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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?

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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?

Wise Words: True Change

Change happens when you understand what you want to change so deeply that there is no reason to do anything but act in your own best interest.

-Geneen Roth, Women, Food, and God

10 Nice Things to Do for Yourself, Just Because

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It’s Tuesday. Do something nice for yourself.

  1. Leave a treat or dollar bill in a coat pocket for your future self to find.
  2. Keep some healthy snacks at work, in the car, and any other place where you spend a lot of time.
  3. Leave encouraging notes or funny pictures in book pages for your future self to find.
  4. Buy clothes and underwear that fit and feel good.
  5. Make “white space” in your day, or some time between commitments.
  6. Wear your favorite outfit. Today is special.
  7. Think about a goal you’d like to accomplish and take a baby step to get there.
  8. Do one thing that makes you really happy.
  9. If you start hearing negative self-talk going on in your head, stop yourself. Instead, tell yourself that you’re awesome, and that you’re doing the best you can with what you have.
  10. Draw a boundary, and commit to honoring it.

Let me know how your day goes 🙂

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?

How to be Creative All the Time

Well, almost all the time.

I’ve been a “creative type” all my life and I’ve noticed that when people comment on my art/writing/singing/piano playing/acting, the often follow the comment with something like “I’m not creative. I don’t have any gifts like that.”

Baloney.

Everyone is creative. More specifically, everyone has creativity. Each one of us has unlimited creative potential, but most of us think of creativity as a novelty, a gift that some people have rather than a lifestyle. Creativity is like health. It’s our natural state of being, but it gets lost without the proper care. Like health, our precious creativity can be eroded by stress, lack of self-care, negativity, and skewed ideas of what this trait actually is. It’s about thriving, not surviving. Health is not dragging yourself from day to day while relying on crutches like caffeine and sugar just as creativity isn’t performing your basic duties required to hold you life together.

You can learn to cultivate creativity. I’ve written about this before, but here are some tips to keep your creative channels clean and healthy:

  • Let go of perfectionism.
  • Make space in your schedule for “creative playtime.” You need it. Do whatever lights you up whether it’s making a piece of art, dabbling in poetry, inventing a new cheesecake recipe, or staring that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Do this regularly. It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even good. It’s just playtime.
  • Take care of yourself physically and emotionally.Deal with stress in healthy ways. It’s hard to think creatively if you’re in survival mode. Exercise and eat foods that nourish you. Get to bed at a decent hour. You live through your body, so if you’re body is dragging, your creativity will too.
  • Follow your inspiration. Notice the things that draw you in, and don’t fight them. If you’re oddly drawn to Japanese cooking, go for it. If you’ve always wanted to learn to sew, get on Craiglist and find a sewing machine. If a certain book or movie stirs something in your soul, tear that sucker apart until you find what’s awakened.
  • Accept that you are a creative being. Understanding this deep in your soul will open up a new world of possibility and adventure for you. Tell yourself that you are creative. Believe it. Allow yourself to see the world through the eyes of a creative person, and you will start to see things differently.

How does that feel? Do you feel that you’re a creative person?

The Season of Reflection

“Misunderstood” by Jude Harzer

This is my experimental winter. I’ve had winter blues since I was a child, but this year I decided to accept it and observe it rather than feel angry.

I’ve learned to accept that this is my slower time of year, that this season is for contemplating and reflecting. I do a lot of that in the summer too, but it’s different.

I’ve realized that winter is when all my inner garbage comes to the surface. Any buried fears, hurts, loneliness, anger, or pain of any sort comes out. For years I’ve stuffed it down with food and denial, and while I’ve done my fair share of emotional eating this winter, I’ve also done a lot of “cleaning.”Issues that I thought I’d resolved and pains I didn’t even know were there are floating up for me to work with. They lift their heads and say “here I am!” and even though they seem like ugly little suckers at first, they all have something valuable to teach me. When I learn, I reap the peace and freedom that comes from letting go, and enjoy it all summer long until the next round of “trash picking” arrives. It’s like rebreaking bones so they’ll set properly. It’s painful and liberating. I know that dealing with these feelings authentically is the only way to move past them.

I’ve understood this for awhile now, but I’m writing about it now because the biggest monster of all has risen to the surface, past hurts lodged deep inside. I’ve had a massive headache all day long and I feel exhausted because  haven’t taken the time to sit with him, hear what he needs me to know, and send him on his way. My deepest, slimiest, most gripping fear has come to visit. I doubt this is the last time I’ll see him, but I can feel that our relationship is about to change.

I don’t think I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. I think everyone does to some degree, but not many of us realize it. It’s terrifying and painful when our deep hurts rise up for us to see. We numb them out, we shut our eyes, we pretend they aren’t there, but they don’t leave until they’re acknowledged. Sometimes we call this depression, or a bad day, or getting “triggered.” These times come in all shapes and forms.

Notice when these times come to you. You’ll probably feel tense or grumpy, maybe weepy, you may feel physical discomforts, maybe all of the above like me. Don’t fear it. Meet your monsters, listen to them, and part as friends (or at least call a truce).

Enjoy the peace of letting go.

What Feeds You?

