Health

The ONE Thing More Important than Diet & Exercise

This is the time of year when we are increasingly motivated to stop smoking, cut back on alcohol, try that 30-day-no-sugar diet, commit to some form of a detox, join a gym, or buy a pair of running shoes. If that's you.... if you want greater health in the year to come, then keep reading.

Q.  Do you really know what impacts your health more than any other factor?

A.  The most significant issue to your health is your experience of love and support in your life.

Did you read that right?  Yes.

As someone who has been following relationship studies for over a decade, I can you assure that study after study continues to showcase that our social connections increase our longevity, decrease our stress levels, boost our immune systems, recover us from surgery and sickness faster, protect our brain health, and protect us from disease and death.

Consider some of these statements from world-renowned Dr. Dean Ornish in his book Love and Survival:

"I am not aware of any other factor [than social connection]--not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery--that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes."

Amazing, isn't it?? "Quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes" doesn't come down to genetics or healthy behaviors as much as it does to how well we can answer the question, "How loved and supported do you feel?"

Illustrating that point, one of the many studies he highlights followed over 7,000 people over the span of nearly 2 decades; and found that while those with healthy lifestyles and strong social ties were the least likely to die, it may surprise many to know that those with close social ties and unhealthy lifestyles outlived those with healthy lifestyles but poor social ties!

Let that sink in... you're better off cultivating stronger relationships than you are in joining a gym, eating more kale, or cutting out sugar. He says,

"This association between social and community ties and premature death was found to be independent of and a more powerful predictor of health and longevity than age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, self-reported physical health status, and health practices such as smoking, alcoholic beverage consumption, overeating, physical activity, and utilization of preventative health services...."

And when we say "better off," let's be clear what we mean: you are 3-5 times more likely to die if you don't feel loved and supported.

One famous study from Brigham Young University I quote all the time reminds us that feeling disconnected is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as damaging as being obese, and has an impact on our health equivalent to being a lifelong alcoholic.

Those who feel disconnected have an increased risk of premature death and disease from all causes!  That includes dying or suffering from coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, infectious diseases, allergies, autoimmune diseases, many types of cancer, alcoholism, suicide, and the list goes on and on. And we're not just talking about preventing disease or maintaining health, but also for recovery and life-lengthening:

"Smoking, diet, and exercise affect a wide variety of illnesses, but no one has shown that quitting smoking, exercising, or changing diet can double the length of survival in women with metastatic breast cancer, whereas the enhanced love and intimacy provided by weekly group support session has been shown to do just that."

Across the board, whether you're merely trying to prevent or recover from the common cold, lower your cholesterol levels, or prevent a heart attack--moving away from loneliness and building your support network is crucial to your survival.

Are You At Risk?

I believe we're living in an epidemic of unacknowledged loneliness.

Which is incredibly dangerous because we assume that since we're not hermits, recluses, or socially isolated that we're safe; when in fact, most of us don't feel the level of intimacy and support that actually creates that safety.

How true are these statements in your life? How many times can you answer "yes?"

  • If I needed a ride to the hospital, I have a friend who doesn't live with me whom I could call instead of relying on a taxi or ambulance.
  • If my current closest confidante was physically or emotionally "unavailable" for a season of life (super sick, intensive caring for an aging parent, extra travel for work, wrapped up in planning a wedding), I have at least two other close friends who could be "present."
  • If I experienced a financial need, I have a friend that could loan me the money I needed.
  • If I were excited and wanted to share my big dream or ambitious goal with someone, I have a friend who would be thrilled to hear from me.
  • If I needed to list a local emergency contact, other than a spouse, parent, or child, I have at least two options I feel comfortable listing.
  • If my closest friend and I had a big fight, I am completely confident that we could work it out because we've talked through many difficult things before.
  • If I had a big celebration in my life-- a birthday, a job promotion, a wedding, a baby shower-- I can think of a couple of friends who would be happy to host and plan the event.
  • If I needed to be completely raw, messy, unguarded, and vulnerable with a friend who I know loves me completely, I know who to call.
  • If I won a paid vacation for me and 3 friends-- my biggest problem would be picking which of my friends to come with me.

For the vast majority of us, we are immensely networked, but will struggle to answer yes to most of these questions. And of those who can answer yes, even fewer will be able to say that they aren't dependent on only 1-2 friends for all those needs.

A safety net of love and support must be developed, it never just happens.

Unfortunately, most of us will read this data and still pour more time into our diet and exercise than we will in developing deeper relationships.

Why?  Partly because our doctors are trained more in surgery and medicine than they are in relationships so their well-meant advice will lean that way; partly because our culture is addicted to weight-loss and appearance over health and longevity so our tendency will be to focus on the things that change our looks more than improve our body function; and partly because diet and exercise is so much more tangible, immediate, and controllable than relationship building can feel.

The role of relationships in our health won't get as much press as diets and fads to help you lose the proverbial ten pounds, but let's not let magazine headlines dictate what we know to be true.

Please, please, listen to the science and align your life-- your time, your energy, your resources-- to that which proves to not only bring MUCH greater health but also greater happiness.

2017:  To a Year of Courageous Connecting!

xoxo

p.s. If you are willing to commit to making 2017: The Year of Courageous Connecting then I extend a warm and genuine invitation to you to join GirlFriendCircles.com this year so you can:

  • Focus on a new relationship theme every month for 12 months (i.e. how to increase vulnerability, how to make time for friends, how to meet new friends)
  • Learn from relationship experts in a fun monthly 1-hr class, including a  worksheet to apply the teaching in your own relationships.
  • Choose a Courageous Practice each month to build up your relationship muscles to meet new friends and make your friendships better!
  • Receive lots of sisterhood support throughout each month, including live advice calls with me, local events to meet others who live nearby, awesome online interaction in our community of women who are committed to relationship growth, and virtual groups with deepening conversations!

You can join anytime, but we have special New Year deal available right now to those who are willing to put the stake in the ground and say "This matters.  I'm going to align my life for more meaningful connections this year!"  JOIN US!  xoxo

 

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Dopamine: Relationships are "Supposed To" Give Energy

We keep hearing how good relationships are for us, but what do you do when relationships drain you, scare you, or exhaust you? Or maybe life just feels so blah now that you're left feeling lethargic, stressed-out, weary, or flat? Maybe the idea of peeling yourself off the couch to connect with someone just sounds like way too much work? Maybe you're not getting enough life-enhancing dopamine?

In my latest class for Friendship University I had the awesome fumc-dr-amy-banksprivilege to interview the foremost authority on the combined fields of neurobiology and relationships.  Dr. Amy Banks, the author of Wired to Connect: The Surprising Link Between Brain Science and Strong, Healthy Relationships, walked us through the four ways we can improve our brain function in order to improve our relationships.

Science is continuing to reinforce that every single one of us is hardwired for connection.  Which means that when we feel loved and supported: our immune system is healthier, we recover from surgery and sickness faster, our bodies protect us from the impact of stress, we feel happier, and we live longer. And... in light of our conversation today: we feel more energy when we connect.

How Do Relationships Give Us Energy?

The human brain is designed to give us a dose of dopamine--the  chemical that not only lights up our pleasure center but also helps give us the energy to move toward rewards--every time we do something life-sustaining.

Dr. Banks says:

"Eating, drinking, water, exercise, sex, and healthy relationships are all supposed to trigger feel-good sensations, to make us want to do the things that are good for us."

She is quick to caution us that we "all live from one dopamine hit to another" (because it's natural for us to want to feel good!) but that if the human brain can't get that hit in healthy ways this is what drives so many of us to look for substitutes: shopping, gambling, over-eating, or anything that leads to addiction.

But What If Relationships Don't Give Me Energy?

In an ideal world, as babies we received love, touch, and connection that paired those actions with our dopamine producers.  Studies shows that when that link between relationships and reward was reinforced, it set us up for improved social status and social support.

But for many of us, if our childhood relationships were stressful or harmful, or if we were taught to be fiercely independent or perceived as weak for wanting connection, then relationships didn't get paired with our dopamine reward system as they were supposed to.  Which, according to Dr. Banks, means that "instead of becoming energized by friendships--even good ones--they are drained and depleted by the interaction."

Feeling disconnected provokes our stress response systems which raises our anxiety, provokes irritability, and leads us to assuming that we're being left out or rejected, even if we aren't. Which means what we need the most--connection--is unfortunately not only what we probably fear the most but also what we're least likely to feel energized to pursue.

But Dr. Banks and numerous other voices out there are encouraging us: we can heal our damaged pathways.  (If you haven't yet watched Johann Hari's TED talk reminding us that the opposite of addition isn't sobriety, but connection-- then it's a must see!)  In the book Wired to Connect she says,

But there is plenty that you can do to nourish your neurological pathways for connection. If they are damaged, you can start to heal them. If they are neglected, you can cultivate them. And if they are stressed, you can soothe them."

How To Move Toward More Energy in Relationships

Dr. Banks gives so many brain exercises and activities in her book to practice reconnecting the dopamine reward system to healthy relationships, and our GirlFriendCircles.com community is so enjoying the class, our worksheets, and our conversation this month as we dive deeper on the subject, but let me leave you with just one of her very practical ideas to try.

  1. Identify the relationships that give you energy.  Who are those people for you?  With whom do you feel the safest? What relationships in your life give you some sense of reward or pleasure, even if small?
  2. Try to spend more time connecting with those people. For many of us, depending on our jobs, we might be spending the bulk of our days around people we didn't choose, or with people who drain us. It becomes even more imperative to try to lean in to more time with anyone who does energize us.  It might mean calling our mom a bit more often, initiating time with a friend, or practicing more conversation with a safe person.

It seems counter-intuitive that when we lack energy that we need to then identify relationships to seek out, but Dr. Banks assures us that identifying our "strongest sources of relational dopamine" will give us our best shot at repairing our reward systems. Perhaps knowing that as you reconnect those wires, that what costs you energy now will reward you with energy down the road, will give you courage.

