Category Archives: Stress

Easing Into Change

I’m back! I hope you all had a wonderful week. I had a great time at Lake Powell! I got plenty of swimming, paddle boarding, and hiking done. I even got some sun color. I don’t actually tan, I just get slightly less ghostly. We got caught in some crazy storms, I ate way too much, I caught a giant catfish, and I slept under the stars on the top deck of the houseboat.

Though I had a great week, I always hate that flat, disappointing feeling of coming home after a great vacation. This time is particularly nasty for some reason. Maybe it’s all the chocolate ice cream I ate, but I feel a bit low. When we left, I felt excited to take some time away from responsibility and just play in the turquoise waters of Lake Powell, and I figured I’d come back all refreshed and feel ready to hit the ground running.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t.

I’ve noticed that I tend to expect a lot of myself sometimes, especially if I ever allow myself to “slack off”. I figure, “well, I’ve been on vacation, so now I should be able to go double time”. It’s as if I feel like I have to pay for resting. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I need a break, no strings attached.

So, instead of diving headfirst into a massive to-do list that I could compile for the week, instead of plunging into a new workout routine I’d promise myself I’d start when I got back, I’ll ease back into my daily life. No boot camp, no cleaning marathons or major lifestyle overhauls right out of the gate. I can take a vacation without paying penance later.

I think we all struggle with this sometimes. It’s like eating dessert and telling ourselves we have to run it off on the treadmill tomorrow. That’s no way to live.

So, though I have plenty to do this week, I am refusing to fill up each slot in my planner with activities I should feel up to now that I’ve had a week off. Sometimes it’s the white space on the calendar that really feeds us and moves us forward. We need time to think, dream, process, and take mini-vacations periodically to avoid burnout and stoke our creative fires.

I do have some new paintings in the works, so I hope to reveal those soon! Have a wonderful week!

Cure for a Bad Mood: A Change of Perspective

Something amazing happened on Memorial Day.

I woke up in the worst mood ever. I felt depressed and confused about pretty much everything and I almost cried through my morning walk. I got home and sat on the couch staring at the wall for a half hour or so because I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do anything else. I didn’t feel like writing, making art, reading a book, eating breakfast, or even taking a shower. The sunshine and birdsong outside didn’t even cheer me like it usually does.

It was a scary feeling because I was questioning pretty much everything. I had a good cry on the couch and then somehow fell asleep even though I’d just gotten up from a full night’s sleep less than two hours earlier.

When I woke up 45 minutes later, I felt amazing.

I didn’t notice at first, the but bad feeling was completely gone. All the confusion was gone even though nothing had gotten much clearer; it just didn’t seem as scary any more. I knew things would work out.

I made myself some breakfast, got dressed, wrote for awhile, spent some time with Sam, then walked down to the park to lay on the grass and read a book until it was time to leave for our hike.

We hiked up a canyon trail with our friends Kyle and Destinee, I don’t remember what it was called, but it was beautiful. I love hiking so much. It’s exhilarating without hammering my knees like running does, and nothing makes me feel alive like being out in nature. I climbed up to a little cliff to sit and look down the canyon at Utah Lake. Destinee didn’t climb up with us and the boys climbed a little higher, so I got to sit by myself for a few minutes before climbing up with them.

As I sat with my toes dangling over the drop-off, I wondered how I had felt to awful just a few hours ago when I felt so happy then on the cliff. Nothing else in my life had changed but me. I’ll never underestimate the power of a nap again. It’s just a shift in perspective.

I had a great memorial day. We had a great time on the hike and then we went to a cemetery to put flowers on the graves that didn’t have any.

The moral of the story: Indulgent nap+fun hike with friends+putting flowers on graves=cure for a crappy mood.

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Mini Paintings-Take Beauty with You

I work at a desk and I face a blank wall. I love my day job, but I don’t enjoy the view.

I made a few mini paintings to sit on my desk, and my coworkers keep coming into my office to look at them. They seemed to really like them, and I sure loved having art with me at work!

I know a lot of my readers work at desks or live in small spaces, so I decided to create some tiny paintings so that we can take art with us anywhere. It keeps the work stress and boredom away.

I’ve posted these two little guys in the shop:

Purchase here.

Purchase here.

Both of these paintings come with the adjustable easel, and $21.00 a pop, they’re very affordable. I love making these!

Have a great Wednesday!

What do you want to do today?

Sometimes when I feel like I’m moving too fast or running on autopilot, I like to stop and get back on track. One of my favorite ways to reawaken myself to my own life and purpose is to get out my journal and write about what I would do that day if I didn’t have to do anything. I might also write about my ideal day, or maybe just list 20 or so things that I love to do and remind myself to build my life around those.

