Rip off the mask, tear down the walls. Show the world my beautiful, vulnerable self!

Posts tagged ‘stress’

Clean Diaper, Full Belly. Finding Our Bliss In Simplicity

When Did We Lose Sight of Simplicity?

Somehow we’ve all gotten caught up, at least to some extent in the myth that happiness is predicated on having more. We’re bombarded, especially this time of year, with entreaties to let our consumeristic selves go wild, and the devil take the credit card bills.

Finding My Bliss by Giving Things Up

As I throw away every ad and delete every email asking me to buy, buy, buy (and only about half of them are from retailers), I feel a certain kind of peace in my decision to keep my holiday purchases to a minimum this year. It takes a lot of the stress out of the holiday season and beyond, and lets me put more focus into accomplishing things I want to see finished by the time the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Here are a few things I won’t miss this year:

  • Endless hours spent wrapping presents
  • Cramming my car to the gills with gifts for my daughter and son-in-law, many of which they probably neither want nor need (pajamas, socks, and books notwithstanding)
  • Hours agonizing over what I can get them they don’t already have anyway
  • Hours spent online or in the stores which would be better spent bringing my clients’ affairs up-to-date and getting my own projects ready for the next steps
  • Credit card bills in January that leave me questioning what I could possibly have been thinking
  • Dragging out and putting back the bins of wrapping paraphernalia
  • The chaos my living room becomes while I’m wrapping those endless piles of gifts
  • Time spent wrapping in front of the television that would be better spent writing, editing, or doing work for clients
Halting the Pursuit of Stress, er, Happiness

Needless to say, I’m already enjoying the minimal stress of this holiday season more than I’ve enjoyed the holidays in a very long time. My shopping is already done and the wrapping won’t take more than a couple of hours including dragging out the paper and boxes and putting them back. Instead of setting up the card table in front of the TV as I’ve done in years past, I’ll just wrap everything on the dining room table so there’s one less thing to put away when I’m done.

There are hidden benefits to keeping our gift-giving to a minimum this year too. My daughter and I have been working on de-cluttering our environments. Adding more stuff means finding places, or re-cluttering areas we’ve worked so hard to clear. Why would we want to get back on that hamster wheel to nowhere?

Steps to Becoming the Ultimate Non-Consumer

I’m making good use of that “unsubscribe” option at the end of most emails these days. I have no problem if someone is offering me information with a link to their site if I want to learn more. But when someone bombards me with daily emails, each containing a poorly veiled sales pitch, there’ll be one less subscriber under their tree come Christmas. But I’m grateful to all who choose to do business this way as it shows me things I should not do when my goal is to develop a tribe who know, like, and trust me.

Many business-people out there believe very strongly in a numbers game. The more people you put yourself in front of, and the more often you do it, the more sales you’ll have. But if you think about it, their success rate is minimal. They send out daily emails to their 5-10,000 subscribers, so they have to take the time to either write those emails or pay someone to do it for them. Of those 5-10,000 daily emails (and don’t get me started on those who send more than one a day!), I’d say, conservatively, 75% are deleted without being read. Another 20% delete them after seeing they’re nothing but another sales pitch.

Generously, 5% or 250-500 people might actually read those emails, but how many of them actually buy? Remember those same people are also being inundated by emails as well as TV and online ads from Target, Kohl’s, Walmart and more encouraging them to buy the latest fashions, toys, and electronics for their oh-so-deserving families. You can bet most of them haven’t seen a gigantic influx of money to feed these voracious and never-satisfied fires of consumerism. I’m guessing most are going to take care of family before signing up for yet another course or e-book.

Happiness is Simplicity

Though this little rant of mine has strayed a bit off-topic, the point is that if we take it back to basics; to a time when the little things made us happy, we might be surprised to find that the little things still make us happy.

Here are a few of mine, just to get you started:

  • Spending time with friends in an environment conducive to relaxation and conversation.
  • Spending time with my daughter and son-in-law being silly and laughing a lot.
  • Snuggling on the couch with my cats, a book, and a cup of tea.
  • Letting my imagination take over as I spew words on the page with no particular reason or direction.
  • Getting outside and walking, preferably with a friend.
  • Daydreaming
  • Cooking up some kind of tasty mess
  • Baking something just to give it away.

