Finding Cherries in a World That Can Seem Like the Pits 1: Those Stressful Friends

Finding Cherries in a World That Can Seem Like the Pits 1: Those Stressful Friends

Finding Cherries in a World That Can Seem Like the Pits 1: Those Stressful Friends

Something that’s really striking my consciousness lately is the question of how to sort the good from the bad. As a stress-management coach people come to me for advice on these things, so it’s sort of natural that these types of questions would cross my path. But what has come to my attention lately are the number of different ways this same theme comes up. Here are some examples:

~ “What do I do about this friend who is always negative? I really like her, but I just don’t want to spend much time with her.”

~ Life is so stressful, I just can’t seem to find time for anything anymore. I used to take long baths and go for walks. Now it’s all a hassle and there’s never enough time to get it all done. How do I learn to enjoy life again?”

~ There is so much horrible stuff going on in the news. I want to stay aware of current events, but I just don’t feel like I can pay attention to the news anymore. How do I remain informed without getting depressed?”

While these questions are all different in that they are talking about very differing phenomena, they are all very similar in their overall context: separating the good from the bad. This really is an age-old question. I’ve heard it brought up in religious and spiritual contexts. I’ve heard it brought up in my graduate political science seminars. I’ve heard it brought up in conversations with friends. And truthfully, in my opinion, there is no one “best practice” answer that can apply to all of the contexts.

There are some strategies that can be tried on for size which can help a person figure out what works best for them. Let’s start our conversation about how to embrace the positive in our lives by talking about friends.

Last month’s blog series covered the importance of making friends and building your tribe. One thing we will find along the way of building our tribe is that sometimes there are people who we really like in a lot of ways, but who also drag us down.  This weeks blog is going to focus on how to mindfully find peace in those friendships.


Most of us have at least one friend who is lovely in many ways, but who is also a Debbie or Douglas Downer. This is the person who always seems to have a proverbial fly in her chardonnay. He sees the glass as half-empty instead of half-full. Of course, this friend is not “all negative” or we wouldn’t be friends with the person. We just wish they would look on the bright side of things more often. So what do we do?

Here are some strategies to try:

~ Lead by example. When things are negative in your own life, set an example by breathing through them to bring yourself inner peace. What you don’t want to do is point out to your friend that you are doing this. Let her just watch you. Don’t give her “helpful” advice about how you are proceeding so well through your difficult time.

~ Set time limits. Let’s just be honest here, no one can be around Negative Ned or Nellie for that long. The problem is that if we set too many time limits the person is going to feel like they are being blown-off. Then you’ll have the problem on your hands that your friend will probably confront you on this. For some, being in a negative space – e.g. negative confrontation – is comfortable, so she will have no problem bringing this up to you. The time limited friends need to be treated with special consideration. Make sure the time you do spend with them is high-quality time. That way your friend won’t feel slighted about the lack of time.

~ Conversely, instead of spending focused one-on-one time with this friend, spread the work around. Try only spending time with her in groups. This then lightens the negativity burden on any one person. If you make sure she’s invited to a lot of things, she won’t feel like she hardly ever gets to see you. Unless this is already your pattern though, don’t shirk spending at least some one-on-one time with her. She’ll figure out what’s going on if she’s used to seeing you alone, but then suddenly only sees you in groups. Also, make sure she still feels good about being with you even if you are in a group. Make sure you pay some special attention to her and treat her like she’s important.

~ Have a mindful conversation with your friend. While this might be the most intimidating of the suggestions, it’s also most likely to be the most fruitful. Mindful conversations proceed with empathy and compassion. Try asking your friend if there is an underlying cause for her outward negativity. If there is, maybe you can help. Or, maybe you can support her in finding the help she needs. Make sure he knows that you are asking because you care and you want to be supportive. Remember, mindful conversations do not criticize in words or tone. Try to use “I” statements. The more empathy you can have the more likely you are to have a fruitful conversation.

Someone recently said to me, “if you can’t complain to your friends, who can you complain to?” My answer to this is, “a coach or therapist.”  That’s not to say that friends cannot, or should not, be there for each other in times of emotional need. It’s just that it’s important to draw boundaries if your friend is overtaxing your friendship. It is perfectly okay to say to your friend, “I love spending time with you, and I am so sorry that you are going through such a hard time, but I feel like you would really benefit from some professional guidance from a coach or therapist.”  If your friend acts offended you can simply explain that you have seen her suffering for quite a while now and want her to feel better. If she’s still offended, and decides not to be your friend anymore, that my just be what needed to happen to give you some peace of mind.

