Originally published November 9, 2020
Milk Crate Coaching is making some major changes. I have struggled for many years with taking payment for what I do. Its not that I don't believe I am not up to the job, its not because I don't value what I do, its because I value those for whom I do it.
For me, coaching is not just a job or career, it is a condition of my heart. When I chose Milk Crate Coaching as my name, it was because I wanted to honor the many conversations I had with loved ones as we sat on milk crates in the back of a little store I ran. I cared about those people, I cared about what they were going through, and I cared more about that than about than any paycheque. I still feel that way today.
I care about people, about you; and I don't ever want a financial situation to get in the way of our work together.
During this time of covid, when so many have lost or reduced their income, when so many have seen their heartaches and stresses grow, it seems more important to me than ever to see you, hear you, and to understand you; to pull up a milk crate beside you and talk it through.
For this reason, starting today, Milk Crate Coaching will no longer charge for services. Anyone who needs coaching is welcome regardless of their financial situation. I ask only that you come to me with an open heart and a willingness to work. It is my honour to work with you.
Milk Crate Coaching
Originally published October 27, 2020
Nothing makes my blood boil more than being told to “calm down” or “relax” when I am worked up about something (which is often!). If I knew how to calm down and relax believe me I would! But there is wisdom in those words once we get past the insensitivity of the person saying (or more often shouting) this at us and begin to understand just exactly HOW to relax.
I recently had the privilege of attending a pain seminar through the Bill Nelems Pain and Research Centre in Kelowna. The two-part seminar, entitled “Empowered Relief”, taught by psychotherapists Madeleine Eames MSW and Mary Ellen McNaughton MA is built on studies out of Stanford University. In “Empowered Relief” we examined what pain is, how our bodies respond to pain, the consequences of that response if sustained, and how to move from the response into a state of relaxation and relief.
What was interesting to me was that the response in our bodies to pain and to stress are virtually identical. If we can learn how to manage our response to pain, we can also learn how to respond to stress and anxiety in a healthier way.
Our pain and stress responses are natural processes in our minds and bodies designed to protect us. Pain warns us that our bodies are harmed and we need to protect ourselves. Stress or anxiety warns us that what hurt us before may hurt us again. There is a physiological process that happens when we feel that pain or stress.
Imagine, for a moment, that you have been stung by a bee. You feel the pain of the sting, you draw a sharp breath, your muscles tighten which causes your blood vessels to constrict and your heart rate to increase and your mind starts to race with thoughts of getting away from the bee. Your body does this in response to pain to protect you from getting stung again. This is the pain response.
The next time you encounter a bee, your brain summons up a similar response to the threat of being stung by a bee. You see the bee, you take a sharp breath to get the oxygen you need in order to escape, your muscles tense to prepare for flight, your blood vessels to constrict and your heart begins to race. Your mind floods with thoughts of getting away and strategies for defense. This is the stress response.
In both cases, when you get away from the bee, your brain begins the relax response. You are no longer in pain, or in danger. Your breathing slows and deepens, your muscles relax causing your heart to slow and your blood vessels to dilate. Your mind becomes calmer and you can begin to think more consciously.
The problem for many of us is, that pain and stress can come from within. We looked at chronic pain and how the ongoing feeling of pain causes us to remain stuck in the pain response rather than to move into the relaxation response. Our breathing stays shallow and rapid, our muscles tense, our heart rate high, our blood vessels constricted and our mind racing.
It is again the same with stress and anxiety. When the triggers for stress and anxiety become long term, due to trauma or other chronic conditions in our lives, we cannot move from the stress response to the relaxation response. We become stuck.
The bad news here is that the way our bodies respond to pain and stress without switching into the relaxation response, can cause more pain and more stress. The reduction of blood flow, through tense muscles, the shallow rapid breathing and elevated heart rate contribute to chronic pain making it worse. It seems likely also that these same conditions, which feel akin to anxiety, would also make us more anxious and stressed.