I do want to point out, what I hope is obvious, that "more relationships" aren't the answer to everyone's weariness. Much like how food is good for us and also gives us energy-- the answer isn't just eat more food! Over-eating can make us lethargic, too!  Or not eating the right food.  Or not having a good relationships to food or our bodies.  Or maybe your food is perfect and what you need is more sleep!  :) But please, when you're avoiding people because you don't have the energy, consider the possibility that sometimes, counter-intuitively, we need to connect instead of withdraw.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s.  Interested in the Friendship University class? It comes with membership to those in GirlFriendCircles.com.  Every month we offer a new theme, a new teacher, new worksheet, and new friendship actions to practice-- join us in October and get access to this class immediately!

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Sickness & Surgery: 10 Best Ideas & Gifts for Recovering Friends

My last blog post didn't go over all that well with you--my beautiful community of amazing women--and you were quick to let me know I had it wrong.  :) In hindsight, I probably chose the wrong illustration (a woman recovering from surgery) to make my point: loving acts are loving acts from our friends even if they don't initially read our minds to proactively give to us what we most need at any given time.  I think we too often take personally someone's inability to automatically know what we need. But even my husband who lives with me and knows me deeply can't always guess what I need at different times.  It's ultimately my responsibility to reflect on what I need, communicate that, and trust that his love is no less sincere as he responds to what I requested.

But to make penance for any implication that someone who's sick or in pain is at fault (she's not!) if her friends are disappointing her-- let's make a list of fun ideas and gifts to give to our friends who are in physical recovery mode.  :)

5 Easy and Affordable Gifts Post Surgery/Health Crisis

Easy because much as I admire those of you who can creatively put together something all thematic and homemade, I'm way more likely to send a gift if all I have to do it order it! Just only click and these gifts will be on their way!

Affordable because while we might want to pull off paying for house cleaning, massages, or meal deliveries for one of our closest friends-- most of us are on a budget and will have to suffice with cheaper expressions of care. These are all between $15-35!

  • An infused water bottle "Drink! Drink! Drink!" is what we have to do to recover, but water gets boring after a while! For $14 send her a fun new way to get her fluids down!  And for another $8 you can add a recipe book filled with 80 water & fruit recipes for health!

 

 

  • Coloring Book and Pencils!  Prismacolors are by far my favorite colored pencils (and this 24 pack is only $12!)-- they are the smoothest and the best! Pick out a fun coloring book to go with it and now they have something fun and creative to do while they heal.  (This one is my personal favorite for only $9 but there are soooo many to choose from!)

 

  • Tangible Inspiration: This bracelet may not be the most practical of gifts, but I am someone who loves to wear something that reminds me I am loved and that inspires me as I keep on the journey.  This $34 bracelet says "she believed she could, so she did" but there are lots of other styles and quotes to choose from.

 

  • Gift certificate to Audible.comWhen she just wants to close her eyes but is audibletired of sleeping... an audio book may be the perfect distraction!

 

 

  • Dry Shampoo and Other Beauty Care: A can of dry shampoo ($8 for 1 so maybe order 2!) may not heal her faster but it certainly may help her feel more whole! My hair gets so greasy that I'd need a can by my bed!  Here's my favorite brand. Maybe add a package of bathing wipes to it, some amazing hand lotion, or some tinted lip balm from Burt's Bee's so she can feel and look better than she feels!

Are you on Pinterest? I've started a board with all these ideas and lots of others if you want to follow along!

5 Thoughtful Ideas of Time and Love

Most of us would probably concur that any gift or expression of love means so much to the recipient, but if you want to go the extra mile and gift your time then these ideas are as beautiful as they come!

  1. Commit to regular check-ins! Reminding our friends that they aren't forgotten and sending them encouragement is so crucial! Ideas include:  mailing a card every week for the long haul, setting a reminder to text her every Wednesday, or making an extra effort to call her and check in more often (even if it just means leaving loving voice mails!)  @ClinkandChat tweeted me this idea: "text a daily joke or meme for laughs!"
  2. Ask the honest questions and give time for deep conversations.  When we're present during someone's pain, commit to being someone who asks the real questions that give them permission to share what's going on inside of them.  Everyone else is asking about their physical health... be willing to process how that is affecting them:  How has this experience most affected you? What has been the most discouraging aspect of this? What has most surprised you in this experience? How would you describe how you've changed from this experience?
  3. Keep giving permission for them to be just as they are. Lots of women said what they most appreciated were the friends who kept normalizing the process and were comfortable with not needing the other to feel cheered or "better." @GenerousAlix tweeted "Don't rush the process!"  And one friend said to me "The person I was most excited to have come visit me was the one who texted and said 'I'm coming over un-showered and I'll be so disappointed if you dare get out of bed or even brush your hair before I come.' as it made me let go of any need to prepare for her arrival.
  4. Offer your time in direct service.  In an ideal world, if a friend asked how they could help, we'd name a few things, but most of us don't want to be inconvenient or assuming.  So if a friend said to me "Here are some options of things I can do... you either pick one or I'll pick for you, but I am going to do something and I'd rather it be helpful to you... so if you want to vote, please speak up!" then I'd feel that much better picking one!  Two awesome ideas come from a couple members from our women's friendship community, GirlfriendCircles.com: Kim Montenyohl suggested walking your friends dog which I think is awesome! And Julia Krout talked about how lonely she felt when she was physically limited after a surgery so the friends who would call and say "I want to bring you dinner and eat with you!" meant so much!  Other ideas could be: offering to do some online research for her (follow-up care, treatment reviews, best physical therapists in her area) if there's anything she's needing to eventually decide, offering to make her kids lunches if they go to school with your kids, call to ask her what you can pick up for her while you're out running errands one afternoon, offer to attend an important appointment with her or to drive her home, or insist on doing her laundry no matter how much she objects.  :)
  5. Organize food drop-off and donations!  Set up a free account on mailtrain.com and within 5 minutes you can start inviting all her friends to sign up to cook a meal, have food delivered, or make donations to help cover medical expenses! It's easy to coordinate and you can help all her friends get involved so she feels loved and cared for in her recovery!

Please add your ideas in the comments and let's crowd source an amazing list that we can all use as an inspirational resource!

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When Our Friends Disappoint Us: What We Can Do

I listened to a client tell me a story last week about how hurt and disappointed she felt when her friends didn't rally around her after a recent surgery. I empathized with her, expressed regret with her that they didn't wow her and love her in a meaningful way, and then asked, "Do you think they knew that you needed anything from them?" "But it was a surgery!" she said, as though that answered my question.

"Yes it was," I concurred.  "But tell me how you talked about the surgery with them before and after the event.... Did you ask for help? Did you express your fears? Did you tell them what you thought you might need?"

When Our Friends Aren't "There" For Us

I continued, "In other words, if I called your friends now and asked them what they thought you might be needing or wanting, would they be able to tell me?"

After a few more minutes of conversation, her narrative--that many of us can probably identify with in one form or another--emerged:

  1. We want our friends to automatically know our need. She held a belief that if they were really her friends, or even just good people, then they should know what she might need without her needing to tell them.
  2. Even if we haven't yet articulated our needs. Yet, when I asked her what help she needed, she didn't have a ready answer and acknowledged that if she couldn't even articulate it to herself, that it might be asking a bit much to have others guess it.
  3. Even when we know deep inside that they aren't unwilling to help. She acknowledged that chances were high that most of them assumed she didn't help because her husband was taking time off, her adult daughter was home, and she had lots of friends. And admitted that while it hadn't been meaningful to her, a few had said to her, "Let me know if you need anything."
  4. Because we give to them, this is the least they could do.... But she couldn't shake the feeling of betrayal by her friends since she felt like she was always giving to them and this was "the one time I needed them."

Unmet expectations in our friendships lead to massive disappointment, hurt feelings, grudges, and worst of all-- the feeling of not being supported. And if we can't count on our friends, then we feel very alone and vulnerable. We feel betrayed because we thought we had friends and now wonder if it was all a mirage or a waste of time. We feel used... thinking about what a good friend we've been, and wondering what the point of it is if we can't count on the in return.

We Must Learn To Express Our Needs

There are a thousand conversations we can have on this subject (and my book Frientimacy actually has several chapters in it that teach these concepts!)-- including,

  • being in touch with our feelings to know what we actually need (my client didn't actually need help as much as she needed to feel thought of and loved),
  • being willing to let our friends see us with needs and feelings, especially if the pattern of our friendship has mostly been with us looking like Super Woman (possibly calling up a friend and when she asks how you're doing, be willing to be seen: "Well, I wouldn't recommend a regime of being un-showered for 4 days, laying in bed in pain, and watching soap's as a recipe for feeling hopeful. ha!  I'm actually pretty lonely and the days are feeling so long it leaves me wondering if I'll ever recover!"
  • and learning to ask for what we want and need.  Which could look like either telling friends ahead of time "I'm worried that I'm going to go crazy or feel so alone that first week after my surgery.  Any chance you'd be willing to come over for a bit--better yet if you come un-showered--and hang out so I have something to look forward to?" Or even after the fact, "I'm going crazy and miss you.  I wish I could offer to come see you, but since I'm still not leaving the house much-- any chance I could entice you to come over here and hang out, if I were to order a pizza for us?"

Help My Friends Love Me Well

But what I really want to address is our fear that if we have to ask for something that it then defeats the purpose.

My client said as much, "But if I have to ask for it then they'll feel pressure or just do it from obligation or guilt."

Speaking Our Needs Doesn't Make Their Help Less Sincere

And to that I say:

"Actually, in my opinion, the friends who are willing to hear what we need and try to do it, if they can, are the best friends in the world. It's the most sincere expression of love to hear a need and attempt to respond to it.  And the most effective and strategic use of their energy and time, that has the highest chances of feeling fulfilling and meaningful to me, means that we both are as clear as possible what would be helpful. True friends don't read minds-- heck, we don't even read our own minds half the time!-- but rather they say "Yes!" when we reach out."

The goal is to feel loved.  And we can help our friends do that for us if we are willing to help tell them what that looks like. That they then step up is the highest proof that we are supported. It's our job to be in touch with what we need and communicate that to those in our lives who want to love us well.

Pssst: my next post gives meaningful ideas for how we can ideally show up for our friends without them having to ask us!  :)


 

p.s.  Want to learn more about preventing unmet expectations and practice speaking your needs?

We have a brand new virtual class titled "Preventing Expectation Hangovers in our Friendships" that features Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangovers, who teaches us how to communicate our needs to our friends to prevent disappointment and unmet expectations. Included with the 1-hr audio class is a worksheet, a monthly challenge to practice, and inspirational mantras!

