Prioritizing Peace in Your Life

On a scale of 1 to 10, how high is your stress level lately? If your answer is 6 or over, you may be struggling with worry, anxiety, burnout, or exhaustion, all of which commonly occur when our stress levels remain high for a significant period of time. You may find that sleep is a challenge and that your relationships are strained as well. In general, it may feel like life is just simply overwhelming.

If you want to feel better and be able to manage your stress as well as possible, begin to prioritize peace in your life. The hectic, non-stop pace of our lives leaves very little opportunity for peace. But without peace, we are unable to manage stress long-term.

It may be hard to imagine how you could possibly add one more thing to your busy schedule. But prioritizing peace in your life does not have to be extremely time-consuming. Below are some quick and easy ways to cultivate peace and reduce stress.

Avoid Perfectionism — Always do your best, but learn to accept that your best may not always be perfect. And that is ok. No one can be perfect at everything 100% of the time. Don’t be overly critical of yourself. Avoid the pitfall of thinking that you are either perfect or a complete failure. You wouldn’t judge others like that, so don’t do that to yourself. By giving yourself a break, you’re also giving yourself an opportunity for peace.

Avoid Procrastination — You’re super busy. I get it. But don’t put things off until the last minute if at all possible. We create an enormous amount of stress for ourselves when we procrastinate and then have to approach our deadlines in a frantic frenzy. If you’ve ever done this, you know there is no peace in this. Do yourself a favor — plan ahead, use your time wisely, and then you can trade the panic for some peace.

Take a Moment — When you feel your stress level rising and your emotions swelling, just pause. Give yourself a moment to think and to breathe. Ask yourself how you would like to respond to the situation. Use words you won’t regret. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself for a breather. Get some fresh air, take a few deep breaths, say a prayer, take a drive, take a nap, take a break, have a snack — whatever works for you and helps you maintain your composure.

Change your media — Watch a comedy instead of a violent movie. Listen to an uplifting song instead of a dark one. Watch the news, but don’t overwatch it. Avoid engaging in unnecessary social media arguments — instead, look for social media groups that uplift and inspire you. Be aware of what your spirit is being fed by the books you read, the music you listen to, and the series you watch. Find media that uplifts, inspires, soothes your soul, and brings you peace. But also unplug and give yourself some quiet time occasionally as well.

Sync Yourself with Nature — Nature can soothe our souls and rejuvenate our minds, but it’s easy to be disconnected from nature if we live and work indoors. A trip to the beach or the mountains or the rainforest might be just what you need from time to time. But on a normal day, it can help to just take a few seconds to enjoy some fresh air, the birds in our yard, or the smell of coming rain. Notice the beauty of the sunrise or sunset, pay attention to the trees as new leaves develop in the spring, plant some flowers and watch as they grow and blossom. In these simple things, there is abundant peace and joy.

As you begin to enjoy the benefits of peace, you may want to explore additional healthy lifestyle activities such as yoga, meditation, or massage therapy. Injecting some peace in your life where possible will help you manage your stress, guard your mental health, and feel calmer and more self-controlled.

Photo credit: Donald O. Smith, Illinois Photography

Stop thinking about what you hate…

How much time are you spending thinking about the people or things that upset you? Are you obsessively worrying about the things in your life that are problematic? If so, then you are letting the wrong things control your mind, your time, and your life. You need a break from the toxic people who stress you out! But if you keep thinking about them even when you’re away from them, that isn’t really a break. Don’t get caught up in the temptation to dwell on things that upset you. Instead, spend more time thinking about people and things that you love. Decide right now to consciously choose to give more of your thoughts to who and what you love. And positive feelings will follow. 🙂

Your Self-Image Colors Your Perception

Do you tend to assume that people don’t like you? Do you always jump to the conclusion that others are angry with you, even if there is no real reason? Do you worry that they are disappointed in you? Or secretly annoyed by you?

If you tend to constantly worry about what others think of you, the problem might actually be what you think of yourself.

