Stress Management

Phew It's Done!

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles via
“Just as a puppy can be more of a challenge than a gift, so too can the holidays”John Clayton

Come on…. I’m not the only one thankful this time of year that the holidays are over. Admit it. This time of year can bring an overabundance of too much cheer with holiday parties, socials, present shopping, suffering with some relatives, and feeling like you just can’t do enough. We find ourselves in a vortex of activity and anticipation. I liken the time after the holidays to the sensation of feeling exhausted and experiencing the joy of falling into a huge pillowed pile of soft white down blankets. “Ahhhhhhh”.

Although I am a gardenaholic and love spending time outdoors creating, digging, and fussing in my garden, there is a feeling of “phew” once the season is over and my garden slowly falls asleep. I’m sure that many of us are feeling that way right now.  The big event is over and we have time to relax and rebound before the next “season”.  There has been a hustle of activity and sense of urgency and we just can’t take the time to sit back and enjoy the season that we are in. It’s only afterwards that we exhale and realize what a ride it has been.

This time of year gives me a chance to relax without the worries of watering the garden, deadheading, throwing all my creativity into the ground, and I can reflect. I have the time to look at what I have done this past year in my garden and start to plan what next year will bring via UPS! The garden catalogs are starting to flow into my mailbox and I’m getting eager to start fresh and make changes the next season.

This is also the time for you to plan for the next season before you set some 2016 goals that you may or may not keep. Before you can plan for change you need to get the cobwebs out of your brain, relax your mind, and open up your thinking. Now is the time to reflect on what brought you joy last year and feel accomplished, may it be in your personal or professional life. Only then can you set goals or look forward. Get the cobwebs out of your head before you tackle new growth.

Sit down and say “Phew”

  • Admit that you are glad the hustle and bustle is done. Don’t feel guilty. Society has brainwashed us all into feeling guilty if we aren’t all happy, giddy, and fulfilled this time of year.
  • Purge both mentally and physically. It will make you feel better and like you are making progress. Even if it is symbolic you are one step closer to bringing in the new.
  • Focus on you. Spoil yourself in a fashion that you normally don’t (no red sports cars now...)
  • Try a new hobby for the month. It may open new ideas or doors next year.
  • Read. Yes, pick up a physical book and just read.
  • Disconnect at 6 pm every night from all your gadgets and social media. Try it even for 1 night. Then try going 2 nights. The world will not end without you. Facebook will be waiting for you.
  • Watch some trash TV – within reason. Now, if this has been a habit of yours all year do the opposite – turn it off or discover new genres in shows.
  • Take a sick day. Yep. Call in sick on a day that you will be the only one home. Enjoy the day without guilt and love it!

Once you decompress and let go, you can look forward to the New Year and plan your growth. That’s what I do every year both in my personal and professional life. It’s not easy for me to sit back and relax; in fact it’s a struggle but I need to do it. It really helps to clear out the old to focus on the new. Try it!

Shake It Off!

“But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
 In my mind
Saying, “It’s gonna be alright” - Taylor Swift

Photo courtesy of Tina Phillips via
OK. The truth is out. This past year, I became a Taylor Swift fan. I love songs that not only get you moving, but that throw you into action. When times are tough you need to pull your boot straps up and “Shake it Off”! If our gardens had brains they too would need to heed this advice. The autumn weather has been anything but normal in many parts of the country.

Today in the Midwest was an incredible day – particularly for the middle of November. Last year at this time we had a record breaking 31 inches of snow in 4 days! Today I was out and about with holiday music blaring and lights twinkling. It was 61 degrees and sunny. Our fall has been one of the most beautiful that I can remember. We still have green grass and some autumn color. There are even trees still adorned with leaves. Wait! Did I mention leaves on the trees? That’s NOT a good thing in the snow

The cooler temperatures and waning daylight are triggers for your garden to slowly slumber. Some trees start turning color as early as late August. Dropping foliage and needles prepare our plants for a long nap. It’s their way of sheltering themselves from the cold. Like people, trees have chemicals and enzymes that move throughout their body. This process slows down as winter approaches. When Mother Nature plays a hoax on plants this time of year it can quickly damage and kill.

