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.

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.

Happiness and Quality of Life: How to Live a Regret-Free Life

Happiness and Quality of Life: How to Live a
Regret-Free Life

By Debbie Lyn Toomey
work-life-coaching-4-74941
What does a well-lived life mean to you?

Is it a life that gives you freedom to be yourself and express yourself?

Is it a life that is filled with meaningful moments from having a balanced life?

Is it a life that is surrounded by family and friends?

No matter what your answer is, I’m sure that your version of a well-lived life is not filled with sorrow or regrets. While it’s not easy to live a life with no regrets, there are ways to lessen them so that you can live a quality life. As a nurse of over 25 years in a major hospital in Boston, I’ve taken care of my share of terminally ill patients. Patients who were given months, weeks, or sometimes days to live from disease or complications from their underlying issues.

Patients

From time-to-time, I witnessed patients who were fortunate enough to be surrounded by people they loved. Loved ones who took turns making sure that they were never alone. Then there were other end-of-life patients who laid quietly on their hospital beds with no family or friends visiting them. Their last moments on this earth were spent with strangers who took care of them shift to shift. I often wondered what went through their minds. As they laid on their last bed not knowing what ever happened to their loved ones and probably wondering when did their series of unfortunate events began. Did these dying patients have regrets? If so, what were they?

Regrets

Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse wrote a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. In the book, she wrote about the most common regrets of the dying. Based on her findings the core issues with the dying had to do with the lack of courage to be who they were, to express themselves in front of others, too much time spent on career and not enough time spent connecting with friends and nurturing their own happiness.

Happiness Soothes

I have discovered personally and professionally that happiness skills can help us become the best version of ourselves. There are many practices in the field of Positive Psychology, the science of happiness and optimum human performance, that boost courage, increase mindful work-life balance, and enhance connection with those who (and what) matters most in life. In fact, purposely applying simple happiness skills can soothe negative feelings into positive ones.

Regret-Free

In my book, The Happiness Result, More time, More health, More love, More success, I covered seven A.W.E.S.O.M.E.™ (Authenticity, Wonderment, Empowerment, Self-Compassion, Optimism, Mindfulness, & Enjoyment) pillars to create an awesome and well-lived life. To get you started on your journey to a wonderful life there are some practices you can begin to gain the quality of life that you deserve. Adding these simple exercises into your life can make your life regret-free.

They are:

  • Courage Boosters: Take Risks. Do something new thing every week. This can be big or small. Doing this will exercise your courage muscles and add more excitement into your life. Look at your bucket list of “What I want to do” and get started. Start with something small then build into bigger ones. The more you do this the bolder you will be in all areas of your life. Just as negative emotions impact your life, so do positive ones. The more positive experiences you have the happier your life will be overall.
  • Mindful Work-Life: Use happiness as your balancing scale. Notice when stress is building up and use relaxation techniques to help you feel better. Take deep breaths when unexpected challenges “knock the wind” out of you. While work-life balance is never a 50-50 equation, be mindful of what is tipping your scales. Honor your happiness and use it to measure what is most important to you. Doing this will offer you healthier choices to add more happiness to your day.
  • Connection Enhancers: Initiate connection with friends. Don’t wait to hear for them to ask you to connect. A nice thing to do is invite a friend to do a week long (or longer) happiness practice with you. Doing this fun practice will ensure that you both connect. Start by sending each other a daily text message that says “breathe” or “smile”. Notice how these simple reminders help you build a stronger relationship with your friend and make your day so much brighter.

Quality of Life

While there are so many scientifically proven self-help techniques available to us, they will not work unless we decide to commit to practicing them. A happy and meaningful life starts from within. It is our life’s work to live the best way we can with the “cards that we were dealt.”  Life is not perfect but we can have micro-moments of perfection by taking simple actions that add more love, laughs, and meaning to life.

Mantras to Live By

Here are helpful mantras to live by. Pick one or more to help you create a regret-free life.

“I am free to be me.”

“I am safe to speak from the heart.”

“Happiness adds quality in all areas of my life.”

“I have fun with my friends.”

“I deserve to be happy.”

 

More Results

Learn more ways to cultivate a happy and regret-free life and get The Happiness Result, More time, More health, More love, More success.   

