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.

Mindfulness: Decrease Your Stress with Mindful Listening –

Mindfulness: Decrease Your Stress with Mindful Listening

Learn Seven Steps for Better Communication

by Debbie Lyn Toomey

 

In college, many moons ago, I had an English professor who challenged me and said, “listen to your listening.” He said this on the first day of class wearing his summer straw hat and Hawaiian shirt. Professor Nelson was witty, authentic, and a lover of life. He captivated the class as he stood up on top a desk and recited his favorite butterfly poem. When he spoke, everyone listened. It was he who talked to us about the importance of effective communication. To my surprise, listening was the most important part of communication. I didn’t understand what he meant until years later.

Exchange of Energy

As I grew older, I realized he was right! Communication is not just about talking. It’s more than that. It has to do with the exchange of energy and words (said and unsaid) between the parties involved. When the mind, body, and spirit are engaged and when the parties involved are fully present for the other, mindful communication happens. Languages such as verbal, body, and intuition are part of our expression. The more we pay attention and listen to all these aspects of expression, the better.

Difficulties

With so many forms of languages available to us, why is it so difficult to communicate? Perhaps it’s because we have gotten into the habit of thinking we are too busy and feel that we can multitask while someone is talking to us. Maybe it’s because our attention span has dwindled to a mere
8 seconds. Or maybe, we are just so stressed that although we are hearing what the other is saying, we are not comprehending or remembering what was just said. Is being an irritating “squeaky wheel” the only way to be seen and heard these days? I hope not.

On the Go

Although our lives were supposed to be made easier by modern technology, it hasn’t happened. The level of stress that Americans live with has sky rocketed. We are constantly on the go and when we are not busy, we feel guilty. We feel like we always have to be doing something worthwhile with our time.

Source of Stress

Professionals in my corporate wellness training programs complain that communication is one of their sources of frustration and stress. This problem has caused feelings of resentment, staff-splitting, wasted time on valuable projects, and costly mistakes. Poor communication is confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a contributor of workplace stress.

Invest a Few Minutes

One of the best ways to take care of the communication problem is to invest in a few minutes of mindful communication. Here are four ways mindful communication can benefit us.

1. Show appreciation to the other person by fully allowing the other to speak

2. Prevent misunderstanding that can lead to errors or hard feelings

3. Save time by knowing what is being said so that the right action can be taken

4. Foster positivity by modeling respect for each other

Seven Steps

Although communication has become a big problem during our lifetime there are ways to improve it by listen to your listening. Here’s are the seven steps for better communication:

1. STOP: Create the intention of fully listening to the individual

2. LOOK: Be curious and watch his/her body language

3. LISTEN: Listen to what is being said and unsaid. Listen to what your gut instinct is telling you

4. WAIT: Allow the individual to finish his/her thought or sentence before you answer

5. SENSE: Notice your body language. Adjust yourself so that you are fully face-to-face with the individual

6. SUMMARIZE: Repeat what you just heard to make sure you heard correctly

7. REPEAT: Repeat 1-6 as necessary until the message has been fully accepted and received

A Skill

Mindful communication is a skill that is worth cultivating to be successful in life. The more you practice it the easier it gets. To learn more about mindful communication and ways it can enhance your work and life, contact me at debbielyn@HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com.

 

The Upside of Bad – How to Find the Silver Lining During the Bad Times

The Upside of Bad. How to Find the Silver Lining During the Bad Times.
By Debbie Lyn Toomey

 

Two weeks ago, I got sick. Sick enough that I had to stay on my couch for four days. I couldn’t do anything because I was achy, sweaty, and weak from the flu. I haven’t been ill like that in five years. Because of this, I got way behind with my work and came back to hundreds of emails in my inbox waiting for a reply.

Sick

During my awake times on the couch, I wondered if I willed this to happen. Because days earlier, I wished I had a day of rest with nothing to do. Then before you know it, I got sick!

Have you ever willed yourself sick so you can get rest?

What did you do?

Did you work despite the fact you had no energy or will to do anything?