When the warmth continues and nature remains active our gardens get confused. They are impacted by light frosts but when the warmth hits again, some of them start to slowly grow. I cut down my hardy Banana trees to the ground for winter and they started sprouting again with our consistent warmth. Guess what impact pending snow will have? Plants don’t have the ability to just Shake it Off.

In the bright sun today I saw a lot of large ornamental trees smothered in leaves. Even after some 50 MPH winds last week they stood proud and strong. Not willing to quite give up their leaves. If the trees are root strong and healthy they should be able to shake off any snow that comes their way. Unfortunately, if the swirling snow drops fast the weight may be too much to bear and the tree branches may dangerously sever. Sudden and unexpected breakage can cause irreversible harm. What is the key to thriving in these conditions? Strong roots, sturdy stature, future growth, and the ability to Shake it Off.

In many ways people are just like plants in a garden. Give us “healthy soil” when we start off, offer us tender care, provide nutrients and “brain food” and encourage our growth. This is what develops our roots so that we can grow strong and bloom. Like some of the leafy trees outside my window we may be thrown some curveballs during our cycle of life when the snow hits. Life, like Mother Nature, is effective at blindsiding us even when we know better and should be prepared. We don’t hold all the cards and can’t control our garden path. What we can do when we are hit by life is heed Taylor Swift and Shake it Off.

How to Shake it Off when the going gets tough

·         Focus on being healthy. Get some sleep. Strong roots need nutrients and food in order to make it through the tough “winds” of life that try to topple us.
·         Acknowledge your feelings and accept your situation. You can’t shake off what you can’t accept.
·         Interact with your community. Talk to people. Ask for advice. You may be amazed at how many people have gone through the same circumstances as you. They survived and can share how they coped and survived.
·         Try to look past your hardship in the moment. If our gardens had our intelligence they would look past the perils of winter and envision the spring ahead. Do the same.
·         Don’t over magnify a situation. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem. Look around you. Other people are probably moving through deeper issues than you. Put things in perspective.
·         Ask for help. Sometimes you can’t make it on your own. Needing help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.
·         You are not your problem or crises. Your true self is at your roots where your strength is. You will grow and survive to flourish again.
·         Everyone deals differently. Stop comparing yourself to others assuming everyone “Shakes it Off” better than you. YOU are unique and need to do things your own way.
·         Take action. Life throws us rain, snow, wind, and fire. You can choose to plant yourself in one place or face the elements by shrugging them off and growing. What will you do?

How are you going to put your Taylor Swift on and “Shake it Off”?

Plant Yourself Somewhere Else and Thrive!

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant".
~Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672, Colonial American poet)

Photo Courtesy of AV Design via Compfight

Earlier this week, I threw in the towel and admitted to myself that Spring is still a long way off. I took some defensive action. I renewed my lapsed membership to our local botanical and sculpture park garden in West Michigan. I need to feel some moist humidity and light on my face. I want to smell some clean, moist dirt. I want to bask in the various flower smells. It revitalizes me and really gets my creative juices flowing. When I'm in a peaceful place with the sights and smells of plants, I begin to feel renewed and relaxed. Maybe I will make it until Spring!

I'm fortunate to live near one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the United States. Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is one of hundreds of unique and esteemed gardens available to visit. These parks offer more than just plants and a winter escape. Each one is unique in it's offerings and no two are exactly alike. Even people who don't dig gardening will find something to appreciate. Specifically, Meijer Gardens regularly hosts unique and worldly sculpture and art exhibits both inside and out. They can be appreciated while walking through winding trails and flowing gardens. Next month brings our annual "Butterflies are Blooming" exhibit. Starting next week visitors can literally sit and watch a variety of tropical butterflies slowly climb out of their delicate cocoons.The real magic is experiencing hundreds of butterflies floating in the air. It's magical and such a delight when one lands on your hand. The Chicago Botanical Gardens is famous for their plant trials. They put new cultivers through some tough trials to see which ones come out on top according to their criteria. The winners are then introduced to the public for sale. You can be assured that if a plant has passed their test, it's a winner and should be in your garden.