Great news! Coming at the beginning of December 2016 is The Happiness Result’s companion journal that will help you manifesting your goals by helping you stay focused and motivated. It’s called, The Happiness Result, Goals, Gratitude, and Success Journal. Both books will help you gain the happiness result you are looking for.

Please share this article with family or friends who can benefit from it.

Source: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing

 

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.

Pain Relief from Kindness and Laughter

Kindness & (1)-78834

 

Have you ever suffered from searing pain that…

  • drained the blood from your body and almost made you pass out?
  • kept you up all night?
  • made you feel depressed, hopeless, and scared that it will never get better?

It was exactly this time of the year last year that I was living in this nightmare. A year ago, I couldn’t walk without being in excruciating pain. Simple activities such as sitting, standing, and sleeping made me anxious and worried from the unexpected shooting pain. Both unfortunately and fortunately this painful episode lasted for about one month. While it was unfortunate that I experienced intense pain, it was fortunate that I saw a glimpse of what life was like for people living with chronic pain and importantly able to see firsthand the healing power of two unlikely techniques— an act of kindness and an act of laughter.

Dismal with Disability

What led to my temporary disability is still unknown to me.  I was in great shape last year! I had a personal trainer and worked hard at keeping my weight within a reasonable range. I felt good about myself, I had great energy, and I enjoyed seeing my favorite clothes falling nicely in areas that they were supposed to. To this day, I cannot pinpoint the very moment when it started. Over and over I asked myself.

Was it working out too hard and not stretching long enough?

Was it the way I slept?

Was it my new high heels I wore to match my holiday dress?

 Who knows? All I know was I was in pain and I felt miserable!

The Pain

I always took pride in having a high tolerance for pain but this one was nothing like I’ve ever experienced. I thought I knew what pain was. I’ve had plantar fasciitis on both feet as I worked 12 hour shifts as a nurse. I’ve had shooting sciatica pain from my pregnancies that would have me gripping the furniture or walls around me so I didn’t fall down. Lastly, I endured natural deliveries twice because my childbirth labor always came fast. But this holiday pain felt like a perfect storm of angry sciatica pain, tight hamstring muscles and back pain. The jolt of spasm would catch me so unexpectedly that I would gasp with pain and feel cold, sweaty, and pale from a head rush of blood, making me feel as though I was going to pass out.

Natural Cures

Although I am a nurse, I always went for natural cures before going to the doctors. Years of learning over a dozen proven Complementary Alternative Medicine techniques and Positive Psychology provided me with an array of modalities and techniques to try. I tried everything I had in my natural tool-box such as: Reiki, hot and cold compresses, muscle rubs, homeopathy, and magnets. I went for weekly chiropractic adjustments and deep tissue massages. Little by little I started to feel better but my recovery didn’t start to sky rocket until I did something different. That something different was doing something for someone else. I found that doing something good for someone else help me stop ruminating on my self-pity and suffering. It helped me think of someone else who I cared about and this made me feel better and better.

Doing Good to Feel Good

One day during my one of my more painful afternoons, I decided to do something to get my mind off my pain. I decided to contact an old friend, who had been going through a divorce. Because we had not been in contact for awhile I wasn’t sure how he was doing. When I did reach him, I told him that I was going to give him a special present that I called “7 Days of Cheer.” I explained to him that I was going to send him one pun per day for a week. Knowing that he was very busy, sending him daily puns was a great way for him to know I was thinking him and wishing him well. He agreed to play along and I started. Every day, I looked for puns that I loved; ones that made me laugh so hard that I couldn’t wait but send to him. The puns were silly but hilarious.

Happy Inside and Out

I loved reading the puns during the day because they made me feel happy inside and out. This new found idea was exciting and made me feel good. Each day I looked forward to finding just the perfect pun to send him. The more I sent him, the more I noticed I felt better and better. I noticed something profound that I had been teaching all along in my stress management and wellness workshops for busy professionals.  I noticed that doing kind deeds for someone else does boost your own happiness, decrease feelings of depression, and reduces pain levels.  Further, I noticed the very same thing with laughter as well. As a laughter yoga teacher for professionals, seniors, and cancer survivors, I knew that laughter also provides the same positive benefits. I was amazed at how laughing and doing kind deeds helped reduce my pain.

