Category Archives: emotions

Holiday Blues

Some people love the holidays, the cooking, the gatherings, the sparkle all add to the festive spirit of Christmas.  Christmas can be so very special.

But for others, the holidays are a real challenge. Many people who live alone are acutely aware of their “aloneness” at this time of year.  Maybe it’s going to a party and finding out everyone else there is a “couple” or staying home because you haven’t been invited to any celebrations, either way it feels bad.

Cat in the sun

I find a new compassion for those who dread the holidays and what they mean, or seem to symbolize. I think the holiday busyness becomes like a  broken icon into the hurting soul – as if the image of one at home alone at Christmastime proves they are unloved and unwanted.   I want to say to them, “No, this isn’t a statement of your value or love-ly ness,” but I know those words fall short when a heart is hurting.  Why is it that we let the world define our value and our happiness?  I wish I could hold back that tide of “shoulds” and “oughts” and make space for the heart that doesn’t feel light and joyful in the holiday season.

So what can you do to make this better right now?  Here are some ideas to help you survive the holidays.  Feel free to add your own ideas, this is only a start.

  1. Choose your music carefully.  Some holiday songs can actually make you feel more alone and sad.  Pick songs that are neutral or skip the holiday tunes all together.
  2. Go to church.  Hear the stories of waiting and longing and the promise of God’s presence in our lives.
  3. Consider random acts of kindness.  Tip more generously than you usually do, give to your favorite charity.  One friend gives  gift cards to strangers enclosed in a card bearing a message of God’s love.
  4. Turn off the TV.  Really.
  5. Read a book,
  6. Reach out to others by inviting them to coffee or lunch, or send a handwritten note in a holiday card.
  7. Go for long walks.
  8. Make a donation to the animal defense league in your town.
  9. Make a list of things that fill you with joy and make a conscious effort to do some things on that list.
  10. Reconsider your fantasy that everyone who is at a party or gathered with their family is happy and joyful.  As a therapist, I can promise you, it ain’t so.
  11. Visit the shut-ins in your neighborhood.  Take them some cookies from the bakery or a little poinsettia, and talk to them.
  12. Volunteer.  While you might not be able to slip into a volunteer slot this week, think about a place or a cause that you can support with your heart and your time.  Maybe it’s holding babies in NICU, or feeding the homeless through one of the various community outreach organizations, become a volunteer for a crisis center, or even through your local church or synagogue.  The United Way is a great place to start looking for organizations that need help.
  13. Be gentle with yourself.  Often we judge ourselves for not feeling a certain way or having certain emotions that we think we are “supposed” to have.  Give yourself a break and allow space for your feelings to come forward.

Struggling with my plant-strong diet

I’m starting my 8th week eating Plant-Strong.

Weeks 1-7 have been easy-peasy, fun, energizing, and delicious.  This week, not so much.

It started with a  really hectic work week, and then real tiredness on Saturday.  That tiredness translated into two things:  I didn’t want to go to the farmers market or grocery store, and I didn’t feel like cooking.

I made hummus for lunch, without our usual spicy serranos or jalapeños to add to the mix.  Also the cilantro has bolted so what leaves I could harvest were muted in flavor.  Lunch was healthful, but also kind of sucked.   Saturday night I was content to have veggies and a salad but we opted for caprese salad – except we bought the wrong bread and I can’t eat mozzarella.

Sunday brought an unexpected trip to a local “famous hamburger” joint.  I got a portabella sandwich that was perfectly fine, but the fat in the onion rings made my belly hurt.  And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eyeing the delicious looking cheeseburger that sat perilously close to me.

Not my burger

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit whiney.

Today I’m doing my taxes, which would take away anyone’s appetite.  I made some spicy black-eyed peas (a recipe I love btw), but I’m conscious of the bacon that is not in the pot.  Maybe I’m focusing on what I don’t have rather than what I do have…

Everyone has meals that are “less than stellar.”  I’m blessed to have the time and interest to focus on  eating more healthfully, and creating interesting meals.  It’s not always going to be “tofu and roses.”  Some days I’m going to struggle.

