Time Management During the Holidays

 

Be sure to watch the 3 minute video below this post to learn 3 simple tools to help you manage your time and feel less stressed.

Here is the definition of “Holiday”, by our trustworthy Wikipedia:
 
holiday is a day set aside by custom or by law on which normal activities, especially business or work including school, are suspended or reduced. Generally, holidays are intended to allow individuals to celebrate or commemorate an event or tradition of cultural or religious significance.
 
What really catches my eye is a time to set aside or reduce normal activities, which is intended to give more time to reflect and celebrate what is important to people.  For many of us, instead of reducing our normal activities, we end up piling on additional activities around the holidays.  This ends up causing stress, which does not cultivate hospitable conditions to reflect and celebrate. 
  
Let me give an example of my client Ann, a single mom who came in the week before Thanksgiving feeling more stressed and overwhelmed than usual.  Ann owned her own business and so had planned to work up until the day before Thanksgiving.  I had her explain what she had planned for the next day, and this is what she outlined:

  • Get up and go to the gym
  • Eat breakfast and shower
  • Do some paper work and phone calls she could do from home for her business
  • Clean the house
  • Take her teenage daughter to a friend’s house
  • Drive to Oakland to pick up her older son who was flying in that day for the holiday
  • Pick up the turkey and last-minute groceries on her way home.
  • Pick up her daughter at the friend’s house
  • Start making pies when she got home. 

Ann wasn’t reducing her normal obligations, she was simply piling on more. Expecting ourselves to accomplish more with the same amount of time and energy is like expecting our car to go an extra 100 miles on the same tank of gas. Our time and energy, like a tank of gas, are limited resources that need to be managed correctly to stay in good supply. To help Ann manage her time and energy that day, I had her use three time-management tools that I use with my clients: Accommodate, Delegate, and Eliminate.
 
Ann started out by accommodating. Her first thought was to eliminate her workout, but I advised against it.  Self-care is often the first thing people want to cut out, and it is the very thing that reduces stress and helps increase energy levels.  Instead she decided to cut the amount of work she wanted to get done with her business in half.  Next she delegated.   She told her daughter that if she wanted a ride to her friend’s house she needed help around the house, so delegated cleaning the bathrooms to her. And finally, she eliminated, instead of home backed pies, she would get store bought ones.  
 
It’s not always easy to use these tools. Eliminating a task or activity we’re attached to can be painful. Delegating tasks that may not get done as well as we want—her daughter would not clean the bathrooms the way Ann would like— can be disappointing.  And accommodating, or compromising, around tasks can feel like a loss. But look at the alternative. Taking on more than we can handle makes us stressed and resentful, inhospitable conditions in which to reflect and celebrate what’s important to us.
 
Managing time and energy helps people to cultivate what they personally value most, in Ann’s case it was flexibility, connection, presence and fun. Those are qualities she wanted to have not only during the holidays, but every day of the year!

 

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – Still Feeling Dazed

 

The link below is for an op-ed article I wrote that was published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on December 3, 2017. Please share it far and wide, particularly with anyone you know who was touched by the fires, loves people touched by the fires, or is a compassionate helping professional who is caring for or treating someone who was touched by the fires.  

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/closetohome/7711540-181/close-to-home-still-feeling

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – Community, Connection and Serendipity

Community, Connection and Serendipity

by Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

The population of Santa Rosa is 175,000. While I love where I live and it has always felt like home, I can’t say that I’ve felt a strong sense of community. That has changed dramatically since the Tubbs fire that destroyed 3,000 homes, including mine, and caused the evacuation of thousands more.

Yesterday I got together with my friend Katherine for lunch in Healdsburg. She lives on Mark West Springs road, which was hit hard, and during the evacuation we texted back and forth about Mojo, our Jack Russell terrier that was missing and her horses and cats, which she had to leave behind. Although we were glad we had escaped with our lives, the possible loss of our beloved animals was agonizing. Fortunately, as it turned out, they all survived.

About 45 minutes into our lunch, sharing stories and tears, Katherine asked me how Mojo was found. “Mojo?” said our waitress who was refilling our glasses of water. “The little terrier lost in the fire? I’m the one who found him!”

Danae shows me a picture of Mojo from the day she saved him.

My jaw dropped. This was the young woman who, along with her boyfriend, met us in a Raley’s Parking lot to deliver our dog. But I was in shock at the time, and hyper focused on Mojo, who sat shivering in the back seat of their car. I was grateful, but honestly did not remember them or their faces. Doug and I wanted to see them later, to thank them again, but were not sure how to get a hold of them.

