Category Archives: Self-care

Limits vs. creativity: does it have to be a duel?

Limits

I joined in the On Being a Writer online discussion for the last six weeks and gained a lot from it. [The series, hosted by Kate Motaung, was based on Ann Kroeker and Charity Singleton Craig’s book On being a writer: 12 simple steps for a writing life that lasts]

One of the topics that left me thinking was that of ‘Limit’.

Before the issue was raised via this series, I was acting like a spoilt child, asking ‘Why does this have to be my life?”…”Why me?”…

I was seeing, feeling, assimilating the limits that are imposed on me as being debilitating, spirit-crushing, life-sapping.

Then I pondered the prompt, read the responses of the other lovely ladies who joined in and had a major lightbulb moment…

Limits are actually useful for our creativity if we come at them from the right frame of mind.

Now, instead of thinking ‘Oh woe is me, I only have one hour to write”, with this shift in perspective, I’m all “Yay! I have one hour to write! What can I get done in this one hour?”.

I’ve come to relish the challenge and to see exactly how productive I can be in this hour.

The part of me that needs a challenge and some degree of external motivation is excited by this new frame of mind.

I’ve come to my writing hour afresh, with new eyes and more vigour and am loving seeing what I can produce/do in my whole hour.

This fresh perspective on the external limits on my time have kick-started my creativity.

These limits have made me more determined and, because of this new-found determination, they’ve made me more creative. 

I’m working with what I have, starting from where I am, instead of kicking myself that nothing is ideal.

It’s been a major wake-up call not only for my creativity but also in other areas of my life. When abundance doesn’t flow, it’s easy to get down, discouraged. But, instead of letting ourselves get discouraged, why don’t we turn it on it’s head?

Think you’re not enough? You don’t have enough?

Start to name the things you do have that you should be thankful for. Start to think how you can maximise the money/time you do have available.

Thinking in ‘haves’ and not ‘have nots’, thinking of limits as challenges, it’ll open up a whole new world of possibility.

What’s the worse thing about limits?

We think they block our realm of possibility. This certainly is the case sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t actively seek – and make the best of – the possibilities that are available to us.

This possibility-based thinking will – through unleashing our innate creativity – lead us out of the walls we build for ourselves.

And the best thing?

Once we’ve tasted what we can do when we’re limited, we won’t seek happiness, contentment elsewhere, we’ll find that we’re happy where we are with what we have, doing what we can do.

We’ll be expressing ourselves – our rich, inner, selves – despite the limits (whether this be time or disbelief in ourselves or or or…). And this full deliverance of our self expression will make us happy (may even, in the process, remove some of the limits we place on ourselves).

We’re not going to produce our best work unless we put the practice in and what better practice than creating within the boundaries imposed by the limits we face?

Can the limits we face push us to eventually become limitless….push us towards realising our best work? Can pushing up against our limits help us to develop – and flex – our creative muscles?

Would really love to hear what you think!

Helen xxx

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A week of self-care: final thoughts

FinalThoughts

I began the week of self-care talking about how we need time alone, free of distractions, to be able to reflect on our selves and our lives and to identify, define and refine our own thoughts (see here). This alone time is important in order to keep our emotional well-being high.

Unfortunately, the modern world – with all it’s distractions – seems to keep us away from reflecting on our selves and our own lives. This can, in the long term, lead to a fear of connecting with self and, therefore, to a grave disconnect from our selves.

All sorts of worries and woes can be traced back to low emotional well-being, many of which, if left unchecked, can lead to physical manifestations of this inner lack of tranquility.

I recommended five techniques that I use to ‘calm the beast’ that this busy-ness causes: Quiet Time, Journalling, Self-reflection, Meditation and Mindfulness.

I’d like to end the series by saying that unless we take the time to do this ‘inner work’, we’ll never get to know our true selves and will never be able to harness the power of our true selves.

Without dedication to this inner work, it’s easy to forget our gifts, or – worse – let ourselves be convinced that we don’t have any special gifts.

By facing ourselves and increasing our emotional fitness, through this ‘inner work’, we begin to realise our power and, as a consequence, experience shifts in confidence levels, fear levels, self esteem, our capacity to experience positive emotions such as joy, happiness, contentment and our experiencing of – and tendency to react from – negative emotions.