Your self-image is how you see yourself. But it’s also the way that you believe others see you as well, and that may not always be accurate. You may see yourself as a failure and therefore, you believe that other people see you as a failure too. But generally, this is not true.

In reality, most of us tend to be harsher with ourselves than we ever would be with someone else. If you call yourself names, put yourself down, and blame yourself for everything that goes wrong, then your self-esteem is probably low. You may find it difficult to accept a compliment from someone because it goes against what you believe about yourself.

Having a negative self-image of yourself makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to believe that others might actually like you or accept you. This can create problems for you in your relationships with other people because you make negative assumptions about what they think of you. Because of this, your low self-esteem can create a wedge between you and other people.

If you want to be able to enjoy better relationships with others, begin by working on your relationship with yourself. Start with changing the way you talk to yourself. A good rule of thumb is to never say something to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else. Stop calling yourself ugly names and start having a little patience with yourself. Being humble does not mean that you need to emotionally abuse yourself.

Having a healthy level of self-esteem does not make you arrogant. It does not mean that you think you are better than anyone else. But it also doesn’t mean that you are inferior to everyone else either. Be as fair and kind and forgiving with yourself as you would be with others. Make peace with yourself. When you have been able to do so, you will find that you are better able to accept compliments, trust others, and feel secure in your relationships.

How To Approach Difficult Conversations

Sometimes the most important discussions are also the most difficult. Below are some helpful steps for approaching those conversations.

Step 1: Pick your battles. You will constantly live in drama instead of peace if you make an issue of everything that bothers you. There are times that it’s best to just let things go. But there are other times when something is important enough that it needs to be addressed. Only you can determine which things should be dismissed and which should be discussed. Give some thought to this — don’t let important things go unaddressed but also try not to make mountains out of molehills.

Step 2: Think through the outcome you want. Never approach a difficult conversation with someone without first determining what you hope will be accomplished. If you try to have a difficult conversation that only focuses on the problem, you will come away with even greater frustration. Instead, approach the conversation with a suggested solution in mind.

Step 3: Jot down your concerns ahead of time so that you don’t forget what you want to say. It’s great to also mentally rehearse your words, but if you’re nervous, things may slip your mind when it comes to actually having the conversation. Having something written down can help you feel more prepared and less anxious about the conversation.

Step 4: Call it what it is. Start with a statement like, “I need to have a difficult conversation with you,” or “there is something important that I need to discuss with you and it may be an awkward conversation.” This helps the other person to know that you need their attention and that this is something important to you. Try to say you want to “talk with” them instead of “talk to” them. Try to say it calmly and not with an attitude.

Step 5: Be careful with your tone. People tend to hear your tone more than they hear your words. Don’t initiate a conversation like this when you are highly emotional or you will most likely end up saying things that make it worse instead of better. Have this conversation when you can be genuine and respectful and resist the urge to escalate, even if the other person does. Remember — things generally get better when you have a conversation but worse when you have an argument.

Step 6: Stick to the issue at hand. Don’t let the other person throw you a curveball and get you off the topic that you wanted to discuss. They may try to bring up other things so that they can avoid discussing the problem. If this happens, redirect the conversation back to the main issue and let the other person know that you will agree to discuss the other issues at another time. Don’t attempt to tackle too many issues in one conversation or you may not get anything resolved. If you can resolve one issue, that is progress that you can build on.

Step 7: Stay calm. Hopefully if you keep your cool, the other person will too. However, if they become defensive and make accusations of you in an attempt to shift the blame, remind yourself that you don’t have to take any unreasonable guilt trips. Try not to raise your voice and try to express your feelings in a respectful manner, without calling names or making intentionally hurtful statements. Again, keep in mind what you want the outcome of this conversation to be. Be mindful of what your body language conveys — try to avoid rolling your eyes, huffing, pointing your finger, or waving your arms around. Those things happen in arguments, not conversations.

Step 8: Make sure to listen. Express your concerns but also be willing to listen to what the other person has to say. This may help you better understand where they’re coming from or why they said what they said or did what they did. Don’t interrupt them — give them a fair chance to speak and try to genuinely understand their perspective. It’s ok to calmly ask for the same respect when you are speaking.