I welcome your questions, comments and stories about your friendships! Feel free to comment away J

Stay tuned for next week’s installment of “Finding Cherries in a World that Seems Like the Pits.” I will be talking about some tips and techniques for finding peace-of-mind in a busy life.

Love & Light,


Are The Holidays Stressing You Out?

Are The Holidays Stressing You Out?

There came a time in my life, somewhere between my kids being babies and teens, that I started to dread the months of October through December – that’s A QUARTER of the year! YIKES!

I’m not sure when I moved emotionally from being excited about the holidays, to being filled with dread and overwhelm.

Maybe it creeped up? Maybe it happened some years and not others?

What I did figure out a few years ago was that it seemed to be a permanent fixture!

It goes something like this:


School is back in session and I’m breathing a sigh of relief that I can get back to working without the constant interruptions and trying to find ways to entertain the kids.

But… OMG… the stores are starting to put out Halloween items! What the heck??? I can’t start thinking about decorating for Halloween, costumes, parties, band concerts….. Oh yeah, and my son’s birthday!!!!


And then I metaphorically bury my head in the sand until…


“Oh crap, the neighbors are starting to put up their Halloween decorations… I better get to it…”

“Hmmm, I wonder what AJ wants to do for his birthday?”

October continued:

“WHAT?! It’s the third week of October???”

“Oh crap, I better get the Halloween decorations up…

“Oh shoot, I forgot to ask AJ what he wants to do for his birthday!

October 18th :


“UGH… I forgot about the Halloween decorations! Boy my neighbors are organized! Why does everyone, but me have their Halloween decorations up???”

“Oh geez, I suck.”

And it goes on and on…

Where are we having Thanksgiving? Do we have to drive up to dad and step moms? Mom will be upset. Maybe they’ll invite her too?? Oh wait, what about sister and her son? Oh why does my family have to be so complicated?

What? It’s December already??? I haven’t bought any presents!! Mom wants me to cook a big dinner for everyone at her house again…


There’s a better way

Honestly y’all, that is no way to go through the three month American holiday

A few years ago, as I was implementing my Peaceful Living techniques into my life, I started to try a different way of thinking about the holidays.

I follow FOUR main principals:

1. Don’t worry about perfection

I used to be that person who had to have a beautifully decorated house for all

Truthfully, before I had kids it was something that brought me a lot of joy. It was fun and creative for me. I also really like to entertain.

It was fun to have lovely decorations for not only my holiday parties, but Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

However, life changed!

I had two kids. I was highly involved in their lives, driving them to and watching all of their activities, volunteering in their schools and organizations. AND, I was either working in my job teaching at a university (which included a major commute) or building a side business!

Not to mention that I’m getting older and have much less energy!

All of that decorating and entertaining became a drag. It was no longer fun. It was something I was too busy to remember and then became completely overwhelmed by (see internal dialogue above).

I decided to cut back.

I no longer hosted every party and dinner from Halloween through New Year’s Eve. We moved into a very small house when we were still in California, so I cut way back on the decorating.

I started to put up some boundaries with my parents about who we would spend each holiday with.

I also stopped accepting every invitation that came our way!

Sometimes we have to pick and choose which parties we are going to attend. Your friends will understand if you skip their party this year. But, try make sure that you go the following year and skip someone else’s.

It all worked out!

I was no longer overwhelmed. I still had fun doing a little bit of decorating and planning one party during the season. My family was open and even invited each other to celebrate all together – negative feelings towards some being set aside for that day.

Action Step:

Decide what you can cut back on.

Is it decorating to perfection? Is it too much entertaining? Is it accepting too many party invitations?

Who do you need to set boundaries with?

Make a list and write-out possible ways to approach the subject from a kind and loving place.

2. Ask for help

I have friends and clients who think that having a pot-luck for the holidays is a disgrace.

I’m here to tell you that it’s not!

My mom and I spent many a holiday cooking big meals and doing all of the cleanup. We would exhaust ourselves and feel very taken advantage of by our family members who did not offer any assistance with either the cooking or the cleaning. That was a recipe for resentment!

Having a calm and cheerful conversation with your family members (and friends if you celebrate with friends) about how you love your Aunt Mary’s green bean casserole and your sister Haley Grace’s sweet potato pie  (okay, I do live in South Carolina, so I had to go there) and would they be willing to bring their delicious dish to Thanksgiving dinner will most often bring about a nice result.