A Break

Not me. When I am sick, I just don’t feel like doing anything. After a day of feeling badly about missing work, I decided to give myself a break. I gave myself self-compassion and self-care. I basically nursed myself back to health with rest, liquid, and medicine. Instead of forcing myself to work, I gave myself permission to be human and to trust the whole process. I realized that my immune system was low from overworking and worrying too much about my impending projects.

Let Go

Laying on my couch barely having energy to walk from one room to another, I was able to see things with better perspective. I realized that I had to slow down and let go of any extra burdens that I placed on myself. Despite the glassy-eyed look I had in my eyes from having the flu, I was able to see my life and work with clarity. I saw what was important and what was not. In other words, I found a silver lining in my sad moment. You can do it too.

Silver Lining

You don’t have to wait until you are bed-ridden and sick to see the silver lining of whatever it is you are experiencing in life. Here are three questions you can ask yourself to get started in finding the silver lining during bad times.

1. Ask yourself what has been working well in your situation?

Focus on the good. Taking time to reflect on the good things that have happened will make you feel happier about yourself.

2. Ask who has been helpful to you?

Who has your back? The more we recognize and appreciate the people who are on our side and help us the more we will feel supported and less alone.

3. Ask what successes you have accomplished recently?

Count your winnings. Celebrating all successes (big and small) will give you confidence and positivity.

Reflect

Life is so busy and can be discouraging if we don’t take the time to find the silver lining during the bad moments. Don’t wait for the situations to get worse. The best way to see the silver lining clearly is to stop and reflect upon who and what you have around you that is good and worth celebrating.

Support

If you or your organization needs more support in increasing positivity levels and finding the silver lining, contact me at info@HealthandHappinessSpecialist.com for ways we can work together.

a-HAHS Tip #6 Bye Bye Loneliness

 

Do you ever feel lonely and need someone around to talk to or just be with?

Why not try doing something for someone.

When you do a random act of kindness or volunteer for a good cause you are doing something positive for more than one person.

Here’s what happens:

  1. You have a purpose that day.
  2. You make a difference in someone’s life.
  3. You connect with someone.

Next time you are feeling lonely just know that you can get out of rut by just getting out of the house and doing something kind for someone. This is a great way to say bye bye to your loneliness and hello to kindness.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to increase your level of happiness contact us at info@HealthandHappinesssSpecialist.com.

Fresh, Fun, and Fabulous Tip for the New Year

Fresh, Fun, and Fabulous Tip for the New Year
By Debbie Lyn Toomey,  Health and Happiness Specialist™, Speaker, Coach

if you're not having fun-21761.
Happy 2016 to you and yours!

How’s your New Year’s Resolution coming along?

Does the thought of having to do your New Year’s Resolution make you want to say, “Yay” or “Yikes?”

Are your old habits slowly creeping back into your routine sabotaging your good intentions towards a new and better you this year?

Alas, you are not alone! The traditional New Year’s Resolutions needs to be eliminated or evolve as a person gets older. Isn’t it time to begin the year with excitement and fun instead of exhaustion and frustration?

Satiated and Satisfied

As the great Groucho Marx says, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.” There’s so much to be said about having fun and doing what you love to make your activities more meaningful. By starting the year in this positive mindset, you can continue along the year feeling satiated and satisfied with goodness instead of grudges (towards yourself and others). In other words, instead of feeling heavy with physical weight or life’s burdens, try something different that will surely make you feel good about yourself and have fun doing it. I call it 2 Weeks of Fresh, Fun, & Fabulous. It’s a 14-day challenge that will help you boost a greater positive outlook, motivating you make healthier and happier choices during the rest of your year. Instead of the old traditional New Year’s Resolution mentality which focuses on the “what-we-have-to-do” in order to feel better, the 2-week challenge will get you started in the “what-I-want-to-do” outlook that will naturally make you look healthier and happier.

Happy Note

Start this year on a happy note so that the rest of the year will become more harmonious for you – both at home and at work. Stop being amongst the statistics of well-intended people who were not able to achieve their own New Year’s goals and punishing themselves year after year for their failure to achieve (or remember) their original resolutions.

