Category Archives: Stress
Stress is a major creativity killer. The problem is, a lot of us don’t recognize it until we’re three quarters of the way through a bag of Oreos or in the doctor’s office with a diagnosis for adrenal fatigue.
The trick to handling stress is to stop it before it starts. Easier said than done. If you miss that train though, the second-best thing is to know how to recognize stress so you can know when you need to back off.
Know your red flags. Here are some of the most common ones:
- You aren’t living in the moment: If you’re always thinking about the past or the future-to do lists, making ends meet, what you’ll make for dinner, why did you do that, you didn’t get enough done-then your brain is overloaded and you need to take some time to breathe.
- You feel disconnected from your body: When I’m overly busy, the first thing to go is my body connection. I find myself eating out of habit or convenience rather than waiting for my hunger signals, I stay up late, and I eat a lot more sugar. It’s worth it to take the time to reestablish communication from your body. Yoga or “lie down” meditation works well for me.
- You can’t do one thing at a time: You eat lunch while answering emails, make to-do lists during church (guilty), things like that. Multi-tasking is not as efficient as it seems. It just causes more stress and renders us unable to give each task the care it deserves.
- It takes you forever to fall asleep because your mind is going in a million different directions.
- You find it hard to relax because you feel like you should be doing something else.
- You feel like you don’t get enough done: When you allow yourself to give each task the time it deserves, you feel much more accomplished because you know you did a good job, and you did it deliberately. You were present. Feeling like you haven’t done enough is also a sign that you need to be gentle with yourself, respect your limits, and possibly manage your time better. Find ways to work smarter, not harder.
- Your body is protesting: You’re face starts to resemble the surface of Mars, your pants are tight, you feel a drag in the afternoon, you can’t get out of bed in the morning or get to sleep at night, your back hurts-sound familiar? That’s your body screaming for attention. In the hustle and bustle, you’re poor body has been neglected because you haven’t been listening to it. Listen to it, find out what it needs, and do it.
- “Fun” stuff doesn’t feel so fun because you’d rather veg: When I’m stressed, you’d think that making art and writing is a great stress-reliever. If I catch stress early, creating does feel great, but if I let stress get too far along without kicking it in the butt, I find that I don’t feel like painting. All I want to do is sit on the couch with a box of Fererro Rocher and watch Fraggle Rock. If I don’t have the mental energy to create, I know something’s gotta give.
- The tiniest things overwhelm you: When my life feels like a minefield, the idea of balancing my checkbook or washing the dishes seems gargantuan. It’s not because I have better things to do, it’s because I feel like I already have so many things piled up on me that emailing a gallery director feels like it’ll crush me. Secret: it’s not the little task that’s daunting, it’s the collective weight of that and the other 234 things you think you have to do, or the weight of worry. Dump that weight. You don’t need it.
- You feel numb: The way that most of us deal with stress is to turn off. We go into Robot Mode so that we can push through whatever needs to get done without those pesky emotions or intuition whining in our ear to slow down. If you can’t hear your intuition, that’s a good sign that you’d better tune into it. It’s there to take care of you.
Breathe. Delegate. Get some perspective. Learning to recognize your own red flags is the first step to dealing with them. Life is much too short for stress.
Today, I get to do something that would’ve made me cry a month or two ago.
I get to go back to work full-time.
After a few months of really choppy income and lots of stress, we’ve decided that I need to be the main breadwinner so that Sam can focus on his (very intense) schoolwork.
I resisted this idea at first. I need time to make art and promote myself! I barely have enough energy to work part-time and do laundry! At first, I felt like a failure and a sell-out for choosing financial stability over extra time to dedicate to my art.
I took some time to think about it, and I realized that this is one of the most caring things I can do for myself right now.
The truth is, I really enjoy my job. It’s actually something related to my degree, I’m good at it and I feel appreciated there. It pays better than any other job I’ve had and it’s quite laid-back.
With me working full-time, Sam can take the most intense weeks of school off. We’ll be able to afford healthier food, and I can buy the supplements that help my anxiety and winter blues. With benefits, I can keep up on my doctor, optometrist, and dental check-ups.
Most importantly, this will take care of A LOT of our overall stress, and that means more mental energy to dedicate to my art and writing. Security is a huge factor in my emotional health, and the stress of being financially strapped far outweighs the stress of a busier schedule.