If you’ve been reading Handprint Soul for awhile, you know that I’ve had problems with compulsive eating in the past. I’m not one of those people who wastes away when I’m upset; quite the opposite in fact. While I’ve spent lots of time researching the various genetic, nutritional, hormonal, emotional, and cognitive reasons for this and have taken steps to balance them, this tendency still pops up from time to time.

For most of the past year, I’ve had a good handle on eating intuitively. I lost 30 pounds last summer and felt free from any kind of food obsession. I felt fabulous.

I’ve been pretty munchy for the past couple months, especially the last few weeks, and I have a little bit of a “winter coat,” though I’m pretty confident it will go away in the spring. In the meantime, the couple extra pounds don’t really bother me, but the thoughts do. I don’t like thinking about food all the time. I’d rather think about art, writing, Sam, my friends, or just have a clear head sometimes. I don’t like it when food seems like the most comforting, exciting thing in my life. In the week before a party or planned dinner out, the thoughts of food keep popping in my head and don’t go away. I know this isn’t entirely under my control and that certain parts of my brain tend to be overactive, which is why I get “stuck” on certain thoughts (I’ve put lots of research into this.)

To a certain extent though, I can observe this happening and even talk back to these thoughts. One tactic I’ve been using lately is to think “What is feeding me today?”

If the only enjoyable parts of my day revolved around food, I know one of two things. Either I’m experiencing fear and avoiding thinking about something, or I’m not caring for my spirit.

This is tricky, because it changes every day. I love walks most days, but some days I’d rather paint, or read a book. Sometimes I just need to snuggle with my cat and write in my journal. Once in awhile I want to go out with friends, or be spontaneous. Sometimes, I’m just sad and need some comfort from something other than cookies. The other day, a snap of beautiful weather filled me like nothing I’ve felt in months.

If you struggle with food or any other compulsion, ask yourself what you get out of it and what you’re really missing. Can you give yourself what you really need? Is something off with your mood? Do you need more excitement or challenges in your life? Have you taken time to pursue your own interests? Do you take time for rest?

I’m still getting the hang of this, and I’m learning to eat intuitively during the winter and deal with low moods authentically rather than numbing them. This is a useful tool that I’m learning to use. I feed my body when it needs it, but I also try to feed my spirit just as often, with spiritual “meals” of walking outside, connecting with others, creating, and a little dash of adventure now and again.

Has anyone else had experience with this?

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.

The Importance of Creative Playtime

Last week, I looked forward to a beautiful Saturday filled with long walks or a hike and filling my creative well.

It rained, hailed, and snowed the entire day. Sam was away working for the weekend, so it was just me, the cat, and the weather.

Gloomy days like that are hard on me sometimes, but I spent the morning curled up with a book, hoping things would clear up so I could go for a walk,  but they never did. By midday, I felt super antsy. I decided to sit withT that feeling for a minute and find out what I really needed.

It was simple: I needed to lighten up, loosen up, and play around. I needed some “Creative Playtime.” I took some of my Christmas money, drove through some monster puddles to the store and picked up some mini canvases, then came home and changed into my paint clothes, put on The Muppet Show,  and play with new images, new techniques, and other little surprises that I might want to include in my larger paintings. I made a tiny painting for my desk at work so I could remember that part of myself even when things get busy.

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way, so this concept was similar to the “Artist Date” the author recommends, the special time dedicating to nurturing your creativity. Here are some ideas of how can nurture your own creativity.

It’s been awhile since I’ve allowed it, but I feel like I need creative exploration and experimentation, but at the same time the other part of my brain is screaming “No! You must be productive! Build your career! Make work to sell, then promote it! Every second that you’re not sleeping or at work should be dedicated to this!”

That’s the logical thing to do, but logic isn’t always correct. Maximizing every second of every day is like dieting and communism. It works on paper but not in real life because it doesn’t account for human limits or free will. I know better than to trust that kind of logic. I can’t spend every minute of that other 8 hours painting and marketing. My work will run dry and I’ll burn out in not time.

So screw that other part of my brain. I’m in charge, and I say it’s playtime. I want to keep my well filled, try a few new techniques and mediums, sketch, read, and take good care of myself so I’ll have the energy and clarity to be at my creative best. I want to be as open as possible.

Part of the reason I went back to work full-time was to remove some pressure from my art and free up some brain space that was previously occupied by money and career stress. I have the freedom to loosen up now. Not everything I make has to be top quality, I don’t have to make everything with the intention to sell. I can make something just for me if I really feel like it. I can play with different mediums and it’s ok if they don’t work out. I think this will ultimately do great things for my work.

Here’s a few ideas for my upcoming creative playtime (and yours too!):

  • I’ve always wanted to try bookmaking, and now I feel like it’s time to actually find the tools and try it. It’s been on the back burner for years, but now I feel like I’m being called to do it.
  • I miss reading novels, so I hereby dedicate my lunchbreaks to leisurely reading.
  • No more skipping exercise or cutting walks short to make time for more “important” things. I need that movement. It feeds my soul and my creativity in a way that nothing else does. My body needs that, my mind needs it.
  • I want to play with new techniques I’ve been wanting to incorporate into my work.
  • I rarely draw anymore. Drawing is the backbone of art, so I’d like to spend some time with a sketchbook and a pencil, working on what I see.
  • I want to get outside more, visit galleries, and go on other outings that fill me.

Do you ever allow yourself some creative playtime? If you did, what would you do? How would it help you?