Fresh, Fun, & Fabulous

The 2 Weeks of Fresh, Fun, & Fabulous Challenge is a wonderful way of starting this year. This positive approach to living a healthier and happier life encourages the participants to be creative, courageous, and consistent in our actions, yielding great results. Try something different this year. Allow it to be the year you step out of your comfort zone and enjoy more of what life has to offer. Big or small, any fresh, fun, and fabulous action will make you feel alive. We all know New Year’s Resolutions are traditionally not sustainable and become a monumental task leaving many feeling conquered by their own well-intended goals. We don’t need any fancy statistics to prove what we have come to know year after year. This year, why not take it easy on yourself by doing for something that will not only boost your happiness and also your wellness?

When we are happy, I have found that we:

  • make better and healthier choices
  • are more productive
  • relate with others
  • look and feel younger
  • sleep better
  • and so much more.2 weeks of (3)-23931You deserve it!

    It’s time to be kinder to yourself and realize that beginning the year by failing at self-made resolutions leaves a lasting negative tone for the rest of your year. It’s time to give yourself permission to be human and realize that you have been doing your best. Isn’t it time to add more fresh ideas, fun time, and feel fabulous? Don’t you deserve it? If you just nodded and said, “yes,” please continue to read. If you shook your head and said, “no,” please go back to the top of this article and re-read again until you say, “yes, I do deserve it.”

    Don’t you owe yourself more than that?

    2 Weeks of Fresh, Fun, & Fabulous Challenge

    Ready to give the “2 Weeks of Fresh, Fun, & Fabulous” challenge a go?

    Here’s how:

    1. Dedicate: Mark 2 weeks on your calendar for this challenge. Tip: You can do this longer than 2 weeks if you want. If you forget a day, no problem. Just keep on doing it for the rest of the 2 weeks. The key is to stay true to the original challenge of doing something “fresh, fun, & fabulous.”
    2. Decide: Every day for 2 weeks, decide which aspect of the challenge you want to take on. Whether it’s fresh, fun, or fabulous, think of what you can do with it. Would it be food, family, friends, finance, faith, or frills? What does it look like? Who will you do it with? Where will you do it? How will you go about it in doing it?
    3. Document: Write down in a journal what fun activities you did and how they made you feel. Tip: journal at the same time and place daily. Create a routine out of this. Reading your journal posts will make you feel happy when you need that extra boost.
    4. Declare: Let others know about what you are doing. Share with friends to further fuel the positivity around you. Tip: If you need more people to keep you on track, join us on Facebook. There is a group called 2 Weeks of Fresh, Fun, & Fabulous that has been participating in this easy and enjoyable challenge.

    Have a Fun-Fabulous Time!

    This year, why not try something different, radical, and fun? Why not begin the year with something easy, engaging, and exciting?  Instead of attempting to do something that will take weeks and weeks until you see an improvement, such as losing weight or getting organized, start doing something that will make you good from the start. Doing something different daily for 2 weeks will be enough to get you feeling good about yourself. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of all New Year’s Resolutions? By trying this new spin on resolutions, you will add more excitement and enjoyment into your life. I wish you a fun-fabulous time as you play along with this challenge!

    Need coaching support in how to be consistent with your goals, visit www.healthandhappinessspecialist.com today.

     

 

7 Lessons Learned on How to Thrive in the Cancer Journey

Do you have someone in your life that models strength and optimism?

Do you know anyone that has risen above adversity and came out smiling and laughing?

Do you know someone diagnosed with cancer three times who still does not define their life around cancer?

My mother Amelia is that person to me. She was diagnosed with three cancers in a little over 5 years. In those years, I witnessed the grace and grit that helped her to cope, connect with her family deeply, and feel in control during uncertain times. She is a three-time cancer survivor. She is the healthiest and happiest person I know – even though she had cancer.

The Healthiest and Happiest Person I know

My mother always valued health and happiness and made living a healthy and happy life, a personal mission. It was a hobby of hers to seek ways to maintain and sustain health and wellness in her family. She was always on her feet moving about and laughing at herself doing something silly or laughing at my father’s funny jokes and stories. She took the subway to work and was on her feet all day long working in a pharmacy until she retired at the age of 75. My parents’ basement resembled a YMCA gym with weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, and the latest Total Gym. I remember growing up hearing her take exaggerated deep breaths as she stretched and marched back and forth in front of the television in our living room while watching Richard Simmons or some other exercise gurus.