Tears of gratefulness, surprise, and awe trickled down my face. We’d picked this restaurant, new to us, in a nearby town, and randomly been given this table with this waitress. Then Katherine asked about Mojo at the exact moment she came to refill our water glasses! When our waitress, who introduced herself as Danae, had a break she sat down with us and showed us picture on her phone of Mojo at the time of the rescue. Then she told us in detail how the rescue took place.

The day after the fire, Danae and her boyfriend, both dog owners themselves, happened to see Mojo running erratically through a chaotic scene of fire trucks, police and residents in the still smoldering Coffee Park area. He was obviously lost, and they ran after him. Danae said she’d never seen a dog run so fast, it didn’t look like his feet were touching the ground. They chased after him through the streets for nearly half an hour until finally, Mojo jumped into a swimming pool, filled with fire debris, logs and ash. When Danae saw him go under the water she instinctively jumped in after him. She was able to grab him and as she handed him up to her boyfriend, the dog, crazy with fear, bit him on the hand. Only after they read Mojo’s tag, and began calling him by his name was he able to calm down. He even began licking their hands. And then they called us.

Mojo wet and tired in the backseat of Danae’s car after being rescued.

Later, as we were waiting for our check, Danae told us that a woman sitting at a nearby table overheard that I had lost my home and paid for our lunch.  I went over to thank her, and I found out that she too lives in Santa Rosa, and that although it was touch and go, her house was saved. She said she is now renting out a small house on their property to a couple who had also lost their home in Fountaingrove.  I asked who it was, and it turned out it was my neighbor from the condo next to ours!

That wonderful afternoon, with my friend, the woman who saved our dog, another woman who paid for our lunch and opened a home on her property to a neighbor who lost her home, I had a stronger sense of community and connection than I had ever had, not just in Santa Rosa, but in my life.  This is something I am tremendously grateful for this Thanksgiving. 

 

 

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – Home Sweet Home

by Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

Home Sweet Home 

The remnants of our home. Me, Doug, and Mojo

 

 

Sunday evening, the night before the fire, Doug and I returned from a weekend away.  When I walked into the house I said to Doug, “Home Sweet Home”.  It felt good to be back.  Ever since I was a child, home has been my favorite place on earth.  I am an introvert, and so the solitude that I get from being at home recharges me.  In addition to the solitude, my belongings gave me comfort.  My bed and blankets, my couch, my soft carpet, my plants, and my cloths; the familiarity of my home was comforting.  Knowing where everything was in the kitchen, a kinesthetic knowledge of the stairs, how my furniture was arranged, even in the dark I could navigate my home.

The fire destroyed all of that, so quickly, so thoroughly.  While seeking shelter at my mother’s tiny studio at 3AM that morning, my mind was going to where would we stay?  In my book, Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind, I talk about how all fear and anxiety comes down to 2 core fears.  Number one is the loss of life, loved ones, health or food and shelter.  I was already incredibly grateful that Doug and I were alive, but I did lose my shelter.  I impatiently waited until a decent hour to text a friend of mine who I knew had a spare room, to ask if we could stay there.  She texted back immediately saying “Of course”.  Ahhhhh.

We stayed with my friend for a month.  Her home is out in rural Occidental, and the quiet of nature soothed my disquieted soul.  I was so grateful to have a warm bed to crawl into each night.  But I did not have the solitude I was used to while living in someone else’s home. I did not have my things, and I did not have familiarity with where things were. 

We started looking for a long-term rental.  This has been one of the most stressful things I have had to do since the fire.  The rental market in Sonoma county is very tight, and with 3,000 people losing their homes, I knew that it would be even tighter.  My monkey mind was going wild, what if we don’t find something, what if we must settle for a place that I won’t ever feel comfortable in?  So, I drew on my community. I asked everyone I know, from the ladies in the locker room at the gym to my friends and acquaintances to keep their eyes open. I was able to escape the cutthroat completion for housing that I feared.   My community came through for me.  An acquaintance from my Toastmasters Club offered her Airbnb for us to stay at while we rebuild our home.

Moving to a new place is pretty easy when you have nothing to move into it.  The home is already furnished, so we don’t have to shop for all new household items.  Now it is time to nest.  I have the solitude back, which feels amazingly wonderful.  I feel tentative with the things in the house, as I don’t own them, and I am getting used to the layout of the house and the land.  This morning at dawn, I took a walk around the perimeter of the property, saw an owl hunting for food, the sun rising, the fog and the clouds.  Nature, in all her glory has always been here for me, this I can return to over and over, no matter where I am.

The property around our new rental home.