We all have our own version of “clean diaper, full belly” if we just clear the crap and the constant compulsion to buy, the invisible cord that drags us into stores so we might buy on impulse rather than thoughtfulness.

Getting off the Stress-Go-Round

The biggest advantage to this year of simplification is that my stress levels have gone down to almost nothing. My calendar is fairly full, but the tasks required to get there are manageable. There’s even time in between for self-care; something most of us shove to a back burner this time of year, only to pay the price come January (in more than those previously mentioned massive credit card bills).

Simon and Garfunkel said it best, a long, long, time ago:

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

If you find your pleasure being a part of the holiday chaos, so be it. As for me, I’ll be talking to lampposts and watching the flowers grow.

My gratitudes today are:

  1.  I am grateful for slow, easy holidays.
  2.  I am grateful for simplicity, and for recognizing it’s an option.
  3.  I am grateful for work that keeps me busy enough, a social calendar that makes me spend a little less time alone, and that both require me to stay on task more.
  4.  I am grateful for the many things I’ve learned and the progress I’ve made this year. Looking back, it’s been a wild ride, but one helluva year for me. I’m looking forward to seeing where the wheels I’ve set in motion take me.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; work, friendship, lessons, love, joy, time, peace, harmony, opportunities already here and yet to come, inspiration, motivation, balance, limitless possibilities, health, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Love and Light

Sheri Conaway is a writer, blogger, Virtual Assistant and advocate for cats. She believes in the Laws of Attraction, but only if you are a participant rather than just an observer. She is available for article writing and ghost writing to help your website and the business it supports grow and thrive. Her special gift lies in finding and expressing your authentic self. If you’d like to have her write for you, please visit her Hire Me page for more information or to schedule a free informational call. You can also find her on Facebook Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author

Health Benefits of Writing Longhand

Woke up healthy again today

While writing my morning pages I realized I hadn’t been sick since I started dumping all of my thoughts onto a page utilizing my rusty but still serviceable cursive. While everyone else has been suffering with the latest colds and viruses, I’ve been blissfully healthy. Could it be that 30 minutes of writing every morning is enough to draw the toxins from my body and raise my resistance to airborne germs?

I’ve read my share of articles which talk about writing things down to take away their power, or even burning the paper to let go of something you no longer want. The cathartic benefits of writing things longhand are extolled by many. But I haven’t seen anyone mention it’s efficacy in thwarting viruses.

Is anyone else curious about this?

This train of thought which actually began during one of my daily morning pages sessions sent me on a little bit of an adventure. I needed to see if anyone had actually written anything hinting at, or saying outright that writing by hand helps the body’s immune system. I finally found a mention on stating that the resulting relaxation which occurs when you write by hand does have some health benefits including:

Relaxation has been shown to lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, improve mood, and even help avoid health problems like the common cold.

Now I’m getting somewhere!

What do the experts say?

Further research led me to an article in BJPsych Advances which gets more specific about why writing by hand is good for your health. Building on the relaxation factor, the authors, Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm connect that relaxation to a reduction in stress. By now, we’ve all heard the same story from the medical profession: stress kills.

Following that line of reasoning, if stress kills, wouldn’t it follow that reduction of stress heals? So say the results of studies on expressive writing in which patients are instructed to write about their deepest darkest feelings for 20 minutes a day (slightly less than the time it takes me to write 3 of my morning pages each day).  The test results appear to support this logic, as the study found:

The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms, and a decrease in positive mood compared with controls. Expressive writing participants also rate their writing as significantly more personal, meaningful and emotional. However, at longer-term follow-up, many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes and self-reported emotional health outcomes.

