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Give Yourself a Break!

After just finishing up a challenging semester in grad school (and aren’t they all challenging, really?), I’m giving myself this week off!  I worked really hard to make time for some much-needed rest and relaxation, and this time I’m really, really going to do it.  Stop laughing, I’m serious!

See, usually, I *say* I’m going to take the week off and then I book every single day with as much as I can fit in.  I call it the “funnel effect,” and I’m betting you’re familiar with it.  It happens when I have so many things on my “to do” list that I can’t possibly get them done in a day, so they accumulate until I can’t get them done in a week, and on it goes (until I “declutter” my “to do” list, but I’ve already blogged about that).

So when I stop to take a break from school, all the miscellaneous stuff that hasn’t gotten done over the semester funnels right into the space I’ve created in my schedule, until I’m completely overwhelmed again!  So, maybe it’s household stuff, and sure, that needs to get done.  Maybe it’s time with friends, and absolutely, I love spending time with my friends!  Maybe it’s working on my blog, which I enjoy, or tending to some marketing matters for my small business(es) I’d like to grow, and that’s legitimate and helpful to our household.  I’m betting you can relate to the funnel effect, am I right?

But wait . . .

If all that stuff has waited for the last sixteen or seventeen weeks, I’m left wondering . . . why do I try to squeeze it all into the time off that I’ve worked so hard to carve out?!  Maybe it’s important, but it’s obviously not urgent or it would probably not still be on my “to do” list, right?  Some things have been put off during the school term BECAUSE THEY CAN BE PUT OFF.  So that means they don’t all have to get done on my break, either.

I’ve capped off the funnel this time!  I set a small amount of time aside to visit with a couple of friends, I have a work-related project I really do want to accomplish this week, and I’m going to dust our apartment and clean one particular window that’s driving me nuts.  Otherwise, I have a novel I’ve been trying to read for over a year (did I mention that I’m in grad school?) and I *will* finish it on my break, on our balcony, with a cup of tea, possibly in my bathrobe.

I will spend precious time in my studio making beautiful things – some for sale, but much will be for our home and for gifting – because that makes my heart happy, and because engaging the creative part of my brain is an excellent way to de-stress (studies prove it!).  I’ll practice yoga, spend some extra time in prayer and meditation, and do whatever else rejuvenates me, but I’m *not* adding anything new to my calendar or my “to do” list.  In fact, I intentionally scheduled one day with absolutely NOTHING on the calendar or the to-do list, and I may turn it into a prayer and meditation day (super rejuvenating!)

I’m determined to feel like I took a break.  I can do it.  But since I already know this, the reason I’m posting it publicly is to remind you that you can, too!  Someone recently mentioned that every weekend leaves her feeling like she needs another weekend to recover from it.  We’ve all said that, probably.

Busyness is largely a choice, and often is a symptom of weak boundaries.  I know, I know, that sounds harsh.  And it hurts when I have to say it to myself, too.  But it’s the raw truth.  So, go ahead and give yourself a break – all the cool kids are doing it!

So to that end, my faithful followers, I am wrapping up this post and I’m going to head to the studio!  Shalom!

If you need help with life strategies such as stress management, spiritual development, and women’s concerns including painting a victorious new future after overcoming emotional, sexual and physical abuse, please contact me!  We can set something up for next week.  😉

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Stress Management Tool #3 – Meditation

Stop rolling your eyes!  Any healthy conversation about holistic stress management has to turn to meditation sooner or later – and you can do it!  Come on, then, and let’s talk a little about meditation, and hopefully demystify it and make it more accessible…

What Exactly is Meditation?  Chrisman and Blackwell (2018) define meditation as “a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth” (p. 2256).  The recommended focus varies among cultures and religions; however, Clinton, et al. (2005) teach that Christian meditation includes meditating on God’s Word and on Christ.

Benefits of Meditation.  The National Institutes of Health (2016) reports a finding that scientific evidence supports that meditation reduces the symptoms of stress, to include depression and anxiety.  In fact, one study found that meditation is among the top-recommended methods of coping with a wide range of stress-related maladies, both physical and emotional (Chrisman & Blackwell, 2018).  Bergland (2013) writes that “any type of meditation will reduce anxiety” and lower the levels of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone; Bergland goes on to recommend taking several deep, slow breaths at the first signs of stress.