I remember when I started running, my 8 mile run was so daunting.  I couldn’t sleep the week before the scheduled run.  I kept thinking, “There’s no way I can run 8 miles, it’s too far.”  As the weekend run approached, I realized I’d hit a wall, and that I’d constructed that wall with my own limiting beliefs.  And if I made that wall, I could tear it down.

I ran that 8 miles and many more after that.  I’ll get back onto the, “Man this food is fantastic” road tomorrow.  For tonight, I’m going to make good choices so I am nourished, and try to finish my taxes.

Things will look better in the morning.  I’ve learned that I need to plan ahead to have good foods ready to eat for days and nights when I’m less than motivated.  I also need to plan for busy work weeks.

Here’s the terrific Spicy Black-Eyed Pea recipe that is both quick and delicious.

Nice is overrated

I wonder why we hold “nice” is such high regard.  “Nice” is defined in my handy online dictionary as, “pleasing, agreeable, delightful.”  Pleasing, agreeable, delightful all sound appealing.  Who doesn’t want to be nice, right?

The problem is that some people  trade on pleasing and agreeable.  Somewhere along the path, they have decided that “nice” is the way to get through this world.  It’s almost  as if the broad range of human emotion and human interaction is reduced to “nice and agreeable.”   When presented with a challenging situation or difficult person, nice is the only resources they have on hand.

When the difficult or challenging event occurs, most humans feel many emotions and may react in different ways.  Anger, frustration, sadness, fear, etc., are normal responses, and each might be appropriate and healthy for in our imaginary difficult situation.  The person who only deals in niceties may feel all these feelings too.  But the feelings  are often perceived as “bad” or “wrong” or “uncontrollable” so they are pushed down deep inside and what is given to the world is “nice”.

This pushing down of real feelings and responses is often learned in early childhood.  In an effort to get children to conform to some imaginary set of social rules, we tell them to be “nice.”  Imagine two chidden fighting over a toy, the adult tells them, “Be nice,” which really means, “Stop asking for what you want and be quiet or else you’re gonna get it.”

Sometimes the mandate to be nice is overt and more often the message is sent in a thousand subtle but unmistakable ways.  Whatever the method, the child learns the lesson well.

Emotions help us understand ourselves and the world around us.  Our emotional, feeling self akin to one of those indoor-outdoor thermometers.  Emotions give us the temperature inside ourselves, and how that temperature relates to the outside world at that moment.

Cynthia McKenna helps adults learn to understand themselves and others

Pushing down our emotions doesn’t make them go away, but we can bury them so deeply that they become more difficult to identify and use in daily living.  It’s almost crippling to react to this complex world of people and events with “nice” as your only acceptable response.

There is hope.  Most people can reconnect to the world of their emotions and develop understanding, flexibility, and confidence  using the emotional gauges we’re born with.  It takes effort, and it’s often frightening to consider letting those feelings out, and dealing with the consequences.  The reward comes from greater self-knowledge, increased understanding, and more fulfilling relationships with others.

Just one of those days…

Cynthia McKenna Counseling

A lot of things aren’t going “right” right now.  It feels like I’m pushing against a brick wall.  Nothing serious, just a series of tasks which ought to be simple, for various reasons, are anything but simple.

I’m frustrated.

This isn’t an “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” kind of day.  It’s just one of “those” days.

How do you get through days like this?  We all have them.  I’m open to suggestions and I’ll report back later on how the day finally turned out.

Tales From the Road

Friends of this blog know that I committed to running a half marathon in honor of my 50th birthday. Although I originally planned to run the 1/2 in November 2011, I decided that was far too long to wait so I signed up for, and ran, the Zooma Women’s 1/2 Marathon in April – 4 days before my 50th birthday.

I haven’t blogged much since I started preparing for the race, due in part to the time it took to get ready.  I’m always a little hesitant to use the word “race” because I’m a slow runner.  So the mornings when I would normally blog or tweet, I was outside somewhere, running and walking and generally enjoying myself.  I remember Roger Soler telling me that he doesn’t run marathons any more because of the time it takes to train.  I understand what that means now.  If you go out and run 8 miles, it takes the time to do the run, and then the rest of the day to lay around and be exhausted.  Okay, probably not for Roger Soler, but that’s my general training plan.