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New Medical Diagnosis: Cancer(s)

My mother who always made healthy choices and did not have a family history of cancer was diagnosed with 3 different cancers (breast, endometrial, and lung) over the course of 7 years. She did not define her life with cancer. She defined her life with friends and with family.

In 2008 at the young age of 70, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. This loaded diagnosis was the very first time my family and I had to deal with cancer directly. As a nurse at Tufts Medical Center in Boston for over 25 years, I’ve taken care of many patients after having lumpectomies, mastectomy, and breast reconstructive surgeries. It was a part of my job. However, being a nurse and knowing all of this didn’t help me when my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tables had turned and all of sudden I’m on the other side of the hospital bed comforting and supporting my mother—the healthiest and happiest person I know!

One of the things that amazed me during that time was how quickly she accepted her diagnosis. She thanked God for its early detection. She trusted her whole medical team and decided right away to do what needed to be done to take care of her cancer. While she waited for her surgical date, she went to work every day,  prayed, and went to church. She would talk with me and my sisters about her will and proxy. She would read books and articles about what she had and natural cures that she could take along with her medical regiment. She’d spend time with my father by going shopping or going to the movies. By the time her surgery came around, she was ready and prepared. Her breast cancer was taken care of with a lumpectomy and hormonal medication. She only took a few weeks off from work and then went back work at the pharmacy. What I witnessed in her during this whole episode was how she kept a positive outlook through prayer and being proactive with her health, both of which, she was able to control. This made her feel so much better.

In 2013, after she turned 75 years old, we had a double celebration. We celebrated her birthday and being breast cancer free for 5 years! This short lived joyous occasion came to a halt when two unrelated cancers (endometrial and lung) were found during a somewhat routine medical appointment. My mother revealed to her primary doctor that she had been having bleeding and didn’t understand why. After many examinations and testing, our worst suspicion was confirmed. She had cancer again! Needless to say that whole summer was busy with tests, biopsies, and surgeries. My mother, the healthiest and happiest person I know, had two major surgeries that summer. Little did we all know that what was ahead would be the toughest part of her cancer journey.

Fall of 2013

The fall of 2013, although it was part of her endometrial and lung cancer journey, deserved its own chapter in this story. This was a time that truly tested what she was made of. My mother, the healthiest and happiest person I know, was weak from her chemotherapy, her medications, and a lack of sleep due to excruciating bone pain resulting from the effects of her chemotherapy.

Regardless of her suffering when I would ask her how she was doing, I would hear her say, “Dun’t worree dahling. I will be okay.”

My mother, a woman with great poise and pride, had to rely on my father to help her move back and forth to the bathroom, to give her massages in the middle of the night to sooth her itching and her bone pain. Further, it was during this time that she could no longer hide her cancer from the rest of the world as her hair was falling out. She was so convinced that her thick and coarse hair was not going to fall out during her treatments that when it did start to, her faith in God and her trust in her ability to heal would be tested to the max. It frustrated her when she would lay down and clumps from her beautifully thick hair would be left on her pillow case, when she would shower, handfuls would rinse off with the water, and when she would eat, she would notice it falling off onto the plate right in front of her eyes. Although my mother was the one dealing with the cancer and the all the “pain” that came along with it, I still looked to her for strength.

“Hair” it Goes!

I started to get nervous and scared when I saw her looking so weak and tired. I had never seen her so frail and solemn. I recall the phone call when she asked me to come over to her house to shave her head.  She had finally accepted losing her hair.  She wanted to do on her own terms. In the car, outside my parents’ house I had to take five minutes to compose myself. I knew how difficult this was for her. I was so scared but I couldn’t show it! I had to be strong for both my parents. When I got into my parents house, my mother was all prepared. She laid out newspapers on the floor and placed a chair right in the center. There was little conversation, we had a job to do and it needed to be done. She chose an area in her upstairs hallway for me to shave her hair off. It reminded me of when I used help her color her hair but this time, it was different. Surprising, shaving her head was not as difficult as I thought. When I finally got into the rhythm of it, I started to see little scars on her head here and there.