The relationship that matters most is your relationship with yourself: we can’t offer anything of value to anyone else if we’re not ‘running at full steam’ ourselves.

Feeling ‘bbllluuurgggh’ somewhere deep down?

Do the work.

Look inside.

Face yourself.

You’ll find a whole world of possibilities and your life will open up beyond all expectations.

I promise.

A week of self-care: mindfulness

Mindfulness

Many of us go about our days rushing from one thing to the next, not actually focusing very well on any one thing, instead trying to do more, essentially multi-tasking the life out of life. I know, because I was like that. I still, to some extent – as a single Mama, who’s self-employed – am like that because of my circumstances, but after meditating daily for many months now (see here), I’ve found that I’m becoming much more mindful in my life.

I find myself, now, observing as I go about my life, trying to be completely aware of the moment I’m in and not making any judgements about the moment as it’s happening. Rather, simply trying to be aware. As I focus on the moment, there’s no room for registering the multiple – unwanted – images/noises/sensations that I’m being bombarded with from all directions. There’s only room for the one moment I choose to concentrate on and give all my attention to. In this way, I’m able to give that chosen moment my full – uninterrupted – attention.

This has several effects: it makes me slow down; it makes me so much more aware – and appreciative – of everything that is happening in that place/moment where my attention is focused; it makes me remember every detail of that place/moment so that I can, later, recall everything about it. When we’re mindful about where we place our attention, we’re rewarded with a symphony of sensory experiences from that moment: the sights, sounds, smells, feel, taste of the moment all intensify, mingling and building together in a crescendo that silently shouts, “You’re alive!”.

Aside from the benefits of feeling wholly and totally alive through mindfulness, mindful living can enable a life of greater authenticity, as mindfulness teaches you to live according to what your soul speaks to you, rather than a life of simply reacting to the demands of your ego (which are fickle and rarely satiated).

Once we stop receiving unwanted, and uncalled for, information, we have the time we need to concentrate on ourselves, on our lives. When we stop reacting and start being selective about where we spend our time, we’re more open to learn from the things we experience and the ways in which we experience them. This can teach us a great deal about where we are in our lives and the ways in which we truly want to be living our lives. Mindfulness is, in this respect, a great teacher and a great healer.

Mindful living can also enable the forging of better relationships: once you yourself are calmer, more relaxed, more mindful about your actions and their consequences, you’ll realise the need for better communication and will, therefore, begin to speak more clearly and listen more intently. Focus will be improved. As will creativity:   experiencing life in all it’s glory, by observing and being more acutely aware of life as it happens, will inspire ideas, new ways of thinking and new forms of creation.

Additionally, mindfulness encourages you to live life with more intention. Once you find, and see, the joy in life through mindfully observing your moments, you develop a sense of the preciousness of life. You realise that you must be more intentional about the moments you choose to experience. You won’t want to waste your life on moments that don’t enrich you or fulfil you in some way. You’ll find yourself thirsty for only positive experiences and actively backing – if not running – away from anything that lessens your joy.

In this way, mindfulness, through its ability to augment your reality by allowing you to actually live every moment, allows you to ‘re-program’ your mind. Once you begin to live mindfully, you’ll have no place for the negative and will, actively, avoid situations in which your joy is sapped. You’ll begin seeing the good and actively avoid ‘bad’. It re-trains your mind towards the positive.

As a consequence of the lessons that mindfulness teaches, life becomes filled with positive emotions, arising from the experiencing, and savouring, of positive moments: kindness, generosity, love, compassion…through mindfulness your life will become a hotbed of grace. 

I know, for myself, since I’ve been living consciously, through being more mindful about my life, I’ve experienced an incredible spiritual re-awakening that has brought me not only a great sense of peace but also a renewed sense of purpose across all aspects of my life.

[This post is part of a week-long series ‘A week of self-care’: Introduction, Quiet Time, Journalling, Self-reflection, Meditation…pop back tomorrow for the concluding post!]

A week of self-care: meditation

Meditation

I tell people I meditate and there’s one of two reactions: “Oh my goodness, you what? How do you have the patience for that? I can’t do that, I tried and I can’t do it” (whilst looking at me like I’m mad) and “What sort of meditation do you do?” (which leaves me fumbling for an answer and feeling Rather Inadequate Indeed in the face of their Need To Classify Everything).