Cynthia McKenna on Garden Gate Blog

This is me just before I ran 8 miles, with a little help from Kendall Jackson

I was afraid that this blog would turn into a blog about running and I didn’t really want that to be the focus.  Now it’s June and I think skipping the “blogging about running” was a mistake.  I learned so much from the training and running, lessons that can be applied to other aspects of life.  I missed out by not sharing them.  So here’s the plan:  I’m going to blog about running, and hope you’ll come along for the ride.  There will be regular “Garden Gate” type posts too,  but writing about running will free up some of my brain space and besides, I think it’ll be fun.

The single biggest lesson I’ve learned (so far) is that I’m strong.  I mean that in a physical sense.  I can run 14 miles and not die.  I can run when the weather is cold or hot or really windy – it might not be pleasant, but I’m strong enough to push through it and “get ‘er done.”

I’m also strong emotionally.  I had knowledge of my emotional strength before taking on the 1/2 marathon, but I have a “don’t give up” spirit that I haven’t been tapping into enough.  My training for the 1/2 marathon generally meant that I’d get dropped off miles from my house, and I’d have to get home.  I could run, I could walk, I could crawl if necessary, but the only way home was “through.”  I had to run through my fear of failure, through my aches (and internal whines about being much too old for this sort of thing), through legs feeling like lead, through disappointment that I wasn’t running an 8 minute mile (man I’d love to do that.)

Katy Perry’s Firework is on my running playlist and includes this lyric:

“It’s always been inside of you, now it’s time to let it through.”

That sums it up for me.  We have inner strength that we don’t necessarily use and it’s time to let it out.

You gotta ignite the light and let it shine!

Baby,  You’re a Firework!

Face your fears.

I heard someone say, “do one thing every day that scares you.”  Not the kind of “stick your head in the lions mouth” kind of scary, but perhaps more along the lines of welcoming new challenges and not letting those pesky inner voices talk us out of them.

Sometimes, we have an internal dialogue that says, “I can’t do that.”  “I’ll fail.” or “I’m too ________ to do that.”

Maybe we know how we got that negative internal dialogue, maybe not.  Either way, we can choose to listen to the negatives and reinforce the belief of failure; or we can challenge it, argue with it, tell it to shut up, or ignore it completely.

Personally, I think we’ve been letting that negative, critical voice have waaaay too much control.

So here’s my dilemma.  In case you’ve just come to this blog, I’m getting ready to turn 50 in April and decided to run a 1/2 marathon to celebrate.  Initially, the 1/2 marathon was/is set for mid-November, but that’s months after my auspicious birthday, so I found one that is the weekend before I turn 50 – and I signed up.

I used to run when I was in my late teens and twenties.  I ran with ease and I ran often.  I’m not at all sure why I stopped but now at 49 3/4 I’ve decided to take up running again.

I notice that my thoughts are playing a HUGE part in the preparation for the April 1/2 marathon.  I have a running plan (you have to have a plan) and last weekend I ran (or really walked & ran) 4 miles.  It was fun, it went quickly, I was super proud.

And, I was sore this week after the run.  Stiff from not stretching enough or the right way, an old soccer-knee injury griped all week about being much too old to run a marathon.  I have some arthritis in my foot that’s complaining too.  Blah, blah, blah.

The weekend, the plan says, “run 5 miles.”  I think how pleasant the 4 miles were and I think, “great.”  Then in the next nano-second, I think, “Sh*t  I can’t run 5 miles – that’s a long way!”  I find that I’m holding my breath while I think about the 5 miles and the plan – THE PLAN.  I feel anxious that I can’t do it.

It’s driving me nuts.

So as I work with my dear clients on facing their fears and pushing themselves to do something new and different, I’m also doing a lot of internal work on facing mine.

The PLAN calls for running a bit and then walking a bit and repeat till finished.  I got an Ironman watch to help with time-keeping.

Ironman watch from timex

Ironman watch in "Power Pink"

Two different marathon running friends suggested the Jeff Galloway method for running. He calls it the run-walk-run method, I call it the PLAN.  I love that the cover includes the words, “You can do it”

Jeff Galloway's 1/2 marathon book

You can do it!

Sunday’s the day – as soon as it’s in the 40’s, I’ll run (and walk) five miles.  It’ll be fun, or scary, or some combination thereof.  I think a big part of this running endeavor is about confronting those voices and getting on with what’s in front of you.