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – Letting Go a Little

by Jennifer Shannon LMFT, with Doug Shannon 

Letting Go a Little 

 

I started back to Toastmasters this week. It starts at 7am and I like to be on time, but I am staying temporarily with a friend way out in the country, and getting to town takes a long time.  After packing up all the things I’d need for a long day at work, I ended up leaving 10 minutes later than planned. As I turned the ignition my mind started racing, grasping for a way to control the situation. How late will I be? What route is the fastest? Then I remembered something I’d heard Tara Brach, a terrific Buddhist teacher, say in a podcast.

Let go a little and you get a little peace
Let go a lot and you get a lot of peace
Let go totally and you get total peace

“Letting go” is not in my nature. I like to be in control. But then again, I do want peace. I decided to let go of the possibility of arriving on time. I took my normal route and drove at my normal speed. I did not look at the clock.

But I did not feel instant peace. Being out of control felt more painful than trying to stay in control. My chest felt tight as I instructed myself to breath into it. But with each mile I felt a little more relaxed. It wasn’t peace exactly, but I knew that I was investing toward more peaceful commutes in the future.

A bigger letting go challenge has been around housing. After losing our home to the fire, finding a home in a very competitive and scarce rental market has been difficult. We found a place I thought I could love and I did everything I could to secure it. I met the current tenant, I reached out to the neighbor and I e-mailed the landlords repeatedly. If I could just nail the place down, I’d feel safe and secure. But when the landlords decided to hold an open house instead of committing to us, I had to let go.

We kept looking, and an acquaintance from my recently joined Toastmasters offered to rent us her Airbnb. It is month to month, and it is in a flood zone, but it is beautiful and fully furnished.  We decided to sign the lease.  Of course, my monkey mind went wild trying to make certain it’s the right decision, revisiting the pros and cons. Is the space big enough? Did we look in enough places? Will we get flooded out? Woo-woo-woo!  I want control, but I also want peace, and I can’t have it both ways.

For now anyway, I do feel a little peace. And I know that in the future, there will be a lot more opportunities for me to let go, and that will bring a lot more opportunities for peace.

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – How Prepared was I?

By Jennifer Shannon LMFT, with Doug Shannon

 

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen and I like to be prepared for it. But the wildfire that destroyed our home and belongings was something I hadn’t planned for. I planned for an earthquake.

Our Fountaingrove condo complex practically straddles the Rogers Creek Fault line, the most active fault in Northern California, so I did everything I could to minimize risk. We installed earthquake latches on all our cabinets and attached all our bookcases and bureaus to the walls.  We had an earthquake shed built onto our deck with enough food, water, first aid to get us through a week or two. I hosted annual earthquake preparedness socials with other residents. I had the condo association put gas wrenches next to each gas valve. And to top it all off, this summer we hired a structural engineer and had our condo retrofitted. We were locked down and ready for the worst that mother nature could throw at us!

But I didn’t expect a wildfire that we would have only minutes of warning. We escaped with little more than the clothes on our backs, our laptops and a few boxes of family photos. It didn’t take long for me to begin questioning myself. Shouldn’t I have been more prepared?  Shouldn’t I have made copies of my birth certificate and passport, uploaded family movies to the cloud? Why didn’t I have enough insurance to cover all our belongings, not just what would be destroyed in an earthquake?  Couldn’t I have done more to prevent the complete devastation that we have experienced? The more I questioned myself the more I compounded the misery of our loss.

As a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety, I recognized the chattering of my monkey mind. Something is wrong and I should have prevented it! The belief that we can eliminate all uncertainty and guarantee safety and security is the biggest cause of anxiety I see among my clients. But as my experience showed, even a planner like me can’t be prepared for everything. I knew that if continued to feed that monkey mindset I was destined for more chronic worry and stress. When I examined my values, I knew that it is better to live in the present moment and be flexible about the future than it is to lose the present moment trying to control the future.

My healthier mindset has been severely tested. The night of the fire, I lost a lot of things that I loved, and I don’t want to lose any more. But I ran out of the door with two precious resources that no disaster could take away from me; flexibility and resilience. I’ll use and develop them every day for the rest of my life.

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – Looking for Normal

By Jennifer Shannon, LMFT 

It has been three weeks since the wildfires ravished Northern California, and I, along with so many others, lost their homes and everything in it. So many changes! Learning where everything is at my friend’s house where we are staying temporarily. Shopping at new grocery stores, learning which aisle has what stuff. Replacing our burned car with a new one with a new set of buttons to push. Driving in Santa Rosa and suddenly coming upon a entire block that has been burned, leaving charred earth and twisted metal. Looking up at the surrounding hills that the fire devastated. Nothing feels normal anymore.