I see this as a huge act of self-care. Yes, I’ll have to adjust my routines and learn to juggle a busier work schedule with artmaking and self-care, but the peace I feel inside tells me that it will work out.
Self-care isn’t always what it seems.
I’m thankful that this opportunity presented itself when we needed it, and it galvanized my belief that life (or God, the Universe, whatever) has a way of providing for us, even if it doesn’t seem like what we want at the time. Things work out.
Ok, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but better late that never, right? (I hate cliches, but sometimes they’re overused for a reason: they work.)
All week long I’ve read amazing posts from bloggers who have chosen a word or a theme for 2012. I’ve heard of this before and though I set intentions each year and have used mantras before, I’ve never actually chosen a word for an entire year.
So, after a few contemplative walks and some journaling, I’ve chosen my word:
This isn’t an exciting word, and I definitely considered some snazzier ones, but that’s not what I need. For the past several years of my life, many thing have felt unstable. Relationships, income, self-esteem, my body, jobs, career plans, and mental health to name a few.
That’s a rough way to live.
This word fits perfectly with my intentions for 2012, and now that I think about it, stability is what I’m seeking through those intentions: a stable income, stable moods and health, relationships, supportive habits, creative flow, and a stable career. By that I mean that this year, I want to create a stable, solid foundation for my art and writing career.
Stability. Just saying it in my mind makes me feel grounded and focused, which is exactly what I need to create this in my life.
It reminds me of this quick little collage I made several years ago when I was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. All I wanted in the world was to feel grounded, strong, and secure.
I’m actually working on a small painting version of this that I’m not planning to sell, but I promise I’ll show you when I’m done. It’s funny to look back on past artwork and see “seeds” of what I’m doing now!
Best of luck in 2012.
So my Internet has been patchy lately, and this post is brought to you by my iPhone. I’ll keep it quick, because I’ve got a lot to do today.
I’m hoping to finish my latest painting today, and it feels like forever since I’ve finished anything. I completed my last painting in November, and that was the only piece I finished that month. It was huge, but nothing compared to the one or two paintings I chugged out every week in August and September.
I’ve accepted that winter is my less creative and energetic time, but sometimes it’s hard to cut myself some slack when I need to. I think this is true of most people. We feel guilty for taking breaks or spending more time reading than making stuff even if that’s what we really feel like doing. We confuse limits with laziness and interpret needs as weakness.
That kind of thinking doesn’t serve us. I’m ok with this one painting, even though I’d intended to finish at least three in December. I feel like this is quality work that reflects the internal shift I feel when the seasons change as well as a new element I’m going to include in my work for awhile.
With that said, I thought I’d give you a little sneak peek:
I’ll post this either tomorrow of Friday!
If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
I really don’t need to add anything to that, but haven’t we all spent some time in all three places?
I’ve struggled with both depression and anxiety, and the only way to let go of them was to learn to live in the present, which requires a great deal of trust. When we trust, we can let go of the future and focus on now, because we know that things will work out.
When we don’t trust, we live in fear and scramble around trying to put the future together rather than let it come together the way it needs to.
I’ve thought about this quote many times lately as I constantly rein myself back into a mindset of love and trust instead of freaking out about what the future holds. Yes, the unknown is scary and overwhelming. Yes, we need to lay a foundation for a good future, and we absolutely should do a little planning ahead to help things run smoothly.
But anyone with any experience know that things don’t always go as planned. In fact, they rarely go as planned.
So why try to force them?
Let go. Go for a walk. Watch the sun go down. Notice the abundance and joy that exists in this moment, and know that things will always work out the way they need to, and that your job is to trust and love everyone.
It’s that simple.
Over the past few months, I’ve observed that at any given time, I’m living in one of two mindsets: Love or Fear.
Love is a mindset of trust, joy, gratitude, patience, passion, and caring.
Fear is a mindset of worry, want, insecurity, judgement, impatience, and obligation.
Where would you rather be?
I think this is true for everyone.
When we’re living from a place of love, we are happy, our creativity flows, we appreciate what we have, we live in the moment, and good things seem to happen to us.