August_2016_Bundle_GraphicOthers who took the class already said things like, "This class was illuminating. I learned so much!" and "This changed the way I view my friendships in life-changing ways. I can't even begin to describe how helpful this material was to me." and "I listened to this class three times this month just because there was so much I needed to keep hearing."

Buy this Friendship University class here and listen at your convenience!

Note: If you were an active member of GirlFriendCircles.com in August 2016 then you automatically received this class as part of your membership!

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3 Tips for Successfully Making New Friends

I've got good news and bad news as I share my 3rd video in our series this week.

The good news is that with practice I am getting better:  it's shorter and I don't think I use any of the words that I apparently have a tendency to overuse: "abundantly", "just", or "right?".  :) The bad news is that I didn't shower and my hair reflects it! haha! oh well!?!

If you haven't had a chance to watch the other two videos this week then I'll catch you up today! This one covers it all!!

In this video I reveal:

  1. Which of the 3 Friendship Benefits Matters Most to You.  I remind you of the three biggest benefits that we covered in our 1st video, plus I share which one was overwhelmingly the most important to all of you based on all your comments! (Thank you! It was so fun to hear from so many of you!)
  2. Which of the 4 Type of Loneliness is the most Common to You.  In a poll that we took after this video-- there was a very clear front-runner to which of the 4 types of loneliness is the most common one.
  3. And, My 3 Tips If You Want to Successfully Make Better Friends.  I share three expectations or things to encourage you to do if you want to make sure that you actually make better friends and not just say you want to!  (I expect that you're not doing at least one of these!)

If you're willing, please leave a comment and share with me which tip is the hardest one for you!  Which one do you find yourself most resisting or refusing to believe?

May we all stay open and willing to doing whatever it takes to create meaningful connection,

Shasta

CEO, GirlFriendCircles.com

p.s. We are re-opening GirlFriendCircles.com THIS Tuesday, July 19! Get ready to say "yes" to greater connection in your life! Watch your inbox for your personal invitation!

p.s.s. Not sure if the new GirlFriendCircles.com will provide what you most need and want? Watch today's video to find out what's coming!

The Four Most Common Types of Loneliness

Hello GirlFriends!

I am more convinced than ever that the vast majority of us are suffering from loneliness. And it's not that we're hermits or socially awkward individuals as much as it's a combination of:

  1. We're exhausted and distracted with our lives.  Some of us are, in fact, around people all day long and serving people in every direction, but still feeling lonely because there's a difference between being networked and feeling like we have a support net under us. We're lonely because we don't have the energy to engage more meaningfully.
  2. We haven't been taught how to connect with others. We feel like intimacy and connection should come automatically to us, but few of us have ever studied the subject, practiced new relationship skills, or been inspired by amazing modeling. This is a subject that we can learn and improve with intentional focus! We're lonely because we don't know what to do to change it.
  3. We've been told that our friendships are a luxury when in fact they are very much a necessity to our health. More important to our health and happiness than our marriages, children, exercise, or work and money is whether we feel like we are supported and loved.  We're lonely because our life is full with everything else and we haven't prioritized our sense of community.

In this 11 minute video, I want to talk about loneliness, what it looks like in our lives, and how I want to address those needs by helping you meet new friends and make better friendships.  Here's a glimpse:

  1. Why friendship is the most important health issue of our time. Wait until you hear the quote I share by Dr. Dean Ornish!  Amazing!
  2. Why admitting our loneliness is important and what the statistics show us about how few of us feel we have someone with whom to confide. If you don't feel like you have a close friend-- you will soon realize you are not alone!
  3. The four most common types of loneliness so we can recognize the needs in our own lives.  Which one most accurately reflects your current, or recent, experience?
  4. And how GirlFriendCircles.com can help women meet new friends and make better friendships.  We're getting ready to re-open our doors to a new community that wants to provide resources and inspiration for all four types of loneliness!

At the end of the video I invite you to leave a comment and share with all of us which of the 4 areas of loneliness speaks most to you?  Which need do you most need to pay attention to meeting?

With so much love and a desire to transform our lives from that gnawing loneliness into fulfilling connections,

Shasta

p.s. This video is the 2nd in a series of 3 so watch for my next one on Saturday when I teach how we can grow our sense of connection! (And in case you missed the first one.)

p.s.s. I am re-opening GirlFriendCircles.com next Tuesday, July 19! Get ready to say "yes" to greater connection in your life! xoxo

Three Biggest Reasons We Need Friends

Hello GirlFriends! GirlFriendCircles.com is getting ready to re-open on July 19 with a bigger vision and a more beautiful interface! Woohoo!

I want to share with you WHY we're going through all this effort to revision and relaunch our community for women's friendships, so I made a 12 minute video to share with you:

  1. The Two Friendship Problems I see in our world that are stirring me to action and inspiring me to brainstorm solutions for connecting us in meaningful ways.
  2. The Three Biggest Possible Reasons Why We Need to be Connected as pretty much every other benefit falls under one of these three!
  3. Some of the Excuses We Use for giving up or not committing ourselves to action and learning... and how those objections aren't serving our needs.
  4. A Glimpse of My Vision and Hope for All of Us as we commit ourselves to creating better friendships in our lives.

 

At the end of the video I invite you to leave a comment and share with all of us which of the 3 BIG reasons for better friendships speaks most to you today?  (Of course we all want all three of them, but which one feels most valuable or urgent to you?)

p.s. This video will be the first in a series of three so watch for my next one on Thursday when I want to remind us all of the 4 most common types of loneliness!

In Sickness and In Health, Part 3: Making Friends While Sick Or In Pain

This is the 3rd post in our 3-part series on friendships with those who suffer with chronic pain and illness. The first one, written by Lucy Smith (pseudonym) shared her experience with us after having been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition. She bravely wrote what she wishes her friends understood about friendship with someone who feels sick or limited. The second one, I weighed in with tips and principles I think are important for those trying to make friends while in pain.  And this final one, is again written by Lucy Smith as she shares her tips, from personal experience, about what she;s learned about making new friends even when limited by her health.  When struck suddenly with a debilitating neurological condition a couple years ago, Lucy Smith's (pseudonym), ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult.

Your situations are all so very different, please take anything that speaks to you, and add your own tips to the comments. It will inspire all of us to see what others are trying and finding helpful! Above all we applaud everyone who dares to connect their hearts, especially when their bodies resist in any way. xoxo

4 Tips From Someone Who Knows The Journey, By Lucy Smith

  1. Create Some Friendships With Others Who "Get It." Finding people with similar struggles in a support group is often a great place to start.   That might be a support group for those living with chronic illness, a local disease-specific group (i.e. the National Multiple Sclerosis Society support group), or maybe some people who were on the periphery of your social network who have had medical challenges that you couldn't relate to before.  In some cases, you might not find those networks you were looking for waiting for you.  In that case, it may be worth creating a Meetup group or some other forum where you can bring people together in the way you were seeking. This doesn't always need to be a big time or energy suck - it might be as simple as stating that the group will be meeting a the coffee shop at 10:00 am on the 4th Saturday of the month and showing up for several months as momentum builds.
  2. Initiate and follow-through, as much as possible. Once you've got a pool of potential new friends, try to follow (as much as you are able) Shasta's normal advice for cultivating new friends: those are the ingredients of a healthy relationship and even if we feel unhealthy, we still want our friendships to be healthy! That means take initiative when you can and have those "open hands" as people with a lot of their plates may not be able to commit as often or may not be able to follow through when the time comes. Though a friend will understand occasionally when you aren't up to getting together as planned, if canceling and rejection is the only interaction you have, that friend may grow weary of making the effort to reach out, even if she understands the circumstances, and may defer to not reaching out but instead waiting for you to make the effort when you are up to it.
  3. Cultivate fun and joy: If you can get a regular group who understands your challenges, work on growing towards cultivating fun and joy where possible through activities that are not illness specific.  Certainly it is great to update each other on your challenges and wins, medical and otherwise, but cultivating activities that aren't centered around the narrowness of illness allows you to reclaim part of your whole self.
  4. Receive, Say Yes, and Appreciate: And for those of us who are sick, it is helpful for us to remember to try to show up on our side when we are lucky enough to have a friend who is willing to stick by us during difficult times.   Allowing others to help you is a gift to the person who is offering to help - both to receive the help and to maintain connection.  We may need to work on being open to receive the gift.  You may repeatedly turn down offers to get together and get out or even to have someone come visit you or bring a meal because you aren't feeling as well as you wished.  Maybe you don't want to be seen when you aren't feeling well, or you haven't showered, changed out of your PJs, and put your make-up on.   Instead of feeling embarrassed about this, it is helpful to remember that you've got a true friend who is putting in the extra effort to show up when things are hard and that she doesn't care much about the shower, PJs, and make-up, but rather she cares about you. Say yes to that.

Thank you Lucy!  I appreciate you reaching out and being a catalyst for this conversation, and for sharing some of your energy with us in such an inspirational and informative way!

And I hope many more of you chime in on the comments!  What tips do you have?

In Sickness and Health, Part 2: Friendship When We're Hurting

While this blog post is the second in a series devoted to friendship with those who live with chronic pain and illness (nearly 1 in every 2 of us!), the principles are such that we'd all be wise to keep them in mind for when any of us are facing pain, loss, or suffering, in any form (all of us, at different times!). We all have to keep practicing friendship even in the midst of our imperfect conditions. Lucy Smith, who has been diagnosed with a debilitating neurological condition, reached out to me several months ago asking for my friend-making advice for those, like her, who live with pain and illness. Because I don't know what it's like to live with chronic pain, suffer from depression, or feel that my body or health places limitations on me, I asked her if she'd be willing to weigh in, too.  She wrote the first post in this series about what she wishes her friends understood about how that pain impacts their friendshipship, and I'll give her the last word in an upcoming post where she offers up friend-making tips to those who suffer from chronic conditions.  But I also wanted to honor her original request and weigh in with what I know about making friends when we're in pain.