“Mom, what are these scars from?” I asked

“Oh, I was accident prone when I was a little girl and I kept bumping into things.” She said with a smile and a little giggle.

As if each scar was a timeline button, she would press one and tell me when and how she got it. We laughed and laughed after each recollection. The images of my mother getting into mischief and hurting herself while playing with other children made for such a comedy relief. It made this heavy situation lighter.

Life Goes On

I’m happy to say my mother’s hair has fully grown back and she’s enjoyed over a dozen different hair styles and colors since. More recently, she just recovered from a knee replacement surgery. The knee was causing her a lot of pain and it was slowing her down when she would walk along the beach, clean the house or work in her yard. Her doctors, nurses, and physical therapist are all amazed at how well she has done.

debbie and mom easterPicture taken Easter Holiday, 2014

Positive Psychology

Positive psychologists would describe my mother as someone who used her faith, relationships, bravery, love, and innate strengths to become more resilient and to thrive during adversity.

What does Positive Psychology, the science of happiness, have to do with Cancer? I say, “Everything!” The more we can learn from people who have risen above adversities, the more we can cultivate similar practice to make us even better, stronger, and happier.

Positive Psychology helped me understand my mother’s way of being and coping during life’s ups and downs. What is Positive Psychology? Positive Psychology in a nutshell is the “Science of Happiness.” It’s a new field of psychology that, according to its founder Martin Seligman, Ph. D, “looks to nurture the gifted and talented, to learn from the gifted and talented, and to make normal life more fulfilling.”

Some might say it’s coincidental, but I like to think of it as divine timing that Positive Psychology came into my life and when I needed it most. I completed my certification in Positive Psychology with Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph. D through the Wholebeing Institute and, soon after, received my training and certification as a Positive Psychology coach after studying with another leading expert in the field, Robert Biswas-Diener, Ph. D. Positive Psychology gave me the knowledge and perspective for looking at the glass as “half-full”. I put the principles of this science to the test personally as I needed a way of cope with my mother’s disease. I found that it kept me from ruminating, spiraling-downward mentality and feeling like a victim.

7 Lessons Learned to Thrive in the Cancer Journey

I learned so much about my mother and myself during the last few years. While some lessons where easier than others, I am certainly a much healthier and happier person because of them. Here are 7 lessons that I learned from my mother, the healthiest and happiest person I know, who defeated three cancers.

They are:

  1. Accept the diagnosis – The sooner you can accept it, the sooner you’ll be ready to face and handle the treatment plans that are in store for you.
  2. Remember is it YOUR body – Make decisions after you have talked with your health care team and your family. Make peace with your body and give it thanks.
  3. Go to your appointments with a friend or family member – Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible until you feel confident and comfortable enough to make decisions.
  4. Use coping skills that have been successful for you – This is a great way to gain control during this overwhelming situation. Recall what worked best for you in the past to make yourself feel better and start doing it consistently until it becomes a habit.
  5. Surround yourself with healing and positive images and people – Watch funny movies. Laughter boosts your immune system and helps release endorphins which will decrease your discomfort.
  6. Connect and confide with those you love A big predictor of peoples’ level of positivity is their relationships with others. Let people know what you need and when you need it.
  7. Give yourself permission to be human – Allow yourself to do what you need to do to feel better. Sleep when you’re tired. Cry when you’re sad. Eat what you want.

Trust that applying any of these lessons will help you during your cancer journey. Here’s to your health and happiness.

New Normal

I don’t know about you but this summer has been a roller coaster of incredible and intense emotions. It has been filled with some endings and wonderful beginnings. Between my wedding anniversary, my two oldest sons’ graduations, birthdays, and new opportunities, this has been an unforgettable summer. It’s a summer that emphasizes having appreciation for those you love and how much they have impacted your life.