HotDog


Positivity for Pain Relief

Acts of kindness and laughter, although a very unlikely pairing, provide powerful doses of positivity that are sure to help with pain relief. Our natural pain killer hormones called endorphins are secreted within our brain and nervous system when acts of kindness  are done and with deep hearty laughter. Endorphins, our bodies’ natural pain killers, are similar to morphine that is prescribed by doctors for severe pain. What seemed like a great idea to distract me from pain while cheering up a good friend, quickly became a main source of pain relief. It was as if my inner physician knew what I needed to help me feel better, and I am grateful that I listened to her. It was no surprised that his 7-day gift became a 14-day gift. Not only did my friend enjoy my gift, I was able to experience the pain relief that both kindness and laughter had to offer. It was a holiday that I will always remember.

More on Kindness and Laughter

Both acts of kindness and laughter have much in common. They are known to:

  • decrease pain
  • boost levels of happiness
  • decrease levels of anxiety
  • lead to faster healing

Gifting the “7 Days of Cheer”

Are you or someone you know suffering from any sort of physical, mental, or emotional pain?

Would you like to try something that doesn’t cost anything except your time and energy to feel better?

Are you interested in applying simple techniques that can make you feel better whether or not you are suffering from pain?

I invite you to try the “7 Days of Cheer” with anyone of your family or friends. It’s a fun and unique way to feel good as you do something good for someone. It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Here’s how you can start.

  1. Pick a family member or friend that you want to give a special gift to.
  2. Contact that person and let him or her know about what you want to do.
  3. Decide on the length of time you want to do it.
  4. Use the internet for funny images, quotes, or video clips.
  5. Begin.
  6. Notice how you feel.
  7. Repeat as necessary.
  8. Have fun.

Next time you feel miserable from physical, mental, or emotional pain try taking care of it by doing something positive for someone else. It will help you to put a stop to focusing on what feels bad and instead direct you towards what feels good. Remember that your body has the capacity to help you feel better by releasing natural feel-good hormones.

Got other natural and proven ways to reduce pain? Please comment below and share it with us.

The Secret Sauce to Savoring the Holidays for Busy People

by Debbie Lyn Toomey Speaker, Author, Trainer

2 Key Ingredients (2)-53277

 

How many times have you heard yourself or others say any of these statements recently?

“I cannot believe the holidays are here already!”

“What can I do this year so that I can enjoy myself for a change?”

“How am I going to get all my work done and still have time to shop for presents?”

Yes, folks it’s true! It’s the middle of November and it’s officially the holiday season. While it may seem like Father Time sprinted through 2015 (instead of marching), there are ways to have him slow down so we can relax, reflect, and rest and enjoy the end of the year before the new one begins.  My “secret sauce” will help you can gain more time to cherish this wonderful season. 

Bitter-Sweet

If you’re like many busy people, you’re probably still trying to remember what you did last month! Realizing the fact that the holidays are suddenly upon us can be enough to make some people cringe and even cry. Although traditionally this is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” some people find it difficult to be happy for various reasons such as:  having too much on their plate from work- life responsibilities, lack of financial stability, and lack of support from others. Unfortunately, the holidays can be a bitter sweet time of the year where it can feel like salt has been added to deep unresolved wounds.

Too much!

Time does have a way of escaping us because of our busy work and life schedules. It’s becoming more and more difficult to stop and slow down.  I’ve coached many busy people who fall into the same old trap of doing and planning. The mere thought of sitting and reflecting takes a back seat because it seems like an unproductive use of our time. As mentioned in my forthcoming book on living a productive and positive life, “Our time management skills are constantly being challenged because of the compounding distractions that are coming from all directions as well as our shortening attention span. Our lives are filled with so many distractions both external and internal multi-sensorial stimuli. The external stimuli come from two main sources: technology and team. Our techie toys are so distracting that even the mere presence of them on our desk tempts us to touch them and use them when we don’t need to.  The teams of people in our personal and professional lives can be a source of support or stress.  As if those distractions are not enough, we also get internal distractions that bombard and overload us with negative thoughts that ruminate and keep us from feeling good and proud of ourselves. These inner distractions add to self- sabotage, keeping us from producing easily and effectively.”  We have so much to contend with in our daily lives that for some the holidays can become more of a burden instead of a blessing.

