By Anne Gagliano
|The Gagliano Family on the 4th of July.|
Moving down the list of things to chuck, we come to grief. How do you get over being sad? Sad about losing a pet (like we recently did), sad about things changing—such as a child moving away or getting married, or maybe just sadness in general. Life seems to be a bit bleak these days, the news reports declining everything every day. And things seem even more depressing during the cold days of winter. If you’re grieving a loved one, that’s a bit out of my league to counsel; I suggest seeking a pro on that one. But for lesser grieving, I have a few tips, for I get the blues myself on occasion, as we all do.
My number-one suggestion is to get moving. Sitting around stewing in self-pity is the worst thing you can do when you are sad. Exercise produces endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood enhancers. The more you exercise, the better you feel—and the more you’ll exercise! Some of these new video dance games are a great way to cheer yourself up on a cold winter’s day, since they can be done inside; it’s especially funny to watch your spouse do it!
My number two suggestion is to focus on the future and try to not dwell too much on the past. This is especially important if your life has changed in some dramatic way and you’re having trouble adjusting. I’ve had to choose to enjoy our new holiday traditions, though they are now split with my son’s in-laws, and let go of how we used to celebrate. Easier said than done for us sentimental parents, but I’ve found it a must if I’m to find joy in the present.
My third tip on dealing with the blahs and blues and stresses of life is journaling. We can’t always vent our darkest, deepest emotions because we might scare people. Even your closest mate, your soul mate, can’t always be expected to lift you out of the dumps. And who can afford expensive therapy for every little emotional need? Hence, journaling. It’s a free alternative. Write it down. Write down every fear, anxiety, and hurt you experience—write it to whomever you think might care to listen. (I write to God in a sort of prayer.) Then let it go by asking God to hear you and to help you. It’s amazing how much this cheers you up without bringing anyone else down. It’s fun to go back and read old entries and see how this and that prayer was answered and that your fears were all in vain!
Exercising, looking to the future, and journaling are all healthy ways to cope with grief or depression. They are far more productive and less destructive than coping by overeating, overdrinking, or taking drugs in an effort to find comfort.
Now onto the problem of overworking. In our household, we know Mike is called to work too much. How do we control his workload and keep it from destroying our happy, peaceful existence? How do we find the proper balance between needs and wants, have-tos and not-have-tos? To be perfectly honest, we don’t always find the perfect balance. Often the scale tips too much to the work side than the play and bonding side. But, over the years, we’ve recognized when this is starting to happen and have established boundaries that are never to be crossed, no matter what, and we’ve identified red flags of warning to watch for.
The ultimate boundary for us is this: Holidays are sacred. These holidays include Christmas, New Years, and the 4th of July. Mike takes three to four weeks off at Christmastime that extends into New Year’s. Our youngest son Rick was born on New Year’s Day (he was the first baby born in Rapides Parish, Louisiana, on January 1, 1988, and won us all kinds of prizes!), so New Year’s has a very special meaning for our family. Mike looks forward to this break above all else—it’s his “recovery month.” We spend this time getting ready for Christmas, celebrating Christmas with all of our family, and doing something special for New Year’s. Typically, we go to Leavenworth for the New Year’s celebration and Rick’s birthday; it’s a Bavarian village up in the Cascade Mountains and is totally Christmassy with snow and lights galore. If we don’t go to Leavenworth, we go down to the Space Needle and watch the fireworks there; they do a pretty spectacular show. Either place is a nice way to celebrate the New Year and our son’s birthday all at once.
Mike also tries to take a week or so off around the 4th of July. This holiday is a big deal for us. Most firefighters are closet pyromaniacs; Mike is no exception. We compete with our neighbors around the lake each year to see who can put on the biggest and loudest fireworks show. Mike usually wins. We buy matching T-shirts for our family (yes, we’re a bit nerdy), and we invite lots of firefighters to join us just in case Mike accidentally sets our place on fire. It’s quite the Gagliano tradition—a favorite of ours and our whole neighborhood’s.
My point is this: Establish sacred boundaries in your life that you will not cross, no matter what. These are to be no-work zones–no gigs will be scheduled, no overtime, no volunteer work, no nothing. If you don’t have solid boundaries set in stone, your life can become an unending treadmill of ceaseless work, one from which you cannot escape. It strengthens both your marriage and your family if you can have regular bonding time to look forward to each year.
In my next column, I will list the red flags we’ve identified as warnings that you’re working too much. I will then conclude with tips on how to let go of outdated dreams.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 26 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.