Least of all my brain. I am a highly organized person, but I really believe that I can relate to people with ADD now.  I start a sentence and then can’t remember where I was going with it. Having so few possessions, one would think I could keep track of them, but I have lost my water bottle and needed to get a new one twice in the past four days. I misplace my eyeglasses at least five times a day. The other day I tried to add something to my iPhone calendar, something I have been doing for years, and I could not remember how to do it! I feel emotionally fragile, easily exhausted and overwhelmed.

I do know, as a therapist, that routine and structure are important.  So, I have purposely been doing things that I did before. I have returned to my gym, doing my familiar workouts, and this has felt great.  I have been attending my regular Feldenkrais class and Doug and I are meditating at least once a day, just as we did before. But the biggest structured routine in my life has been my work, and this week I decided to return to it. The thought of it excited me, but scared me too.  Could I be there for my clients?  Could I focus?  Would I have enough energy for it? 

Walking into my office and seeing my desk, my chairs, my books felt good. The first thing I did was water my plants. Soon it was time for my first session. My client felt awkward talking about her issues, when it was my house that burned down, but soon we eased into the work at hand. Listening attentively, choosing tools to help her with, felt like second nature to me. I could do this! I felt focus, a sense of purpose, and more steady than I had felt since the fire.  It was as if the rudder that I could not feel that morning, dropped down, righting and steadying me among the waves of uncertainty.

So, going back to work was finding some normalcy. It does not mean that everything is back to normal. Most things aren’t, and won’t be for a good long time.  But for those fifty minutes, I knew what I needed to do, and I could do it. And that felt good.

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – It’s Your Ride

By Jennifer Shannon, LMFT

Spin is my least favorite workout, but nevertheless I pushed myself out of bed this morning and headed to the Parkpoint Club for Lana’s early morning spin class. Even though spin is hard for me, it delivers the biggest endorphin high of any exercise, and after all I’d been through, I needed it. But today, that high seemed many, many miles away.

Just minutes into the class, my body felt really heavy and I couldn’t catch my breath. Lana called for a hill climb, which meant increasing the gear tension. That by itself was intense, but on top of that Lana shouted out to increase the gears by 3, then down by 1, then up by 3 again. This meant that I had to add and subtract in my head while pushing my body to its limits, and since my home burned down in the fire, my brain function has been compromised.

I made a veiled complaint, disguised as a joke about how the math was too hard for me.  Lana, on her infinite wisdom said, to the entire class, “Everyone has been effected by this fire and it takes a toll on the body.  The smoke has affected our lungs and the stress has affected our heart rates.  Go easy on yourselves and listen to your body. It’s your ride”

Lana was right. I’d been working myself too hard, trying to meet expectations that didn’t apply to me in the moment. My ideas of what I should be able to do were ruining my experience of what I could do. The next time Lana instructed us increase the gear tension, I decreased it. When she said three gears I did two (easier to count to and not as physically challenging). Honoring my own body this way, I felt a growing sense of freedom and ease. Before long, I was actually enjoying spin class.

Afterwards as I left the gym, I began to review my plans for the day, and immediately I felt the tug and pressure of the should and the expectations. But wait, I thought. it’s all my ride, every minute of the day!

THE PICTURE TELLS A STORY


The bike shorts were lent to me by Lana the instructor right before class.

The tank top is something I gave to my daughter a year ago that she gave back to me after the fire.

The shoes are actually what I wore out of the house during the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

 

Don’t Feed The Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis – So who’s the bitch?

By Jennifer Shannon, LMFT with Doug Shannon

 

So, who’s the bitch?

Since losing our home in the Tubbs fire, Doug, my husband, and I are together 24/7. Since both of us have taken time off from our jobs, we’ve had a good dose of togetherness. Honestly, right now, I don’t want to be away from him. I’m like a child with separation anxiety whenever we’re apart. But that doesn’t mean I am all sweetness and love to him when we’re together.

This is true especially on the road. Since we lost one car in the fire, we go everywhere together, and when Doug’s at the wheel I’ve found myself telling him when to slow down, where to park, and which way to turn. Yesterday while driving to a post office to pick up our mail, I got so angry at him I called him “a little bitch.” Oh boy! Have you ever seen an angry monkey throwing its poop at an adversary? I was hijacked by my monkey mind, in a fight-flight reaction—emphasis on the fight.