Special for Everyone

Yes, the holidays are upon us and with them come their own sets of stressors such as shopping for “that perfect gift,” having a reasonable financial holiday budget, decorating, and going to parties. While some love this time of the year, studies have shown that there is an increase in depression, suicide attempts, and drug and alcohol use for others. No one is safe from the stress that happens during this time of the year.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), women experience a higher level of stress than men during the holidays. It is because women tend to take on the work burden to ensure the best possible holiday traditions are celebrated.

The Secret Sauce for a Health & Happy Holiday Season- Gratitude & Mindfulness (6)-11180

 

What’s in that Sauce?

Although stress is unavoidable, there are two ways of adding sweetness to the holiday season that will get even the busiest CEO whistling his favorite holiday tune as he greets his team. These two ingredients create such a rich combination that they can’t help but awaken all the senses. The two special ingredients that make up the secret sauce are: gratitude and mindfulness. When added together they can: turn bitterness into sweet, make the tough into tender, and heavy into something light. This secret sauce combination is the easiest and most practical way for today’s busy professionals to relish and savor the holiday season so that they have more time to celebrate, communicate, and connect with those they care about.

 Yummy moments

Gratitude and Mindfulness are great ways to bring purposeful awareness, attention, and appreciation to your holiday experience. Together they will give you: more time to be productive, an increased sense of purpose in your actions, and greater positivity in your day. Practicing gratitude is a heart-centered practice that can make you feel connected, blessed, and special.  Practicing mindfulness can make you feel more alive, awake, and allowing. Both of these two techniques combined have hundreds of studies that prove their ability to improve health, boost happiness, enhance relationships, and increase productivity during the holiday season. The beauty of these two practices happens during the millions of micro-moments throughout the day. The “practice” happens when we purposely remember what is happening within us and around us—without judgment. Exercising these new habits will deepen your neural pathways and ensure sustainable success in creating positive experiences in your life.

Recipe for a Sweet Holiday Season

Directions:

  1. Ask yourself what you want this holiday season to look and feel like for you. Just like with any recipe that you’ve never made before you might first have to look at the picture so that you will have an idea of what the dish will look like.
  2. “Prepave” your holiday festivities with the feeling and images of what you would like it to be for yourself. “Prepaving” is a way of creating and attracting what you want through visualization and positive emotions. Feel as if it is happening now. Have fun using your imagination to visualize and tune into what your holiday celebration is going to be like. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this. Picture yourself purposefully being aware and appreciative of what’s going on around you so that you will experience the beauty of the season so much more.
  3. Practice and play with the secret sauce ingredients throughout your days and nights.
  4. Enjoy adding other quality ingredients to this special sauce such as: creativity, courage, and self-compassion.

Key Ingredients:

1. Gratitude:

According to gratitude expert, Robert Emmons, gratitude is defined as a “felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” In other words, it’s more than just saying “thanks.”   This year instead of sitting in traffic just to shop from place to place, save yourself some time and lots of misery by staying at home.  Instead of shopping for gifts why not make them in a form of a gratitude letter to those you care about. This practice has been proven to boost levels of happiness for a weeks and weeks for both the writer and the recipient.

Here’s how to get started. Think of that special someone in your life that you need to get a gift for. Get a piece of paper (preferably a nice stationary) and write down how they have impacted your life in a positive way. Write from your heart and elaborate as much as you can. When you are done put it in an envelope and personally deliver it to that person and ask them to read it in front of you. Notice their expression. Notice yours. Notice how this loving practice can turn your holiday into a magical one. Try to do this to for as many people as you can. Schedule a time every evening during this holiday season to write out one letter to deliver in person. If you allow yourself to do one letter at a time, you’ll notice what may seem like a burden in the beginning will become a blessing in the end.  The practice of gratitude will make you feel blessed and blissful. Once you get into your gratitude letter writing routine this holiday season notice how you look forward to doing it each day or night. This delicious ritual will gift you the special time to relax, reflect, and remember so many golden moments that you’ve shared with your loved ones. You’ll thank yourself for doing this!

