them how they should be feeling, but so that you have an understanding of where they’re at, what to expect and why they are doing what they’re doing. It’s never a straight forward linear progress, but each person will move backwards and forwards through the process.
Healing from grief is two-fold: the pain decreases, and the ability to function increases. The length of time and the intensity of the grief is influenced by how attached the person was to what was lost, the circumstances of the loss, whether loss is recognised and whether grief is processed.
When the ‘feelings of loss are debilitating and don’t improve even after time passes,’2 the person has ‘complicated grief’.It is important for you to recognise when someone has complicated grief, so that you can act and help them find appropriate professional help. See the resources section at the end.
Warning: this is a longer blog than normal and some of what is written is confronting and unpleasant. If you are struggling with your own emotions or grief then don’t read it.
The significance of attachment
Compare the death of a pet to the death of a person’s father. You may expect a person to process the grief of losing a pet quickly in comparison to the death of a parent, but this is where the significance of attachment comes into play.
For some people the loss of a pet sparks significant grief. The pet may be their only companion when they live alone, or may connect them to a person and time in their past, so the loss pricks other grief wounds. Without understanding the significance of the person’s attachment, you may judge the grief as being extreme.
When a parent dies and the relationship is estranged, you may judge the way a person reacts. A friend hadn’t seen her dad much throughout her life and when she received the phone call at work that her father had died and told co-workers what had happened, she felt bad for not feeling bad as everyone was expecting her to. Those with good relationships with their fathers didn’t get why she wasn’t upset like they would be.
However, death and in an estranged relationship creates its own mess of emotions. The person may face again that they are abandoned or abused and grieve the loss of what a parent should be, or possibly the lack of apology from that person. The negative emotions associated with that person become part of the loss experience and present a different face to grief.
By listening to the person, you may hear the significance of the attachment and be challenged not to judge and compare what you expect the grief should be. Help them find appropriate support.
Disenfranchised grief occurs where society doesn’t recognise the loss and therefore the grief. Without recognition of the loss the person isn’t given time or support to grieve.
Some examples of this include the pet mentioned above. It can be when no one knew the nature of the relationship for example for gay people who haven’t come out or a mistress of a married man. It can be in the complexities of modern relationships where an ex is not welcome at the funeral of the parent-in-law even if they were close. It can be due to the nature of the death such as suicide where shame or stigma prevent the person talking about their loss.
Again, by listening to the person without judgement you may recognise the loss and be able to support the person to grieve by helping them find appropriate support.
Circumstances of the loss
When a person dies suddenly, tragically, violently, or by suicide the grief can be complicated by the circumstances that follow. The addition of police investigations, coroner’s reports and possibly inquests, delays in the body being released for the funeral, all affects the intensity of person’s grief. The family may want to view the body but it may not be a pleasant sight or they can’t which creates its own nightmares. There may be unanswerable questions about the person who has died. Did they suffer, what did they feel, were they scared? There might be anger at perpetrators both real and perceived.
Understanding the impact of circumstances on grief should mean you help the person find appropriate support. There are many professionals and support groups that specialise in assisting those experiencing death caused by suicide, car accidents etc
Stuck in grief
Sometimes grief can be unresolved; even though the person may appear to moving on but have not worked through their grief.
Helen’s story. “Helen is a beautiful girl in her mid-40s whose husband left years ago, destroying her financially. She moved on with her life, processing some of her grief, until a teenage daughter left home to live with her father. The grief that then overtook Helen was disproportionate to the loss of her daughter. Her daughter moving out was the lance that pierced the festering wound of her unresolved grief. Extreme anger, debilitating depression and out-of-control hate and bitterness at the injustice of her situation came gushing to the surface. It was harder for her to deal with these emotions because they had grown out of all proportion and people expected her to be ‘over it’. She didn’t receive the support she needed.”3
Understanding when a reaction to loss may be from the triggering of another loss, is a flag to help the person find appropriate professional help.
