How to Stay Calm

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Something unexpected happened, and you freaked out.

Afterward, you felt embarrassed about your overreaction.

Trust me, I have made the same mistake countless times, including this week.

I also believe that we can both do better. Here’s how:

1. Tell God.

Duh, right? Seems obvious for Christians, but I don’t think we practice the habit often enough. As soon as you encounter an uncomfortable situation, say to God, “This happened. I’m not sure how to respond.” It only takes five seconds, and it actually works.

2. Tell yourself.

The smartest thing my counselor every told me was this: “Feelings aren’t facts.” In the moment, the tiniest problems can seem like the end of the world, so I talk to myself internally: Your feelings aren’t facts. Chances are, you won’t feel this way in an hour.

Feelings aren’t facts.

3. Distract yourself.

If possible, find a task to consume your focus. Hustle to the laundry room and fold a shirt. Play a song on your phone. Brush your teeth–whatever pops into your mind. At work, open a new document and start typing.  Have a conversation with a coworker.

After about ten minutes, the initial wave of emotions will pass. Then you can revisit the situation with a little better perspective. Reacting immediately leads to regret.

4. Breathe alone.

Suppose the first three steps didn’t work, and you start to lose control. Go into the bathroom, shut the door, sit on the toilet, and breath slowly. Count to five for each inhale. Fill your diaphragm. Force yourself to finish ten full breaths before you quit.

5. Read the Bible out loud.

I use this step as my last-ditch effort when I can’t stop crying.

Through the gasping breaths, pick a Psalm at random and start to read verbally. The act of speaking serves as a distraction and requires more regular breathing. The meaning of the text gets you out of your head, and the Holy Spirit can start working on your heart.

Do not consider this a comprehensive list.

These five tricks  happen to have worked for me in the past. In fact, I tried a couple of them today with relative success. I didn’t even need to resort to number five–but I’d still love to hear your top five tips for keeping your emotions in check. Leave them in the comments!

Let’s work on staying calm together.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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5 Tips for Making Tough Decisions

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I hate making decisions so much that I almost didn’t marry the love of my life.

So when I tell you that I have a few tips about making difficult choices, trust me–these lessons were hard-won. Please know that I sympathize with your inner angst.

1. Take your time.

This is a weird one for me because, historically, I have taken way too much time to make decisions. Take my engagement as an example: almost a year and a half of agonizing thought, prayer, and discussion.

Ever since getting married, however, I seem to have swung wildly to the other extreme. Now I attempt to skip the entire experience by making decisions swiftly and at random, which is not a great alternative.

It’s OK to slog through the painful process. Pray. Search the scriptures. Talk with trusted friends and family. You’ll come out of it wiser. Hang in there.

2. Talk to future you.

Sometimes I like to stage imaginary conversations with myself six months in the future. Pretending that I have already picked a certain option, and I ask, “Do you regret your choice?”

My boss recently asked me to travel once per month to a radio station out of state. I’d meet with new clients and write new ads, which would mean a bigger workload and a larger commissions check each month.

Monthly travel sounded daunting, but we’d been going through a slow season with the local stations. I had a heart-to-heart with future Marie, imagining that she had declined the opportunity. She regretted missing the chance to grow. She felt bored. So I said yes.

3. Just make the decision.

Once you’ve carefully weighed each option, pick one. Acknowledge that you cannot predict every outcome, let go of your need for control, and take the scary step. In my experience, even a wrong decision will turn out better than no decision at all.

In fact, I’d estimate that the majority of choices don’t fall under the category of moral dilemmas. Often, either alternative could lead to some favorable results. Commit yourself to one path, and you’ll typically find both trials and successes.

In the rare case that you do make a horrible mistake, and disastrous consequences ensue … at least you’ll learn from the experience and make a better choice next time. Remaining in a state of permanent indecision gets you nothing but a tummy ache.

4. Stick with it.

Once you have made up your mind, don’t revisit the decision. Commit yourself fully to the path you have chosen. You also shouldn’t be too hasty to judge whether you made the “right” call or not. Give it some time; see how it goes.

A couple of years ago, my ENT recommended sinus surgery. He hoped that it would help me to breathe better at night. The financial cost was significant, however, and I would  need to take time off work for the recovery. After deliberating, I took my doctor’s advice.

The recovery ended up being much worse than the surgeon had anticipated. I had to take more days off work than I had planned. The pain was, frankly, horrible, and I didn’t respond well to the pain medication. Clearly, I had made a terrible mistake …

… except that I can actually breathe through my nose now. And, in retrospect, the nine-day recovery doesn’t seem so terribly long. Sometimes I need to give myself a break and have a little patience before labeling myself a failure.