New-Normal
There’s a “new-normal” that’s unfolded for me. I learned about this description after spending an afternoon with a friend just days after losing his 84 year old father from cancer. As I sat with him in the park, he told me that now that his father has passed, both he and his mother had to get use to a “new normal” way of living.

Bittersweet
As for me and my family our “new-normal” takes on many bittersweet forms. Our “new normal” consists of adjusting to my oldest son living at home and working in Boston with a prospect of being relocated to Chicago. Another “new normal” change is getting used to not having my middle son home. This week kicks off his 1st week of living at college and away from home. Lastly, my other “new normal” is supporting my youngest as he starts a new school. In the grand scheme of things, my “new-normals” are all great news and certainly something that my husband and I are both proud of. It still does not help with the feelings of longing for the good-old-days of having everyone at home, all together, safe and sound, and silly-at-times. No matter what you call it – separation anxiety, the “new-normal” or simply life, is still painful. It hurts when you no longer have the person that you love near you to talk with and sit with like before.

Life
As a Health & Happiness Specialist™, I often share my own experiences in my programs. Happiness is nothing without pain or sadness. Life will deliver each of us good and not-so-good times. This is what makes life very interesting. Nothing good lasts forever and nothing bad lasts forever too. There a dynamic motion that propels us forward to become better than before if we allow it. The secret is to feel the negative emotions and allow them to surface so that we can move on. It’s when we hold on to our negative emotions that we start suffering in many ways that can manifest as severe depression, insomnia, gastro-esophageal reflux, chest pain, anger, over eating, and so much more.

3 Ways to Feel Better
Fortunately, with the increase in positive psychology research there are so many effective ways to help people cope with life’s challenges. The science of happiness has many solutions that help people grow and thrive so that they can be the best version of themselves.

Here are 3 ways to feel better:
1. Do something kind for others. When you think outside of your own situation and do kind deeds for others, you begin to feel happier.
2. Physical activity. Doing any type of physical activity is a positive way of releasing your sadness and stress.
3. Contact someone. Whether it is going to church to pray or calling up a friend. Connecting with others enhances relationships which often lead to greater happiness.

How about You?
If you are struggling with life’s ups and downs right now, trust that where there is darkness there also is light. If you need a coach to help you reach your personal or professional goals please contact Debbie Lyn at healthandhappinessspecialist@gmail.com

Gratitude Tip for Positive Parenting

Parents, have you felt any of these from your child?

– Unappreciated

– Misunderstood

– Disconnected

I did a few years ago. I felt this way with my teenager and it scared me. I had a sinking feeling that our mother-son connection was slowly becoming distant. This turned into a frustration within me that made me react to him negatively.  It was pulling us apart!

Poor Connection

Our one-to-one time became less and less due to our schedules.  When I did see him, he would be sitting in his usual spot – on the recliner in our family room with headphones on connected to his iPad. This made it more and more challenging to get his attention. At the dinner table he got into the habit of answering my questions with, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” This concerned me because I didn’t know what was going on with him. It became difficult to get him to open up to me.

Crazy Worried Mind

My wild and crazy mind worried that he might turn to drugs or other dangerous habits that we sometime hear about in the news. I did not want this for him. I wanted him to know that I was there for him no matter what. I wanted him to remember how much I loved him and would do anything for him.  I remember in my desperation I would ask myself over and over these questions:

“What’s the best way to connect with him again?”

“How can I help him open up to me?”

“What can I do to bring us closer again?”

Simple and Powerful 

Fortunately at that time, while studying Positive Psychology (the Science of Happiness) under the direction of Dr. Tal Ben Sha-Har, I learned that the practice of gratitude can increase people’s level of happiness by 25%, enhance communication, strengthen relationships, boosts appreciation, attention, and awareness and so much more. I had to try it. I had to try the practice of gratitude at home. It seemed simple enough and I had nothing to lose. I was desperate! I decided that in order for it to work in my home my whole family had to do it. Gratitude had to become a natural culture in our home. It had to be a common language spoken and a way of thinking that we had to develop.  Even though it seemed to be such a simple and unappreciated gesture, I knew the impact that this technique can have on people who apply it in their everyday lives.

What Went Well?