As with many things in my life, I don’t know if what I’m doing is correct, or if there’s a better way to do itbut, with meditation, I’m finding peace, deep inner peace, and relaxation and a solid central foundation (by connecting with the source of my self).

I came to meditation via my GP, who recommended I slow down, because I was showing physical signs of anxiety. He didn’t, however, make any recommendations as to how I meditate and, coming home from the appointment, I felt rather lost, Googling ‘meditation’ and finding a great deal of conflicting – very often confusing – and mostly daunting information.

After reading a lot, I was essentially told I should sit still and focus on my breathing and that enlightenment would come……!

Not very helpful.

In the slightest.

I tried and tried and failed spectacularly – leading to yet more anxiety which was exactly not what I needed! [“Goodness!” – I tried to stop myself from thinking – “….you go to the pharmacy with a prescription and they give you a tablet and you feel better quite quickly…”]

I let it settle for a few days and then, on a Google adventure, came across a free 21-day guided meditation from Deepak Chopra and Oprah. Two big names. Together. Offering a free meditation series. I signed up there and then! [Chopra offers free themed 21-day guided meditations throughout the year – information here; and offers a ‘snapshot’ of guided meditations across different themes here].

The beauty of a guided meditation is that the host literally does guide you in to the meditation. You’re taken through steps that first relax you then move you towards a state where you’re able to identify your thoughts as they come and then, further than that, to going ‘beyond’ your thoughts, to a state where you feel, simultaneously, everything at once (yes, I realise that sounds kind of quack! but its the best way I’ve found of describing it).

What Google failed to tell me, in the jumbled up mess it returned during my searches, was that I wouldn’t reach this ‘feeling, simultaneously, everything at once’ state – even with Deepak Chopra guiding me – until after about 8 days of listening to the guided meditations.

Once, however, I’d trained my mind to relax sufficiently, and to look beyond my mundane thoughts, I began to meditate. To enter in to that state that’s so difficult to describe. The state that provides me with deep relaxation and deep peace (even when I’m not meditating, I feel the practice embuing me with this deep sense of peace at all times).

[I should note that, after around 5 months of doing daily meditation, I can now simply lay and focus on my breathing and I feel myself entering ‘the’ state (as Google recommended; I feel I should write to them and ask them to preface all the information they host about meditation with this Extremely Helpful Hint!). I’ve been amazed, during these past few months, at the power of habit and discipline and I live, now, in almost constant amazement at the sheer power of the mind.]

So, whilst I’m very very far from being an expert in meditation, I’m an enthusiastic beginner and:

a) can highly recommend it

b) would recommend using a guided meditation

c) would recommend giving the process a chance: you’ll need time to open yourself to the process

d) promise you that it will open up a whole new world for you

e) promise you that people will give you funny looks when you say you meditate (but that you’ll simply nod wisely and say nothing, secretly wishing really strongly, with all your fingers and toes crossed, that their life leads them to discover meditation too)…

So, whilst I’ve regaled you with my own personal tale of meditation (rather self-indulgently), I’ve failed to recount what Google did manage to tell me, this time very clearly…

Benefits of meditation

– Meditation relaxes, calms stress, reduces anxiety. There’s a quote that floats around, which says, “Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”. He replied, “Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death”…

– As a consequence of its effects on calming moods and stabilising emotions, meditation has a role to play in reducing blood pressure, reducing signs of anxiety, lowering the risk of cardiovascular episodes

– Meditation has been shown to have other, very specific, physical effects. Studies are coming out from the medical literature which show that meditation can have an effect on cellular growth, with people who meditate having longer telomeres than non-meditators (telomeres are found at the end of your chromosomes and have a role to play in how fast the cells of your body age). Essentially, the research shows that meditation slows ageing at a cellular level.

– Medical studies have shown that regular meditation can lead to the switching on of genes that have a role to play in fighting disease. The research is showing, very clearly, that the mind has a very clear physical effect over the body (one study showed that patients who are HIV positive and who meditated regularly for four months showed no decline in their white blood cells; as white blood cells are responsible for keeping infection at bay, and as the medicine that achieves an effect around a third as strong as meditation is very very expensive and many people can’t afford this medication, this is an important finding).