A lot of people think they’d lay around and watch TV all day if they didn’t have to do anything, and that may be true, but everyone is passionate about something. People need to actually do things to be happy. If you don’t know what you like to do, you might want to start there.

My day usually involves reading, writing, making art, taking walks, and spending time with my husband. Pretty simple. Some days I feel like going on an adventure and some days I’d rather curl up with a blanket and a Tracy Chevalier novel. Still, playing this little game helps me reassess what I’m doing and whether it’s getting me where I need to go. We should enjoy our lives. It’s not all fun and games; we all have things that need to get done that we’d rather not do, but the bulk of our lives should be enjoyable.

Find out what you love most and build your life around that. Use your “ideal day” writing as a compass.

Today, if I didn’t have to go to work, I’d go for a walk, work on some new paintings, prepare two of my paintings for an upcoming juried show, read a little, write in my journal, and go for a walk in the evening. Maybe a picnic with my husband. That’s actually what I’m planning to do today, more or less, just with my regular workday in the middle.

What would you do today, or on your ideal day? What do you love to do more than anything?

Noticing-The First Step to Change

 

Over this winter, I’ve fallen back into a bad habit that I’ve been trying to kick for years.

Stressing out over little things. Everything feels like an emergency to me.

Part of this may have to do with tired adrenals, which I suspect I’m experiencing, but I believe that 90% of our health starts in our minds.  If anything is wrong with my body right now, it started in my head.

I mentioned earlier this week that I’ve been holding a lot of tension in my shoulders, neck, and face lately. I’ve also noticed that I’ve been doing things like I’m in a race. You should see me wash dishes. I move quickly, my heart rate seems to be elevated more often than not, my thoughts fly around my head like a swarm of bees, and sometimes I feel powerless to stop it.

Then I remind myself that the first step to change is noticing.

I know plenty of people who run on full throttle all day long and never realize it. Sometimes I compare myself to them and feel bad because they seem so much stronger than me, but I’m glad that I can notice what is going on and why it doesn’t serve me. Stress wears me out. When I notice that feeling, I can go into it and find out why it’s there. I can ask myself why I feel that way. 9 times of out of 10, its’ something that really isn’t a big deal.

I don’t beat myself up for stressing over little things. Instead, I ask myself a few more questions. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Even if it did happen, it’s never the end of the world. Will this matter in a few years? Probably not. Am I thinking realistically, or am I letting my imagination run amok? (The downside to having an active imagination is that it can take any situation and run off in any direction without looking back)

I’m getting better at reining myself back in a few times a day. It takes practice, but it’s getting easier.

How do you handle stress? Do you stay calm or do you tend to be a stress case like me? Do you notice before it runs you into the ground?

Take Time for Healing

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You may have noticed that my posts haven’t been exactly chipper this week. For some reason, this just hasn’t been the best week. Nothing bad happened, nothing that really warrants this kind of feeling, but I’ve just been in a funk this week. It’s a familiar feeling.

About a year ago, I found myself in a doctor’s office complaining about this feeling, and after some really fun blood tests, we realized that I was experiencing the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue. I felt like I was dragging through life, I never felt rested after time off or a good night’s sleep, tiny things seemed like monumental tasks, and I was struggling with depression and anxiety. On top of that, we found out that I was allergic to dairy, that my blood sugar was dangerously low, and I had several nutritional deficiencies that perpetuate and are caused by adrenal insufficiency. All effects of chronic stress.

That was a wake-up call for a major life overhaul, which helped a lot. I felt great last summer. My energy came back, I lost a lot of weight, I reconnected with my creativity, and the anxiety and depression I’d struggled with for years seemed to evaporate.

Now I’m not feeling so hot. It’s nothing like it was last year, mostly because my attitude adjustment and healthier perspective keeps me more or less level headed, but I’m noticing that my energy is dragging again, even if I get a lot of sleep. Seemingly normal tasks often overwhelm me. I’ve been feeling a little of that anxiety and depression lately. My dairy allergy is back and I feel that familiar brain fog that comes with chronically low blood sugar. The weird part is, nothing overly stressful has happened. Sure, we had some financially tight weeks and I went back to work full time, but these things seemed to affect me more than they should have. I’m not guilt tripping myself for being weak or anything, I’m just noticing.

I don’t think that my little glands had sufficient time to heal. This isn’t happening again, but still. I might just be noticing it more because I’ve always had trouble in the winter, and that may be contributing. Either way, my body needs to heal. Adrenal insufficiency can take years to heal, so if I have any hope of functioning at my best in the future, I need to take my self-care seriously. I need time for physical and emotional healing.

I think a lot of us try push ourselves to live harder than what we can handle. We expect so much our ourselves, we cling to deadlines and to-do lists, we try to use our time as efficiently as possible, we fill our schedules with so much good stuff so we can feel like we’re accomplishing something. Then we burn out. We might even try to push through that.

