Feeling stressed? Take a one minute sabbatical.

photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver

I’ve been feeling stressed, on edge, riddled with angst. I know this because I’ve been clenching my teeth so hard my jaw hurts, my throat is sore, my posture sucks, I’m foraging for sweets, and my puppy just ate his poop.

Projects are piling up at work and home, and I have to light a match (a.k.a. hillbilly air freshener) because it smells like poop in my house. I just can’t sit still.

Breathe.

Interestingly, I discovered on the last page of my Fast Company magazine, that April is National Stress Awareness Month. (Ironically, it is also Alcohol Awareness month. I wonder if there’s a connection?) I love what Fast Company did to illustrate the many numeric quirks related to stress. (Click on the photo to see a larger image.)

Courtesy of Fast Company

I know others of you are feeling stressed out, too. Whatever the reason for your stress – feel free to add your own to my list – I think what we need is a sabbatical from unnecessary self-restrictions and false guilt burdens that we carry around with us as navigate this thing we call life.

One minute sabbatical

If business leaders, educators and employees can take a planned month or year long leave from their work to travel, research, volunteer, climb mountains, or whatever, then why can’t I take a sabbatical from life? Even if it’s only for a minute.

At home we own the book: Quiet Mind: One Minute Retreats from a Busy World by David Kundtz. Rob first discovered it at our friend’s office (she owns Heart & Sole massage therapy and wellness). It’s a great little book that offers words of wisdom and encouragement. It also reminds us to stop and breathe so we don’t worry ourselves to death.

OK, maybe I won’t just prop my feet up and stuff dark chocolate in my mouth all day. Instead, I’ll keep practicing one minute retreats to quiet my mind and chill. Small moments can make a difference.

What do you think?

Stress-reducing mantras

Repeating mantras help calm me. So do lighting matches, burning incense and napping in the middle of the day. Here are some of my mantras for stressful days:

  • I will do one thing at a time.
  • I will finish what I started.
  • I know what to do.
  • I give myself permission to stop.
  • Paradise is petting my dog.
  • Soften
  • Breathe
  • Count to ten. Hold your nose.

Share your mantras with me and I’ll publish them here.

Blogs, Brands and Kids. Oh my!

"Haystacks after Monet" by James Bruneau 2009

The uncomfortable truth about mommy bloggers, branding and kids.

The other day I read a post from one of my favorite authors and mommy bloggers – Christina Katz. She was really ticked off about how mommy bloggers were portrayed in a recent New York Times article: “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.”

She also took issue with being called a brand. Curious, I read the article.

To Christina’s point, the piece hinted at the idea that mommy bloggers are somehow sellouts by positioning themselves as a brand channel for companies looking to reach women. I admit, the headline choice was an attempt to be cute and capture attention because not all moms who blog ignore their kids for personal gain. Regardless of whether or not you blog, who hasn’t told their children: ‘I’m too busy right now doing important stuff; go play?’

To me, the article took a whack at revealing the mystery of the mommy blogging business without too much depth and failed to deliver on the promise of the headline.  How about an article highlighting women who seek balance, while striving to be taken seriously in their chosen profession, whether or not they blog?

What’s a mommy blogger?

Moms who write about topics that are of interest to other moms, and publish these writings online are called mommy bloggers. A blog used to be synonymous for online diary and poor writing. Although these connotations still lurk beneath the surface, a well-written blog is a powerful word of mouth marketing tool, especially if you have a big audience. Mommy bloggers with lots of followers are coveted by companies who want to reach the mother lode of purchasers for their products and services.

Ironically, I don’t feel at ease labeling myself as a mommy blogger. I’m a writer who happens to use a blog as an outlet to publish stories about motherhood, love and life. My blog helps me to share and connect with an intimate reader base. Oh, and it also helps to build my brand.

What’s a brand?

A brand is a name. It’s the essence, reputation, or personality of who or what you are. Most often we associate brands with companies like Nike, Apple and Toyota. However, people are brands, too. Think Martha Stewart, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama, and don’t forget your mom.

It’s human nature to gather around things we believe in, value and trust. How do you decide whose email messages you’re going to read and respond to first? Whose will you ignore, or trash? I believe that if someone makes you feel good, stands for something you believe in, gives you good advice, shares something of importance, or asks you to do something fun, then he or she is important to you. Good brands, like good people deliver value for your time.

What does building your brand mean?

When you’re updating your resume, fundraising for your favorite charity, cleaning your house before your in-laws come over, emailing parents about a school function, or connecting with others on LinkedIn, you’re trying to make a strong, memorable and positive impression.

Like Christina, however, you still may not view yourself as a brand. Society likes to segment similar groupings and categorize them. It makes it easier to talk about something if you give it a name.

I don’t like fences

Like the Cole Porter song, “Don’t fence me in,” (I like Bob Hope’s goofy rendition of it on an episode of The Muppet Show) I don’t like fences. I prefer to “be myself in the evenin’ breeze.”  What if the labels of mommy blogger and brand aren’t really fences, but haystacks of authenticity, transparency, trustworthiness, and values? As long as I remain true to these tenets, labels really don’t matter.

Now, it’s time for me to get off my horse; my son needs some lovin’ from his momma.

What will you do differently today?

Early reader books.

When I was a kid, I remember reading a book called A Happy Day. It was part of a series of early, start preschool readers developed by educators in the mid ‘60s to help young children to recognize and read a number of common one or two syllable words. My mom, a teacher and pack rat kept them all and bestowed them upon me to share with James.

It’s not that the books weren’t good – I learned to read and take an interest in reading because of them. However, when I looked closer at my favorite A Happy Day, I realized that this book was not just a cute story about an everyday situation. It was about conforming to socially accepted behaviors.

It said to children, when you do these things, in this order, you will have a happy day – get up, get dressed, get breakfast, get wet, go to school on time, come home, eat dinner, get tired, go to bed. And then you get to do it all over again. How uninspiring!

page from “A Happy Day”

What if doing the same things over and over again made you unhappy? What if the girl in the book announced to her mom that she was going to do everything in a different way?

Instead of getting dressed, she wore her pajamas to school. Instead of eating cereal for breakfast, she ate a cheeseburger. Instead of walking to school, she skipped to school. You get the idea. There’s more than one way to do something.

We all have our to-do lists, routines and comfort zones. Maybe you take the same route to work every day, always shop at the same store, avoid wearing horizontal stripes because you think it makes you look fat, drink Starbucks every morning, listen to Glenn Beck, answer the phone without smiling, or eat dinner sitting down at the table.

Do you ever find yourself uptight, grumpy and unfulfilled?  What if you changed things up and did something you’ve never done before – just for one day?

It’s not easy. The other day, I decided to take a different route to work. I was so happy enjoying the ride through the park that I took a wrong turn and headed the opposite way. As I began to chastise myself for being an idiot, I realized that being negative about a slight error wasn’t improving my mood. So what? I made a mistake. All I had to do was turn around and head south. I still made it to work despite my miscalibration. It was a minor detour on a fabulous, sunny morning.

Here’s a challenge for you: do something different today. If you screw up, let it go. Drop me a note and let me know how it worked for you. Oh, and try to have a happy day!