– Research shows that people living with cancer feel less overall pain when they meditate, with one study showing that meditation reduced pain intensity by around 40% and that meditating patients received around 35% less pain-control medication than non-meditators.

– Studies have shown that meditation increases the neural connections in the brain, literally increasing brain power.

– Neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change itself in response to stimuli) is stimulated following meditation.

– The brain is shown to age at a slower rate in meditators, with the areas of the brain dealing with memory and decision-making becoming bigger in meditators.

Final thoughts

I’ll flippantly say that I don’t care who thinks I’m strange for meditating. In fact, given the research that shows all the many benefits of meditation (which is, presumably just the tip of the iceberg, given the lack of funding for research in to meditation)I’ll gladly shout about meditation from the rooftops. There have been campaigns from educators for meditation to be standard in Western schools. I can’t claim I’m well-versed enough to know about the ins and outs of those arguments, but I do know that myself and my two littles have become noticeably – audibly! – calmer, less anxious, more tranquil, more creative, more generous and certainly a whole lot kinder since we started meditating. And that, for me, is reason enough to continue.

[This post is part of a series ‘Self-care‘: click for Quiet Time, Journalling and Self-Reflection]

Self care week: Self-reflection

SelfReflection

As part of this ‘Week of self-care’ series, I’ve posted about Quiet Time and Journalling. Today it’s the turn of Self Reflection.

We sometimes, as humans, have a tendency to blame something – anything – else for the problems we see in our lives: we don’t have enough money, we’re not in the right place, we’re not successful enough, we don’t feel happy enough….and on and on in a vicious spiral of outsourcing our discontent.

Hello! Wake up! We’re the only ones who know what we want and the only ones, therefore, who know how we can get there. We often don’t even start trying to get there, however, because – and here goes the blame game again – what if we aren’t good enough? What if we can’t?

When we’ve worn thin/used up blaming the things around us for our own inertia, we turn to blaming the unknown – blaming possible future eventualities – for our inertia. If there was a competition to see which is the most debilitating few words in the English language, my vote goes for ‘What if….’.

There’s always something else to blame!

And, in the meantime, life goes on and the inertia swells and swallows our days whole, never to be returned.

Whilst we flounder around, using our energies to find that something else to blame, we fail to utilise – and therefore harness the power of – our most powerful asset: our mind.

If we take time for regular self-reflections, we can get to know our minds and, through this, get to know what it is we want and to make concrete plans for how we can get there. Studies show that the happiest people are those who feel content with who and where they are and that the most contented people are the people that undertake regular self-reflective practices.

They’re matching their desires with their actions, leading directly to contentment.

[The root of discontent, I’m convinced, lies in the discord between ones desires and ones actions].

Benjamin Franklin and the ‘know thyself’ pathway…

One of the pioneers of self-reflection in the West, Benjamin Franklin, approached self-reflection as a systematic form of self improvement. Early on in his life, he determined he needed to strive for bodily, physical and intellectual perfection and then undertook a rigorous series of actions to ensure improvements in all those areas.

Additionally, he developed a list of virtues (including Temperance, Silence and Order) that he felt he should adhere to, which would allow him to live his version of an ideal life. These virtues guided everything he did. Every day, he took time to answer thirteen questions he had developed that, he reasoned, would help him to adhere to the virtues he’d identified.

Amongst his thirteen questions are two that are particularly interesting: in the morning, he’d ask himself, “What good shall I do today?” and in the evening, he’d ask, “What good have I done today?”. By identifying his virtues and then regularly reflecting on the questions that kept him acting within the ‘bounds’ of his virtues, he ensured that he remained on the path he wanted to tread, throughout his life.

I’m not suggesting we all approach our lives in such a systematic manner but I do believe that self-reflection is an important process in that it helps remove the potential for inertia, for stagnation. Even if we don’t want to be the next Elon Musk, we all have things in our life that we want to achieve but that something other often stops us.

Regular self-reflection can act like a path of breadcrumbs guiding you through the forest; it’ll allow you to identify goals and enable you to achieve these goals, through the removal of barriers, the identification of ways to arrive there and increases in the confidence we have in our abilities and, therefore, increases in assurance in the delivery of our goals.