May these tips be received in the spirit they are given: with hope for what we can develop and practice, and a gentleness for what's beyond our control.

hurting friend

4 Tips to Creating Healthy Relationship Even In Pain

  1. Give the Signal for How Much You Want to Talk About Your Condition/Circumstances:  Make it as easy on your friends as possible by either stating your comfort level with talking about your health ("By the way, I'm an open book on this subject-- you always have my permission to ask any question you want that might help you better understand my condition.") or by affirming the behaviors you appreciate ("Thank you for always asking me how I'm feeling-- it means a lot."). Or if you feel like your whole life is your health and that when you go out with friends you want an occasional break from it, then say that, too!  ("It's very thoughtful of you to ask, but I'm honestly just tired of talking about that and would love a night off from it.  Is that okay with you?") Assume that you are way more comfortable talking about these things than your friends are and they're probably worried about asking a dumb question, hurting your feelings, giving advice where it's not wanted, or bringing it up too much or not enough. Your ability to give us permission and make it a safe subject (as opposed to everyone feeling like there's an elephant in the room) will help create a safer relationship. In short: teach and guide us how to best interact with you on this subject, we will fail repeatedly if left to our own best guesses.
  2. Remember the Positivity Ratio:  Research is showing us that our relationships have to maintain a ratio of positivity and negativity that stays above 5:1 in order to stay healthy.  Period. This isn't negotiable for a friendship. No matter how much our lives hurt, we have to figure out how to keep our friendships titled toward joy. In other words, for every withdrawal we make on a friendship, we have to make 5 deposits to not go in the red. Positivity can include such things as saying thank you, affirming who they are, cheering for their successes, smiling, laughing, doing something for them, letting them know we are thinking of them, or giving a small gift. When our lives are full of pain (of any kind), it is perhaps even more important that we stay mindful that our friends still need to leave our presence feeling better about themselves and their lives for having been with us if we want the friendship to stay healthy. We're allowed to complain and express hurt, but it's our job to also bulk up our time together with gratitude and love. This is a tall ask, but to ignore it will kill a friendship with even the best of friends.
  3. Practice the Verb Most Challenging to You: Give, Take, or Receive.  Both giving and receiving are crucial to the health of every relationship, but I've also recently learned about how crucial it is that we also learn to take what we need, which is different from receiving that which is offered, right? All three are important for each of us to practice. My guess is that it would be easy to either be so very aware of your needs that you feel as though you're insatiable and need more than most people can give, or that you so badly don't want to be a "burden" or inconvenience on anyone that you might be at risk of turning down acts of love when you need it.
    • If you're saying no to help because you're embarrassed or scared-- practice saying yes, reminding yourself that your friends will feel more bonded to you and your journey if they can be involved.
    • But if you find yourself asking, demanding, or begging for more-- instead practice figuring out how you can give to your friends, making sure the relationships don't center around your needs. I heard someone say the other night, "When we can say 'I don't need you,' others trust us more when we then say 'I want you.'" Your friends don't want to be "needed" as much as they want to be "wanted."
    • Or if you find yourself resentful or hurt that your friends aren't stepping up, inviting you to things that they "should" know you can't do, or exhausting you with their expectations-- sometimes we need to learn to "take" what we need.  Take the time to stand up to stretch when needed, to go rest when you feel the headache coming on, to ask for what you need. Taking is a skill that can be the most loving verb for your own health and for the health of your friendships.
  4. Prove Repeatedly that Their Pains/Joys Still Matter: When I went through a devastating divorce years ago, multiple friends stopped sharing their lives with me, brushing it off with statements like "Nothing compares to what you're going through." They worried that everything sounded like complaining over nothing or bragging about what I didn't have, whether they wanted to complain about their spouses or be excited about their upcoming wedding plans or family vacations. When we're in pain--any kind-- we have to be the ones who keep giving permission to others to have their lives still matter. We have to stop talking and say, "now tell me all about you" and assure them that they still have the right to be happy and to complain. If they don't feel like they can complain about gaining ten pounds or having a headache-- just because we have it worse-- then we can't be a safe place for them in the long-term.  We have to cheer for them, waving off any of their guilt or concern for our feelings, and mourn with them, even when it seems to pale in comparison. Just because we lost a big part of our lives doesn't mean they should too. We will tap into the feeling they are expressing, instead of judging the circumstances.

Blessings on all of us as we continue to develop healthy relationships even in the midst of unhealthy bodies or circumstances....

 

In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

Several months ago, I received a thoughtful email from a reader of this blog who asked me to write a blog post that helped people like her-- people who have chronic pain or illness-- to figure out how to make and keep friends when their energy and health often feels limited, challenged, or uncertain. Not entirely sure I felt qualified to give tips to this heroic population, I asked her if first she'd be willing to share, from her perspective, what she wishes the rest of us understood about our friends (or potential friends) whose health issues might impact how we befriend each other.  With nearly 1 in 2 of us suffering from some form of chronic (often invisible) illness, we all want to become far more sensitive and thoughtful in how we interact with one another.

Thank you Lucy Smith (pseudonym) for taking the time and energy to share with us what you've learned since being diagnosed a couple of years ago with a debilitating neurological condition.  Her ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she's not alone as she's found some connection with others in similar situations and I'm so grateful she's excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

When struck suddenly with a debilitating neurological condition a couple years ago, Lucy Smith's (pseudonym), ability to participate in the activities she used to do with friends became very limited and the challenge of maintaining and making friends while also dealing with major illness has been difficult. She knows she's not alone as she's found some connection with others in similar situations. So she's excited to get a conversation started with this blog post.

We welcome the stories, tips, and encouragement from others who have found their health or pain impact their friendships--  we all have much to learn from each other. -- Shasta

In Sickness and in Health: 5 Things I Wish My Friends Knew About Friendship and Illness

When serious illness or disability strikes, especially at a relatively young age, your whole world gets turned upside down.  Unfortunately, at a time when you need the most support, many people--both family and friends-- don't know what to say or do and, in the wake of uncertainty, err on the side of not reaching out.

After several years of dealing with debilitating illness that completely changed how I was able to interact with friends, here's what I wish they knew:

  1. Let's Talk About It!  It is ok to not know what to say, how to act, or what would be helpful.   But I'd wish we could have a conversation about it instead of wondering how my social circle could evaporate almost instantaneously.
  2. Please Keep Reaching Out: I still need friends, actually more than ever.  However, I may not be able to do what we used to do together at all or I may not be able to do it if I am unwell that day.   It is tough enough to lose the activities that I once enjoyed.   I hope that doesn't mean that I lose you too because I can't do them with you.   Additionally, I need friends who understand that I may not be able to initiate as much (or at all).  Friends struggling with illness may not have any energy or brain power left to initiate and organize but often are feeling lonely and isolated, so initiate more than you might otherwise, even if you've gotten turned down several times.   It is really nice to be thought of and included, even if I don't feel well enough to attend a particular get-together.   If we do plan something ahead of time, I may not be feeling well when the time comes to get together, so I need understanding about adapting plans or canceling.
  3. Practice Empathy, Instead of Sympathy or Encouragement. Empathy is really helpful for maintaining connection.  Brene Brown has some great work on how empathy is different from sympathy.  Empathy fuels connection, while sympathy drives disconnection.  It is a "me, too", rather than "that's too bad".  This 3 minute video gives a great overview:  As she mentioned in the video, rarely does empathy begin with "At least...".  Well-meaning friends often want to cheer you up by essentially saying "it could be worse", but sometimes that just makes you feel like you haven't been heard or understood.
  4. Small gestures mean a lot. A. Lot. This can be as simple as offering to help with some chores as part of hanging out - for example, maybe cooking some good food together so I have healthy meals that are easy to reheat when I'm exhausted and in pain.   Or it might be a call to ask when you could drop by for a quick visit.  Or it might be noticing that a friend couldn't participate in something and asking if any modifications could be made so she could join you next time.
  5. Keep on Sharing Your Life! I really want to hear what is going on in your life - both the difficult parts (even if they seem not to be as difficult as mine) and the successes.   I still care about you and want to celebrate your trials and successes.

Here's the next post in this series, featuring some principles and tips for making friends, even in pain and loss.

 

A Practice for "I Don't Have Time for Friends"

Lack of time for friendships is easily one of the most common complaints when it comes to doing what we know would develop our friendships toward greater fulfillment.  We know that time together bonds us, but where does one find that time? Plus, it's a bit of a vicious cycle because the less time we make, the less fulfilling the time together can feel.  Which then undoubtedly leaves us even less motivated to make time again at future dates. We find ourselves musing, "Is going out with her occasionally to just catch up on life worth leaving _____________ (fill in the blank with work, kids, romantic person of interest, or whatever feels more compelling) and we can easily drift apart from someone not because we don't like them, but because we don't spend enough time together to feel really connected to them.

Our lives are crazy busy-- there's not denying that most people feel that way.  And if not busy, then at least full of our routines and responsibilities, which to step away from can feel challenging.

An Ancient Practice Called Sabbath

Enter the practice of Sabbath.

The practice of Sabbath is an ancient spiritual tradition of carving out one day a week to focus on that which is most important to human restoration.  For me, my Sabbath is filled with spaciousness--it's a day where only that which really matters is welcome: family, friends, long conversations, beautiful walks in nature, amazing food, spiritual growth, and acts of service.  It's one day a week where I get off the hamster wheel.

The word literally means "to cease or desist" so for thousands of years people have chosen to stop doing what they do every day: chores, work, errands, consumerism, to-do lists, TV,

Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often.

packed schedules, and rushed meals, in order to make time for that which feeds their souls. It's a practice that reminds me that I don't have to do in order to be be; that my worth doesn't come from what I accomplish; and that my value isn't connected to what I buy and own.  I rest from trying to "get ahead." I remind myself I'm good enough without needing to go buy more things.  I step away from stress and let my body restore itself.

More and more people are practicing mini-Sabbath's-- blocks of time where they engage in restorative acts, or practicing variations like "No Technology Sabbaths."  I practice, similar to Jews, a Sabbath from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night-- a full 24-hours of bliss at the end of my workweek.

The Invitation to Re-Orient Your Life

The invitation to step away from our emails, our productivity, and our household chores might sound nearly impossible for many of us.  But just because we live in a culture that runs on consumerism and productivity, doesn't mean it's the best way to live.