Step 9: Clarify. It’s critical that you understand each other and what you are both attempting to communicate. If you’re not sure that you understand something clearly, ask the other person to explain a little further. It’s ok to let them know that you’re uncertain of what they mean. It’s better to ask for clarification than to continue a misunderstanding. On the flipside, make sure that the other person understands what you are trying to say as well. Be willing to put it in other words if necessary and don’t let that ruffle your feathers. If you’re going to all this trouble to have this difficult conversation, then be willing to talk it through. Don’t fall prey to thoughts like, “they should just know.” They don’t just know — this is why you’re having this conversation.

Step 10: End with a plan for the next step. Try to wind up your conversation with an agreement about what will happen next. What will each of you commit to do differently? When can you discuss this again? Make sure to tell the other person that you appreciate their willingness to talk through this issue with you. It’s also ok to let them know that it was difficult for you to initiate this conversation. Being open about this can help them to understand that this is an important matter to you.

Following these steps will help you navigate difficult but necessary conversations that will hopefully lead to positive and lasting change.

Avoiding Stress Instead of Just Managing It

We talk a lot about managing stress or trying to reduce it. But what if we could just simply avoid some of it to begin with? Below are some suggestions to help you do just that.

Suggestion #1: Start saying “no” sometimes. Part of our stress originates in our overwhelming expectations of ourselves. We create to-do lists that are unrealistically long and then beat ourselves up when we don’t accomplish everything. To make your list more manageable, start saying “no” to a few things. Don’t keep agreeing to take on more than you can reasonably expect yourself to be able to do. This may even mean saying “no” to yourself about some things as well. When your to-do list is more realistic, you can actually avoid the stress you would feel if your list were unrealistically long.

Suggestion #2: Stop expecting perfection from yourself all the time. By all means, always strive to do your best. But also realize that you cannot always function flawlessly. You will make an occasional error or mistake and it is ok. You are human. Try not to think about things in such a black and white manner — just because something isn’t absolutely perfect does not mean that it is an utter failure. You can avoid a lot of stress if you begin to offer yourself a bit of grace and accept that no one, including you, is perfect.

Suggestion #3: Stop comparing yourself to others. We create so much unnecessary stress for ourselves when we guilt ourselves for not being as thin or rich or successful as someone else. Life is not a competition and shouldn’t be treated as such. We are all unique individuals with different talents, abilities, life circumstances, and priorities. Stop making assumptions that everyone else’s life is perfect except yours — because everyone else most certainly does not have it all together. What you see on the outside may not give you the slightest hint about that person’s struggles. If you want to avoid some stress, just be happy for others when good things happen to them and remember that you are not competing with them. Keep score in basketball, not in life.

Suggestion #4: Get organized. If you’re constantly stressing over losing your keys or your phone or your debit card, come up with some sort of organizational plan and make it a routine. Put your keys on a lanyard so they are easier to find inside a purse or bag, and create a designated place to leave your keys. And then make a habit of always putting your keys in that same spot. Organize your papers and your bills so that you know where to look when you need something. Use calendars to keep track of your appointments, when your bills are due, and when birthdays and anniversaries roll around. Avoid the stress of being late because you couldn’t find your keys. Avoid the stress of forgetting your anniversary. Avoid the stress that comes with that late fee. A few minutes spent organizing will be time you will never regret.

Suggestion #5: Stop procrastinating. When we put things off until the last minute, we end up creating a lot of stress for ourselves that we could have avoided. When we’re hurrying and trying to finish things before the deadline, we may lose sleep over it and still not produce a final product that is our best work. Try to change your habits and start working on big projects in advance. This allows you to perform to your highest potential, to have time to pick up a missing ingredient, or to ask questions if there are things you don’t understand about the instructions. Remember how stressful it was to try to finish at the last minute? That is stress that can be completely avoided.