OK. I’m kind of sold on the idea but how do I start to self-reflect?

Taking time to get to know oneself can be a daunting – if not scary – experience. We all have stuff we’d rather not face. But facing problems, niggly issues, head on is the only way they’ll stop having power over you. Problems always seem bigger than they actually are. They’re actually kind of like bullies. Once we step out, put our Big Girl Pants on and face them in the open, head on, the problems will scuttle away, tails between their legs, wilting, because, once faced, they know they will be beaten. All it takes is a little courage and, once the momentum is there, the process will be easy and will result in multiple benefits.

So, you’ve faced your demons and they’ve retreated. Now it’s time for the good stuff!

Make your own set of guiding principles (thanks, Ben!). Decide what it is you will – and won’t – accept in your life any longer. Once done, you can then make your own set of questions, ones that are a good fit for you and that will ‘stretch’ you a little, to allow you to go beyond the usual confines of your thoughts and allow you new possibilities, new solutions.

I tend to work with fairly basic questions: What went right this week? What went wrong? What could I do to stop the wrong thing happening again? Have I been working towards my longer-term goals? Is there anything I could be doing to realise my longer-term goals a bit quicker?

Each person’s questions will obviously be highly personalised. Directed towards their stage of life/guiding principles/goals.

The important thing is that the questions keep the guiding principles in view and allow you to develop within the framework of those guiding principles. [My current set of guiding principles, for example, are mainly all centred around ensuring that I’m present (in all senses) for my littles and that I show them a good example at all times. Kindness is important to me, as is peace of mind, leading to peace in our home].

You then sit down regularly with your questions (I do this process on Sunday evenings) and answer them as honestly as you are able (the more honest you are, the more benefits you’ll receive from the process). You’ll find that reflecting like this lets you take stock of where you are and identify where improvements need to be made.

Importantly, you’ll also re-gain ownership of your life (both external and, importantly, your internal dialogue) and, through this, you’ll find a source of power from within, because now you’re not only actively assessing your inner dialogue but you’re controlling it, guiding it from where it has been to where you want it to go.

Once you reach this stage, there’s no room for blaming something else for your situation. You’re in control. At the helm.

You can, now, turn the niggling, small-making, ‘What if‘ in to a positive! Instead of being frightened by the ‘What if?’, you’ll feel able to ask “What if I were to (whatever), what good might come?”. By turning the question on its head, in this way, it goes from being a scary-making question (that has the power to belittle all efforts) to a very positive one, that’s simultaneously empowering and inspirational.

The very thing that inhibited you can now be used to set you free!

OK. Now what?

Undertaking regular self-reflections is therefore, more than anything, a way of regaining power through regaining control of your own thoughts. As everything we do is controlled by thoughts, its kind of frightening to think that, a lot of the time, we go through our lives not in control of our own minds!

As with the other techniques for self-care that I’ve discussed so far this week (Quiet Time and Journalling), self-reflection is a powerful way of reconnecting with our selves, of getting to know ourselves.

It’s only when we know ourselves deeply (warts and all) that we can begin to live in a zone of deep internal contentment, on a firm foundation of self love. Only then can we go beyond and actually begin to reach for the things our hearts truly desire (whatever they may be).

Self-reflection offers a key to full self-realisation.

See you tomorrow for ‘A week for self-care: meditation’!

Journalling

Journalling2

Did you know writing can be therapeutic?

Journalling has many beneficial emotional and psychological effects. You can sit there with a blank piece of paper and start to write and, at the end of it, you’ll feel better!

I’ve seen journalling described as a “spiritual windscreen wiper” which is a great description! By putting pen to paper, and pouring your thoughts and feeling on to the page, journalling allows you to get rid of all the messy, confusing and worrying thoughts that bounce around inside your head, allowing you to move on with your day with a much clearer head. Once you’ve got rid of them, by transferring them to paper, you’ll find those thoughts won’t disrupt your day. You’ll be able to get through your day with a much more focused mind.

How can you start journalling?

