Art Heals: Express Yourself and Reduce Stress with Art

Art Heals: Express Yourself and Reduce Stress with Art

by Debbie Lyn Toomey


Ever have a terrifying nightmare from childhood that sneaks up on you?

Similar to the usual “falling” dream that some people have, I have one that I call the “Tidal Wave” dream and it happened last weekend. Thanks to art, I was able to rise above the lingering feelings of dread. By drawing and coloring, I literally “drew” out the feelings of uncertainty that stayed with me all morning long.

Nightmare

I hadn’t had this type of nightmare in a long time. I was confused as to why it occurred again. Frankly, I thought I was over that type of dream a long time ago! The last time I had the “Tidal Wave” dream I woke up happy! I was so proud of myself because, instead of being swallowed up by the Statue of Liberty size wave, I was riding the wave with a big smile on my face boldly going where ever it took me.

Transformed

I woke up feeling transformed. That was about 5 years ago when I started to feel more confident and clear about my life’s work (the big “W” work/life purpose one). That was around the time when I started my company Ultimate Healing Journey, LLC, a company focused on motivating and coaching today’s busy people with happiness and mindfulness skills to fuel their success. It was an exciting time!

Wave

Why did the wave dream came back? That dream first occurred when I was much younger; when I didn’t feel strong or sure of myself. Back then, this tsunami size wave would come out of nowhere and swallow me up causing me to gasp for air and fight for my life. I hated that sinking feeling of fright that always stayed with me for days. Although, the Tidal Wave in my recent dream disappeared way before it got to me (thank God!), it still shook me up.

Morning

I thought I was done with this dream! I wondered what could have brought it on. At breakfast, I told me family about it. I always encouraged my family to share their nightmares because I feel it was a good way to chase the nightmares away. In other words, the dark always disappears in the light.

River

After breakfast, my family and I took advantage of an unusually dry and cool August morning and went for a walk down along the Neponset River. The nice day and the cool breeze made it a great day for boaters and fishermen to be out on the relaxing waters. It was such a beautiful scene to watch. I really enjoyed that walk.

Tsunami

Later that day, I found myself sitting at my desk with a blank white piece of paper and a pencil. I decided to draw. The image I started with was the Tidal Wave. It took up 95% of my paper! At the bottom of the page was a tiny stick figure of me as if looking up at the gigantic body of water. I was taken aback when I saw it right in front of me. As I colored this all-consuming wave with my light blue colored marker my breathing soon became fast and shallow. It brought up feelings of frustration and powerlessness and of being overwhelmed! It was strange (and interesting) how my kindergarten looking drawing reflected how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks.

Stress

The last few weeks have been tiring and tough for me. I did my best to stay afloat of what was going on. I had self-imposed stress such as creating the coloring book companion for my book and trying to get my mindfulness study approved. I also had other stressors that were beyond my control which included dealing with a strange water leak that happened on my birthday and having to go without my car for 2 weeks, helping my 79-year-old mother after having total knee replacement surgery, coping with the fact that my oldest son was ready to move out of our house, and helping my nervous 12-year-old son get excited for his week-long boy scout camping.

Depressed

Thank goodness it wasn’t a typically month for me. Despite my self-care routine of yoga, mindfulness meditation, and gratitude practice, I still felt down and depressed. I hadn’t felt like this in a long time. This became clear as I looked at my finished drawing.

Peace

I decided to draw the image that I saw during my morning walk. On a separate piece of white paper, I drew the river and the boats that were on the water. I found peace in that piece. I outlined the bench that my husband and I sat on and added the shrubs and flowers that were at the river’s edge. As I colored, a deep and soothing breath filled my lungs. It made me smile. Although, my art work was far from being a Renoir filled with pastels and pretty color, it was a relaxing work of art! I noticed my breathing change. It was slower and deeper. There was nothing stressful about my drawing. Then, I took another step.

Feelings

I compared both pictures. I noticed how different they were and how they made me feel. Then, I wrote down on one side of the Tidal Wave picture how the image made me feel. I wrote down my stressors and what caused me sadness. As I listed them, I was surprised at how many I had. The more I wrote, the more my head nodded with agreement.

Balance

I did the same thing with my other drawing. In that one, I wrote down how it made me feel. I wrote that I wanted to have balance, fun, and time to relax and be with my family. Then, I wrote down I how I would like to feel. A couple of ideas came to mind. One was to simplify and slow down my calendar. I created a schedule that included activities and projects that I needed and wanted to do. I made sure I allowed for extra time to rest and have fun. Another idea was to invite my parents over for a homemade pizza dinner so we can see each other and catch up.

Tides

These two drawings were such an eye opener for me. While they were opposites, they gave me an important insight into my internal and downward turbulence. This visual expressive exercise healed me! It freed up so much of what I was feeling in such an innocent and tangible way. I highly recommend this exercise to anyone who is feeling stressed. While a nightmare was the motivator behind my experience, you can start doing this now to determine how you are feeling.