In fact, the more I researched the value of relationships in preparation for my new book Frientimacy, the more sad I felt that we don't live in a world that is oriented to that which we most need: love.  A few more hours of work hasn't made anyone healthier and a few more thousand dollars hasn't made most people happier, but the loss of time for relationships most certainly has made us less healthy and far less happy. Gone is the feeling that we can linger over long conversations, sit on our porches and talk to neighbors, or gather in our tribes every week.  We are strewn across this country, far too lonely, and missing deep and meaningful connection. It can break my heart if I think about it too long.

So for me, I can't snap my fingers and change the world we live in, unfortunately. If I could, I'd make sure we had more vacation days (and actually took them), longer hours to sleep, slower mornings for centering ourselves, spacious evenings with friends and loved ones, and weekends filled with laughter and amazing food. My tendency, if left unchecked, is toward being a workaholic, and yet I know that more work isn't the answer to feeling valuable. Being in connection with others is the only way to really know we're loved and feel seen and valued.  I know that.

So, for me, my Sabbaths are when I remember that truth.  I step away... in order to step in to something that matters more.  I can't reorient our entire culture (but God help me I'll keep trying! ha!) but we can each practice re-orienting ourselves toward that which matters most.  We can choose to let love and relationship be our focus.  We may not be able to do it all the time, but maybe we can do it one day a week?

Because you're right-- we don't have time for our friendships the way we're doing life now.  So we have to decide if we're okay with that.  And if we're not, then we have to stop doing something in order to make time for something that matters even more.  We can't just say yes to more love, without also saying no to something else.

For me-- a day dedicated to that which I most value helps ground me, heal my body,  re-focus me on my priorities, and remind me why I do what I do the other 6 days of the week.  What can you do that would help give you the space and time for your friendships? If you were to try it, what could a Sabbath practice look like for you?

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Announcement: Inviting You to My Sabbath Practice!

You are invited to join me for 7 Sabbaths in a row where I will teach and inspire toward deeper friendships for one hour.  I typically don't work on Saturdays but I feel compelled to foster the space for us to spend an hour together reminding ourselves of how significant love is to our lives and what we can do to develop greater intimacy around us. The calls will be recorded so if you can't join us on Saturdays, then you can listen anytime in the week that's convenient to you!  Join me for 42 Days of Frientimacy!

42 days of frientimacy

Losing Weight VS. Gaining Love

As I just read about how losing weight is the number 1 New Years resolution, I wanted to come in with my relationship pom-poms and sweetly remind you that what you May we care more about how much love we feel than how much we weigh.

want even more than weight loss is to feel loved. Your brain may even actually think those two things are correlated, but they are not.

I'm all for being healthy, but if what you really, really, really want is to belong, to be "enough," to be loved, to be in meaningful connection-- then go straight for that.  No need to chase something else and leave to chance the feeling you really want!

This year, let's be women who focus on inviting more love in our lives, even when awkward, even when scary, even when we're tired.  I can't think of anything worth more celebrating a year from now than to be able to say, "I feel more loved than ever."

Standing on the Scale of My Love

It’s not about how much physical space I take up in this world, but about how much I’m willing to shine brighter and stand taller on behalf of others.

It’s not about having six-pack abs but about knowing how to hear my gut.

What size of clothes I wear pales in comparison with the size of my heart.

How many diets I’ve been on isn’t as important as how many gratitude entries I have in my journal.

My BMI doesn’t even come close to telling me as much about my health as the joy of the relationships around me does.

How fast I can run a mile doesn’t impress me nearly as much as how quickly I can forgive someone who has disappointed me.

How I feel about my thighs is of waning importance compared to how I feel about my purpose and calling in this world.

How much fat I can pinch on my waistline doesn’t even begin to rank with how many people I hope will hug me each day.

That I laced up my shoes to run this week is fabulous, but when was the last time I stopped and asked myself the far more important emotional question: “What in my life am I running from?”

We’ve been taught to care so much about the read-out on the bathroom scale; but I confirm today that it’s far more important that love weigh more than fear in my life.

I am a woman dedicated to inviting far more love in my life this year.

Friendships, Stress, and Hormones

This is a blog post I have been so looking forward to writing for the last two months!  Women lean in every time I share pieces of this content around a dinner table, in a workshop on friendship, or at a mastermind group.  It's not only crucial information for our lives, but it speaks so directly to the power of friendship that, even though I heard it first in a business context, I knew I had to share it with my blog community. Simon Sinek's Explanation of 4 Hormones You Need to Understand

I was happy to buy Simon Sinek's first book, but it's his second one that covers the content in this blog that I'm eagerly anticipating!!  :)

In early May, I attended Rock the World 2013-- a women's business conference in NYC--where Simon Sinek was one of the keynote speakers.  Simon is the author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009) and a motivational speaker whose TED talk is in the top 10 most-viewed ever!  But what he shared with us in May was some of the content of his next book coming out later this year.

Sinek relied on human biology to illustrate what motivates behavior, saying basically that our actions boil down to the good feelings we get from four key chemicals in our body: dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin, and serotonin.  When we trigger any of these chemicals in our bodies, we get a shot of something euphoric whether it's extra energy, joy, calm, or pride.   Here's how we receive those good feelings:

  1. Dopamine is the result of accomplishing goals, it's designed to help us find what we're looking for. Every time we see a finish line, cross something off our to-do list, or see movement toward our goals-- we get that shot of dopamine!
  2. Endorphins mask our physical pain and help us keep pushing ourselves to where we need to be. For most of us who live more sedentary and safe lives, our most common form of endorphins come from exercise. If you've ever had a "runner's high"-- you know this feeling.
  3. Oxytocin is one I talk about a lot in connection with our friendships as it reinforces bonds, builds trust, and relieves stress.  We get this from touch, meaningful conversation, breast-feeding, and when we see/experience acts of human generosity.
  4. Serotonin happens in moments of pride, recognition, and status. When we receive our diploma on stage, say "I do" in front of friends and family, or are the recipients of a meaningful award-- we get that shot of serotonin that boosts our joy.

Now, what I thought was super fascinating is that the first two chemicals you can get all by yourself.  You need no one else present to get your dopamine from crossing something off your to-do list or to exercise and feel the endorphins.  Sinek called these "selfish" hormones.

The latter two--oxytocin and serotonin-- are "unselfish" chemicals since we need someone else present in order to receive the rewards that our body wants to give us.  He gave the example of someone who could just receive an email telling them that enough credits had been accomplished and the bill paid so therefore they earned their diploma-- and that person would have most certainly received a shot of dopamine for reaching their goal.  But it's when that person dons their cap and gown and walks in front of everyone that the serotonin is released.  We need an "audience"-- someone to cheer for us or witness our success-- to give us that sense of pride and recognition.  And the best part of these unselfish chemicals?  BOTH people get the shot.  Not just the graduate on stage, but also the teachers who taught that student, the family that supported them, and their friends who did it with them.  Oxytocin and serotonin need others present to initiate them, but they also benefit all parties.

Warning: We're Not Getting Enough...

He connected these four chemicals to how leaders and businesses can better understand how we're wired to help create more healthy workplaces; I heard the whole thing through the lens of friendship. While all four chemicals have their "addictive" qualities to them, Sinek warned that they are only dangerous when they are out of balance. And I agree with him that we live in a culture that is focusing way more on the selfish chemicals than the unselfish chemicals.  We think it's easier to become workaholics to get more dopamine than it is to go hang out with friends to feel the oxytocin.  (And how much more so when we don't yet have the close friends we find meaningful!)

Furthermore, two other chemicals-- testosterone and cortisol-- are INHIBITORS of oxytocin.  In other words, when we feel stress or anxiety which results in cortisol shooting through our bodies, it prevents us from receiving the benefits of oxytocin which includes feelings of trust, safety, and empathy. We cannot build relationships of trust when we are in survival mode!  That has far-reaching implications, to say the least. So the more stress you have in your life, the harder it is for you to experience the rewards of trust, generosity, love, and bonding with others.  One short-circuits the other.

So here's my plea to the 22,000 women who subscribe to my blog-- please, please, please make sure you're intentionally adding oxytocin moments to your life!  Make sure you're not on an unbalanced chemical loop where you just go after accomplishment and exercise to boost you.  It's the selfless chemicals of oxytocin and serotonin that decrease your anxiety, turn your immune system on, facilitate feelings of trust, and basically make this world a better place where we can show generosity and love to one another!

I find it awesome that our bodies reward us to take care of each other!!!  And who better to be shining givers and recipients of this than all of us who are committed to growing healthy and meaningful relationships in this world!

Virtual hugs!

 

 

A Doctor's Prescription: Friendship for Health

I landed in New York City today where I will be interviewed for Better Show TV tomorrow morning, attending a women's entrepreneur conference on Wednesday and Thursday, and then be teaching a Friendship Accelerator this weekend before heading home. Every time I land here I have an imaginary playlist in my head busting out Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind and it makes me feel a little invincible... "I have a pocket full of dreams...there's nothing you can't do, now that you're in New York!" A Health Book I Want to Recommend

So surely I can write a blog post on the road?  :)  I feel excited to share some friendship inspiration from the most recent book I just finished on the plane.  And since this book, Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself comes out tomorrow, the timing couldn't be better!

Care about your health? Besides healthy relationships playing a central role throughout this whole book, one chapter is titled, "Loneliness Poison the Body."

The author, Lissa Rankin, is an M.D. who practiced traditional medicine, got burned out and quit, and then re-discovered her passion for being a healer but was suspicious that there was a better way.  Her book is a very stimulating, inspiring, and thought-provoking book filled with medical research, stories, and ideas for how we can live healthier lives.  Her passion is healing from our current ailments, of which she herself has experienced personally, but it's more broadly an invitation to all of us to live the most vibrant lives possible whether that means prevention or recovery.  And, of course, her big point is that we, the patients, have a more tremendous role than we often take, and that health includes a lot more than exercise and healthy eating.

Friendship for our Health Keeps Growing in Credibility

So why do I, a friendship expert, want to tell you about a health book?

So glad you asked! Because I underlined everything that had to do with our relationships and realized it was a good portion of the book!  Seriously!

Here are a few quotes:

  • "...curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking."
  • "How much we commune with other people may prove as important as exercise when it comes to predicting life expectancy."
  • "People with the fewest social ties were three times more likely to die over a nine-year period than those who reported the most social ties, even when you account for preexisting health conditions, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, race, life satisfaction, physical activity, and use of preventive health services."