The practice that I decided to implement was a simple technique that I learned called “What went well?” This simple question trains the brain to look for the good in a situation. It is a wonderful and non-threatening way to teach people appreciation and gratitude. It’s also the perfect way to teach someone how to become a benefit finder instead of being a fault finder.

Benefit Finder

Here’s how I literally “dished out” this gratitude technique to my family. Every time we sat down for a meal together I would casually ask, “So, I wonder… what went well with everyone today?” Then, I would follow it up by saying, “Let’s all go around the table and take a turn at sharing.” As you can imagine the very first time I introduced this technique my two older boys (and my husband) looked at me like I had 3 heads. But with persistence and consistency they got used to me asking the questions.

Surprising Interruption

To my surprise after a few weeks of applying this simple gratitude technique, my teenager, eventually started to open up and share more and more around the dinner table. It got to a point that he would interrupt his 8 year old brother, who can go on and on forever about what happened to him in school. He couldn’t wait to have his turn to share with us about what went well with his day—his “goods.” It was then that I felt that I got my son back. It was then that I started noticing him share more about his day through the benefit-finding lens of gratitude.

Powerful Parenting Tip

I am happy and proud to say that my relationship with my teenager is better than ever! Now he seeks me out to tell with me stories and jokes. He listens to me intently when I give him guidance.  I can’t tell you how much this simple practice has changed our relationship. In retrospect, while teaching my family about this principal it also affected me positively.  I noticed how my attitude towards him changed and softened because I started seeing him through a gratitude lens.

Thank You

My son has come so far. From barely mumbling his one or two word replies to me, before doing the gratitude practice at home, he has written me an articulate, hand written, one page letter to expressing his appreciation and love for me. Here’s an excerpt from the letter that my teenager gave to me during the Mother and Son Senior dinner before he graduated high school two months ago. It was with his permission I share this with you to further show how beautiful our relationship has become.

“Dear Mom,

…You see me for my whole when I only see me for my parts. For this I love you. Mom, you always saw my fullest potential and urged me on and though I may resist and procrastinate, I value your support especially as I move out to college.

Thank you.”

30-Day “What Went Well?” Challenge

Here’s a great way to try out this simple “What went well?” gratitude practice.

  1. Explain to your family that you want to do a 30-Day Challenge called, “What went well?”
  1. Let them know that “What went well?” will be asked during meal times (or anytime that your whole family is together.)
  1. Tell them that there is no right or wrong answer to this question.
  1. Allow them to share at least 2-3 things.
  1. Go around the table to make sure everyone shares.
  1. Finish the round by sincerely saying that you can’t wait to hear what everyone will share the next time.
  1. Be patient. Be persistent. Be consistent.
  1. Have fun!

For a summertime or holiday variation, ask your family one by one at the end of each vacation, what went well for them. This is also a great way for everyone to share and remember all the wonderful things that was experienced during the vacation. The more that is shared, the more it becomes special for everyone. The more special it feels, the deeper your appreciation and connection with each member of the family becomes.

Interested in learning more about how to apply the practical, proven, and powerful practice of gratitude to live your best life? Contact Debbie Lyn Toomey RN, CIPP, Health and Happiness Specialist™ at healthandhapppinessspecialist@gmail.com or call 617-433-8814.

Mindful Moment

Are you becoming more and more absentminded lately?

Multitasking

My answer is “yes.” This has become a busy and fast paced world, and many of us have taken on a habit juggling and struggling. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, when we are multitasking, we are paying attention only partially from one task to another. A study conducted on multitasking while driving showed that the driver’s attention decreased by 37% when he/she listened to sentences while driving. How many times have we listened to sentences either from the radio or another person in the car? This important study shows that multitasking is not as efficient or safe as we once thought it was.

Les Miserable

Multitasking spreads our energy thin. Chronically multitasking can make us feel overwhelmed, out of control, and overly tired. When this happens, concentration and clarity become a challenge. A negative ripple effect of unhealthy habits arise such as mindlessly eating comfort food in front of the TV to “veg-out,” consuming endless cans of high energy drinks in order to “pull an all-nighter,” and a taking anti-anxiety medications to counteract the guilt and worries of not getting enough done.