Is pushing toward burnout faster a good use of our time, or would be be better off moving slowly, caring for our bodies and spirits along the way so they’ll last longer? Is everything really so important that we must run ourselves into the ground?

Conserve your energy. Refill your well. Understand that you are a human being who has limits, and that using “logic” to plan your life doesn’t always work, because logic doesn’t anticipate for human needs. We are not machines.

Take time to heal if you need to, and take time to maintain if you are healthy.

I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to push myself, but now I realize that I need to take recovery seriously. This means rest. This means feeding myself well, because this kind of condition tends to suck minerals out of your body. This also requires a serious examination of priorities. This might not be the best time for time-consuming, energy-zapping pursuits or overly ambitious goals.

Right now, the goal is healing. If I have to choose between much needed rest and something that I “should” be doing, I choose rest. I choose to give myself what I truly need and not what I think I should need. It’s ok to let some things go undone.

Do you need some extra care right now?

Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different :)

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

How to Enjoy Paying Bills

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Happy Monday! That probably looks a lot more chipper than it feels. Mondays aren’t necessarily my favorite days, but I do tend to feel a bit refreshed from the weekend. I like to use that extra energy to tackle chores for the week. Today I’m planning on grocery shopping, preparing some food for the week, and paying bills. That last one is probably my least favorite because I tend to stress about money even if we’re doing fine financially, which thanks to me working more, we are. It’s still not fun, but I thought I’d share a trick that I use to make it more enjoyable. Yes, it’s probably really corny, but it works for me.

Two tips actually. The first one it to use Pixar stamps. Paying the gas bill is much more fun with a Wall-e stamp.

The second, more important tip is to pay bills with gratitude.

I vaguely recall something like this in The Secret, so that’s probably where I got the idea, but while I’m writing out checks or paying bills online, I think about what I’m really paying for and the value I received. Here’s a quick breakdown of how I think about my bills:

  • Rent-Thank you for giving me a place to live, for giving my studio and a kitchen to cook yummy food and a big window with a tree outside to look at while I sit on the couch and journal in the morning.
  • Gas and electric bills-Thank you for hot baths, a cozy home, for light to read and paint by, for powering my computer so I can write and connect with others.
  • Student loan payments-Thank you for helping me study in China and graduate on time. Thanks for helping me start my dream of travel.
  • Phone bill-Thank you for allowing me to call my mom, text my friends, get a hold of Sam when my computer does something stupid and send him cute little messages during the day, and for helping me feel safe because I always have a way to get help in an emergency.
  • Car insurance and fuel-Thank you for allowing me to visit my family and friends, for getting me to the library, grocery store, and art galleries. Thanks for allowing me to get to work in five minutes instead of tramping through the snow for a 25 minutes both ways.

It may seem silly, but I think gratitude is the key to a happy life. When we have gratitude, we see the good in the unpleasant things. We notice out blessings, and we just tend to be a lot more optimistic. This is a big deal for those of us that tend to be vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

I’ll let you know how this works on taxes. ;)

Have a wonderful week!

Time Savers for Busy Artists

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…or anyone who’s crunched for time really. Since going back to work full-time, I’m learning to manage my time better to make more time for art and writing. It’s not easy! I know that plenty of other artists may have children or other commitments on top of a full-time job, so learning to use our time wisely is paramount to our creative work.

I’m still figuring this out as I go, but I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Always make time for self-care: This might seem like the opposite of saving time, but if I blow off my daily walk, journaling, or sleep, my energy plummets and I end up wasting a lot more time because my body and mind are dragging. It’s worth it to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep, a daily walk, and some journaling in the morning or evening. Find out what you need to keep your batteries charge and make that your number one priority. Everything else will follow.
  2. Streamline food prep: My two tools for this are batch cooking and the almighty crockpot. Each weekend or whenever I have time, I boil a dozen eggs or so, roast some veggies, maybe cook up some beans, and prep anything else I’ll need to assemble quick meals and snacks throughout the week. The crockpot is my best friend lately. I use it for making bone broth, beans, soup, and most dinners during the week, which turn into leftovers for lunches. It can be as simple as a chicken breast and some salsa on low for eight hours, and I just throw it in a tortilla when I get home. Done.
  3. Consolidate errands: Instead of running a bunch of isolated errands throughout the week, I do them all at once on the shortest route possible. If I have library books to return, I’ll do my grocery shopping at the store across the street and run any other errands I have in that part of town, like post office runs or picking up art supplies. If I need to put my husband’s check in the bank, I’ll shop at that grocery store and buy my cousin’s wedding gift at the Shopko next door. I try to do only one errand run every week.
  4. Know your priorities: I have a wash and wear haircut and my makeup routine takes about ninety seconds. I don’t waste time styling my hair or doing smoky cat eyes, because it’s not on my priority list. I don’t spend much time on Facebook, I don’t watch TV, and I wash my hair every other day. Know what’s important to you and what’s not. Cut out the rest.
  5. Streamline housework: Keep a container of Lysol wipes in the bathroom and wipe everything down once or twice a week after your shower. This keeps things looking clean for longer between thorough cleaning. Take one morning or even every other week or so to dust, mop the kitchen floor, and run a vacuum. If you have higher housekeeping standards than this, that’s fine, but be willing to sacrifice more of your creative time.
  6. Use cash: This is also a handy budgeting tips. Remove set amounts of cash for groceries, entertainment, and other expenses. This way, you can see how much you have to spend, and since that money is already accounted for, that’s less time balancing the checkbook and keeping track of the budget. Maybe not much time, but when I actually do this, it saves me money and brain space.
  7. Learn to use little spare minutes: Eight minutes before work to read a few pages, 30 seconds lulls at work for some deep breathing, ten minutes to collage something onto a painting. You don’t have to fill every second with activity, but rather learn to appreciate the spare minutes.