It can be difficult for people to start writing. They may feel embarrassed (because they feel they can’t write) or may feel they don’t know where to start. Here are some tips/techniques you can use to get past these fears:

– Grab a new notebook. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be daunted by the new notebook (!). Open it and scribble all over the first page. It’s not new any more, now, and any fear you had about ‘ruining’ said new notebook with unworthy words will evaporate!

– Remember that, to reap the benefits of journalling, the end product does not matter. What matters is the process: the process of getting the niggling, distracting, thoughts out of your head and on paper. Once you appreciate this important aspect of journalling, the whole idea becomes less daunting and much more manageable.

– Set a timer (five minutes, say) and just start to free write. Put your pen on the paper and just write anything and everything that comes in to your head. You’ll be amazed, after a very short while, how many thoughts you feel welling up and spilling out on to the page.

– If you prefer, you can start your journalling with a simple phrase, such as ‘I feel…’ or ‘I am….’ or ‘Today…’. Having a short prompt to ‘kickstart’ your writing can help you loosen up and feel able to start writing.

– Use a prompt. There are many websites dedicated to providing journalling prompts. I like some of the ideas presented in this post, as she details various different types of prompts for journalling (in response to a quote; creating a list; confessional format; ‘If’ format, and more). A friend has been journalling from these prompts. The web is full of places that’ll give you journalling prompts if you prefer to journal that way.

Benefits of journalling

Studies have shown that journalling has many beneficial emotional and psychological effects which, in turn, bring health benefits:

– Journalling slows you down. The very act of writing by hand slows you down physically and mentally.

– Journalling allows time for reflection. Writing your thoughts out, by hand, allows the time you need to reflect on their overall scope which can lead to a shift in perspective and the adoption of a new point of view. Sometimes it’s exactly this different point of view that we needed to be able to move on.

– Journalling allows for deeper contemplation of your thoughts. This deeper analysis of issues most times, for me, allows me to pinpoint problem areas and to find solutions to be able to turn these problems in to positives. Leading to the next one…

– Journalling is a great problem-solving tool and a great sharpener of our problem-solving ability. We tend to think we should solve problems from our analytical (left) brain but, actually, journalling has shown me, so many times, that when I let my intuitive, creative (right) brain take over, I’m much more likely to find a novel solution that proves, in practice, to work so much better than the one the analytical part of my brain offered.

– Journalling forces me to deal with my own shortcomings head on; I’ve found that once I’ve gone through this process, of admitting a shortcoming and then moving on, I’m more forgiving of myself, and this allows me to let go of the negative emotions/thoughts I was holding surrounding this. This frees up space in my mind for other, more important, things

– Journalling allows us to recognise (and own the fact) that we’re a work in progress, that are stories are not static but dynamic. This allows us to be a little easier on ourselves. When you record ‘where you’re at’ in a journal, you then have a record of your life in that journal. You can look back on the journal at everything you’ve achieved and see patterns and records of when/what/how you overcame; you’ll find comfort and strength in that.

– Journalling continually shows me how grateful I should be, for everything, and as the saying goes, gratitude is a miracle magnet. Once we see the myriad of small miracles that surround us, life suddenly becomes that much more beautiful. We see life for what it is: a string of miracles laid out before us.

– Journalling decreases stress. Once you’ve got all the random (and not so random) thoughts out of your head, and, through this, given yourself a chance to process them objectively (not subjectively, as we usually do), then you’ll find yourself worrying a lot less and your stress levels decreasing as a consequence

– Journalling leads, slowly but surely, to a greater depth of self awareness and, through this, greater self acceptance and self assurance.

– Journalling leads to greater levels of empathy. Once we’ve taken the effort to understand ourselves through our journalling, we learn to see our own mistakes and weak areas; it becomes easier, therefore, to understand that all humans have flaws and problems and that these sometimes lead to people making mistakes. It then becomes easier to empathise with other people.

– Journalling leads to forgiveness. Of both self and others.

– Journalling can, overall, lead to better relationships: with oneself, firstly, and from there, with other people. If you’ve written about what’s bothering you, and taken the time to understand why, you won’t need to be so angry with the other person (or be able to justify being so angry with the other person); you can then enter in to a conversation with that person calmly, thus avoiding conflict.