Here's what else you can experience at the various botanical gardens around the country:
  • Garden education and horticultural certification
  • Annual plant sales with new and recently introduced plants
  • Volunteer opportunities 
  • World renowned speakers and lectures (not just about plants!)
  • Children's gardens that offer hands on learning and activities
  • Art exhibitions
  • Outside summer concerts
  • Sustainable farming techniques and organic gardens
  • Test gardens 
  • Showcasing  tree varieties and bonsai  that are hundreds of years old
  • Koi water gardens
  • Holiday light and tree displays
  • Beautiful venues for wedding and corporate events
  • Research
  • Butterflies and bugs
The list goes on and on. Google your state and you may be surprised how many gardens there are near you. They are jewels tucked away that you never knew existed. A visit to any of these gardens is guaranteed to lighten your mood, clear your mind, and give you a fresh perspective. All near your own backyard. If you need a change and a quick getaway - run to the nearest botanical garden!

Photo Courtesy of Tony Hall via Compfight

For those of us in cold states, this hasn't been an easy winter. It seems like the snow will never melt and the sun is playing hide and seek. Driving has been a nightmare and the cold is taxing. Multiply this energy zapper with the stress of work and family responsibilities and you may feel like a tightly bound ball of yarn. The human mind is a special, wondrous organ. It can make us feel drained and stressed out or relaxed and carefree. In times of stress your mind becomes tense and may tend to blank out. It needs something to spark creativity and get the juices flowing. It needs YOU to escape and bring it somewhere else so that it can relax, open up, and reboot. 

If you can't take off and go to a botanical garden to rejuvenate and flex your mind, perhaps just leaving work and landing anywhere else will. Get away from work distractions and the same old routine. Forge out for some new scenery and wake up your brain. How about working at a coffee shop for a bit? Experience a new place, new faces, great coffee with snacks, and free Internet.You may be surprised what a difference this will make when you need to concentrate or innovate.

Coffee shops are interesting places. Aside from the fun in watching people, these shops allow you to take in new sights, sounds, and scents. Your mind rewinds itself and reboots. It loves all the new stimuli that you are offering up. None of your coworkers will barge in unannounced. Your boss can't find you (or your spouse if you are self employed!). The hum of the background conversations is relaxing. OK, so is listening in on the conversations of others but I digress. A lot of entrepreneurs and sales people find solace and relaxation working out of coffee houses and many even build lasting work relationships with each other. 

Here's why you occasionally  need to plant yourself somewhere else other than your desk to work:

  • A change of environment is emotionally healthy. We know that a change in sights and sounds is music to your brain. Feed it with new tunes!
  • Just plunking yourself down in a sea of new colors and textures to work will make a difference. Most coffee shops know the value of a warming fireplace and leather chairs for customers.
  • You will be more relaxed jumping out of your usual element.
  • Fewer distractions. Being anonymous means people will generally leave you alone. Avoiding eye contact will lower your chances of being bothered.
  • You can meet new people and may even find some new opportunities!
  • Your mind will welcome the opportunity to boost it's memory capacity. It will reward you with more creativity and your thoughts will have fewer constraints and rules.
  • As we said earlier, new background noise will help you focus and block panicky thoughts or hectic feelings.
  • You will be more energized just being away from structure and the drone of meetings.
  • Your attitude will completely change and you will have a badly needed attitude adjustment. 
  • You will look at things with a new perspective and be more appreciative of your colleagues and work when you return to the office.
I work in an open office environment and I love it! After years in my own solo office, it's a refreshing change and I love the hum of activity and voices around me. Sometimes though, I do need to get away somewhere quiet to think and organize my thoughts. Even just trotting to a conference room makes a world of difference. A change in the environment sparks the wires in my brain and I'm off and thinking. I have some self employed friends that literally spend half of their working time in a coffee shop. They need the noise and camaraderie that they just can't get from working at home. They feel vitalized and connected. They have strengthened some friendships and brought in new business. The coffee house breathes life into their work and helps them to succeed.