A friend said to me, “You can do it.  Just go left foot, right foot, etc., and you’ll be finished in no time.”

So here’s to facing my fears and you facing your fears, quieting less-than-helpful inner voices, and doing something new in this new year.  You can do it.  That’s my goal this year, embrace “You can do it” in all it’s glory, messiness and opportunity.


Why do you run? Part 2

In honor of turning 50 next year, I’ve decided to run a 1/2 marathon.  You can read about that decision here.  Now that’s decided, and I find myself thinking a lot about running, and wondering why other people run, and why run marathons.

So I decided to ask a few friends why they run and over the next few days, I’ll post their stories.

The questions: Why do you run? Why do you run marathons?

Today’s marathon man is Ray L. age 60:

I started running back in the mid 80’s, when I wasn’t a very active person and my marriage was starting to fall apart.  It was a way to relieve some stress and to have some ” alone” time.  My running consisted of running around the block a few times ! I gradually built up to my first 5k–the Jacksonville Beach Summer Run–Running on the beach became my favorite thing to do–the movement of your body and the ocean waves rolling onto the shore just seem to go together.

Over the years I gradually increased the distance; and in 1998 ran my first marathon–the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.  Running thru our nation’s capital and crossing the finish line of that first marathon was an experience I will never forget–I was in such a “zone” that I didn’t even see my family standing @ the finish line with a HUGE sign saying “congratulations Dad !”  I was surrounded by 1000’s of people yet I felt like I was the most important, and only person around ! I felt so proud of myself–something I didn’t always feel about myself!  I think I slept with my finishers medal on that night ! It made my family proud of me also which just added to the euphoria I was experiencing.

Training for a marathon has taught me self discipline–if you’re going to succeed you know you have to get up in the morning and do your training runs–I learned how to plan and use my time.

Why do you run?  via

Marathon running has boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem, has made me a stronger person both physically and mentally–It’s amazing what your body can do when you put your mind to it.  You cross that finish line and think “WOW” I did it, I’m a WINNER-no matter how long it took!  But watch out–it becomes addictive!

Ray has a great spirit and I appreciate his contribution to the Why do you run? series.

In case you missed the first installment, check out Soler’s Sports own Olympian, Roger Soler.

I’m so mad

I was so upset, or maybe I was just PMS-ing

I hear this phrase, or something very similar, from many women.  There are, of course, women who suffer with PMS, or PMDD, who are really tormented by their hormonal changes.  But more often, “I’m hormonal” or “It’s PMS” is a way to show how uncomfortable we are with our anger.

Good girls aren’t supposed to get angry; remember we’re nice.  And we have nice, and happy, and caring, and loving down pat.  Other times,  we feel annoyed, irritated, or angry.   And if we have a personal rule that says we aren’t supposed to be angry, we tend to push those feelings aside, or bury them deep inside us.

The thing is, the angry feelings don’t really go away, but instead they accumulate.  They build up pressure.  And like a beach ball at the pool, the feelings are not going to stay down forever; they will pop up with a surge of energy.  The anger will come out.

And when actually get angry, we can be so uncomfortable with the feelings that we cry instead of talk, or we yell, or we eat too much, or don’t eat at all.

How does this relate to hormones?  I read once that the ebb and flow of hormones can change our ability to hide our feelings.  So, in your 20’s, maybe you were able to keep all those feelings pushed down, because you thought you were supposed to.  As you get into your 30’s and 40’s, your tolerance for keeping them all inside is reduced because you are more comfortable with having feelings, and simultaneously, your ability to hide them is diminishing.  Your hormones may actually be helping you say what needs to be said.

Healthy people, men and women, experience a wide range of emotions including anger.  The healthiest way to handle anger is to talk about what’s bothering us.  Sometimes we’ll do it easily, other times it will be more difficult.  But practicing asking for what you want and need, or expressing feelings of sadness and pain will make your emotional “muscles” stronger and more flexible.  You actually get better at handling your emotions by expressing them and getting feedback from that expression.

It’s okay to be angry.  The issue at hand is to figure out what’s making you angry and what you can do about the situation.  Let’s set ourselves free from hiding behind our hormones.