Time is a gift. This isn’t the busiest I’ve ever been, not by a long shot, but being busy teaches me how to appreciate my time really learn to take care of myself, to discipline myself to think clearly and understand what’s important to me. I don’t have children. I only have one job that takes 40 hours of my time every week. I don’t go to school. I could have a lot less time on my hands, and sometimes I feel weak for struggling with what I do have. True, winter is a rough season for me and things seem a lot harder right now, and I’m still adjusting, I’m trying to start my art career, and it’s a lot for me.

Do what you can do, and feel good about it. Time is precious, no matter how much or how little you have.

Filling your Creative Well

I haven’t touched my paintbrushes in about a week.

A few weeks ago, I would’ve completely beaten myself up over that.

As I sit on my studio floor writing this, the canvas I prepared last week with a base coat of blue-black lays in front of me, unmoved from that spot since I laid it down to let the paint dry.

You might know from my post last week that I’ve returned to work full-time, and I believe that’s a great thing for me right now. If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you also know that I believe that every challenge offers precious wisdom. 

I’ve always struggled with full-time work, mostly because I’ve had a lot of demanding jobs, but also because I don’t like being on someone else’s schedule and 40 hours or more every  week just tends to wear me out sometimes. I need a lot of time to think and reflect, and sometimes that’s hard to do when I work full-time and try to do a million other things.

So, the wisdom here is to learn to take exquisite care of myself while working full-time and starting my art career. At least I have a head-start on this job  because I really do love it and I’ve been working there for a few months. It’s not like I’m throwing myself into something completely new, but any big schedule change requires some adjustments.

While I’m settling into this new situation, I’m clearing a lot of other things off my plate. I’m taking it easy and making sure I have meals and snacks prepared for work, that I get enough sleep, journaling, and keeping things maintained. I’m even adjusting my sleeping schedule so that I have more time for creative stuff in the morning before work.  I’ve been thinking about art, but nothing is pulling me into the studio right now. I don’t see art when I look at trees or the sky right now.

However, I wouldn’t call this a block. I’m not concerned at all even though this would have terrified me a few weeks ago. I know that creativity needs to be nurtured in order to flow, and once I settle into things and things don’t require as much consciousness to maintain, I know that my imagination will start wandering again and I’ll get that itch. It’ll come back. It always does.

I’ve been working through The Artist’s Way and early on it talks about the vital importance of filling the “well,” which is our internal reservoir of images and ideas from which we draw our inspiration. Laura Hollick’s latest video expresses the importance of tending our “inner garden.” I’ve understood this concept for awhile, usually thinking of it as a process of “creative intake” and “creative output,” but I feel that receiving two reminders in one week is a gentle nudge in the right direction. I need to fill my well. I need to tend my garden. I’ve been so busy keeping the rest of my life together that I haven’t had room in my head or my schedule or the openness to keep my inner creative shelves stocked.

Maybe I should stick to the well and garden metaphors, yeah?

But how to we tend that garden?

It’s different for everyone, but to water our creative hibiscus flowers, we simply need to do things and visit places that inspire us. Read a good book. Go window shopping. Visit an art gallery or a museum. Go hiking. Listen to music that stirs you. Drive. Mess around with a new art medium. Whatever fills your soul with electricity, or at least that’s what inspiration feels like to me.

So, with things settling down, I’m working on tending that garden. When it’s flourishing again, the art will come.

This is the first time I haven’t felt uncomfortable with creative blockage, to say the least. Isn’t it incredible how life sends us the messages we need? We just need to hear them.

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