Your relatives will feel complimented and you will have your pot-luck!

The same thing goes with asking for help with the cleanup. I know that Uncle Bill and neighbor Todd like to watch football and let their dinners digest.

However, a gentle question asking them to help with the dishes goes a long way – especially if they can see the TV from the sink! And if they can’t, all the better for you, because you can turn on the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas romance movie marathon! – (and yes, I know I’m being sexist 😉 And truthfully, I tend more towards the football myself )

Action Step:

Figure out who you can ask for help! Make a list of who you can ask and for what.

3. Find time for self nurture

This can truly be the hardest part of the fourth quarter sprint that is the holiday season!

I find that using my “success schedule” – a weekly color-blocked calendar of my days– is very important here. If I color block my Google calendar to specify what I am doing throughout the days of the week, I can see how much time I’m spending on self-nurture vs. how much time I’m spending on everything else.

My “personal” time color on Google is “flamingo pink.” If I look at my weekly calendar and there are not at least three to five flamingo pink blocks on there, I move other things around to get them in. This is something I do on a regular basis throughout the year. I have 30 minutes in the morning and an hour at bedtime that are dedicated to quiet mindfulness/ meditation every day.

During the holiday season I also make sure to schedule in pedicures, massages and nature time. Again, these are things that I do for myself on a regular basis. But, if I get busy for a time I will let them go (but, just for a short time).

During the holiday rush it’s particularly important that I take this time out. If I don’t, I will be burnt out and stressed by the time Thanksgiving or Christmas roll around. Even though it’s a busy time of year, I may let other things go (like volunteering at every one of the kids school parties, band concerts, etc.) to take care of myself during this time when everything is extra busy!

Action Step:

Create your success schedule! Use an online or a printable weekly calendar. You can either color block your entire schedule like I do, or just jot down what you will do for yourself to give yourself a mindfulness or self-nurture break every day.

4. Love before money

We made the mistake early on of having “Super Christmas!” for our kiddos. Remember my intro about how I used to love to…

Well, one of those things my husband and I both used to love to do was have a TON of presents under the tree for our kids! It was definitely fun to see their faces with the surprise. But, it was also complete mayhem!

Now that my kids are 11 and 14, I look back on that and feel like we really did them a disservice. Now they expect a TON of gifts.

It’s not as much fun for us as it used to be, buying them toys, and it’s much more expensive now because the things they want cost a lot more than the little kids toys did.

It is really hard as parents to keep up with what so many other parents are buying for their kids. When we moved to South Carolina from Southern California it was to save money! Part of that is re-educating our children about the amount of STUFF they need verses want.

We are also re-educating our children about our values.

We want them to understand that material things do not equal love. We are helping them to understand that spending time together doing things we enjoy is more important than things.

This re-education process can often be more difficult with extended family. I find myself not only buying expensive gifts for my family back in California, but also spending a ton on shipping. I would rather spend money to help them fly out here to visit (or for us to fly out to visit them) than on material gifts.

In some families they use a “Secret Santa” system. They make a point to spend the holidays together, but instead of everyone buying everyone else a gift, they pick names and only give one gift to the person whose name they picked. The families I know who do this also put a monetary limit that can be spent on the gift. This allows them to spend money on traveling to be together (or hosting many people), instead of on things that while they may be appreciated, are not as appreciated as the time spent together.

Action Step:

What can you do to create a love over money environment for your family this holiday season? Can you brainstorm with some of your family members about how you can spend quality time together?

Your stress-free holiday

So there you go! Four ways to cut down on the stress of the holiday season. Take on the action steps. See what you can come up with for yourself and your family!

I would love to hear from you! Post your comments about how you did with the action steps OR your tips for cutting down on holiday stress!


Life Is Stressful: Tales of Disneyland, Food Poisoning  and Wildfires

Life Is Stressful: Tales of Disneyland, Food Poisoning and Wildfires


When I created the list of topics for this blog, I never imagined that I would be starting it at the end of one of the craziest two weeks – whew!

It is the afternoon of Friday, May 16th 2014. What are hopefully the last two of TEN WILDFIRES burning San Diego County are still burning with little containment around my beautiful hometown.

Thus far 12 homes and 1 business have been burned and there is reportedly one fatality. The smoke is billowing and the ash is swirling in the air and the Santa Ana winds are still blowing hard. Everyone is starting to breath a sigh of relief, but we’re not really willing to completely exhale the tension until the last of the fires goes out. (more…)

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