Thoughts on Stress and Self Care

A little background: Since I was in high school, around 14 or 15 years old, I’ve struggled with  semi-regular headaches, lower back pain, and pretty constant stomach issues. My mom took me to the doctors at UCLA (where she’s been a nurse for 22+ years!) and they said it was all attributed to stress. Of course, being in high school and earning straight A’s while volunteering, playing in orchestra and sports, being heavily involved in church all weekend, and trying to navigate the increasingly complicated reality of being a young Korean American woman… well, that would stress anybody out!

ImageThe saddest thing was that I didn’t know about a concept called “self care,” and I misunderstood a prayer model called “JOY” that was supposed to bring me, well, joy. It went: “J – Jesus, O – others, and Y – you.” It’s a wonderful template for prayer that is meant to help a person focus on God first, put the interest of others before oneself, and then to bring up one’s own needs and wants last. However, in retrospect, I’m not sure I was able to internalize the concept of putting your own self last in the healthiest way (not sure if that’s because of my family background or partly because of my cultural background as an Asian American female, too). To me, putting myself last was the equivalent of devaluing myself and underestimating my own worth. The internal message I had (and still struggle with) playing in my head was: “If you don’t put Jesus and others before yourself, then you have no worth or value as a person, and you are not a godly woman.” 

How wrong and untrue is that?

Today, more than a decade later, I find myself working through these old “internal tapes” playing negative messages that are truly destructive to my life, my sense of well being, and my relationships. Namely, my most important relationship, with God, and then my family members and most intimate friends.

What I’ve begun to realize is that the negative messages playing in the background tell me the exact opposite of what the Lord and my loved ones tell me: “I love you,” “you are precious and cherished,” “you have immeasurable value and worth,” “you are good enough, and [more than] adequate,” and one of the sweetest realities for a believer: “you are loved and accepted unconditionally.” So when I hear positive messages of love, acceptance, and affirmation, I have a hard time receiving them deep into my heart and believing that they are really, really true. This results in me going through life trying to earn, prove, and take things like love, worth, and acceptance when they are freely offered to me. As a Christian, my reality is that Christ already paid the greatest price with His life so I could enter into HIS reality of love, acceptance, and approval – just to name a few awesome things that are a part of our inheritance in Jesus.

I’m learning in therapy (one of my most helpful forms of self care during this season of grieving and transition) that there are layers of truth and reality for any given person, and in order to see growth and change in the deeper layers, we need to be in safe, healthy relationships with people who are themselves safe and healthy 🙂 Most of us don’t have the blessing of coming from families where everyone is like this (or if we are, then we sometimes experience painful and traumatic events that cause us to start believing in lies), so we all have negative messages playing at a certain level beneath the surface. These can cause incredible stress, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

No wonder Americans (and most people in developed, westernized countries) are so stressed and depressed! Did you know that 22 million Americans (ages 12 and up) abuse illegal drugs? That’s nearly 1 in 10 people! There are 131 million Americans using prescription painkillers as of 2011, and doctors even admitted that many of these prescriptions were unnecessary 😩 

In a news article: “The United States makes up only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 percent of its opioids — and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, the opiate that is in Vicodin.” There are similar statistics for sleep aids, even among adolescents 😩 There is something seriously wrong here with the way most of us are living our lives!

Sad. 

Case in point. These days my medication is causing me to wake up a few times during the night and though I wake up feeling okay and pretty alert (compared to before I started the medication), I don’t feel too energetic or focused by late afternoon. I called my doctor about it and he suggested I try…

*drum roll please* …more medication, for sleep.

*sigh*

No thank you, Doctor. I think I will keep trying to stay healthy and take good care of my self through healthy diet, exercise, more balanced (restful) schedule, and good sleep hygiene.

As for stress, I am finding that self care in the form of regular exercise and eating lots of whole grains, veggies, fruit, fish, and lean meats are helping a lot with that! Also, taking time to pray, read, write, to be creative (making cards), spend time with Joy, and best of all, making time for fun, relaxing dates with Jesus, my mom, mentors, and girlfriends – these all help a lot with both stress and at times, depression, too

It’s true that we were created to live in community, leaning on one another and helping carry each other’s burdens.

But we were created to be good stewards individually as well. Starting with ourselves, then each other (other people, including strangers), then the earth (plants, animals, etc. Happy Earth Day on Monday!)

So here’s a toast to practicing self care and not increasing stress in our lives, others’, or for the earth!

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Feeling blue…

…but living beyond the feelings!

by Cristina92 of Deviant Art
by Cristina92 of Deviant Art

There’s a helpful book about this by Joyce Meyer I’ve been working through for the past year called “Living Beyond Your Feelings: Controlling Emotions So They Don’t Control You.”