Where do you plant yourself to get your brain thinking and to revitalize yourself??? 
Photo Courtesy of AV Design via Compfight

Is Being a Leader Sucking the Life out of You?

Photo credit: Shandi-Lee via Compfight CC

"Work is 1% inspiration plus 99% transpiration" - Albert Einstein

Yup. It's that time of year again. Hustle and bustle, year end projects, tight schedules and endless meetings, vacations rushed in, and the holidays..... The days are shorter, the cold is bitter, and the clouds just keep dumping on us. The winter months can bring about too much stress to the point where you may feel that the life is being sucked right out of you. Guess what? It's not any easier on our plants outside braving the stress this time of year!

Winter weather can stress shrubs/trees throughout various regions in the country. For us snowbirds, snow can be our best friend by insulating and protecting plants for the winter. Often regions where it's bitter cold and there is a lack of snow cover suffer more plant loss. All life needs water to survive. When water is scarce or non-existent, we die. It's particularly critical that plants continually have sufficient water uptake throughout their roots and leaves. Plants go dormant during the winter but they still perform internal processes to survive. For instance, transpiration is movement of water throughout a plant/tree and the evaporation of moisture from it's aerial parts like the leaves, stems, and flowers  A lack of water stresses the plant out and it will eventually succumb.

Plants that are particularly vulnerable to cold drying winds and moisture loss include: Newly planted shrubs (that maintain green leaves) and evergreen trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, hollies, boxwood, laurel, cedar, cypress, junipers, and plants being grown in a planting zone where they are marginally hardy (an example is growing a zone 7 shrub in a planting zone 6). I planted a specialty Alaskan Cedar that was marginally hardy in my area  where it was exposed to the winter winds. It slowly turned brown and didn't survive the winter despite my efforts to protect it. It was ripped out in the spring and a different tree was popped in it's place. Lesson learned!

This time of year, a lot of people love to decorate with live Christmas trees, wreaths, and evergreen ropes. They make the house smell great and they are more festive because they are "real". They also dry out real fast (lack of transpiration!) and the dry needles cascade all over the floor. In a real dry house, they often don't make it to Christmas!
 There are things that you can do to protect both your outside shrubs and your Martha Stewart holiday home...
  • Smaller newly planted evergreen shrubs can be protected by putting 3 stakes in the ground around the shrub and wrap burlap around it to protect from drying winds. You should only need to do this the first season unless you are a glutton for punishment.
  • Plant wind scold prone shrubs/evergreens in protected spots near the house or by taller trees that will block strong winds.
  • Check the planting zone of the shrub that you are planting. A Monkey Puzzle tree will not survive harsh winters no matter how much protection you give it. Be in your zone!
  • My favorite solution - spray the shrub and your live indoor decorations with a product like Wilt Pruf. Wilt Pruf is a anti-transpirant that protects plants from losing moisture. It protects against cold drying winds(in all seasons) and maintains the moisture in your live holiday decorations. Wilt Pruf is a pine emulsion that dries to a strong flexible coating on the shrub. It feels waxy after it dries and lasts about 3-4 months. It does not interfere with any of the natural plant processes like osmosis or photosynthesis etc. Bottom line - it's like a coat for your shrub and wreaths. It keeps the moisture in your shrubs outside and will help your Christmas tree thrive until December 25th inside. For more information on Wilt Pruf please checkout

Humans and plants are very similar. We get stressed a lot, especially this time of year. There have been times in the past where I  have felt like everything around me is trying to steal all my energy and wipe me out. We all have so many demands on us pulling from all directions. The poor economy in the past several years has only heightened the pull and stress. Family needs this, the boss needs that, employees have personal issues, teams have conflicts, peers fight like children, production is off schedule etc etc etc...Our people look to us to hit a magic button to make it all better. We can only give so much. The responsibility, and sometimes burden, of being an effective leader is a weight on all of our shoulders.
What happens when being a leader sucks the life out of you?