Methods of Meditation.  Meditation can seem a bit “mystical” and “mysterious” to those who have not practiced it, but it is a valid stress intervention that is readily available to everyone, and it’s more down-to-earth than you may think (i.e., it doesn’t have to be all “woo-woo” – a technical term).  In fact, Christians may be surprised to learn that meditation is a practice supported by Scripture (see Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 104:34).

Bergland (2013) offers this encouragement:

“You can meditate anytime and any place. There don’t have to be strict boundaries to when and how you do it. Mindfulness and meditation is a powerful de-stressor and cortisol reducer that is always in your toolbox and at your fingertips. You can squeeze in a few minutes of meditation on the subway, in a waiting room, on a coffee break . . .”

Bergland goes on to write that setting aside as little as ten minutes for meditation can calm the mind and body.

So now that you know what meditation is and how beneficial it can be, you may be wondering how to do it yourself.  Need specific tips to start your own meditation practice to help relieve stress in your life?  Contact me and I’ll be delighted to help you develop your own meditation practice!

 References

Bergland, C. (2013). Cortisol: Why the “stress hormone” is public enemy no. 1: 5 simple ways to lower your cortisol levels without drugs. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201301/cortisol-why-the-stress-hormone-is-public-enemy-no-1

Chrisman, L., & Blackwell, A. H. (2018). Meditation. In J. L. Longe (Ed.), The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health (4th ed., Vol. 4, pp. 2256-2260). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. Retrieved from https://link-galegroup-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/apps/doc/CX3662600722/HWRC?u=vic_liberty&sid=HWRC&xid=23ec990f

Clinton, T., Hart, A. and Ohlschlager, G. (2005). Caring for people God’s way: Personal and emotional issues, addictions, grief and trauma.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

National Institutes of Health. (2016, January). Mind and body approaches for stress: What the science says. NCCIH Clinical Digest for health professionals. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/mind-body-stress-science

 

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Pamper Yourself!

Stress Management Tip #3 – Self-Care and Creativity

Self-care is a concept that is often dismissed by women, frequently because they feel guilty for devoting time to themselves instead of those around them.  Christian women in particular often consider self-care “wrong” or “bad.”  After all, the Bible makes a point of teaching that Christians are to be humble and put others first, right (e.g., Phil. 2:3)?  Well guess what . . . Scripture also teaches that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and that we are to take care of it (1 Cor. 3:17).  Proverbs 14:30 teaches that “a heart at peace gives life to the body,” and being so stressed out we can’t fit rest and self-care into our schedule is at odds with having a peaceful heart, wouldn’t you say?

If that’s not enough, the benefits of self-care are backed by science.  Research reveals that taking a “creative break” can be relaxing and rejuvenating.  A recent study demonstrated that participants of varying levels of experience, after engaging in artistic expression for only forty-five minutes, experienced a significant reduction in levels of the stress hormone cortisol (Kaimal, Ray & Muniz, 2016).  Another study found that artistic expression, including dance, writing, visual art (painting, crafting), and music, were beneficial to mental health.  The results of that study “indicated that creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances” (emphasis mine) (Stuckey and Nobel, 2010, p. 261).  Thus, there is ample biblical and scientific support for embracing the discipline of self-care (yes, I called it a discipline!).

Dear one, if you’re earnestly trying to learn effective stress management techniques, you simply must get comfortable with the idea of taking care of YOU, and even – gasp! – pampering yourself!  Try making a list of the things you find relaxing and indulgent, but that don’t cause you to feel guilty afterward (i.e., eating a pint of full-fat ice cream in one sitting, after consuming half a pizza, is not recommended).  So what brave step will you take toward caring for yourself?  It can be simple, inexpensive, and doesn’t even have to take that much time.  Maybe give yourself a pedicure and paint your toes a wild color you love!  Or, or settle in with a favorite book for even half an hour.  Make a crafting date with yourself and get creative making something pretty!  You could sit quietly and listen to soothing music (or, provided you don’t have neighbors super close, turn up your favorite “happy song” and belt it out!), buy yourself some flowers, take a long walk in the woods, have a “home spa” night, take a hot soak . . . whatever it is, it will be unique to you and whatever you’re in the mood for.  Precious one, do this for yourself!