I know when I’m living in love, because I spend a lot of time writing and painting, I have to scribble down ideas in the checkout line or at red lights, I only think about food when I’m hungry and I even put off eating because I don’t want to stop what I’m doing, I’m patient with myself and others, and I feel adventurous. I trust that everything is and will be ok, and that I have everything I need. I feel grateful.
When we’re living from a place of fear, we worry a lot, spend a lot of time planning, think in terms of “should” and “have to”. We get frustrated with other people and ourselves, and we live in the past and future-anywhere to avoid the present.
Sometimes it takes me a while to accept that I’m living in fear, but it’s not hard to identify. I can usually tell because I don’t feel like making art and I spend a lot of time planning, budgeting, making lists, crunching numbers, and thinking about food when I’m not hungry. I munch a lot and feel like I need to sleep more. I feel insecure on many levels, whether it’s with money, career, or something in my body feels off and I panic.
I lose my trust in life and feel that I have to force things, because what if it won’t be ok?
Fear isn’t a fun place to live.
So if we’re living in a mindset of fear, how to we switch gears?
- Gratitude: Look around you and notice the beauty, the abundance, and the joy. Look back on your life and remember the time that seemingly bad things worked out for the better (they might still be working out)
- Have faith: Whether you believe in a higher power or not, know that God, life, the universe or whatever has a way of guiding you to what you need. Knowing this is the key to trust, trusting is the key to letting go, and letting go is the key to being open.
- Be gentle with yourself and others: To borrow a quote from the amazing Tara Wagner aka The Organic Sister, “Everyone does the best they can with the tools they have.” This also applies to you. You aren’t lazy, stupid, or weak, and neither is anyone else. While this doesn’t justify things that are wrong, just realize that mistakes are a matter of not having the correct tools, not that something is inherently wrong with you or another person.
- Know what makes you happy, and what doesn’t: I love art and writing because they open up a part of myself that I can’t access otherwise. I love walking and yoga because they connect me to my body and free my mind. I love good food, animals, spending time with people I love, and reading. Worrying, planning, and making endless lists doesn’t free me. It just works me into a mess of obsession that takes me away from things that truly bring me joy. While life does require some planning and organization sometimes, those things will never fill me.
- Love someone else: We’re all in this “life” think together. We all move back and forth between these two places of love and fear. Help make someone else’s day better, and you’ll feel good too.
Learn your own signs that you’re living in love or fear. Learn to make the shift if necessary, and life will be amazing.
In a few days, we will have reached the shortest day of the year: The Winter Solstice. Until then, the days of the Northern hemisphere rapidly grow shorter and darker, and the world seems to slow down.
I too, feel like I’m moving in slow motion. I wrote about winter blues a few weeks ago, and though I’ve accepted that this is my slower, quieter time of year, it’s still difficult to deal with low moods, fatigue, and carb cravings. My body also seems to want to eat higher on the hunger scale, meaning that I start to eat when I’m less hungry and stop when I’m fuller than usual. I’ve taken on a few pounds of “winter padding”, which doesn’t really bother me because my clothes fit and I know they’ll go away in the spring.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like she’s slowing down. Creative people in particular seem to be very sensitive to the seasons and the cycles of nature. Many great creators throughout history worked seasonally. I honestly can’t remember who at the moment, but maybe that’ll be a fun post for later 🙂
A few days ago, I wrote about how I felt overwhelmed by my to-do lists, especially related to art. I was going to post two new paintings last week, but I haven’t quite finished them. I was going to create a painting about the solstice and actually have it finished by the solstice (which would take several full days of painting) but I haven’t even started it. I was going to do so many things, but I just can’t.
At first, I felt guilty. Sometimes I’m still stuck in that modern American mindset that my worth is determined by my productivity and how much I work, which is not true at all. Then I remembered that in these darkest days of the year, I need to respect my need to slow down. I can’t chug out one or two paintings a week like I did in early fall. I can’t power through a mile-long to-do list each morning before work. It’s not laziness. It’s just respecting my limits, which is an essential part of self-care.
Right now, I accept that it may take me two or even three weeks to finish a painting. I accept that what I need right now is the time to read, journal, do yoga to keep my body healthy. I need to think, prepare healthy and warming foods, and slowly work through the things I have to do. I have to go to work to pay my rent. I have to buy groceries and wash my dishes and do laundry. Sometimes, that’s the best I can do.