There’s a saying that you teach what you most need to learn. This is true of me and boundaries. I am the first to admit that I struggle in the area of setting limits and holding personal boundaries. Just ask the dog who is currently asleep on the good chair, her mat unused on the floor.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries differentiate between what we are responsible for and what others are responsible for.
Watch video explanation
Often we get this mixed up by taking on responsibility for others or not taking responsibility for our own lives.
If you work or minister in a caring profession there are boundaries around your role and your relationship with the person you care for. These cover privacy and confidentiality, gifts, sexual conduct and even friendships. See resource: how to build good boundaries in support work. Always be aware of the power differential in these relationships. For example, the person you are caring for may do or gift things to please you.
The rest of this blog concentrate on personal boundaries which also affect professional boundaries. Many people with poor personal boundaries are attracted to caring roles in their desire to go the extra mile in helping people. The inadequate personal boundaries will contribute to the person potentially experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue as they will have difficulty setting limits in their work/ministry role. This can be driven by the person’s unconscious needs.
For example, I am a people (dog) pleaser. I don’t like to say no as that could cause offence. This is all tied in to my self-worth and a faulty belief system that says for me to like myself I need to be liked by others. To unpack this concept some more, consider doing the Restoring Balance course. (link)
Different types of boundaries and how to use them
There are different types of boundaries. The video below discusses how to use them. For example, Jesus uses distance as a boundary with people. The video includes a discussion on how to use consequences with a person and the importance of negotiating that with them.
If you would like to learn more complete FREE online Boundaries mini-course from His Heart Ministry Training online school click here
I use voice activated software as a way of lessening the load my arms and shoulders carry as I sit at my desk and type. It helps me to be more productive but obviously I don’t speak clearly at times as it records what it thinks I’ve said. This can be far from what I actually said. Sometimes the ‘mis-writes’ are funny and sometimes they provoke me to think.
Last week I was typing about my desire to be known by others; the innate human longing. All of us have a deep yearning to be in community, to be loved and accepted for who we are. My voice-activated software changed the word ‘known’ to ‘no-one’. So my sentence read, ‘I wish to be no one in a community’, the exact opposite of being known.
My response to writing that was to say (which of course was then typed into the document), ‘I don’t want to be ‘no one’. I want to be known. I want to be seen by others and be in healthy relationships with them as part of community’.
I believe this is the hearts cry of all people: to be known in community
How does being no-one affect a person?
Being ‘no-one’ in a community is not just to be overlooked but to be not included and also rejected as part of that community.
The effects of being ‘no-one’
It affects the whole person:
physical health affecting sleep, diet, increasing pain and illness
mental health increasing risk of mental health conditions and creating negative feelings such as worthlessness and hopelessness
can lead to increased substance use and cognitive decline in older adults 1,2
Who is no-one in your community?
This can be a difficult question to answer because you don’t know who is missing because they are not there!
The person who is missing is possibly the person who is different from you. That person whose life is so different from yours that if you met, you would have nothing in common. The person who acts a bit different, smells different, speaks different, looks different. The person who has a different status to you: marital, age, educational, gender, socio-economic, etc.
The person who is missing is possibly a vulnerable person. The person who has needs. The person you may label as hard work.
Who is no-one in your community?
someone from a different culture
someone isolating themselves due to grief
someone who doesn’t have the money to be able to attend your community
someone living with a disability who may not physically be able to enter your community
someone who is a carer and cannot spend time away from caring
someone living with physical or mental health illness and cannot always be present in a community
someone who has different values and beliefs from yours and fears rejection or being stigmatized
someone for whom the effort to walk through the door alone is too much
What does God say?
What does the Bible say? The Bible says God created each person unique (Psalm 139). Each person is precious and seen by God (Luke 12:7). Each person is loved so much that the Father sent the Son to take the punishment for each person (John 3:16).
Even if we don’t know that person, God does. He knows each of us by name (Isaiah 49:1).
How can communities change so everyone is known?
