In the last post, I discussed two things you can do for yourself when you are feeling afraid or anxious. The first, Meditation, is probably the most calming activity you can engage in. The other, enjoying Humor, is something we all need to do more of. In this final post on taking care of yourself, I will cover five more things you should be doing to make yourself feel better.
I talked in the last post about the healing power of laughter. Numerous studies have shown that watching a funny movie, listening to a comedian, or even enjoying the antics of a clown can calm people who are experiencing stress and fear. Another way you can care for yourself when feeling apprehensive or anxious is by listening to music.
Today I was at the dentist’s office, getting some much-needed work done on a crown. As I sat there, using all of my relaxing tools, I realized how much the music that was being piped into the room affected me. It was Hawaiian guitar music, mellow and sweet, and it really made feel like I was on the beach in Maui. By the time the dentist appeared, I was really feeling relaxed.
Most people have a strong emotional reaction to certain kinds of music. Black Sabbath or Metallica, for instance, tend to make my hair stand on end, while listening to James Taylor makes me want to snuggle with someone I care about. I love to dance to Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones (Okay, I’m old school), but I certainly don’t turn to them when I need to chill. Everyone likes to relax to certain kinds of music – it’s very personal. My husband, for instance, can often fall asleep listening to Tibetan chants on his MP3, while, to me, this stuff is just too repetitive.
The point I’m making is that you need to find the kind of music that soothes and calms you. Then, sit down and listen to it whenever you are stressed or anxious. Don’t say, “ Oh, I don’t have time for that – I’m too busy.” Take ten minutes out of your TV or internet time, and give those minutes to yourself. It’s a gift. You deserve it!
My grandmother used to say that a hobby is something you’d rather do than eat. But, if eating is your hobby, I suggest changing it. Ha! ha! My grandmother was an artist, and painting landscapes was her hobby. She tried her darndest to teach me to paint, but, alas, I just didn’t have the talent. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time sewing, but, as clothing became more and more affordable, I found myself sewing less and less. I guess that reading is my most enduring hobby, but, something I’ve taken up in the last few years is needlepoint. Doing that same stitch over and over relaxes me. I think the mindlessness of it is what I like but also the fact that I can create something beautiful. It’s also transportable. I can do it in the car, while watching TV, or even in the doctor’s office. My husband’s hobby is making stained glass panels and lamp shades. He can get completely lost in those projects.
It doesn’t really matter what hobby you pursue, as long as you find something you love to do to take your mind off of whatever is troubling you. A lot of women can get completely involved in scrapbooking or gardening or cooking. A lot of men love to build things – a stone wall, a table. But, whatever it is, you need to find something that relaxes you, something other than TV or the internet, two things that most of us spend entirely Instead of being a passive observer, create something! Make something grow! Prepare a wonderful meal! Do this for yourself.
Still another way to take care of yourself during times of trouble is by writing about your feelings concerning what you are going through. The best poem I ever wrote was composed while my five-year old son was struggling for his life during an asthma attack. I felt like I had to get my feelings out or I would burst, and so, I wrote them down, pulling each painful word out of my body, one by one. It hurts me now to think about that day, but writing the poem acted as a kind of therapy, helping me to deal with my deepest fears. By the way, you know that my son came through that asthma attack because, in another post, I talked about his recent travels in Peru.
You don’t have to turn to poetry when you’re afraid. Prose will do just fine. And that’s why I strongly recommend that you start the practice of journaling. Start it now, before you are facing difficult times so you will be ready to write down your feelings when necessary. To start journaling all you need is a notebook and a pen. You can create your own practice – whatever works for you – writing every day or just when you need to get your feelings down on paper.
Many studies have been done showing that feelings of gratitude can improve both our physical health as well as our psychological well-being. UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons cites “scientific proof that when people regularly work on cultivating gratitude, they experience a variety of measurable benefits – psychological, physical, and social.” In one study, Emmons collected data from three groups of research subjects. One group made weekly entries into a gratitude journal, listing five things for which they were grateful. Another group kept a journal discussing five hassles that displeased them. A third group was asked to list five events or that effected them during the week, not being asked to specify how they felt about the events. After ten weeks, the subjects were questioned about their psychological and physical health. according to Emmons, the gratitude group were 25 % happier than the other participants. They also exercised more and reported fewer health complaints.
Though the idea that science can measure the effects of gratitude may be new, its importance has been acknowledged for centuries. Cicero, the great Roman orator, called gratitude “the parent of all virtues.”
Brother David Steindl-Rast is an 85-year-old Benedictine monk who is considered the spiritual leader of the gratitude movement. He says it is important to differentiate between temporary expressions of thanks and “grateful living as a spiritual practice. People will say they are grateful when they win the lottery or say they are thankful for good health, but grateful living is an attitude toward life at every moment. You wake up and feel grateful for a new day, that you have a bed in which you can sleep. You make your tea and are grateful for clean water. When you put your key in your car, it may not be the car you think you want, but be grateful that it gets you where you want to go.” So, according to Steindl-Rast, gratefulness is a way of living, not just a momentary feeling of thankfulness.