I’m not taking time “off”, I’m just allowing myself to move slower during these darkest days of the year. This feeling is temporary, and it’s ok. It’s ok if you need to slow down as well. The holidays are a time when most of us feel like we should be rushing around, even though it goes against our natural instincts. Do what you can to take this week slow. You’ll thank yourself later, and think how energetic and awesome you’ll feel in six months during the summer solstice!
I haven’t been in school for awhile, but I feel I’ve just crash-landed after finals weeks. It might be sympathy stress because my husband just finished his finals after weeks of long days and late nights of homework, but most of it is my own stress.
I learned something about stress this week: If I’m stressed, and if that stress has anything to do with my art, I’m not connected to my passion. I’ve stopped listening to my spirit. If art is stressful to me, that means I am trying to create from a place of fear, not love.
All week long, I’ve been juggling to-do lists and stressing over things I won’t go into here. I haven’t gotten much painting done. I rarely felt that pull to the canvas. No itch.
When I realized this today, I pulled out my notebook and asked myself what I need to do. What does my soul want me to do? The answer came immediately: Back off. Stop attaching to-do lists to my art. Give myself the space to think. Stop worrying about self-imposed deadlines. Trust my creativity, because when I let myself off the hook and get into a mindset of passion and joy for creating, everything just flows.
So I’m letting go of the expectations I had for this weekend. I can paint all day if I want, but I can take some time to read or go for a long walk or watch some Christmas movies if I want. The art will come when I’m taken care of.
Now, what about you?
The holidays can be stressful, and sometimes we neglect ourselves because we “have” to do so much. We feel that we have to fulfill our own or someone else’s expectations and that it’s unacceptable to relax and even do nothing if we need to.
Give yourself the gift of peace, and let yourself relax so you can feel like “you” again. Whatever gets you centered and clear, do that. Take some time off from parties and shopping this weekend and give yourself some completely unstructured time. Ask yourself what you really want to do, deep down, and you’ll always find an answer. This works with bigger decisions as well. We all have an internal compass that tries to direct us, even though we forget about it sometimes. Make a habit of noticing when you’re tense or otherwise not in a good place, and ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you need to do.
I’ve never really been into meditation, or at least not into sitting upright on a cushion with my hands rested on my knees, palms to the sky. I do understand the important of clearing one’s mind and slowing down, but I’ve found a way that’s effective for me.
I love to lay on the floor of my studio and stare up at the ceiling, or even close my eyes. For some reason, this never fails to calm me and get me into my body. Maybe it’s because of the different view, looking up at a blank ceiling instead of cluttered shelves and colorful walls. Maybe it’s because laying down spreads the pull of gravity all over my body , which helps me to focus on the rise and fall of my stomach as I breathe, the weight of my hips sinking into the floor, and relieving my muscles of any work whatsoever. Much better than a stiff, straight spine and sore butt from seated meditation.
I’ve never fallen asleep doing this, but it never fails me when I remember to do it. After ten minutes or so, my thoughts are clear, I’m calm, and my body even feels refreshed. It’s wonderful, and it works for me.
Some days are just rough. That’s how life is, because without the rough days, the great days wouldn’t be so wonderful.
Sometimes the darkness and cold of winter sinks into your bones and you forget that spring is just a few months away. You forget to let yourself settle into the slower time, to admire the landscape, and to appreciate the contrast from the hot, busy days of summer that seemed like only yesterday.
Sometimes it feels like your career will never get off the ground, that no one will ever want what you have to offer. You forget that the struggle to create your career is what makes you a stronger business person, and that the fact that your passion drives you forward anyway is a sign that you’re on the right track.
Sometimes it seems like you’ll never get out of debt or have enough money. Sometimes things get so tight that you don’t want to turn on the lights or drive to the library, but things won’t always be this way. It may be a sign that you need to be more conscious of the way you spend, or that you need to explore some unopened income channels.
Sometimes life isn’t fun, but things always change. As cheesy as it sounds, a positive attitude and a bit of patience makes all the difference. Appreciate the moment, be grateful for it, and learn what you can from the current situation, and let go of the outcome.
Everything will turn out all right.