Communities can grow with the aim to ‘support and maintain existing relationships’ and ‘foster and enable new connections’2. This includes:
groups based on shared interests
‘one-to-one interventions such as befriending’3
helping people ‘change their thinking about their social connections’4
identifying barriers to being in community such as transport
Putting legs on it
What can you do?
Find out who is missing
Look at what the barriers for inclusivity are and how these can be addressed
‘I give up,’ I shouted and I sat down in my lane. I wasn’t running a real race on an oval with my sneakers on. I was journaling to God and telling Him ‘I quit’. I sat down in my lane of life. I quit ministry and running the race that He had called me to run. I surrendered, not as an act of obedience, but as a dummy spit; ‘I can’t do this anymore!’
As a Christ follower there is an image in the Bible that your calling and your purpose looks like a race to the finish line, but finishing it can be challenging!
Finish the race
Here’s a reminder of the Biblical imagery of a race. You are meant to finish it. It is a marathon, not a sprint, so you must pace yourself to reach the prize at the end. (See how to run your race to the finish)
‘…my only aim is to finish the race…” Acts 20:24 NIV
‘…And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us…’ Hebrews 12:1 NLT
‘…I press on to reach the end of the race…’ Philippians 3:14 NLT
Challenge 1: Persist
Sometimes there are words in the Bible that you really wish went there. Looking at the verses above I wish the words ‘endurance’ and ‘press on’ weren’t there, as they make it sound like an effort, that I have to keep trying when I’d rather not. I have to use my talents as they have been given to me to be used, not hidden (see Resources for the parable of the talents and its implication for us).
So, in pursuing God’s race for you there is an element of persisting when you’d rather give up.
And there are other challenges as well.
Challenge 2: Don’t be distracted
In the image of running a race what happens if a runner looks to the left or the right looking to see where the competition is whilst they’re running? They invariably wobble in their lane and lose time. It takes away from the race that they are running, so they are trained to face only ahead towards the finish line.
To finish your race, you cannot be distracted by the innumerable good opportunities to love and care for others; rather find your ‘best’ to focus your time and energy on. Bill Hybels calls this ‘simplified living’. He says, ‘Simplified living is more than doing less. It’s being who God called us to be, with a wholehearted, single-minded focus. It’s walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we’ve been called and for which we’ve been created.’ 1.
Beware the comparison trap. Writer and blogger Jeff Goins talks about the need to run your race with a focus on not comparing yourself to others and their race. He says he drifts into comparison mode and when others share their successes, he finds he can’t enjoy what he’s doing.2 ‘Run your own race’ has become his mantra which he repeats over and over to himself when he hears what others are doing. He says,’ I don’t have to compare myself to other people, because we are all playing different games. That’s the fun part. We get to choose the games we play, the crafts we want to master.’3
Challenge 3: People not race rules
After sulking and wallowing in self-pity and tears as I refused to run my race, I went for my quiet time. I asked God for words of comfort and I pictured Him comforting me as I curled up in a ball with His arms around me holding me tight. I wanted Him to say, ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to keep running.’
He didn’t. He reminded me of how I wear myself out following my self-imposed rules. The passage I read was Matthew 23 which is a long chapter that consists of Jesus berating the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day for their precision in rules to live by, making a big show of how they stick to the rules and then enforcing the rules on others, whilst ignoring to care for people.
To run my race, I need to stop expending energy and focus on keeping the rules of the race (everything I think I should do) without ignoring the people in my life. It’s like someone steps into my lane and I hurdle over them. I refuse to slow down and journey with them saying, ‘Can’t stop now.’ I’m challenged to put people before tasks.
Relationships and investing in others takes time. The bonus is relationships create support for you to run your race, replenishing you when you are weary and cheering you on.
Putting legs on it
What is your biggest challenge to finishing your race at the moment?
Do you need to simplify, persist or spend time with people?