Action cures fear. Indecision, postponement, on the other hand, fertilize fear. – David J. Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big, 1959

5. Trust yourself.

Right now, you don’t trust yourself. You don’t really trust God, either–not if you’re honest. That’s OK. Go ahead and do something scary.

Here’s the unpleasant reality: in order to develop trust, you must first risk failure. It’s going to feel awful the first few times. You’ll want to throw up, and you’ll feel certain that you’re going to ruin your entire life. You won’t.

And once the world hasn’t ended a couple of times, you’ll slowly start to become more confident in your own ability to make good choices. You’ll also be able to look back and observe how God was working undercover the whole time. He seems to prefer at little secrecy at first, for some reason.

I’m sorry that it’s scary right now.

I wish you didn’t need to feel afraid. I also believe that you can do this.

Because I did.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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How to Beat Your Fear of Failure

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They key is to try. Just keep trying.

I want so much to know God better; to become more organized; to practice healthier habits; and to keeping moving steadily toward my future goals.

I am also so very afraid.

Much like everyone else on this planet, I have trouble maintaining momentum. I do really well for a few weeks, and then I realize that I haven’t exercised or written a blog post in days … and then weeks. Heck, I even follow a blog about how to write a good blog, and the author warned me about that very problem.

Because of my pride, I hate to acknowledge that I’m one of “those” people who sets a goal and then gets tired. As soon as my excitement and motivation wane, so do my efforts. Enter discouragement. Enter self-doubt. Enter fear.

Strange, isn’t it, that while engaged in trying, I don’t feel scared? The moment I stand still, I start to wonder about the future, imagining an endless series of false starts. Then I attempt to mask my sense of inadequacy with excuses. It’s not a big deal; I’m doing fine. That goal didn’t matter very much anyway. I’ll get better. I’m just stressed out today.

What if, instead of assuaging my guilt with meaningless self-talk, I chose to silence my worries by trying again? Push “play” on a workout video. Open a new tab. Channel the mental energy I’ve been wasting on shame into trying.

Suddenly I’m back in college, listening to my classmates fret about upcoming assignments instead of working on said assignments. I pleaded guilty to the same crime on many occasions. Almost always, opening a book calmed my fears enough to help me focus. Turns out trying is an instant morale boost.

Trying is an instant morale boost.

Not only do I forget my fears while trying, but I also stop obsessing about the outcome. Stuck in a state of nervous inactivity, I create elaborate plans about what I will accomplish once I finally [get motivated] or [get over this cold] or [get back from this trip] or [insert other excuses].  In the midst of trying, however, my goals automatically shrink to realistic sizes … and I don’t mind so much.

I am often surprised to discover that when I actually try instead of berating myself for not trying sooner, I start to enjoy the process. As much as we avoid work; as much as we complain about work; as much as we dread the work ahead of time; effort feels good.

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So don’t worry about the times you didn’t succeed in the past. Just try again. Simply by trying, you can let go of the shame of previous inconsistency, silence your inner critic, applaud the courage it took to try one more time — and there it is!

The elusive motivator you’ve been seeking.

Trying makes you want to try again.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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5 Good Things About Today

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Tonight, my spirit wants to complain.

There are a couple of stressful areas of my life right now that I am trying to solve, and my natural self wants to obsess about those problems until I conquer them with pure willpower. If I’m honest, though, fixing those issues won’t make me happy because two equally urgent conundrums will instantly take their place. We live in a broken world surrounded by imperfect people, and while we should continue to take concrete steps toward progress, sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

Here I go:

  1. Today I shared my commute with my dad.
  2. Today I laughed with my coworkers.
  3. Today I ate lunch with my husband.
  4. Today I discussed movie theme songs live on the radio.
  5. Today I drove home to a hot dinner waiting in the crock pot.

Sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

You know what?

That actually sounds like a pretty good day.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

The Trouble with Stress (Why I’m Not a Newlywed)

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  1. Stress makes you grind and clench your teeth while you sleep.
  2. Stress makes you buy expensive mouth guards from the dentist.
  3. Stress gives you migraines.
  4. Stress makes your eyes cross so that you can’t read your emails at work.
  5. Stress makes you stop drinking coffee.
  6. Stress brings you back to your Bible.
  7. Stress helps you open up to friends and family.
  8. Stress, like everything else, comes from God to teach you something.
  9. Stress allows you to recognize that you’re handling it better this time.
  10. Stress propels you from one phase of life to another.

I’m not a newlywed any more.

I acknowledged this fact sitting on the couch with my husband, holding his hand. We clearly loved each other — and even liked each other — but it felt different because we chose to feel and act that way. Let me explain.