Express

Allow art to heal you from your pain and reduce your stress. All you have to do is express yourself. According to the American Art Therapy Association, art is a form of therapy that helps people “explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” Don’t let the simplicity of this practice fool you. Art heals and you don’t have to have any artistic talent for it to help you. Any expressive medium can help you such as clay, paint, wood, music, dance, photography, etc.

Benefits

There are many studies that show the beneficial effects of art for healing, stress reduction, and personal growth. Art as form of therapy has helped people with ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum, Age management, Abuse, PTSD, Cancer, and so much more. Art as a form of therapy is found in many settings such as: hospitals, wellness studios, schools, and home. While it is becoming more widely used, it is always recommended for people with mental health problems to seek professional advice before undergoing any sort of treatment.

How?

For those of you who are not under the supervision and care of mental health professionals, there are simple ways to get started. Here’s how you can express yourself and reduce your stress with art.

1. Choose: Pick the expressive art medium that you like and start creating. Allow the medium to move you.

2. Compare: Do a comparison. Have a before and after version of how you are feeling. It could be a past vs. present or bad vs. good version.

3. Clarity: Accept the different feelings that come up and view them with no judgement. This will help you to avoid clouding your mind with any self-limiting or more negative thoughts.

4. Control: Notice how much a sense of calm, control and confidence comes to you with this exercise.

5. Create: Be creative in how you do this practice. Make this practice your own.

Happiness

Go forth and express yourself through art. You will be surprise at just how much better you will feel afterwards. A great way to get started is by coloring and to help you along, The Happiness Result Art Therapy Coloring book will be available to you by the end of the summer. Coloring books have been proven to calm the mind and reduce stress. It’s a great way to combine art with mindfulness. To learn more about its companion book, The Happiness Result. More time, More health, More love, More success go to www.TheHappinessResult.com.

Class

Master trainer and coach Patrick Howell and I are going to be offering an introductory online course on this topic soon. Please stay tuned for more information on this unique and fascinating art therapy class.

This Job Made Me Fat! 10 Tips to Manage Your Workplace Stress

This Job Made Me Fat!

10 Tips to Manage Your Workplace Stress
By Debbie Lyn Toomey

PSST, between you and me, have you gained weight since you started working?

I did. It happened when I worked as a fulltime nurse many years ago. I gained 20 pounds, but fortunately I found ways to get rid of the weight. I blamed my weight gain from the chronic stress I was experiencing. Back then, I had to work different shifts with varying work schedules. I developed crazy eating habits. The busier and more overwhelmed I got, the less healthy I ate at work and the more I ate at home. Emotional hunger took over and I ate comfort food to help me feel better about myself and how I did at work. The bottom line, the more I had on my plate at work, the wider my waist line got!

Emotional Hunger

What is emotional hunger? In a nutshell, it’s eating to comfort the suffering that is experienced within. Unlike physical hunger where the stomach is empty, emotional hunger feeds the feelings of stress or emptiness inside. Regardless of the distress, comfort food or drinks are used to “nurse” and ease the discomfort. Job stress can lead to weight gain. In fact, research has shown that workplace stress is linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits that lead to smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise.

On the Go

As a staff nurse, I had no eating pattern because of the nature of my job. I worked day and evening shifts. I worked every other weekend and some holidays. My work shifts ranged from eight to sixteen hours depending on the week. When I worked, I had little time to eat or enjoy my meal. I was constantly on the go and in demand. I found solace in the fact that I could always get a decent meal and snack when I got home no matter how late it was. The heavier I got, the more I took comfort in hiding my growing weight by wearing loose fitting and unstructured scrubs.

We All Have It

Workplace stress is real and escalating. Job demands are high in all industries, not just health care. According to a survey that Career Builder, did amongst 3,031 workers ages 18 and over, 2 out of 5 workers have gained weigh in their current job due to stress. Let’s be real, there will be days when we have to shorten our breaks or eat on the run to get a big project done but that doesn’t have to be the way to operate all the time.

10 Simple Ways to Manage Weight from Stress

Although stress levels are up, there are many techniques that we can use to help us feel good and look good at work.

Here are 10 simple ways to manage your weight despite workplace stress.

1. Drink the recommended 8-10 glasses of water a day. Hydration is important for our brain and body. Water increases the performance of our brain. Have a water bottle with you in the office.

2. Jot down your big and small wins during the day. This will make you feel good about yourself. This will help you focus on the good things that you’ve done during the day.

3. Pack your food the night before and plan on high protein snacks. Protein bars and nuts work really well to curb the appetite. Pack more for busy days.