I mean, we know that relationships are good for us.  But do we really know it as the deep truth that it is?  I feel like we all give lip service to it, but then keep justifying why we need to work late, be hope with the kids every night and weekend, and how we're just too busy to make time for the very people who can save our lives.

Here's how it works:  basically our bodies know a lot about how to heal ourselves (i.e. wounds turn into scabs, healthy cells fight off disease cells) but that it can only do so when we are not under stress.  For when we feel stress, real or perceived, our bodies are in fight-or-flight mode which means that all repair systems shut down in order to get us through the crisis. (Because who cares about long-term health when you're running for your life?!) But the big problem now is how many of us are living most of our lives with stress!  And when we can't turn off the stress response long-enough or often-enough to trigger our relaxation response then our bodies aren't be given the time to repair, build up, heal, and maintain.

So if the most effective way of telling our bodies that it can repair itself is to reduce stress, then it makes complete sense that things like healthy spirituality, meaningful relationships, calming practices, and good sleep are the best ways for us to add years to our lives.

How to Add More Meaningful Relationships to Our Lives

I'll rattle off a couple things that immediately come to mind if you want to increase your joy and health through your relationships:

  1. Forgive & Grieve! The toxicity of not forgiving others is hurting you more than them. For your sake, practice the ability of not holding any grudges. Furthermore, some of us have relationships losses we haven't fully grieved that we can face to find our healing...  Let the past be your past.
  2. Increase your Consistency with Someone. Almost Anyone.  If you don't feel like you have the intimate relationships you crave, choose someone you already know and start making an effort to connect more regularly with them. (You don't have to be convinced that they are the perfect BFF for you... just start connecting more to see if it can develop into something that feeds you more than now.)
  3. Increase Vulnerability.  I have a whole chapter in my book to this point, but Dr. Rankin describes why this matters so much saying that "shame, secrecy, and isolation are the enemies of the healing process." To be vulnerable, she talks about why we must be ourselves, take our masks off, set up healthy boundaries, and learn to ask for what we need. This point has both to do with our practicing on vulnerability in friendships, but also speaks to how we need to get to know ourselves better and keep increasing our self-love so that when we are in potential relationships we already know who we are and feel our self-worth.
  4. Then, Assess.  Forgiving others will do a lot to let go of your past, increasing consistency will help increase the support you feel now, and learning who you are and how to love yourself can all give you some breathing space to think about your future.  Chapters 2 & 3 of my book--Friendships Don't Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends-- will help you assess your relationships so you can then decide which steps you most need to pour your time and energy into.

I think these 4 steps are important (sorry I can only mention them in passing in this context!) especially because making new friends often causes stress before it reduces stress.  In the beginning of new relationships we experience more fear and uncertainty before we can grow those relationships to safe, easy, and comfortable times together.  To that point, it behooves  us to both see our relationship-making as a long-term strategy worthy of our investment and also do what we can to nourish ourselves as much as possible in the process.  Much like how exercise is not a one-time event, friendship-making has to be seen for the pay-off it will have down the road.  It's so worth it!

For as Lissa says, "Every day is an opportunity to deepen your connections to the people you value.  When you let your heart feel, become resilient to shame, end your judgments of others, learn the art of forgiveness, practice being authentic, and lay bare your soul, you allow your mind to work its wonders, optimizing the body for its natural state of self-repair."

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Other posts that speak to some of the subjects mentioned in this post:

Your Brain on Friendships

Are New Friends Worth the Energy Output Required?

Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment

Loneliness & Your Health

 

 

Help Me Blaze the Important Trails of Friendship!

Yesterday I received an email of congrats from an entrepreneurial friend of mine after she saw my name on a press release announcing that I was a finalist for a Trailblazer of the Year Award.  I quickly clicked on the link she had sent and was momentarily stunned... Trailblazing? Really?  I wrote her back and said, "Thank you!" And, "hmm... I wonder how I ended up in that category?"

Trailblazer? Really?

The title of "Trailblazing" is definitely a word I hadn't yet used to describe myself.

Her return email then landed in my inbox:

"Don’t underestimate yourself Shasta!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    YOU are doing such IMPORTANT work ----- don't you realize you are-   Reinstating the Role of Friendship in Life? Giving friendship a Facelift? Uplifting the Spirit with New Friends? It’s because of these reasons that you are a Trailblazer!!!! Accept it  and write about how you think you are trailblazing for your next blog – this is important!!"

And then I just smiled.  Smiled with the appreciation of having friends in my life who believe in me and help me see myself in new ways. So this blog is my way of accepting the challenge of a friend.  This is for me to own what I want to do in this world, but it's also me inviting you to blaze the trail with me!  :)

Let's blaze this trail of friendship together! We need a world of women feeling connected, supported, known, and loved!

The funny thing is that I know I am definitely on a mission. I wouldn't deny that!  But sometimes we just don't use words like "Trailblazing!" to describe ourselves!  But when I started GirlFriendCircles.com nearly 4 years ago I'd get blank stares from people when I'd describe my business.  And magazines would respond with "Oh we did a story on friendship 8 months ago," as though that meant they didn't need to cover it again this year!  And women would say stupid things like, "Who would be so desperate as to pay for friends?" as though paying for coffee, water, and manicures were of more value to them.  Even now when I try to pitch friendship as the very real health story that it is, editors and producers would rather give you a story about a new technique for stomach crunches even though friendship is far more important to your health!

So when I remember what it was like back then and compare it to now.... while I wouldn't have used the word "trailblazing," that was very much what I have done for the last number of years.

And just to further laugh at myself... I do have a theory that friendship can save the world. (See my 3 min video here.) What kind of a silly girl goes making lofty claims about "saving the world" without thinking she wouldn't be blazing a trail along the way!? Ha! Shows just how much we can do without seeing it through the eyes of others!

What Our Trailblazing May Feel Like...

This experience reminds me of the recent Dove commercial that highlights how we  see our appearance differently than others.  I think the same can be true of our accomplishments, roles, identities, and goals.  Certainly it makes sense that we might focus more on our wrinkles, wide foreheads, and big noses than anyone ever looking at us sees.  But similarly, we see much more of the un-glamorous and non-wowing parts of our  lives than others see. (Which is a good thing because while I'm absolutely okay with you knowing how many days I go un-showered, it's still better that you don't have to see it!)

The truth is that when I think of my life, I just see a girl behind her computer, in yoga pants, with stringy hair, typing emails furiously, scheduling phone calls, and just checking things off my to-do list.  It's not really the same image that comes to mind when I think "TRAILBLAZER!" LOL!

But just because the vast majority of my life moments feel mundane doesn't mean I'm not creating partnerships, pitching stories, creating content, and slowly making the trail one foot longer.

To that end, I started www.GirlFriendCircles.com to help introduce women to each other, wrote a book to help inspire and teach women how to foster friendships into more meaningful relationships, and filled up calendars with speaking appointments, workshops, interviews, and events where I can engage with women on such important friendship-related subjects such as forgiveness, personal growth, physical health, self-esteem, and joy.

This idea is necessary because we are moving every 5 years, changing jobs every 4.4 years, living far from our family, going through our life stages at vastly different ages, and divorcing more frequently than previous generations-- every single one of those changes can uproot our support systems leaving people feeling incredibly vulnerable.  We need new ways of connecting with other human beings with more ease and less fear, while also having the permission and know-how to transform those friendships into deep, fulfilling, and meaningful relationships.

So as I'm expanding into a new word, here's hoping you'll blaze trails with me!  I don't expect any of you to run a media campaign in your community for new friendships, but you can RSVP for a ConnectingCircle or sign-up to be a local Ambassador!  You may not see that as anything hugely glamorous.  In fact, it may even feel awkward, discouraging, and scary!  But that doesn't mean it's not HUGELY important!

Why We Have to Blaze Friendship Trails

We have to remember why we are doing what we do.

Yes, most of being a mom feels more like being a chauffeur, ATM, and chef; but to actually stop and feel the awesomeness of the role-- a life-giver, educator-of-the-next-generation, and the person who will teach real love to another human.  Wow.

Similarly, starting a friendship doesn't always feel that amazing.  We often carry fear wondering if the other person will like us, frustration with how hard it is to get something scheduled, and then un-fulfilled when an evening talking to strangers doesn't feel like talking to our best friends, yet.  It doesn't always feel amazing.

But when you realize it's our relationships that serve as gymnasiums for our souls, giving us the place to practice the skills this world desperately needs: forgiveness when hurt, compassion when tired, cheering when jealous, and supporting even when not understanding-- then we sit with just a bit of the sacredness of this relationship.  For, if we can't practice these skills with people around us who we, at one point, chose to care about, then we have little chance of being able to show up with these skills when we're talking about people who live on the other side of the world, who worship a different version of God, or who vote for a different president.

I'd say there are few things more important than having safe relationships where we can practice being the powerful, big, loving people who this world needs us to be.

Furthermore, we live in a world where increased loneliness is literally poisoning our bodies. Stress is the number one cause of most disease and death and a sense of disconnection is heightening our sense of being "separate."  The less we feel supported by a tribe of people, the more at risk we are of sickness, acting out of insecurity, and behaving in less compassionate ways.

A plethora of research shows that when we have friends we feel like the obstacles in our lives are smaller, that we heal from surgery faster, that we recover from breast cancer at higher rates, that our immune systems are stronger, and that we have more energy to do our life missions. Wow.

I sincerely believe that the more connected everyone is to a group of friends-- the better off this entire world will be.

So to all the trails we have already blazed, and to the many, many more that we will keep making... Thanks to Rock the World for the honor of the nomination, thanks to my friend Shamini for pushing me to sit with the label, and thanks to all of you women who are on the trail with me! xoxo

Your Brain on Friendships

On CBS Sunday Morning, a news magazine program, they ran an awesome story this last weekend about the health benefits of friendship.(Watch the clip here, if interested.) In the segment on CBS, they showed two of these recent studies-- one in the field of psychology and the other in neuroscience.