However, there is good news. Although we cannot control our blood vessels, our heart rate, our muscles and quite often our anxious thoughts, we can control our breathing and this is the gateway to breaking the pain/stress response and moving into the relaxation response.
Breathing is in your control. When you find yourself in pain, be it physical or psychological, you can consciously choose to take slower and deeper breaths. Because your body cannot hold both the pain/stress response and the relaxation response at the same time, choosing to take slow deep breaths breaks the cycle. This takes time and practice to do but is achievable for everyone.
There are many apps available to walk you through a guided mediation of slowing your breathing that you can try, but you can also do this alone and for yourself. Find a calm private spot and take one slow deep breath from your stomach rather than from your chest and shoulders. Hold it for a moment and then slowly let it out. Repeat this for as long as you can despite any racing thoughts and body tension. The longer you can do this, the calmer your body will become.
Slowing your breath will break the pain/stress response; your body will accept that you are not in danger. Your breath slows and deepens, your muscles relax, your heart rate slows, your blood vessels dilate and your mind calms. Although the pain or the stress may still be present, your symptoms, your physical reactions to it, can be alleviated.
Originally published in August 27, 2020.
Five months have passed since covid-19 hit us full force in Canada and with the coming return to school, we may be about to get hit with a second surge of illness. That second surge may mean isolation and social distancing again and that may lead to depression.
Depression feasts on isolation, on worry and fear, it gets fat on a lack of physical activity and human interaction. Worse, depression feeds itself by robbing us of the joy of those activities that will keep us healthy and safe. The very activities that will keep depression at low levels are the ones that depression makes us avoid, keeping us down and unable to free ourselves.
So what can we do to best arm ourselves for the coming days; to give ourselves the best chance to keep our mood and spirits up? Lots. And fortunately many of us may have already started some of these good habits over the last surge of covid-19. It helps to look at mental health as a table on five legs representing Nutrition, Sleep, Exercise, Socialization, and the Spirit. Remove one of those legs and the table can wobble, remove more, and that table becomes unbalanced and unable to remain standing. Resisting depression is so much easier if we can strengthen those table legs.
Nutrition – we derive a lot of emotional comfort from food but often it’s the wrong kind. I know when I am feeling down, or isolated, I reach for a bowl of chips or something carb heavy that will fill that emptiness inside. We end up feeling overfull, lethargic and sleepy. However lighter foods, such as fruit and vegetables, perk us up and provide energy. In particular, colourful plants elevate mood and require very little energy to prepare. Berries, red, orange and yellow peppers, a pretty salad, all take but a moment to prepare, have that satisfying crunch and are pretty to look at all without that carb guilt and a bloated tummy. When We make it a habit to add a few berries and veggie sticks to lunch, We are shoring up that first table leg and strengthening ournfight against depression.
Sleep – the funny thing about sleep is that too much is not a good thing. A common symptom of depression is just as much about too much sleep as not enough. Where one person may find themselves unable to sleep when depressed, another may sleep for as long as they can, but never feel rested or recharged. Depression robs us of our energy and our motivation. We toss and turn, may spend hours on the couch or bed, but never rest, never be able to turn off, and never feel energized and ready to fight.
This can be particularly difficult in a pandemic where there is little to do or to look forward to. With nothing to motivate us, sleep becomes a refuge and a sanctuary that later betrays us and our minds. The best way to shore up this table leg is discipline. A regular bedtime and a regular waking time, regardless of how much we actually slept, helps to maintain our sleep/wake cycles and does, in time, provide us with better sleep, actual rest, and better energy.
Exercise – there is more than enough proof of the benefits of exercise to our bodies, but exercise is also a valuable tool for our minds and emotions. Exercise releases endorphins which improve mood and motivation, it provides reason to feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement which boosts self esteem, and in times of isolation and uncertainty, exercise provides us with something to look forward to, a project or task to take up a moment in our day to aim for and enjoy.