– Through the cumulative effects of all these benefits, journalling leads to better overall emotional health and well-being

– Journalling is especially useful in people who’re living with trauma, or who are living through periods of deep change, because, in these cases, it can be difficult to verbalise deep-rooted thoughts about the events that led to the trauma (or fears about the effects of the change): studies suggest that repeated exposure to the traumatic events/fear of change, via journalling about them, can lessen their potential to continue to traumatise

– Many studies have shown that people who journal regularly have better overall physical health, including improved liver, lung and immune system functioning; lower blood pressure; and fewer incidents of clinical depression. There is, therefore, a clear link between journalling and overall physical health.

Finally…

As I was writing this, I had the words ‘Physician heal thyself’ ringing around my head…

Journalling has been an excellent tool for me to come to understand myself much more deeply. It’s helped me to increase my self-awareness and, through this, has encouraged, in me, a greater sense of empowerment and a massive reduction in anxiety and stress.

I find that, when I take the time to journal, I’m offered a ‘birds eye’ view of me, my life and my future, which helps put everything in to perspective; once everything’s in perspective like that, I find daily life so much easier. I honestly can’t recommend journalling highly enough.

Grab yourself a pen and a notebook and find ten minutes: journalling is the cheapest and most effective cleansing for your mind you’ll ever find….!

[This is the third post in a week long series about ’emotional wellbeing’. The first (introductory) post is here; the second post (Quiet Time) is here].

Quiet time

QuietTime2

I’ll start this week of posts based around ’emotional wellbeing’ by saying that I’m not a trained professional but that I’m on my own healing journey and have found these techniques really helpful in my healing process. I don’t claim to be an expert but hope that my experiences will offer some help, however small, to anyone who’s reading who might be in need of this help.

My personal path to ‘quiet time’

I’ve lived through a fairly traumatic set of events/circumstances and found myself, about six months ago, at the Drs surgery, with a suite of strange symptoms: dizziness, headaches, nausea, erratic heart beats, insomnia, amongst others. The Dr, who knew of our personal situation, sat me down, looked me straight in the eyes and told me very clearly that I was suffering from stress and situational anxiety and that I had to do something to calm my mind, otherwise the physical manifestations of the stress would cause serious problems for my health and physical well-being.

It was a wake up call. I knew I was stressed (who wouldn’t have been?!) but I didn’t know, until that moment, that stress can have such far-reaching physical effects (my dizziness was so bad, for example, that I was unable to leave the house, at one point, for fear of fainting outside of my home).

The Dr recommended periods of rest and periods of quiet time, adding that if I could meditate, that would be his preferred remedy.

I got back home, after that appointment, and cried buckets (quite literally). My Dad died sixteen years ago, essentially from stress, his heart giving out one day as he arrived home from work, nothing the paramedics could do as they arrived to try to save him. He was 45.

I’m a single Mum and have two littles who need me still. I run, I ride my bike, I walk everywhere; physically I’ve always been healthy (aside from the consequences of accidents). What was letting me down, it seemed, was my mind. That was worrying in itself!

So, I set to work. I began to meditate (more about that on Thursday). It helped. Enormously. Giving me an inner peace I’ve honestly never had previously and don’t know, now, how I managed to live without for all these years.

The last few months, once I’d found that inner peace during meditation, I decided it was time to find peace in my daily life, to find quiet time where I could ‘hear’ that peace, even when I wasn’t directly meditating.

Forging my quiet time

I began to carve out time from my schedule to have quiet time. It was a conscious act of scheduling time to simply be still and quiet. Ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. Twenty minutes out of my day, for me just to be still and quiet.

It’s the best investment of my time I’ve ever made.

These twenty minutes allow me to develop a wider vision of my life, of our lives, to reflect upon what we’re doing (and why) and what changes/tweaks need making to be able to make things better. They provide me with great clarity of thought. They energise me and give me a source of patience and love that comes from somewhere very deep and is, because of this, pretty unshakable.

I invest ten minutes in the morning, for example, and I start my day fresh, energised and with a strong overview of what I need to do that day and – perhaps most importantly – why I need to do those things (I’m a great believer in the power of why). I invest ten minutes in the evening, and I’m able to go to sleep with my mind calmed, my thoughts reined in and my mind still, ready for sleep.