Friendships Decrease How We Perceive Stressors

First, they re-enacted the psychology study that came out of University of Virgina a few years back that revealed how we assess life differently when a friend is nearby.  Students wearing a heavy backpack at the bottom of a hill were asked to estimate the steepness of the incline.  Some students were alone as they did the assignment, others had one friend standing beside them. The lead professor, Dr. Dennis Proffitt says on Sunday Morning, "They find the hill to be steeper if they are alone, and less steep if they are with friends."

When a friend stands nearby we perceive the hill to be less steep than when we are standing alone.

First, let's just let that one sink in for one moment.  How many of us feel exhausted or weary by life?  How many of us feel a wee bit overwhelmed?  How many of us feel like the metaphoric hill in front of us feels too steep? If there was a way to face life where our perception was radically changed to perceive our situations as a wee bit easier, less intimidating, and more do-able, would you want it?  Our social support is one such factor.

Interestingly, the research also showed that the more intimate and meaningful the friendship, the less steep the hill was perceived; and that conversely when subjects were asked to think of a neutral or disliked person they estimated the hill to be even more steep. That speaks volumes for how important forgiveness and boundaries can be-- if I let someone I don't like keep filling my thoughts then I'm more likely to view life as hard and steep!  Our invitation isn't just to invite friends to stand close in our lives, but it's also to find peace with those around us who might be adding to our stress.

Friendships Reduces Actual Stress in our Brains

The second highlighted study contrasted MRI brain activity when a subject who was receiving intermittent mild electrical shocks was alone or while holding the hand of a friend.  Not knowing when the shocks were going to occur, this test showed the brain response to our anticipatory anxiety, the type of stress so many of us live with as we worry about all the things that are uncertain.  The parts of our brain that sense danger are much less active when we're holding the hand of a friend.

When we are holding the hand of a friend while experiencing anticipatory stress, there is less wear on our brains than when we face stress alone.

Dr. James Coan, the lead researcher in this study and a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, said to CBS Sunday Morning: "The burden of coping with life's many stressors... when you have to deal with them all by yourself, it not only feels more exhausting, it literally creates more wear on your body."

Similarly, Dr. Coan's work focuses a lot on marriages, too, showing that when faced with a fearful or stressful situation, it doesn't only feel comforting to hold our husbands hand, but actually is comforting as our brain scans show that our anxiety is literally reduced.

Three Friendship Choices to Lower your Stress

I am ever grateful that the topic of friendship, which has long been held as a warm-and-fuzzy subject, is actually grabbing the attention of scientists who are able to articulate to us the significance of our relationships.  For far more than simply a feel-good theme, the results of studies that focus on our friendships are compelling us to acknowledge that this is actually one of the most important health factors in our lives. It's long been my soapbox that right up there with "eat vegetables, exercise, and get enough sleep" should also be "spend quality time with friends."

Because it's not enough to just have had good friends in our past.  We actually need them now.  We don't want to lie to our brains and say, "I'm too busy to make friends right now" which is another way of saying we're too stressed to add one more thing, when in actuality we need those meaningful friendships to actually decrease our stress!

Here are three ways you can move toward a less-stressful, more friend-filled life.

  1. Invest now in new friends if your goal is meaningful friends.  Many of us don't take the time to be with new friends because it's not meaningful, easy, and deep yet compared to our close friendships.  But showing up for "coffee dates" (or your repeated activity of choice!) with a new friend now is how you make sure you have that close friend next year.
  2. Add some more consistency with someone you already feel intimate with.  Many of us have friends we know deeply but we rarely talk to them or see them because of distance. If you feel like you don't have local close friends yet, consider talking weekly on the phone with a far-flung friend so you can at least reap the benefits of intimate support while you're fostering the local friendships that aren't yet intimate.
  3. Be a wee bit more vulnerable.  I devote an entire chapter in my book "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" to this topic to help us understand what vulnerability is, what it looks like, and how appropriate it is to grow it slowly.  But in both these studies, the friend was standing close or holding a hand, which means that part of the benefit means they were nearby, present, or engaged. To simply have friends who know nothing about our lives (and therefore can't really support us) doesn't fully capture the benefits possible!  We have to let people get a little closer.

There was a time when people thought it silly to go jogging or work out at a gym.  It was foreign thought that we'd set aside time in our lives to exercise if we weren't professional athletes.  But as our lives became more sedentary, the need for intentional physical movement became obvious.

Similarly, as our lives become more disconnected from tribes, social circles, and nearby family, we are in a time where we all need to swallow the truth that we must become more intentional about fostering meaningful friendships. Not just because we're lonely or wish we had someone to go do something with, but because our health-- physical and emotional-- are dependent on it.

It is no small thing that with a friend nearby you will not only experience less stress, but also perceive the world with less stress. And less stress means longer lives, less disease, and more joy.

To your health!

This segment on friendship also included an interview with Dr. Irene Levine, a women I admire for her healthy friendship advice, and stories featuring two separate groups of friends. I was particularly moved by the group of male friends they showed as I think there is need for so much modeling of deep male friendship in our society.  Job well done CBS!

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Care isn't the Same as Selfishness

We Don't Want to be Selfish!

I've been told that in the Mandarin Chinese language there are two different meanings for the word selfish.  One definition captures the greedy-hoarding-take-care-only-of-ourselves mentality that we're all so afraid to ever be called. The other, though, speaks more of self-care, a nurturing and protecting of one self that recognizes we have to put our own oxygen mask on before we assist another.

There is a vast difference between the two.  And I fear that sometimes we avoid the latter in an attempt to avoid the former.

But we're smarter than that.  It's not a slippery slope where if you start caring for yourself it then leads to the selfishness we fear.  On the contrary!  I have found that the women who engage in the greatest amount of self-care are the ones who are least likely to grab, judge, condemn, compete, hoard, and devalue.

Healthy women show up in healthy friendships.

We Want to be Balanced!

And that's why I'm a cheering fan for my friend Jennifer Tuma-Young's book that is being released today: Balance Your Life, Balance the Scale: Ditch Dieting, Amp Up Your Energy, Feel Amazing, and Release the Weight. (It already has so many accolades, including being chosen by the Barnes & Noble Health & Diet expert as a "must-read" book!)

Balance Your Life book

While Jennifer connects her 100+ lb weight loss story to her journey of finding joy and energy in her life, this is not so much a diet book as much as it is a book about increasing your own positivity, awareness, and emotional health. All things that certainly can impact our bodies and health, but factors that also influence our relationships.

If we're unhappy, burdened, exhausted, or stressed out-- it becomes nearly impossible to engage in meaningful ways in our relationships. (And for those of us who know how important it is to consistently be inviting new people into our lives-- we also know that showing up for drinks with near strangers takes an extra dose of invested energy!)  The truth is that we have to do the personal work of being the kind of people who are healthy-- emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.

When I speak on relationships I almost always have a woman raise her hand during the Q&A (or come up to me afterward) and try to convince me she just doesn't have time to nurture healthy friendships.  I used to try to give suggestions for how to connect with friends even when we're busy, but I've since learned that they have an excuse for every suggestion.  Which leaves me questioning them why they are asking me for help if they are already convinced that there is no solution?  They almost always are as certain that friends are a priority to them as they are certain that they are justified that there is no time in their lives.

My answer to them now? "Your life is out of balance."

I'm not a big fan of the word balance-- it conjures up a picture of someone on a tight-rope trying not to fall or someone with a scale trying to precisely measure equality.  No, it's not the metaphor I want for your life where you feel like if one unplanned event enters your day that it will throw the whole thing off.

When I use the word balance-- I mean is your life balanced, or in alignment, with the life you want?  Are you living in integrity with what you say is important to you?  If that woman at every event is convinced she wants friends but has no time for them-- then her life is out of alignment, off-balance.

The process that Jennifer puts forth in her book (filled with tons of coaching activities, journaling questions, and proactive steps) to help women evaluate their lives leads to a definition of balance that I can get behind.  :)

B-- Breathe

A-- Accept

L-- Laugh

A-- Appreciate

N-- Notice Nature

C-- Connect

E-- Experience

A woman who is rich in those words will be a woman rich with friends and meaningful relationships! (An entire chapter is devoted to each of those words alongside the technique that helps you customize a long-term approach that helps you find a way of being that feels congruous and whole to you.)

But whether it's through a tool like a new book, or through you just going back to what has worked for you in the past (more nature walks? scheduling in what matters to your life? getting enough sleep?), if you find yourself saying you don't have time for friends, I challenge you to examine your life and see if it matches up to what you say matters to you?

And Balance Comes Through Self-Care...

Living a life that is in balance with our values and priorities requires you taking the time to actually know what your values and priorities are!  And that awareness comes from self-care.  (I'm not just talking about manicures as self-care!  :) I'm talking about real mental clearing, life transformation, coaching/counseling, improved health.)

Even in the English dictionary I find that there is only one concept in the definition of selfish that should cause us pause.  And that is words like "only" and "regardless of others."

self·ish [sel-fish] adjective: devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.

But just because there can be an abuse of something doesn't mean we want to avoid seeking for the real thing.

Being devoted to or caring for ourselves is something I think we all need to pay more attention to, not just for our sakes, but ironically for those around us.

Which really, when you think about it,  doesn't sound all that selfish at all!  :)

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I cheer today for Jennifer who launches her book into the world.  Order it here on Amazon: Balance Your Life, Balance the Scale: Ditch Dieting, Amp Up Your Energy, Feel Amazing, and Release the Weight

And I cheer for all of us who make conscious decisions today to care for ourselves, in whatever ways we choose!  Hugs!

I Have This Theory that Friendship Can Save the World

This is my manifesto for doing what I do.  I believe that beyond the joy and health that friendships bring us personally, they also give us the place to practice being the people who this world needs.

I share this today, on 9/11 for two reasons: First, it is the anniversary of the day eleven years ago when we saw what happens when people judge and fear others. In response to that terrorism, we also saw what happens when love and generosity step in.

And second, today is my birthday. I joyfully launch the message that I'm committed to sharing in the year ahead.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by friendship, I mean relationships where we are committed to practicing the best version of ourselves, while simultaneously choosing to abandon pretense, posturing, and insecurity to risk revealing our shadow side, too.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by save, I mean bring greater happiness, less stress, healthier hearts and bodies, an increased sense of personal worthiness, less rejection, and fewer actions initiated by fear.