Many people never even realize how stressed out they are until they are pulled or forced out of a situation. A few years ago, I was in a job where nothing seemed to flow right within the company where I worked. It wasn't until after I left that I recognized how much stress I was under. Things happen for a reason in life and I was fortunate to get out of my situation while I still had hair left! You really need to recognize your own personal stress signs and act.

You have undoubtedly heard the saying that you can't control other people, you can only control yourself. It's true. I've tried - and failed! It's up to YOU to pull in the reins so that you have more control and less stress. It's worth mentioning that some stress is a good thing. It helps to keep you on your toes and focused. Stress is a monster from which you can't escape - you can try to cage it!

Here are some common culprits of stress that plague us all:
  • People: The demands of others, personal problems, "babysitting", negative people, disengagement, peer conflicts.. the list goes on and on.
  • Personal career dreams and aspirations
  • Problems: Big or small and you are expected to save the world.
  • Pressure
  • Pace/Lack of time
  • Politics: Internal politics can be a huge life drain. In many companies more time is spent "playing the game" than actually working. There are too many silos, turfs need to be defended and grown, everyone tries to please to get ahead. Yikes!
  • Effort: Sometimes it seems that everything is swirling around us and no matter how much of ourselves we offer or effort we give, it's just not enough.
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of resources
  • Technology or lack thereof
  • Personal life issues and struggles
  • Health issues
  • Interpersonal demands
  • No fun or life of normalcy
The list seems to go on and on. I'm sure that you can add several of your own. Just because you are a "leader" doesn't mean that you are invincible and can take on the world solo. Don't place that burden on your shoulders. You aren't any less of a person or professional if you need to stop and take a step back to keep the light alive inside you. Realize that you can't do it all and don't feel like a failure for a second when you take the first step to de-stress. Leaders have vision. You need the vision to look out for you!
What do smart leaders do to avoid having the life sucked out of them?
Here are some ideas!
  • Maintain your perspective on life. Remember your roots and dreams
  • Focus on the big picture with vision. Don't get caught up in the little things
  • Ask for feedback from mentors and other leaders in your circle
  • Find a mentor or key supporter
  • Develop your own personal "board of directors"
  • Find a great life coach to run things by and gain a different perspective
  • Ask for 360 support
  • Open up to others. Grow personal relationships with peers
  • Hire and empower the best people that you can - they are your stress deflectors
  • Streamline your area and reassign duties or teams
  • Delegate and develop trust for other's to handle hiring, training, management, etc
  • Address issues early and right away so things don't sneak up on you
  • Develop outside interests. Have a life
  • Find ways to recharge yourself. Make finding a hobby your number one goal
  • Do what you love. Find it if you aren't doing it!
  • Set a goal for only working a certain numbers of hours a week. Stick to it!
  • Meditate
  • Take breaks and de-stress throughout the day
  • Maintain a positive attitude and you will feel more alive
  • Be thankful to be a leader and remember why you worked so hard to become one - make a difference

Being a leader is like being a new parent. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't care for your "baby". At first it's tough to leave your "baby" in the hands of others but you need to. You can't be effective and lead if you are stressed with little life left inside you. Like our outdoor shrubs, you need to have life (moisture) cursing throughout your system in order to remain strong, viable, and thrive!
Photo credit: Ian Boyd via Compfight CC


** I was not compensated in anyway by Wilt-Pruf Products, Inc. I have used this product with success and recommend using it to protect your plants/shrubs.