The authors include a long list of health-related improvements resulting from their studies including improved immunity as I’ve enhanced below:

Longer-term benefits of expressive writing

Health outcomes

  • Fewer stress-related visits to the doctor

  • Improved immune system functioning (bold and italics added)

  • Reduced blood pressure

  • Improved lung function

  • Improved liver function

  • Fewer days in hospital

  • Improved mood/affect

  • Feeling of greater psychological well-being

  • Reduced depressive symptoms before examinations

  • Fewer post-traumatic intrusion and avoidance symptoms

Putting some oomph behind the gratitude

It comes as no surprise to me that several of the articles and blog posts I found on the subject mention gratitudes and the benefits to be found by simply writing them by hand rather than typing them onto a computer screen. The increased focus and reduced distractions found in writing with pen and paper make the brain internalize what is being written. With that internalization comes an emotional release because you’re truly paying attention to the words you’re writing and the feelings they elicit. By the same token, writing about traumatic events gives them less power.

I’ve written about a number of things which are never intended to be seen by others in my morning pages. Often, they’re things which contain a large helping of guilt or remorse. Though in some cases, I’ll probably write about them over and over, I have noticed some reduction in the guilt and pain over certain events and choices I’ve made.

What I write about…and what I don’t

As I write this, I realize the one topic I have not written about in those pages is my relationship, or lack thereof with my youngest daughter. We’ve been estranged now for more than 4 years, and since then, I haven’t seen my granddaughter either. Yet, when I’m writing about the things filling my head and heart, they never come up.

I’ve filled pages with my anger, hurt, and frustration directed at myself, my oldest daughter and other people who aren’t even very important. Yet there’s nary a mention of Jenni in 5 months worth of writing. My only thought is I’m not ready to heal that wound yet, or that I’ve healed it as much as possible without contact.

Long ago, I came to terms with the fact that my daughters are adults and entitled to make their own decisions. I don’t have to like them, and they certainly don’t need my approval of those decisions. But I do have to respect them enough to accept their right to make those choices. I won’t say some of them haven’t broken my heart and made me wish I could help in some way, but over time, I’ve learned to stand back, be supportive, and allow them to learn their own lessons just as I learn mine…the hard way.

And the point is…

It might seem like I’ve wandered away from the original topic, and perhaps, to those who think linearly, I have. But as my mind couldn’t walk a straight line if it tried, you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that all of this is related.

To tie it all together it’s easier to see how writing by hand can benefit mental health, help work through issues and even just relax us. Making the jump between mental well-being and physical health requires us to expand our minds a bit and make some connections which maybe should be obvious but aren’t.

Making the connection

There’s a certain flow that occurs from the brain to the hand and back again when we pick up a pen and start writing. I suppose in some ways, it isn’t unlike an artist picking up a pencil or a paintbrush. We disconnect from everything mechanical or electronic and are suddenly aware of our physical limitations.

The words go from brain to page more slowly, especially if you type as fast as I do. In that slowed down space, thoughts form, but they also drift away, unwritten. The words which need to come out will always find their way to the page while those errant thoughts which have little impact will float away while we’re busy putting down the ones that matter.

Do we know they matter when they hit the page? Not always. But I’m convinced that if they do flow from my brain and out the tip of my pen, they flow through for a reason.

Is it time to start writing your own morning pages?

I’ve referred to my morning pages several times. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, I invite you to check out Julia Cameron’s website where she offers both the print and online versions of her course, The Artist’s Way. I’ve found it immensely helpful in clearing blocks, dealing with old issues and simply as a way to start my day before plugging in to email, social media and the rest of the technology which is so much a part of our lives these days.

Gratitude will always make things better

As always, I share with you a few of my gratitudes:

  1. I am grateful for the internet which aids my searches and helps me learn new things every day.
  2. I am grateful for friends who have guided me towards books, articles and practices which improve my life on so many levels.
  3. I am grateful for my solitary life. It has led me down introspective paths which broaden my horizons.
  4. I am grateful for inspiration which comes to me in many different forms.
  5. I am grateful for abundance; love, peace, harmony, connectivity, generosity, humanity, peace, joy, hope, philanthropy, and prosperity.

Blessed Be

I invite you to visit my Facebook pages, Sheri Levenstein-Conaway Author and HLWT Accounting. Please also drop by my website, and check out my Hire Me Page. I’ve created these pages as a means of positive affirmation and would be very grateful if you’d “like” them or leave a comment! Thank you!

Photo courtesy of A. Birkan Caghan via Flickr

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