There is a scene in the very first ‘Star Wars’ movie (which became the fourth in the original series) where one of the rebels is flying through a metallic cleft in the surface of the death star aiming to launch a rocket into a small exhaust port that will travel to the centre of the death Star and blow it up. His leaders voice reminds him to, ‘stay on target’ . I had a similar voice in my head this morning telling me to, ‘stay on target, stick with the plan’.
After losing much of last year to the chaos of busyness and not finishing much, I felt like a mouse trapped in a wheel just spinning it. I wasn’t progressing, just meeting the day to day schedule of writing blogs, newsletters and articles. My whiteboard was covered in vision and an ever growing ‘to do’ list to outwork the vision, but the ‘to do’ was never getting done!
This year I have mapped out the vision with completion, trial and launch dates. To enable this to happen I have changed the way I am viewing and managing my plan and lists. I am now working to a weekly schedule into which I have built my goals and priorities for the week. The schedule, my plan for the week, ensures I make progress to complete, trial and launch and care for myself so I will last the distance.
Stay on target
My schedule reflects my priorities rather than letting activities run me. Yesterday I made progress on a big picture venture and just wanted to work on it again today to ‘finish it’ and abandon what was scheduled for today (self-care and moving forward on another project). That’s when the ‘Star Wars’ conversation happened, as I had to remind myself to ‘stay on target – stick to the plan’ ensuring that I followed the schedule.
Self-care is easy to drop off my to do lists, but if I follow a schedule (and stick to it!) I will invest in myself with self-care.
Prioritising self-care can seem selfish but remember what the air stewards tell you on the plane – ‘fit your oxygen mask first’. You cannot help anybody else without ensuring your own survival. You need to care for yourself to be able to care for others. You have to fill your caring tank first to be able to draw from it as you minister to others.
Keith Webb, entrepreneur and founder of the ‘COACH Model’, recently blogged about switching back to a paper planner in which he ‘schedules his weekend in terms of rest, reflection, relationships, refreshment, recreation and rules for rejuvenation’. I also like his concept of a ‘not going to do’ list. 1
How to schedule self-care
Decide it is a priority. If it’s not then you won’t do it
Grab a planner (see the resources below) or a calendar
Work out your roles and goal for the week (see video below)
Allocate times for caring for all dimensions of your health including your relationships and make sure you have some time to play link to blog (see video below)
Schedule your activities in blocks of time, ensuring they will move you towards your goals (see video velow)
Putting legs on it
Work out what self-care activities you will do. If you are not sure of what to focus on, then click here to download a self-care checklist to help you discover the areas you are doing well and where you can improve.
I can picture a young woman entering the stadium for the final lap of her race, exhausted and probably with heatstroke. She is walking, staggering. Her path zigzags across the lanes as she pushes herself towards the finish line. The image comes from the end of the women’s marathon in the Olympic Games many years ago.
That’s kind of how I feel at the moment. The end of the year, the finish line is in view and I am pushing myself and my weary body towards it. This year seems long and hard even though there have been no large losses to contend with. It’s just been some continuous little difficulties that build to create a weight. I’ve battled new health conditions along with the old, as I’ve tried to push forward into new territory. I’m looking forward to finishing the year and resting during the holidays.
What about you? How is your year finishing?
Here’s 3 steps you can take to complete your race this year:
Celebrate what you’ve done
Celebrate what others have done
Celebrate who you are
Celebrate what you have done
In the fatigue at the end of the year, it’s easy to look back and see what you didn’t achieve this year. When you made plans at the start of 2017, maybe set New Year’s resolutions or maybe you set goals and not all of them have come to fruition. This can create a sense of failure that prevents you from seeing how far you have come this year and what you have achieved.
You may not have achieved all that was on your list, but you may have done other things. Celebrate those.
Celebrate what you have achieved and what you can tick off your ‘to do’ list.
Give yourself a pat on the back for persisting. You may have had a hard year where circumstances sidelined you or derailed your progress towards your goals. The fact that you persisted and have made it to the end of the year is worth celebrating.