For large portions of our early marriage, we rode the wave of our fickle emotions. Since my husband and I are very, very emotional people, that was a pretty wild ride. Sometimes we were giddily in love, and sometimes we were desperately miserable. Sometimes those two emotions occurred within the span of a few hours.

For reasons outside of our control, June had been a hard, heavy month. We felt the heaviness on the night of our transition from newlyweds to regular married people. No amount of conversation could lighten the burden, so we were silent together. Then we watched the World Cup and held hands on the couch because we were married.

No matter what.

And I felt proud of us because being sad together, with no obvious solution or end to the sadness, requires courage and a portion of maturity — and when did that happen?

Being sad together requires courage.

It’s funny because, back when I was making up my mind about marrying him, I kept telling myself that marriage would be so hard because everyone said it was so hard. I kept envisioning a future full of angst and fights and stomach aches. Now I’m living in that part of marriage, I guess, but “those people” weren’t exactly correct.

I think what frustrates me the most about statements like marriage is hard is that they’re such sweeping generalizations; they don’t give you an accurate or compelling picture of what so hard actually feels like . . . because you know this person so well and love his soft lips and stubbly face and want him to hug you tightly even when you’re deeply sad.

To say that marriage is so hard misses the point of marriage, which is your spouse. It also ignores the forward trajectory of marriage, which never stays in the same place for long. My newlywed phase only lasted two and half years, and that’s not a bad thing. Just because I’m stressed out right now doesn’t mean that I can’t be happy, too.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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My Sleep Challenge (Abundant Life)

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I envision a well-rested future for myself.

If I put my mind to it, I truly believe that I could go to bed earlier, sleep longer, and eliminate the exhaustion that fogs my days. Naysayers, I have a song to sing for you.

May this blog post be my challenge to live a more balanced life. I am determined to get more sleep. Feel free to act as my accountability partner.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but I choose my own bedtime.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but for the most part I choose my own bedtime. You may have small children or homework keeping you awake, but I do not. If I want to get more sleep, I can! Starting today, I want to set aside the vague complaints about sleepiness that often slip from my lips because I am not a victim of circumstance. I have the power to choose how many hours of sleep I get each night.

Every decision comes with sacrifice. I may not have as much time to watch The Office with my husband on the couch before bed, scroll through Instagram, or sing along to audition videos on YouTube. Change requires discipline, a quality I need to develop.

Instead of staring groggily at my computer screen at work, I long to look with fresh eyes at the world around me and the tasks before me. Recently the Holy Spirit has been whispering the phrase “abundant life,” and whenever He repeats the same message from multiple sources, I try to listen. Perhaps He plans to reveal a new layer of abundance.

I want to be awake for that!

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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3 Reasons I Feel More Stable Today

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The ground feels steady under my shoes today.

I had been in survival mode for months, barely breaking the surface long enough to breathe before stress and exhaustion dragged me into darkness again. I had stopped enjoying my job, my stomach tightening every time I approached the parking garage at my office building. My talented, ambitious, hardworking husband filled evenings and weekends with homework, live gigs, and recording, so loneliness often tainted my hours at home. As for the state of my house, when I could no longer see an inch of clear space on tables or countertops, I sent a pathetic text message to my grandma, asking her to help me clean (which, of course, she immediately did). I lost touch with friends, stopped blogging, skipped church, and rarely read the Bible.

Today feels better — and not just today, but the past many days and weeks. I see a definite trend toward personal and professional improvement and significantly higher levels of emotional stability. I’d like to pinpoint the exact cause that led to this highly desirable effect, but I think the truth involves multiple variables.

1. A toxic person dropped suddenly and permanently out of my life.

I find it disturbing that a single negative influence can wield such destructive power; I didn’t realize how much I had been affected by regular contact with this individual until our interactions ceased and the sun resumed shining.

2. I started exercising regularly again.

For six consecutive weeks I completed three cardio workouts and one yoga workout per week. Sometimes they only lasted ten minutes, but I never missed a day. Thanks to a little discipline, I bid headaches goodbye at long last.

3. My spirit (finally) adjusted to a full-time work schedule.

Took me a little longer than I anticipated, but after a year and a half of 40-hour work weeks, I no longer feel constantly overwhelmed by my daily life. For the first time in recent memory, I have actually begun to experience boredom again!

Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long.

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Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long and my small improvements so unimpressive. I still don’t go to bed early enough; dirty laundry lies in heaps on my bedroom floor; and my attempts at meal prep are far from consistent. More than anything else, the past two years have clearly revealed to me my own weakness. Hopefully I’ve learned a little humility. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I pray that I would also develop compassion for others struggling to develop healthy habits.

Since our good God offers grace to us, the least we can do is extend it to one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1st Thessalonians 5:11

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – 2nd Corinthians 12:9

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