I believe that our friendships are gymnasiums for our souls.  Gymnasiums where we can practice being the people this world needs: building up our muscle for compassion, increasing our endurance for giving, and stretching our ability to see the best in each other.

*   So we can practice cheering for people even when we’re jealous.

*   So we can practice listening even when we think we’re right.

*   So we can practice empathy even when we’re tempted to judge.

*   So we can practice serving even when we’re busy.

*   So we can practice saying “I forgive you” even when we’re disappointed.

All of these are skills this world desperately needs.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by the world, I mean that if we don't do these things in relationships with people we love, then what hope do we have of doing them with people who live on the other side of the world from us? Who have different religions or political views? Whose values and beliefs differ from our own?

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

Less splintering, less judgment, less criticism, less loneliness, less fear, less pulling away, less war.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

More smiles, more acceptance, more love, more hope, more applause, more joy, more positivity, more belonging.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

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I hope you'll post this blog and video today to your Facebook page to help remind us how important our friendships are! 

And to that point, today the web site for my book goes live: www.ShastaNelson.com. YAY!  Thank you blog readers for your cheering along the way-- it means a lot!

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment

I've been thinking about bodies, weight, and insecurities a lot lately. I was somewhat shocked when my last blog post ("The Judgment of Weight") skyrocketed to first place as the most read blog on this site. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been surprised as it hasn't gone unnoticed by me that nearly every woman's magazine puts the word fat or weight on their cover every single month. Clearly the subject sells.

And I know why.  We all want to be "acceptable."  Every single one of us goes through this journey called life trying, in our own ways, to "be enough," "prove valuable," and "feel loved." So certainly it would matter if we're told that there is something "wrong" with us.  Especially something so obvious to everyone else.

It's not my intention or training to talk about weight specifically-- whether we need to gain or lose, how to do it, why it's hard, or how it's affecting our health and longevity.  But from a relational perspective-- the judgment we have surrounding this issue has to keep being addressed. It's affecting all of us.

Your Weight Bothers Me

In some ways it doesn't seem to matter how public Oprah is about accepting her weight, how many Dove campaigns go viral, how many "over-weight" celebrities provide new role models, or how many more articles we read that emphasize health over weight-- we are still showing up with such deep judgments.

Less than half of the 1800 women who took the survey chose "neither" as their answer when asked to choose from pairs of words like ambitious or lazy to describe a woman they knew nothing about except that she was “overweight” or “thin.” (And in that particular question we were 11 times more willing to peg that imaginary woman as lazy!)

With two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese you'd think we'd be more compassionate since the chances are high that if we're not personally in this category that someone we know and love is.  Ironic also that most of us claim we want to lose weight while simultaneously judging thin women as being superficial, mean, and controlling. If we believed that, why would we want to become that?

Those judgments are hurting us. Personally.

Not just because we risk dismissing potential friends because of our prejudice, though that's a strong reason to practice befriending those whose body types are different from ours.  But because we damage our own psyches when we judge others.

The judgments we are putting out there are the same judgments that are coming back and biting us in our ass--be it flat or plump. We think we might feel better if we devalue others,  but when we do, we are reinforcing the same judgments that we'll hold against ourselves.  We're putting energy out there that becomes our own critic, our own slave master, our own prison.

We cannot judge without feeling judged.  It's impossible. If we make the judgment about her, we're telling our brain that this belief is true to us. Which means that same brain will give us that message about ourselves.

What we say about others reveals way more about our own story than it does about theirs.  We are reacting to them from our own insecurities, fears, and doubts.

When we can't accept them it reveals that we can't accept ourselves. The two go hand-in-hand.

Getting Naked Literally and Figuratively

I felt a moment of that truth last week when a friend took me to a Korean style spa--a bathhouse where you wear the same thing you would if you were taking a bath at home. Ha!

The first two minutes are the worst.  Not used to disrobing in front of strangers (or my girlfriends who were with me, for that matter!) it does feel very vulnerable.

And then, it doesn't. Seriously.

A swimsuit just gives the illusion of being covered. Without it comes a freedom:  No sucking anything in, no pulling anything down, no adjusting anything, no worrying if it is in style, or flattering, or appropriate.  There was simply nothing to hide behind, nothing to judge, nothing to worry about keeping in place.

When we risk showing our scars, birthmarks, cellulite, rolls of fat, protruding bones, tan lines, faces without make-up, boobs without push-up bras, and wet hair-- we realize we're all way more alike than we seem to remember when covered with clothing.

To see one woman walk by with only a scar where a breast used to be--I was reminded how grateful I am for life.  To see one woman sitting on the edge of the jacuzzi with rolls of fat around her middle-- I found myself cheering for her courage, grateful for her acceptance, challenging myself to accept who I am, too.

As I accepted all the bodies around me for just what they were, letting go of any need to judge those who were willing to be vulnerable in the same space with me, a self-acceptance washed over me.

I felt beautiful even as I gazed at the parts of my body that can sometimes cause me shame.  I didn't feel it then.  I completely and totally accepted myself, even as my chest flattened when I laid on my back. Oh that we all had more moments where we could be that relaxed and at peace.

When I stopped judging those around me, I found it easier to give the gift to myself.

Or maybe it was when I first disrobed, proving I was willing to accept myself that I was able to accept all of them.

I don't know which came first. But I do know the two went hand-in-hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Doesn't Friendship Sell?

I just returned home from a publicity trip in New York City last week where I zig-zagged across Manhattan pitching friendship stories to any magazine editor who would listen to me. Sex Still Sells.  Even to Women.

Regardless of the fact that our circle of friends continues to rank as a bigger factor to our happiness and health than if we're married, or have kids-- you'd never know it by the headlines we seem drawn toward at the magazine rack.  Put romance or parenting on the cover of a magazine and we seem compelled to buy it. We must know more! Mention our weight and you'd think there's a secret out there we haven't yet heard.

Compare how many sex headlines there are every month (I mean, seriously, how many more techniques or positions do we possibly need?) versus the number of titles inviting you into deeper friendships. You laugh.  But, why? Why are we not drawn to headlines that would promote our sense of belonging?

Look at any women's news blog and there will be always be a tab for sex & love, usually one for family, and rarely one for friendships.

Friendship just isn't seen as urgent. Or as important.

In pitching my book proposal to publishing houses this fall, most of the rejections came in the form of "We already did a book on friendship a couple of years ago."  As though, one every couple of years is all that is needed. Compare that to the seemingly hundreds of titles that come out every year to help you find and foster your perfect love. Availability is one thing, the other is that the titles that do make it into print don't seem to impress anyone with the sales numbers. (A depressing fact to sit with as I start writing my book!)

And what about diet books? I mean, we could fill half a bookstore with books on how to lose weight! Books that arguably are just different ways of saying the same thing: Eat healthy and exercise. How many more forests do we have to tear down before we realize that the weight of our country isn't decreasing with the purchasing of these titles?

Yet never a magazine goes to print without the word fat somewhere on the cover. That very word promises money.

Why Doesn't Friendship Sell?

On the one hand, I totally get it.  My husband impacts my day-to-day life way more than any of my girlfriends. He is an incredibly important relationship for me to continue to invest in.

On the other hand, there's enough research out there that actually shows what sociologists have termed the "Marriage Benefit Imbalance."  The concept that "We have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men," was made famous by Liz Gilbert in her book Committed.  Yes, compared to single female counterparts, married women are more likely to suffer from depression, die younger, accumulate less wealth, earn reduced pay, experience more health problems and thrive less in their careers than those who are unmarried.

For the sake of argument, let's just assume that we decide those costs are still worth it to us to feel chosen, to go through life with someone, to be married.  But wouldn't we then want to do everything we could to bring balance to that? Wouldn't we look around and say, "Okay, what is known to decrease stress, lower depression, increase joy, improve longevity, reduce disease and recovery time, and invite the most amount of joy and support into my life?"

Who doesn't want more of those things? And the research unequivocally continues to come out showcasing friendship as one of, if not the most significant factor to those things. There is no argument on this.  It's not like coffee where some research says it's good for you and others say it's not. Across the board-- your sense of community, belonging, support, and participation in friendships is making a difference.

So someone tell me why this subject doesn't sell?  I won't even ask that it sell more than romance. But why can't it be second to romance?

Why don't we pick up magazines that can teach us how to hold healthy expectations of friendships? That will explain the stages of friendship to us? Inspire us with the research that showcases the centrality of our support circle to our lives? That would encourage us, like they do with exercise, that the results take time and persistence, but are worth it in the long run?

What is your sense on this? Why don't friendship books sell the way romance, parenting, and health books sell?

  • Is it because we intuitively think we know everything there is to know about friendship, not feeling the need for knowledge like we do in the other areas of our lives?
  • Or is it that it doesn't matter what we know, perhaps we feel that friendship is something we can't control or change? As though friendship either happens to us or it doesn't, but either way, we don't need to be intentional?
  • Or is it that we simply have all the friendships we need and want?  Perhaps the research coming out that shows our depression increasing and our support circles shrinking really isn't capturing the fact that we're all surrounded by all the community we want? Perhaps you don't crave more than what you are experiencing?
  • Or is it that we're so busy feeling bad about ourselves in all those other areas (romance, weight, parenting) that we simply don't have time to add guilt to one more life area? (If this were true it would infer that we don't see how friendships might actually improve all those other areas, making us feel more supported and healthy.)
  • Or does friendship not sell because of the stigma we have around falsely linking "I need more friends" with "No one likes me, I'm  loser." Do we think by admitting that we need friends that we're somehow worse than we thought? Are we not admitting the truth to ourselves that we actually can be amazing, and still be lonely?
  • Or is it because fear sells and we haven't yet adequately convinced everyone of the real consequences of not developing meaningful friendships?  Maybe it's like sleep deprivation... something we're so used to doing without that it doesn't really feel all that important?

I'd be so curious to know from a few of you what your read on this is? Why are these books not selling? What are the magazine editors not feeling the urgency to provide teaching and inspiration on this subject? Why is this not a major sense of need in your life or the women around you? Or, conversely, because my readers are those who have decided it's important in their lives (how lucky I am to have found you!) -- what was it that finally made the difference for you?

Give me your wisdom.  Or at least your best guess!  :)