Celebrate what others have done
Often when I am in the comparison trap, I see what others are doing, what others have achieved and I get jealous of them. Envy overflows in me and what I have achieved seems small in comparison to them.
One way of dealing with this is to choose to celebrate what others have done – to switch the lens in which you view their achievements from one that focuses back onto you and compares it to yours – to one in which you see and celebrate the achievement of others.
Celebrate who you are
It can be unhelpful to only focus on what you do, your goals, what you need to achieve. What you miss in this process is looking at who you are, looking at your character and looking at the motive behind your actions.
This year, were you are kind person? Did you help others? This could be providing emotional support, giving financially or providing practical help. Did you see the worth and value in others?
Did you show integrity and honesty this year? Rather than looking at the end result, look at how you conducted yourself in the process.
I believe as a Christ follower that you have worth as a person made in the image of God. Therefore, it’s not about what you’ve done or haven’t done this year, but you have value just because you are.
So, celebrate who you are rather than just focusing on what you have done and achieved.
Putting legs on it
Think about your year and celebrate what you have achieved – even if it’s not what you were planning at the start of 2017.
But also celebrate you.
PS Take some time to self-care. I will be. As part of resting I will be taking an electronic time out and not using the computer for two whole weeks which includes no writing blogs or emails. What can you do to ensure that you rest and restore as you finish the year?
It’s the time of year when Christmas songs are playing in all the shops. What song would represent the message of Christmas to you?
For me it goes back to the dim memories of my youth where every Christmas Eve at 11 pm the youth ran a church service, which reflected on the birth of Jesus, the reason for the Christmas season. In the early hours of Christmas Day, as we packed up and prepared to go home to our families for our individual family celebration of Christmas, we’d listen to music. To finish our time together we stood in a group, hugging each other and loudly singing the 1984 BANDAID song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time’.
The words were and still are a reminder that some people don’t have food or the luxury experience of Christmas that we do. It was a reminder for us as Christ followers, that we need to do something about it.
The pricking of your conscience need not only be for people on the other side of the world as another severe famine is affecting 20 million people you will never know, but should also be for the people in your community and even in your churches for whom Christmas is far from a happy food and family experience. It’s not either/or – it’s and.
For many, Christmas is a lance for pain and loneliness. For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one through death or a broken relationship, family separation at Christmas is a reminder of everything they have lost. For those who are alone it exaggerates their aloneness. For those in our local communities in poverty there is a sting to not be able to provide Christmas lunch or gifts for your family.
What can you do? What can the church do?
In the busyness of the preparation for Christmas, in buying presents for your families, in attending events and spending time with family, you can recognise that Christmas can be a painful and lonely time for others. Don’t be blind to the needs of others.
See the gift trees. As you go about your Christmas shopping, many of the large department stores will have a gift tree that you can buy a gift for a child in a family who’s doing it tough over Christmas. It could be due to homelessness, being in single parent families, families where the breadwinner has lost their job, families with sickness that consumes a family budget and many other reasons. Whatever the reason the need is still there for the joy of a present on Christmas Day. There are organisations like the Salvation Army and Baptist Care who are buying Christmas gifts for families who would otherwise not have them on Christmas Day.
See the provision of Christmas Day meals. Many charities and churches offer a meal on Christmas Day for people who have nowhere else to go.
You can even look closer to home and see who in your local community or family will be alone on Christmas Day.
For those in your circles who have lost people this year you can be sensitive to their pain and loss and not just blindly wish them a Merry Christmas without understanding the grief that such a phrase is causing them.
You can do something about it
Buy an extra gift and leave it under a gift tree or respond to a request from an organisation to buy a present or give money for the organisation to buy a present.
You can donate to organisations that will provide a meal, or volunteer to serve in one.
For those who you know will be alone on Christmas day, you can invite them to join your family and make them feel welcome.
