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Frankly, we people with strong work ethics need help.

We don’t need help to reach our goals; we handle that nicely. We need help to be reminded that we can get overworked and under-comforted without realizing its aging effects. Luckily, when this happens, one’s face clearly yells SOS (Signs of Stress):

   •  Forehead frown wrinkles that look like Venetian blinds due to one’s brain constantly squeezing out intense thoughts
   •  Lip shrinkage from increased whining and criticizing
   •  An eerie sound like cement cracking when one smiles due to underused facial muscles and a reduced sense of humor
   •  Bags under the eyes over-packed with sleep-interrupting anxiety
   •  Hair that either turns silver or turns up on your pillow as worry molting

Toxic comforts include:
   •  Too much alcohol (can be tracked either by slurring or the joining of more than two wine clubs)
   •  Too much food or too much junk food (if you don’t know the difference, get tested for diabetes immediately)
   •  Too much time numbing out in front of a TV or computer screen (also detected by a “sink hole” in your chair or couch)
   •  Too little socializing (earmarked by your friends thinking you’ve moved when you haven’t)
   •  Too little vacationing (can be defined as turning cell phone off)
   •  Too little exercising/activity (placing you on the “lose it” end of the equation “use it or lose it”)

Take note: If you have two or more of all the above signs, you are in serious danger of rapid aging – and there is nothing mature about it. Maturity is the act of getting wiser, not older, so if you want to be spared the fate of turning into that sour-faced, sarcastic, joyless Aunt Alice or Uncle William you always hid from as a kid at the family gatherings, read on.

Understand that you WILL comfort yourself no matter what. You end up becoming vulnerable to overdoing it when you do it mindlessly.

Eventually, there will be a repercussion, whether it’s new frown lines from taking responsibility for the world, or carpal tunnel of your eyelids from using your precious sleep time for three straight hours of Spider Solitaire, or your family and friends deciding not to invite you when they get together for your birthday because you’re never available anyway.

When you comfort yourself consciously, you embrace your mere humanness, let go of the illusion that there’s a giant “S” on your chest, and deal more proactively with the increasing effects of Kryptonite (clinically called “stress”).

The result of choosing your comforts instead of letting them choose you will be – TA DA! – more balance, more joy, more creativity and more heart to give to people you love or help. In other words, you will melt your Fortress of Solitude into a racy ice sculpture and invite everyone over for a party!

I’m giving you permission to comfort yourself mindfully, consciously, thoughtfully, and even on purpose.

There are three completely different areas of your living being that require comfort: mind, body and spirit. Comforting only one or two of these areas will still leave you as unbalanced as a house on a pogo stick. Consider what would be a comfort to you in each of these “rooms.”

   •  Create Positive Anticipation. Get out your calendar and plan some places to go and people to see. Think once a day, week, month and year. Book it!
   •  Cultivate a Hobby. Golf? Crocheting? Book club? Something that expands your abilities/knowledge while engaging your passion. It’s called “fun.”

   •  Commit to Self-Care. This has three undisputable elements: nutritional food, enough sleep, and physical activity. These are not negotiable.
   •  Renew Your Connection with the Earth. Find your local parks, hiking trails, botanical gardens – anyplace with beauty and no cement underfoot.

   •  Combine Self-Compassion with Action. Make a Guilt List of everything that is haunting you, from the mundane to the serious. Address something on it weekly, whether it is a note of apology, an overdue phone call or a task. Now forgive yourself!
   •  Count Your Blessings. Refocus your attitude on gratitude by creating a Blessing Box or Board and writing down your blessings weekly. If it is a Box, open it on Thanksgiving to remind yourself exactly how blessed you are.

The result: oodles of comfort, no repercussions – you get wiser instead of just older looking!

Patricia Alexander, speaker and clarity coach, is co-author with Michael Burgos of The Book of Comforts: Simple, Powerful Ways to Comfort Your Spirit, Body & Soul. A professional writer and journalist for 30 years, she now teaches people how to live to their fullest potential by helping them develop healthy strategies for dealing with stress while creating more joy. She is establishing herself as one of the country’s leading authorities on self-care and comfort. She can be contacted at (805) 479-7778, or by email at www.bookofcomforts.com where you can also register for her free newsletter.