While some people thrive under this fast-paced and demanding lifestyle, their mind and body will eventually show signs of “wear and tear” in the form of chest pain, depression, obesity, gastric reflux, etc.  There is good news! With mindful awareness, we can turn this misery into magnificence.

Mindful Moments

I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t tell you that I don’t multitask—the truth is I still multitask. But after many years of making mistakes that cost me more time to correct, I’ve decided to become more purposeful in my multitasking. I’ve learned to only do it when doing simple tasks. And it works. While it did take some time for me to get rid of the temptation to multitask, the results have been profound. I went from multitasking everything to multitasking with some things.  I made mindful choices that made my day more enjoyable and effective.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness in a nutshell is purposefully paying attention and becoming aware of what you are doing at that very moment. It’s a way of noticing (without judgment) the thoughts in your mind and emotions that you are feeling. Mindfulness also provides a time, however short it may be, to quiet our mental chatter. The more we apply this simple practice, the more we will feel calm, confident, and in control in the midst of our busy day.

Try This

Here’s a mindful practice that will help you begin to cultivate this positive habit – learn to do less and get more done. I call it Mindful Moment: Take 5 & Take a Break

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take a deep breath.
  3. Imagine you are in your special place.
  4. Let go of your tension.
  5. Enjoy.

I recommend that you do this practice for about 5 – 10 minutes a day in order to feel your tension release. The more you release and let go of you stress the more you will be able to make mindful choices towards a healthier and happier day.

Gratitude & Mindfulness Experience. More on the program


Need Help?

Contact us for more support in cultivating mindfulness in your life. Email us at info@ultimatehealingjourney.com to begin your journey towards health and happiness. You don’t have to do this alone. We are here to guide you towards your highest and best goals.

Easy Motivation Tip

Have you ever had a day off that you filled with lots of activities?

I recently had one of those days and I had such a fantastic time doing everything on my list, including a task that I have been putting off for the last 3 weeks.  That task was switching my winter wardrobe to my summer one. I don’t know what it was about this particular task, but I always feel like I have to be in the right mood to do it, otherwise I’ll be spending half the day trying on all the clothes, losing track of time and feeling guilty for not making any progress.

On my day off, I challenged myself to get as many things checked off my list and completed as possible. And that was exactly what I did. I checked everything off including my long awaited wardrobe switch that I had been neglecting.


WOOP

Here’s what I did. I applied Dr. Gabrielle Oettingen’s technique called WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.)  Dr. Oettingen’s and her fellow researchers found that when positive plans are visualized along with the obstacles, people are more likely to become motivated to take action towards the direction of their goals. They found that positive visualization was not enough and that adding the perceived obstacles into this equation allows the person to become more prepared to overcome the obstacles they felt were keeping them from going forward.

woop

I did it!

Here’s how I applied WOOP to help me tackle my wardrobe switching task.

  1. I determined my “wish.” It was to switch my winter wardrobe over to my summer wardrobe. I visualized what it would be like when it was done.
  2. My “outcome” was to have my favorite summer clothes ready to wear and to donate a bag of clothes that I hadn’t worn in a long time. I also visualized what this would look like and got very excited about it.
  3. My “obstacle” was lack of time. I challenged myself and decided to make it easier and fun for me in order to make the task less monumental.
  4. My “plan” was to make a game out of it. I decided to just spend 1 hour doing this and to try to get as many clothes donated as possible during that time. I did this so that I was less likely to try on clothes after clothes after clothes and lose track of time.

I decided to give it a go and it worked! Not only did I get motivated into doing this seasonal task, I had fun doing it.  It felt good knowing I was doing something that I’ve been meaning to do, and lastly I was able to get 2 bags of clothes instead of one ready for donation.

The WOOP technique is easy and effective. Next time you just can’t get started doing something that you’ve been meaning to do, I suggest you try the WOOP technique.

 

If you feel you need extra help to reach your goals, contact me for coaching so that we can create solution-focused plans to make your dreams come true.  Email me at info@ultimatehealingjourney.com today.