Of all its other benefits, the best thing that journaling can do for you personally, though, is to teach you how you really feel. “That doesn’t make any sense,” you say. “I already know how I feel.” But I’m telling you that when you put your feelings in writing, you will discover some important things about yourself because it isn’t until you can actually say how you feel that you actually know. When you are troubled, writing your feelings down actually helps you to sort them out and possibly find a solution.
“I’m too busy,” you say. “I don’t have time to sit down and write in a journal every day.” But the thing is, you don’t need to write much – just tell your journal what is in your heart When I have a problem, I write about it right before I go to bed, and I swear, that practice helps me sleep better! Not only that, in writing about the problem before bed, I’m handing it over to my subconscious to work on while I am sleeping. Try it!
The other great thing about journaling is that when you write something down, you can go back and look at it later. Sometimes this makes you feel good about having solved that particular problem, and sometimes it makes you proud of yourself for having gone through that troubling time with flying colors. Reading over your journal can help you to see your own strengths at work as you tackled each problems.
TOUCHING THE EARTH
One of the very best things you can do for yourself during trying times is to get outside of yourself. There’s a whole world out there! A world that you are a part of. Get outside and feel the connection, or as I like to say “Touch the Earth.” Do whatever it is that you enjoy doing outside – running, boating, swimming, playing golf or tennis – whatever it is, do it! I know that probably all you feel like doing is sitting in front of the TV eating Cheetos. But you need to push yourself up off the couch right now and get outside.
I talked earlier about walking being the perfect exercise that you can do for the rest of your life, but walking is also a great way to touch the earth. Walk where you can listen to the birds, smell the flowers, watch children playing. But leave the MP3 player and cell phone at home. This is not the time to be insulated from the world, but to be part of the world. Feel your connection. You belong here!
I am lucky enough to live near the beach, and I love walking there. The constant sound of the waves breaking and retreating makes me feel at peace, as does filling my lungs with the clean, salty air. As I walk, I like to pick up sea glass or interesting shells and stones, worn smooth by the pounding of the ocean. I was told once that peasants in China like to carry smooth stones in their pockets in order to be able to feel something beautiful. Ever since I heard that, I’ve carried a smooth stone or shell with me. Feeling them gives me comfort. I even took a stone into the hospital with me to hold during my operation.
You may not live by the ocean, but you probably do live near a park or a bike trail. Just walking in your neighborhood can give you a sense of belonging – seeing the children, admiring your neighbor’s roses, smelling their dinners cooking.
Whatever you’re going through, don’t do it alone. You are part of the universe. Get out there and feel your connection!
The final aid I’d like to encourage you to use when taking care of yourself during a trying time is aromatherapy – the use of essential oils from plants as an alternative treatment for infections, stress, and other health problems. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “Essential oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds, or blossoms of plants. Each contains its own mix of active ingredients, and this mix determines what the oil is used for. Some oils are used to promote physical healing – for example, to treat swelling of fungal infections. Others are used for their emotional value – they may enhance relaxation or make a room smell pleasant. Orange blossom oil, for example, contains a large amount of an active ingredient that is thought to be calming.”
Some people think aromatherapy is a new idea – but it’s actually been in use for almost 6,000 years, in many different cultures. The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used essential oils as drugs as well as for spiritual and therapeutic purposes. And, although essential oils have been used throughout history, the practice of aromatherapy did not become popular in the United States until the 1980’s.
It is not entirely clear how aromatherapy works. Some researchers believe that when you breathe in essential oils, they stimulate certain parts of your brain that that influence physical, emotional, and mental health. For instance, some scientists believe that lavender works in the same calming way that certain sedatives do.
Aromatherapy can be administered by a professional practitioner who may use essential oils in a massage or have you breathe in the oils directly through a vaporizer. But you can use essential oils on your own by adding them to your bath or just dabbing them onto your pillow before you go to bed. Essential oils can be purchased at most health food stores. But, which ones should you buy? Lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood have all been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression. Lavender and rose have been used by midwives to relieve anxiety and fear in pregnant women who also had less need for pain medication during delivery. In one study, Neroli oil helped reduce blood pressure and anxiety in people undergoing a colonoscopy.
Aromatherapy has been used for many different medical conditions, from insomnia to constipation, but I won’t go into that here. Suffice it to say that I have found lavender, rose, eucalyptus, and sage oils to have a real calming effect on me. I love getting a massage using essential oils, but, as I mentioned, dabbing these oils on my pillow at night always makes me feel peaceful.
So, taking care of yourself when you are feeling afraid or anxious can include using adjunct therapies to help yourself relax. These therapies include listening to Music, developing a Hobby, Journaling, learning to Touch the Earth, and using the healing properties of Aromatherapy. Doing these things requires that you spend time on yourself. If you think you’re too busy for that, you’re wrong! When George W. Bush was president, he took time out to ride his bike, and Barack Obama finds time to play basketball. If the most busy men in the world can take some time for themselves, so can you. When you are in psychological pain, don’t hide. Do something about it.