4. Walk as much as you can at work. Take the stairs and park far away from your building. Ask a colleague to be your lunchtime walking buddy.

5. Listen to relaxing music or music that enhances attention at work. This will help keep your stress at bay and make you more productive.

6. Put chewing gum in your mouth instead of high calorie or fattening food. Chewing gum helps with focus.

7. Notice the triggers that make you upset and stressed at work. The more you recognize them the better you can avoid them or prepare yourself ahead of time.

8. Sleep. The more sleep, the merrier you will be. If you can, try taking a 10minute power nap from time to time.

9. Talk with a close friend and vent. Don’t let your stress eat away at you. Find someone you can trust.

10. Eat your meals. Although there might be days when a meal is a handful of nuts and a bag of carrots, be grateful and acknowledge them as your meal so that you don’t feel deprived and feel you can eat extra portions later on the day.

I hope these suggestions help you keep your cool and your weight under control in the midst of your busy days at work. To learn more about how you or your team can manage your stress, contact me at INFO@HEALTHANDHAPPINESSSPECIALIST.COM to learn how I can help you. Here’s to your health, happiness, and success!

 

1440 Minutes Per Day

A Guilt-free Self-care Tool: Your Edge to Greater Health, Happiness, and Productivity.

By Debbie Lyn Toomey RN, CIPP

I am so busy that I don’t have time to enjoy the nice weather.

I am so busy that I don’t have time to read a good book.

I am so busy that I don’t have time to take a break.

I am so busy that I don’t have time to yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you are like so many others who are stressed from working hard and have little time to tend to your basic needs, then you are not alone. It’s important to take time throughout the day to take care of yourself so that you can become more positive, productive, and have greater peace of mind. It’s simpler than you think. Instead of removing yourself from work to take care of your needs, all you have to do is infuse micro-moments of guilt-free self-care so that you feel good and are able to do good.

1440 minutes/day

I hate to break it to you but no matter how busy you are, you
do have time for self-care. If you don’t claim it, nobody will do it for you. Did you know that you have exactly 1440 minutes a day? So, why not mindfully take a few minutes of self-time so that you can work smarter instead of harder.

Self-Care is “Self-Time”

Some hardworking people haven’t fully grasped the importance of self-care at work. They don’t understand that it is a key component of stress management. Some feel it’s a selfish act or that it’s a waste of time. I disagree. As a Health and Happiness Specialist, I believe that self-care is our edge to a greater health, happiness, and productivity. For those who have a difficult time understanding the significance of self-care, try viewing it as self-time to collect yourself mentally and physically and to take care of your basic needs so that you can be fully present and impactful for the rest of the day.

Self-Care Restores Health

While nobody has the ability to stretch time we do have the power to make time for ourselves. Whether it is 2 minutes of quiet time or one personal day, it’s important to take time to restore your mind-body health. Micro-moments of self-care quiet our busy minds and refuel our bodies.

Self-Care Makes Us Happy

A little bit of self-care can go a long way. It can shift our mentality from feelings of sadness to happiness. Think of the last time you heard your favorite workout tune while sitting in traffic. How did it make you feel? Although you weren’t working out, didn’t it make you happy and feel re-energized? The few minutes that you took listening to that song was self-care! Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. It just needs to be claimed and appreciated every chance we can take it.

Self-Care & Productivity

My new tagline is “Happy Person. Healthy Workplace.” Positivity in the workplace is created by happy workers (leaders included). In order for happy workers to exist, the workplace must make it the expected culture of the workplace for its employees to take breaks and to take time for self-care. According to the Harvard Business Review (March, 2015) Positivity in the workplace leads to greater productivity in the company. Many companies like Google, Yahoo, and Proctor and Gamble are investing money to provide their employees with wellness programs for stress reduction because they understand the importance of having a healthy and happy employee and their impact on the company’s bottom line.

The Edge

Even though you may not be working for companies like Google or Yahoo, here is a quick tip that many of my clients enjoy. I like it because they can do it anywhere and anytime. You can do this technique while getting ready for the day, waiting in traffic, or sipping from your first cup of coffee. All you have to do is to remember to do it. You can begin right now by asking yourself this question.

“What does self-care look like for me today?”

Once you answer the question, allow it to be your self-care promise to yourself that day. Every day may be different depending on what you are doing and who you are with. Self-care for you might be going outside for a 5-minute walk to clear your mind and get some fresh air or it could be closing your office door and turning off all electronics for 5-10minutes for quiet time. Or it could be taking deep breathes on your way to your next meeting. Trust in the answer that comes to you and notice how much better you feel during the day.

Just Ask

Asking this question is simple yet powerful and it can make a huge difference in your day. Try this guilt-free self-care tool for the next week and notice how much better you feel. If you are interested in learning more ways to boost your health, happiness, and success visit www.HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com to learn how we can work together.