Basically, the premise is that we don’t have to be a slave to our emotions, no matter how tumultuous or powerful they may seem at the moment. I know for me this is a challenge, sometimes a daily or hourly one, especially during my grieving season. However, no matter how low or “craptastic” (fantastically crappy) I feel, I know that it is only a passing emotion that will eventually fade.

Not that we should ignore our emotions, because most of the time they are useful and important indicators of something being amiss and needing change, but we should also not be controlled or overly influenced by them either.

I love that in the Psalms and much of the Prophets (esp. Jeremiah & Lamentations), there is so much emotion being expressed! Extremes of euphoric ecstasy and elation, as well as despairing depression, despondency, and desolation can all be found in Scriptures. Praise the Lord – this is evidence that God is not only okay with, but completely familiar and accepting of our being emotional creatures.

Psalm 42:5-7

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

by Michael D Edens
by Michael D Edens

Being of the ADHD persuasion (heehee ;P), I have a tendency to be “overly” emotion and sensitive, and it’s been a battle for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of time trying to manage my strong emotions, and when I got desperate or tired, I resorted to numbing them through various means. Most of the time the numbing behavior turned into unhealthy addictions I became ashamed about, and as it turned out, feeling something was always better than feeling nothing. (In college, I was introduced to Zoloft during my first bout with depression, and I did *not* take well to it!)

In any case, I’ve come to a place in my life and development where I’m finally beginning to accept and understand that having strong emotions is not a bad thing, but it is definitely an area of my life that I need to be attentive and gentle about…

…because, ultimately it is about my heart (where emotions “reside” and originate from), and that is where Jesus lives, enthroned as King of my life. I don’t want it to be too crazy in there, if I can help it, so Jesus can enjoy His stay with me 😉

heart hands

Scripture on the heart:

Psalm 51:10
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Ezekiel 11:19
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh”

Jeremiah 17:10
“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

Proverbs 4:23
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life

 

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Wonderfully soothing worship/soaking music

Julie True’s Healing Room

Tragedy & Grief

Angel of Grief

Sigh…so yesterday, the news was filled with information about the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing – I didn’t have the stomach to look at some of the graphic photos and videos posted by people who were there. Particularly because I’d spent a couple hours researching Christian ministries in India that serve women and children, and I ended up reading a bit about human trafficking, which always sobers me and breaks my heart.

I was reflecting on tragedy, and how senseless violence (especially when it’s publicized well on the media/youtube/twitter) has the power to stir intense emotions in society at large. The public expressed sadness, anger, bitterness, confusion, and other feelings that come up when something so wrong and so unexpected happens and society grieves together. I was a bit struck by the way these events can temporarily overshadow all other tragedies, evils, and griefs happening around the world, though, not that one horrible reality is more or less tragic than another… but sometimes it does seem like there’s a disparity of attention and importance given to events, depending on who has the power to tell the story.

Case in point, I was showing my mom a video on trafficking of little girls in India, and she sighs, then looks at me and says, “This is sad, but what’s happening in North Korea is much worse, Hannah. And not many people even know it is going on.” I nodded and replied, “Yeah, that’s true, but every person has a heart for something. If we all cared about the same one thing, everything else would get ignored, right?”

So, for those who are grieving and outraged at the senseless tragedy of the bombings (including myself, as an Asian American who loves and prays for her country), I pray and I ask God for both comfort and recompense for those who have lost the most.

At the same time, my hope is that people will not turn a blind eye to tragedies happening daily in developing countries where poverty causes children to die needlessly every few seconds, or in developed countries like our own, where an average three women are murdered everyday by their own partners, and many more women and children suffer from domestic violence and poverty.

There is much to grieve in this world…and for better or worse, it does not end on this side of eternity until He comes.

Speaking of grief, I want to share a simple comfort I found when I was finally ready to start connecting with people (strangers) about my grief over my dad’s passing (5.19.12).  It’s called HelloGrief.org and I made a profile and started a group called “Needing faith” and as of today we have 10 members!

Why I created the group: “This is a group for people who have always had faith in God but are finding it difficult to keep up the faith in the same way following loss of loved one. For me, it was my dad, last May 2012.” And it’s been comforting and empowering to connect with others who are grieving similarly and to share experiences, feelings, and questions that we struggle with.

There’s much to be said about the power to heal within a supportive community, and I pray for those who grieve, whatever it or who it is, that they are able to find a safe and supportive community within which to express and work through their grief.