Socialization – this can be tough when we cannot meet in person and may be the biggest struggle of all when dealing with a pandemic. Even introverts can see a stretch of time without human connection with no foreseeable end as a reason to despair. This is a crucial table leg for depression. As with sleep, the more we need social interaction, the more depression keeps us hiding from it.
Fortunately we are living in a time where can interact with others without being in close proximity to one another. Technology has afforded us many opportunities to reach out. We can visit with friends by phone or video call, we can email, we can text; there are many, many ways to interact and many of them are free or already a part of our lives. But the key here is not just to talk, but to connect with the person on the other end of the device. It is crucial to our mental health to truly open ourselves up; to be vulnerable and honest about how we are doing and give space to hear the truth from the other end of the line. It doesn't have to be a litany of complaints, we may be talking about something that filled us with joy, but being authentic about it and really sharing from our lives will provide us with that connection that we need to keep that table leg stable and our minds healthy.
Spirit - the final table leg is spirit. Spirit can be religious or faith based, but it doesn't have to be. Rather the spirit table leg is about taking the focus off ourselves and onto the world around us in a positive way. For those who find their strength in religion, this may be attending online church services or reading scriptures, for those with an artistic bent it may be painting, music or creating something out of clay, for others it may be sport or communing in nature, and for any one of us it can be giving in the community through activities like volunteering with the food bank or crisis center or shopping for a shut in. The point is that we take our minds off our current troubles and spend time appreciating the world around us, or its creator, and make it just a little better for everyone through kindness or art.
Practicing any and all of these disciplines will go a very long way to keeping our mental health table solid and stable, to surviving a possible second covid 19 time of isolation and distancing, and living a full and healthy life in the days to come.
Originally published July 8, 2020
“What a person desires is unfailing love” – Proverbs 19:22a (NIV)
Let’s start at the beginning….
Well here it is, my first blog post. I figure it makes sense to start my blog, and my first post, with a little bit of info about me. I mean, after all, you didn’t land here by accident. You must be here because you know me or of me and heard I was starting a life coaching practice and figured… what is that about? And so, here you are. Reading my blog from the very first post. Welcome!
I was struck at an early age by the idea that people need to know they matter. We all need to be visible, to express ourselves and our feelings, and to know that what we are saying makes sense. We need to Be Seen. Be Heard. Be Understood.
I noticed this, as a child, because I was living the opposite. I felt invisible, my need to express myself was often discouraged, squashed, mocked, or punished. Very few people seemed to care about, let alone understand, what I was going on about.
When I did find my place, in a church, where I felt I belonged and mattered, I was hooked. An addict craving their next fix. Every night and twice on Sundays. It wasn’t so much the church that fueled my habit, as it was the idea that God loved me, accepted me with all my faults, and put value on my life.
Now I realize that is a message you don’t hear in a lot of churches. Many of us are made to feel that we must look and behave in a certain way or follow a list of rules perfectly to be acceptable. But that was not the message I received from God. What I was reading in the Bible were verses like “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15) and “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” (Ps 27:10). Heady stuff!
What does this have to do with life coaching you ask? Well, having found someone (or something if you prefer) that would accept me and love me no matter what, I have found myself drawn to helping others find their value as well. We all need to Be Seen, to Be Heard, to Be Understood.
Although I do not proselytize in my coaching practice, the message that God loves us and accepts us unconditionally is always there behind my care for you. If God can accept me, in all my mess and failures, if God doesn’t reject me even when I am rejected by those closest to me, then how can I reject, condemn, or judge anyone else?
I firmly believe each of us craves unconditional acceptance and that offering a safe, non judgemental space where you can be seen, be heard and be understood, is the first step to your being able to move forward in your life. I am always honored to be able to provide that space, to help you realize your value, and to help guide you through whatever is keeping you stuck.