Suggestion #6: Get plenty of sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are not capable of coping with things nearly as well as we could if we were well-rested. Lack of sleep negatively affects our moods, making us more easily irritated and frustrated — and stressed. When we’re tired, tasks seem bigger and more difficult. We don’t have enough physical or mental energy to do everything we need or want to do, which seems to just add to the stress even more. The good news is that this is stress that could be avoided. Give sleep the priority it deserves and then enjoy the benefits of what a well-rest “you” can accomplish — with more energy and less stress.

Five Tips for Better Moods

Are you struggling to stay positive? Do you find yourself battling with your moods and wishing that you could have more control over how you feel? Here are five tips to help you maintain a more pleasant state of mind.

  1. Don’t overthink everything. While it’s great to think through things, it’s easy to cross the line into overanalyzing or obsessing, which always leads to negativity, fear, or frustration. Overthinking is like running in circles in your mind — it depletes your mental energy and you’ll find it difficult to concentrate on anything else. And much like a hamster in a wheel, you will generally find that, in the end, you didn’t even make any progress.
  2. Don’t catch other people’s bad moods. Moods are highly contagious and if we’re not careful, we can easily let someone else’s crabbiness color our own moods as well. You can probably recall a time when a grumpy person walked in the room and seemed to suck all the joy right out of it. This doesn’t have to be the case though. Guard your own positive mood by consciously choosing to let someone else’s negativity be their problem and not yours.
  3. Be a little kinder to yourself. Don’t call yourself names and don’t blame yourself for everything that goes wrong. That will only tear you down and frustrate you. You won’t be able to enjoy good moods if you are constantly tearing down your self-esteem with insults. It’s ok that you’re not perfect. It’s not ok to emotionally abuse yourself. If you want to feel more positive and upbeat, be more forgiving of yourself.
  4. Pay more attention to the positives. It seems to be human nature to keep a running mental list of all the things that went wrong in a day. By evening, we have a gripe sheet a mile long, which gives us every reason in the world to be in a bad mood. It’s normal to feel frustrated and discouraged with those things. But we could balance them out a bit by also just taking note of the positive things as well instead of dismissing them or failing to even notice them. Make it a point to look for reasons to smile. Notice what’s going right, what went smoothly, and what was helpful. Make a mental list of those things too and you’ll be much more likely to maintain a pleasant mood.
  5. Create an atmosphere to match the mood you want. The music, movies, or television shows that are playing in the background of your life set a tone for your moods. You might need to change the channel. You might also need to let some natural sunlight into your living space or tidy things up and make them look more inviting and cheerful. Incorporate some splashes of color. What you see, hear, and feel around you play a huge role in helping you maintain a positive mood.

Who I Am

“Never mind searching for who you are. Search for the person you aspire to be.”

Robert Brault

Since at least 5th grade at Century Elementary School in Grand Chain, Illinois in the 1980s, I have known I wanted to be a writer. I guess a more accurate way to say it is that I knew I needed to be a writer. Writing has never just been something I enjoyed — it has been something I felt I had to do.

Over the years, I took countless steps toward publishing, but always stopped just short of actually following through. There were many reasons for that, all of which were just lame excuses. There are two callings on my life — one is to write, the other is to help people. So I have concluded that it’s time to share my words with the world. Perhaps there has never been a more urgent time since humans everywhere are struggling.

And so, I have launched this website, entitled “Navigating Life.” From this platform, I will create articles and blog posts that will be aimed at helping you deal with life’s challenges. They will post here as well as on my Facebook page (“Perspective”), Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

I have also authored a book entitled “What Now?! What to Do When Life Has Beaten You Down,” and I am currently pursuing publications options. You’ll be hearing much more about this as I work toward its official printing.

My credentials? I have a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and I am a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in the state of Illinois. I am the clinical manager at a mental health agency and have worked with many individuals with emotional, behavioral, and mental health concerns as well as addictions. But above all of this, my heart is in my work. It is who I am.

The struggle is real. My hope is that something I write will help ease your stress or help you to develop a healthier perspective. I want to help you heal from the pain of your past, cope with the challenges of the present, and work toward the best future possible. I am working toward being the person I aspire to be and I want to help you do the same.

If you find something helpful on this site, please share it with others.

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