When tragedy strikes, there are no easy, pat answers. In fact, the easy answers turn hurting people off, so sometimes it’s best to just remain silent and sit together in the grief, letting it wash uncomfortably over you.. then at least the grieving person knows that they are not alone.

Lord, have mercy on us, and may those affected by the Boston bombing and other personal and public tragedies be comforted by your Spirit today.

Tears of Sadness

Beautiful Fitness!

Or, Bella Fitness, to be exact. R and I went to a Zumba class today taught by Yessenya and danced our hearts out for an hour! (Well, I took breaks in between, but R bravely stuck through the entire session.) Yessenya is a spunky lady who never seems to stop smiling as she energetically leads the Zumba routines – if you just changed her clothing and put a drink in her hand, you’d think she was at a salsa club, ha!

My favorite part was huffing and puffing my way through a bollywood routine that made me look ridiculous but made me feel GREAT. Boy, did my respect for bollywood actresses grow! They make it look like a piece of cake, but Bollywood dance has some pretty serious aerobic moves that get your heart pumping – no wonder they’re in such great shape 😛

There are several things I appreciate and enjoy about Bella Fitness that I haven’t found in the classes at 24 hour fitness or LA Fitness (*not in order of importance):

1. Free water bottles
2. Individual classes (I bought my pack of 21 on groupon, but the classes are just $10 each, with no membership required!)
3. Use of exercise equipment before, after, and during classes (sometimes I need to get a few minutes in on the elliptical machine before diving into a class to get my heart going)
4. Small, intimate classes where you can actually see the instructor from anywhere in the room
5. Hook ups with massage therapists. Jesse has magical hands 🙂
6. Best of all, the friendliest and most caring owners and staff you’ll ever meet at a fitness center!

I also enjoy that most of the participants for the Zumba classes are women, and not all of them are experienced, so I don’t feel like the only one who can’t seem to learn the moves right away. The instructors are always good about teaching at a pace that beginners can follow, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting any less of a workout 😉

In any case, R and I had a ton of fun, sweat and giggled the whole hour (when we had any breath to spare, that is), and R said at the end of the class, “Oh my goodness. I don’t ever think I’ve seen my face get this pink before!” (She isn’t super into exercise yet, haha…)

Never done Zumba before? Try it. And if you like it, try it at Bella!

Friends + phở + Fitness + Furry Friends = FUN (+ phở-nky breath!)

Obviously, I wouldn’t walk my dog in heels and a skirt with my hair down, but I thought this was a cute image that captured that getting exercise and taking care of your pet is a classy thing to do!

I woke up later than I planned this morning, but as my medication (Strattera) causes me to wake up several times during the night, I really needed the extra sleep. Also, Mondays are my “Sabbath” so I usually plan to sleep in later on Monday mornings (er, afternoons), because I’m emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted from church ministry that fills my weekends.

My lovely roommate, R, woke up around the same time and suggested we go for pho because it was a cold, foggy day, and after lunch, we took our dogs for a walk around the park near our condo.

After we walked the dogs, we settled down to our mac-toys (I have a 15″MacBook Pro mid-2010 model, and she has a 21.5″ iMac her fiancĂ© gave her for a Christmas/Valentine’s gift) and started “working.”

I’ve been reflecting today on how I have so many simple things, wonderful things, in my life to be thankful for…

Friends. FABULOUS FEMALE FRIENDS.
– Furry friends (Joy & Bear)
– Free Fitness opportunities (walking the dogs around the park!)
– Funds for flavorful food (like phở)
– Freedom to have phở-nky breath around R (phở breath isn’t the sexiest thing in the world, esp. after a few hours…)

Flipping flapjacks, I have a lot of FUN and FREEDOM in my life!

For that, I praise the Lord.

 

When's our next walk?
When’s our next walk?

 

In other news:

* I did it. I turned down a job offer, a timely and unique opportunity to work with LCSW’s I admire and want to emulate, to pursue a call to overseas missions.

Where am I headed?

Hopefully here.

What will I be doing? I don’t know exactly yet, but hopefully something along the lines of this or this.

I’ll be working on a page somewhere on this site for Anti-Trafficking, but here’s a great resource to learn more about the specifics of human trafficking in India.

Namaste!

Though Christians generally don’t use words like “namaste” (a phrase I’ve commonly heard from Hindus or Americans who are into yoga, hindu-ism, new age thought, eastern spirituality, etc.), I thought I would explore the concept as it is a greeting seeking to honor the recipient. I believe that in the Kingdom of God, we are to honor one another, and extend honor to our non-Christian brothers and sisters as well.