2. Mindfulness:

According to mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Any activity when done purposely and with a beginners mind is considered a mindfulness activity. In other words, activities such as washing the dishes, walking, or watching can be a mindfulness activity as long as the person purposely aims to notice and experience that particular activity fully and without judgment.

Here’s how to begin this practice. During this holiday season, purposely gift yourself about 20 minutes of mindfulness by focusing on one of the five senses at a time. Start with mindfulness seeing and purposely notice all the shapes and colors that you see around you. Once you see something that catches your eye, look even closer. What do you see? Do you see any intricate patterns that make up that particular object? Notice the different shades of colors that meld together to make the colors that you see. Is that object manmade? If so, think about how that particular item made it there in front of you. Look with a beginner’s eye and notice as much as you can in that period of time. The next time you plan your mindful sit, try another sense like taste. Practice savoring when you are eating all the delicious food during your holiday festivities. Imagine as though it was the first time you’ve tasted that food. Notice how long it took you to chew it and swallow it. Try to figure out the flavors that were used in that particular dish. Notice how slowing down and savoring your food helps you stay on track with your diet because you are appreciating each bite and notice when your stomach is full. Practicing mindfulness during this holiday season might just be one of the easiest ways to keep the extra pounds off by mindfully noticing what goes in to your body. Imagine going into the New Year without having to add “lose holiday weight” in your New Year’s Resolution!

Adding gratitude and mindfulness will surely add more richness to your holidays.  This delicious combination of ingredients will kick up your festivities a notch so that you can have your cake and eat it too– without guilt. Once you begin practicing these techniques, you will notice that you have more time for more important things and people in your life. Cultivating gratitude and mindfulness in your busy life will not only make you healthier and happier but also add more harmony to your life.  Begin today and look around you. Challenge yourself to find something new that you haven’t seen before. Have fun and have yourself a healthy and happy holiday season!

Do you have a way of making this holiday season fun and stress-free? Please share your suggestions with me below. Thank you in advance!

 

Breathing Technique to Feel Better

Have you ever had one of those days where nothing seems to be working out well and you are left feeling frustrated and fuming?

Next time you’re feeling angry or anxious, try this breathing technique.

It’s called Belly Breathing. This technique reminds you to take deep diaphragmatic breaths. This will help you feel calm, cool, and collected.

Here’s how:

  • Place your hands on your stomach.
  • Inhale through your nose.
  • Notice your hands move as your stomach expands.
  • Exhale through your nose.
  • Notice your hands move as your stomach flattens.
  • Repeat until you feel better.

Try the Belly Breathing technique anywhere and anytime you notice you’re feeling out of control or stressed. This technique will surely make you feel so much better and in control of yourself. The more you feel in control, the happier you will be.

Need coaching to help you sustain your feelings of wellness and well being? Contact us at info@ultimatehealingjourney.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

Boost Your Health and Happiness with Gratitude

Are you a…

– Half-empty person or a half-full person?

Do you tend to focus on what you don’t have instead of what you do have?

–  “Fault finder” or a “benefit finder”?

Do you tend to find fault in others and situations instead of finding the good in them?

– Are you a Velcro or a Telfon?

Do you tend to let the negative emotions and experiences stick to you or do you let them slide off your shoulders?

According to researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D. , 50% of our happiness comes from our genes, 10% comes from our life circumstances, and 40% comes from our choices and what we do with them. While 40% may not seem like a lot, it is enough to shift from a depressed and harmful way of living to a more joyful and hopeful one.

Happiness can be learned. Many experts in the field of Positive Psychology, the science of happiness, work with the 40% margin to provide people with proven skills and tools to become the best version of themselves so that they can thrive and flourish. Like any muscle, cultivating happiness take shape and becomes stronger with daily practice and persistence.

My favorite exercise comes from practicing gratitude. Gratitude is more than just an attitude. It’s a way of feeling alive, awake, and abundant. In fact, according to gratitude researchers, it has been proven to boost our overall health and happiness. Since the history of time, this mother of all virtues has become the subject of many scholarly debates and the theme of many prayers and mantras. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that it became a notable science that has gotten many researchers excited about the powerful and trans-formative results.