To a person who is grieving at Christmas, you can acknowledge their loss and the pain that they will be feeling. You might want to spend time listening to how it feels for them, without judgement, just letting them talk about their pain. You don’t need to have wise words to speak but be willing to listen and comfort. This will validate their feelings. Ask the person how best you can support them during this difficult time.
When did you last play? I mean really play? When did you stop thinking about your to do list, your finances, your work, your worries … and find pleasure in the moment doing something enjoyable?
I’m task driven by nature. If I put play on my to do list I might ‘do it’ to cross it off the list, but not allow myself to be lost in time and enjoy it. As an adult I feel guilty about playing. In my mind when I play I’m ‘unproductive’. Playing is foreign to my sense of responsibility. It undermines my worth because I place value on myself based on what I do, not on who I am.
What are your reasons not to play? Are you too busy? Have you forgotten how? Or are you task driven like me?
Adults need to play
You need to play. Adults need to play. But we forget how to play.
Somewhere between childhood and growing up we’ve lost the willingness and ability to play. In the restoring balance workshops, when we talk about doing things that give us pleasure and activities we can lose ourselves in, most participants elect to complete a worksheet at home called the ‘Creative Leisure Scale’ as they have forgotten what it is they like to do to play. The worksheet helps them identify ‘hobbies, recreational activities, family activities, volunteering, crafts and sports that may appeal to them.
In the process and busyness of becoming an adult, we lose touch with the parts of us that used to automatically play like children do.
Benefits of play
Research is showing there are benefits to adults in rediscovering how to play. Play decreases stress and improves well-being. It improves brain function and creativity. If you think about children, they learn through play. It can improve your relational well-being as you cooperate and interact with others.1
Chris Kresser, a functional medicine practitioner says, ‘Play is not simply a frivolous luxury’. ‘Pleasure, play, and social connection are all deeply nourishing and restorative on both a physical and an emotional level and can provide a powerful antidote to stress.’2 He says this is because pleasure increases the secretion of the chemicals called endorphins which react in the brain to decrease perception of pain, boost the immune system and create feelings of euphoria.3
The ‘Help Guide’ says, ‘Play is not just essential for kids; it can be an important source of relaxation and stimulation for adults as well. Playing with your romantic partner, friends, co-workers, pets, and children is a sure (and fun) way to fuel your imagination, creativity, problem-solving abilities and emotional well-being.’ 4
Play has no goals. You don’t focus on what you need to achieve from it or what the outcome is. You just get into the moment and play.
How to play
Play comes naturally to kids. As adults we need some help to do it. What’s a good blog without three steps to guide your practice?
Discover or rediscover your favourite ways to play
Make time to play
1. Discover or rediscover your favourite ways to play
The challenge is on: how to play. I recognised I have lost this capability. When reading the introductory email that bought Chris Kresser’s blog into my inbox I realised I’m the person who is focused on stretching, diet, sleep, living a regimented life of chronic condition management, but I’m not playing. I get upset when things interrupt my finely tuned schedule for the day – be it a phone call with a friend, or a chance to sit for five minutes in the sun with a dog.
In Restoring Balance workshops many mums say they have also lost this capacity especially single mums whose life can be consumed by earning money to provide for the family and caring for the kids. For many mums their needs are at the end of the queue, last on the to-do list and are such that they are often unmet and eventually become unknown.
So, the first step is discovering or rediscovering your favourite ways to play. You may need to think back to when you were younger and what you enjoyed doing then. What did you use to do that gave you pleasure? What activities did you lose all sense of time in?
Take a moment to write a list, then decide what on the list still stirs your soul and is something you can do now to play.
Both articles in the resources have lots of ideas on how to play at work, how to play with your children and how to create opportunities to play.
2. Make time to play
If you are like me and live a regimented life of schedules and to-do lists you will need to put time on your calendar to play or prioritise playing on your to-do list, otherwise you will see it as an interruption. For me, I will also need to work on my mindset to value me enough to give myself the gift of time to play, allowing myself to have fun, because I’m worth it.