Need individual guidance on how to de-stress your life? Contact me for one-on-one stress management coaching in person, via phone, or on FaceTime!

References

Kaimal, G., Ray, K. & Muniz, J. (2016). Reduction of cortisol levels and participants’ responses following art making.  Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association33(2), 74-80. doi: 10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. American Journal of Public Health100(2), 254–263. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

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Fear demands courage. Courage requires fear.

Fear demands courage.  Courage requires fear.

They can’t live without each other.  If you’ve ever been afraid and you’re still here, it’s because of courage.  Courage to pray. Courage to put one foot in front of the other. Courage to stand strong, courage to get back on your feet when you fall.

And we wouldn’t need courage if there was no fear. 

Fear is a training ground for courage.  How would we know how strong we truly are, or understand our potential, or begin to grasp God’s greatness if we never experienced fear?

I don’t think it’s fair to tell a person not to be afraid.  Yes, the Bible instructs us not to fear, and purportedly it does so 365 times.  I’ve heard it, and I believe it.  But I don’t think it means to deny our fear.  Denial of our emotions is the beginning of disaster. Denial of our emotions can, and almost certainly will, over time, cause or contribute to potentially severe health issues (high blood pressure, heart attacks, severe and ongoing headaches, diabetes, autoimmune issues and so much more).  Denial of our emotions can, and often does, take a severe and sometimes irreversible toll on our mental health (nervous breakdowns, depression, anxiety, and even suicide).  And then there’s our spiritual life.  Denying our emotions can dramatically strain our relationship with God, our sense of purpose, and the wellness in our soul that comes from being able to live in a place of hope.  Finally, our relational life takes a beating when we deny our emotions (divorce, infidelity, alienation of family and friends and on and on).

Some folks label emotions as “good” and “bad.”  I’ve done it myself, in the interest of brevity and simplicity.  But I think it’s tricky and dangerous to call fear a “bad” emotion.  It’s perfectly valid.  It must be, because it is God-given.  It serves a healthy purpose, to warn us off from taking harmful actions or engaging in detrimental behaviors.  What I think the Scriptures are saying is not to never experience fear, but rather not to unpack and camp out in a place of fear; not to let it take over our emotional, physical, spiritual and relational wellbeing; not to let it drive or control our hearts, minds or actions.

Feel the fear.  Confess the fear.  Pray about the fear.  Find a trusted confidant and talk about/cry about/rail against/scream about the fear.  But let it be like an afternoon thundershower.  When it’s over, see the light of hope.  Feel the freshness of grace on your skin.  Sense the renewal on the horizon.  And then look closer.  Look inside.  Look for him.  Can you see him?  There he is, reaching out to you.  Take his hand.  Let Jesus help you up, and even lean on him.  It’s one of the reasons he’s here.  Allow him to introduce you to the Victor in you (1 Cor. 6:19).  Allow the fear, accept the help, and dig deep for the courage that is in you.  Lift your chin a little higher and march on, wiser and stronger for your inevitable encounter with fear.

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It’s a Wonderful Life

I am so very grateful for my little life right now. I know it is going to change – Andrew and I both feel it in the air, in our prayers, in our growing spiritual passions. And I look forward to that part of our journey, as well.
 
But for now, it is perfect just the way it is.
 
Today I enjoyed a nice hot shower after I walked downstairs on capable legs to go out and brush off my nice car that runs well, so that someone could plow the lot so I don’t have to shovel. I spent a long time in prayer, Scripture reading, and other stuff without being rushed. I have our Christmas lights on in our warm apartment in the middle of the day, which I rarely do (you’re welcome, National Grid). I have a cozy, purring, loving kitty draped over my shoulder. I have a full belly and I’m sipping hot cocoa. I have a husband and friends who love me and a chosen family I’m honored to be a part of. I have hope for the dreams God is giving me, and hope and peace through the assurance of His presence with me in this life and the next.
 
So, rather than complaining about this stupid snow (oops) or that this is our most frugal Christmas yet (I am NOT trying to garner sympathy – we knowingly chose vacation over December’s Christmas/anniversary/birthday treats and continue to affirm what a perfect choice it was!!), I am genuinely overjoyed and my heart is so full of love that it seems to want to keep leaking out of my eyes. Of the people on this planet, I am among the richest … in every way imaginable, and I just wanted to share that with you today.