Tranquility – this state of calmness and reflection that I reach during my quiet time – is restorative, in complete contrast to the stress that comes from being busy and rushing through life. When we’re in a state of tranquility, we’re able to more clearly focus on all aspects of our selves and how we, as individuals, affect those around us.

Investing the time in being still, being quiet, pays dividends in terms of the good that will result from the investment, both for ourselves and for the people we interact with.

What do I do during my quiet time?

In the morning, I’ll either have my quiet time sitting in a favourite place at home or I’ll go for a walk (I find nature to be extremely restorative). I start by calming myself and then I run through all the things that are happening in my personal/professional life, and in our personal lives. I’ll ruminate on these issues for a while. Generally, as I relax in to the quiet time, solutions will present themselves, usually ones I hadn’t thought of, and ideas will come to me. [I always keep a notebook handy during this time]. I find my mind wanders anywhere and everywhere and I just observe and listen, noting any and all pathways it takes. [I find ‘quiet time’ a great source of fuel for my creativity].

In the evening, always at home (not walking outside), because I do it when the littles are in bed, I usually start by writing a sentence or two about one or two things each of my littles have done during the day [I started doing this after seeing a post from Becky Higgins here]. I’ve found that focusing on them for a while helps me to ground myself again after the busy-ness of the day. I then write in my gratitude journal (see here and here). This helps me to put everything in perspective: even if my life doesn’t look how I imagined it would look at this stage in my life, I have many many things to be grateful for. That’s a humbling  – powerful – process. I then just sit quietly, letting my thoughts meander, telling myself not to worry, giving myself permission, almost, to let the things that I can’t control go. [I often remember that Dale Carnegie quote, “Today is the tomorrow you were so worried about yesterday” – it instantly makes me calm].

Suggestions for other ‘quiet time’ activities

– Choosing to put your smartphone down and sit in silence instead. We’re afraid of being alone with ourselves but if we can’t be alone with ourselves, who can we be truly comfortable and open with, really?

– Listening to your favourite piece of calming music

– Colouring – mandalas are great as their repetitive patterns will sooth you and calm your mind [Type ‘free mandala colouring page’ in to Google or Pinterest and about a million will pop up!]…yes, I know colouring sounds strange (“I have other, more important, things to do than colouring“) but studies have shown that it does help to disengage – and calm – the mind.

– Read a book

– Take a bath or make your shower a spa

– Take a walk in Nature. The Japanese ‘shinrin yoku‘ literally means ‘forest bathing’ and daily walks in Nature have become, in Japan, an important part of preventative health care. Walks in nature have been proven, in research coming out of Japan, to have many health benefits including reduced blood pressure, improved sleep and reductions in stress hormone levels, amongst others (see more here).

Finding time to be quiet

– Tell the people you live with what you’re doing and why, so they respect your quiet time.

– Schedule ten minutes to be quiet: it’s a vital part of your overall well-being as it will help you to take care of your body and your mind. Paraphrasing something that’s attributed to Buddha, “You should find ten minutes a day to be quiet; if you can’t find ten minutes you must find an hour”.

– Make space for quiet time around an existing ritual. Tea at 3? Drinking your afternoon tea could become your quiet time. Bath in the evening? Light some candles and voila! Instant – and ambient – quiet time!

– Do you have lots of currently ‘wasted’ time in your day? Driving to/from work? Waiting around at sports practice etc? Use a portion of that time as your quiet time. Don’t make the default move to grab your phone; be brave and use the time to be quiet.

Benefits of quiet time

– A myriad of health benefits including reduced blood pressure, reductions in physical signs of stress, better sleep quality and length, amongst others.

– An increasing sense of peace and contentment

– An increasing sense of joy and wonder in the world

– An increase in your creativity levels and creative thinking patterns

– Studies in the business literature have shown that quiet time is linked to increased overall productivity (because being quiet strengthens focus and commitment)

The benefits of being still and quiet are so numerous that, were ‘quiet time’ to be bottled and marketed as The Wonder Drug to Combat Many Ills, it would make the clever promotional people billionaires, I’m sure!

Finally….

If you did manage to get this far (through this really long post!), I hope it’s been helpful and I’m looking forward to talking about journalling tomorrow…I also look forward to hearing whether/how you find quiet time and what the benefits are for you…let me know in the comments! [I’m really interested to hear from you!]