Doug was quiet for a few minutes. Then he said that it had really hurt and that he couldn’t handle name calling. This is a boundary neither of us had ever had to ask the other for, nor had I imagined we’d ever have to. But guess what, instead of apologizing, all I wanted to do was defend and justify myself. While I did have the presence of mind to resist that urge, all I could manage to do was sit there silently, burning with anger and shame. I knew who was being the bitch.

My fault line is needing to feel in control of my surroundings. I have certain ways that I think things should be done, and when something isn’t done my way I can easily feel like I’m losing control. I may point out to others how to do it, or worse, try to take over and do it myself. While I have made progress on working on this part of my personality, in times of stress, like now, I can regress! To help me keep my need for control under control, I made up some rules for myself:

Don’t defend myself

Don’t point things out unless the situation is dangerous

Don’t name call (duh!)

Do breathe into the tightness in my chest and other signs of stress

Do forgive myself for my transgressions

Do let go of control

Having rules to follow in times of chaos is a great start, but I’m human, and I know I’m going to break them sometimes. And that is a great time to practice self-compassion.

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

Don’t Feed the Monkey Mind Blog: Dealing with Crisis-The Challenge of Uncertainty

By Jennifer Shannon, MFT with Doug Shannon

The Challenge of Uncertainty

On the Sunday evening before the wildfires struck my husband and I were returning later than planned from a weekend in Tahoe with friends, so I called the kennel that was boarding him and arranged for Mojo, our beloved eleven-year-old Jack Russell mix, to stay another night. When we made our escape at 2am the following morning, Mojo wasn’t on our minds. He was safe with the dog boarder, or so we thought.

At 4am my cell phone rang. It was the dog boarders. Their area was called to evacuate also, and someone in the neighborhood, thinking the dogs were in danger, broke in and turned all the dogs loose—dozens of them— before the boarders could evacuate them. They were out rounding them up, but so far, Mojo could not be found.

If you are a dog owner you know how I felt. Mojo was more than a part of our family. When our three children left home, little ten-pound Mojo somehow filled our empty nest. Part lap dog, part yapping mail truck chaser, Mojo was exactly what his name stands for, a magic charm, a talisman, a hairy little bag of spirit that in a real sense, hung around our necks over our hearts. It was another shock on top of our shock. Doug was catching a little sleep—one of his superpowers, even in a crisis. What should I do? I thought. What can I do?

Every day in my private practice I help people learn to deal with the uncertainty of life. When the monkey mind sounds the alarm that something is wrong, our natural response is to do something to fix it. It’s our first response to fear and anxiety. Do something, do anything to gain control and make the feeling go away. When it’s not a false alarm, and what we hold dear is in real danger, the urge to act is overwhelming. But when the situation is beyond our direct control, the question I ask my clients is, which is the better skill to practice right now— trying to control what is uncontrollable, or trying to stay in the moment tolerating uncertainty and negative emotions?

I knew the answer to this question. The situation was beyond my direct control. I couldn’t drive into an evacuated zone in the dark and cruise the streets looking for my dog. I was helpless. The only thing I could do was practice what I preach, tolerating uncertainty. I knew I may never see Mojo again. But if that turned out to be the case, I’d have a chance to practice flexibility and resilience.

Things got worse. After the fire swept our condo complex it roared down the hill, jumped highway 101, and attacked Coffey Park, a dense suburban area where the dog boarders were located. As the news trickled in, it became obvious just how much human life was threatened. Uncertainty was the new normal for everyone. On Tuesday morning my daughter Rose went to work posting photos of Mojo on Facebook and calling all the animal shelters, but considering the destruction we feared the worst.

Then, 36 hours after the call from the dog boarder, I received another call. “Hello, is this Jennifer Shannon? I found your dog.” Oh joy! A young man and his girlfriend—dog owners/lovers themselves—spotted Mojo wandering the street and tried to pick him up. But Mojo was so traumatized he was running away from everyone and everything. This wonderful man chased Mojo for blocks, finally fishing him out of a swimming pool, getting bit for his troubles in the process. When I peered into the back seat of their car, little Mo looked back with wide, vacant eyes. He didn’t even recognize me.

There’s more to this story, of course. The vet who bandaged his bloody paws and didn’t charge for it. The folks who volunteered to foster Mojo until we found a place where we could keep him. There is so much love in the world in times of crisis. That’s one thing I can be certain about, even when I’m uncertain about everything else.

 

As a therapist and author who specializes in stress and anxiety, and has lost my home in the Santa Rosa fire, I am writing this blog to remind myself of the powerful tools I use in my practice with my clients. If It helps others to deal with their own challenges, nothing would please me more.

 

 

 

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