What is it?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Gratitude as “a feeling of appreciation or thanks.” But  according to gratitude experts like Robert Emmons Ph.D., gratitude is a “felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” It’s more than just saying “thank you” or feeling appreciative. One of the keys for a successful gratitude practice is to see what you are grateful for with fresh eyes — through the eyes of a child. Since it’s conception in the late 1990’s, there have been 26 studies that proved gratitude boosts, our overall health, happiness, socialization, concentration, and so much more!

Putting it to the test

Between you and me, I’ve always been the half-full, benefit-finder, and…a  Velcro type of person. I am not perfect, but what I am is someone who is determined to use gratitude in all areas of my life to live healthier and happier. Although, gratitude is an evidenced based practice, I wanted to prove that it.  I remember to my surprise a strength assessment exercise that I did during my Positive Psychology studies with Tal Ben Sha-Har Ph.D., Harvard University Professor of Positive Psychology, that gratitude was one of my top strengths. I was disappointed when I learned this because I wanted one of the “cooler” values like perseverance or self-regulation to be one of my top strengths. Determined to make the most of it I decided to see why it was one of my strongest strengths. I wanted to apply it beyond the academic realm. I decided to put it to the test in real life —at home and at work. Here’s what I’ve experienced and witnessed since I started.

The first people that I wanted to start teaching and applying the gratitude principles on were my 3 boys and my husband. As you can imagine my genius plan was met with raised eye brows and grunts from my older boys.  I told them that I wanted to start using a gratitude technique at the dinner table. With persistence and consistency this practice became a natural way for me and my family to communicate and share about what went well in our lives. The gratitude practice provided me with a simple tool to teach my boys to become benefit finders.

As a daughter of aging parents, I experienced and witnessed the grace and gifts of the gratitude practice during my mother’s cancer journey. She had 3 cancers (breast, endometrial, and lung). During her cancer journey of doctor appointments, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, as well as recovery, my mother used gratitude to fuel her optimism. Gratitude made her more and more resilient every single moment. She said, “thank you” when she woke up each morning, knowing that she was gifted another day to live. She used it in many micro-moments during the day when she was able to move comfortably on her own, taste her food and keep it down, when her wig kept her head warm and many countless other times when she felt she was gifted with something to make her feel better and look better. For my mother, saying “Thank you” is like inhaling and exhaling. It become her natural way of staying alive.

For Cancer Support

As the founder of Ultimate Healing Journey LLC, I speak, coach, and create programs that inform and inspire with proven health and happiness skills. My overly stimulated and overburdened clients, of all ages, achieve and sustain overall success.  Most recently, I provided programs for the Cancer Support Community – MA South Shore in Norwell, for their Kid’s Cancer Support, parents, Adult Cancer Survivors, caregivers, and health care professionals. Each program focused on ways to use gratitude to boost hope, enhance relationships, and increase overall sense of control and peace during in the cancer journey. The participants came away with the many tools that they can start using at home. The children gave gratitude for the practical and age appropriate techniques that they learned and can apply at home, and the adults left excited with skills that they can use to enhance their overall levels of health and happiness.

In the Schools

Gratitude also has a place in the schools. I created a month-long program for elementary level schools, called The Gratitude Program for Kids. This program has been implemented at the Francis W. Parker Elementary school in Quincy. The Gratitude Program for Kids aims to introduce the science of gratitude at a young age so that children can learn to use language, be appreciative, build stronger connections, and improve communication and concentration in the schools and at home. After the month-long program teachers reported that the students were able to identity appropriate moments of gratitude in other projects and they enjoyed the sense of community that it brought when the children shared with gratitude in the classrooms.

What I know to be true

The practice of gratitude can be applied in all areas of our life. Since mindfully practicing gratitude in my work and life, this is what I know to be true. Gratitude is: a gift that keeps on giving, grace under fire, for the young and old, a fuel that feeds resilience, and an abundant way of life.

Interested in how to apply the proven, practical and powerful practice of gratitude to live your best life? Contact me:  healthandhapppinessspecialist@gmail.com or call 617-433-8814.