For the past few weeks, I’ve had higher-than-usual anxiety levels. Lots of activity and a full house are definitely part of it, plus the changing weather, and my ongoing post-divorce inner work/healing. Yes, I know, we’ve all got stuff to deal with and we have to do the best we can every day. So, here is a list of some of the tools that are helping me get my anxiety under control each day.
Calming Aromatherapy Blend:
(4 drops Cypress, 3 drops Lavender, 5 drops Sweet Orange essential oil.) When my anxiety seems to be peaking, this blend helps me almost instantly. I put it in my diffuser, sit down to work at my desk, and within 10-15 minutes I feel that tightness in my chest ease, the inexplicable sadness and worry lifts, and I come back to myself.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: This blend of B vitamins and herbs really works to calm me down, boost my mood, and relieve stress. Whether for everyday anxiety issues or for situational anxiety, (before a performance, for example), it works for me within twenty minutes. You should have this in your natural first aid kit.
Walking outside for at least twenty minutes each day.
Just get out there! Your mood will lift, your ability to focus improve, your stress levels will drop, and your overall sense of well-being will rise. Feel the sun or rain or wind on your face, connect with your surroundings, and remind yourself that you are part of the planet, and the planet is part of you.
Pick one or do all of them, but whether you are praying, practicing yoga, meditating or doing breathing exercises like Pranayama, you will benefit with lowered stress levels and a calmer, more positive outlook. I enjoy meditating and practicing yoga with the YogaGlo app on my phone.
Watching something that makes you laugh.
I can get so serious and stuck in my head, trying to solve problems and get work done, that I forget to take a break and just laugh. Whether it’s I Love Lucy episodes, a movie like Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah or a TV show like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a good laugh session will do wonders for your mood and you’ll stress less.
Reading books on contemplative prayer and mindfulness:
For the past several years I have been immersing myself in current literature. The book nerd in me is always becoming obsessed over the latest offerings from authors both familiar and new to me. Listening to bookish podcasts can be so exciting as I hear about books I’ve never heard of and add them to my To-Be-Read list.
When I homeschooled my kids, I read plenty of old books. There were read-aloud selections for History, Language Arts, for Music, Art, and for bedtime. And I read old books for my own learning and for pleasure. In my mind, “old” could mean something written 50 years ago or 300 years ago–or more! In the book God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis presents a case for old books in his essay entitled “On the Reading of Old Books”. This is a much-loved and repeated quote from this essay:
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
Why? What is the point of reading old books? Aren’t they irrelevant, stuffy, full of archaic words and ideas, and just plain difficult to understand? I’m sure some are, but there is so much we can learn from past ideas and perspectives, past ways of living and speaking.
Here are Lewis’s three reasons why you should read old books:
1.”First-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.” Don’t choose a modern commentary on an ancient philosopher like Plato, for example. Instead, just read Plato. Lewis says you will be more able to understand Plato directly than some long-winded interpretation of the philosopher.
2. Avoid the nearsightedness of our own age. “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.”
There is a certain “blindness” that today’s writers and thinkers have–“the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ “…”None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.”…”The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.” This will help us avoid making the same mistakes (aka history repeating itself)
3. To see the underlying theme of the Christian faith through the ages and not be swayed by modern “sub-Christian modes of thought”. Although there are many divisions within Christianity, there is a certain unifying thread running through the centuries of religious writings. Lewis has a substantial list of recommended reading, whether you are a seeker, a believer, or an emphatic unbeliever, as he was at one time.
So…of course this segues naturally into what old books are part of my spring/summer reading list. Here are the first four!
I’m re-reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen via audiobook. It’s been several years since I read any of her works, so I thought it was about time to pick up her books again. The incomparable Juliet Stevenson narrates this version and I highly recommend it!
Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People is a book I only skimmed through while my son was studying the British Isles in eleventh grade. Since Alan and I are planning a trip to the UK in the next two years, I added this one to my reading list. This book was written in A.D. 731, so it is OLD, but not dull!
I just picked up The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emersonthat contains an introduction by Mary Oliver. Although I’ve read quotes and passages by Emerson in the past, and have heard him referenced by countless others, I have never read “Nature” or “Self-Reliance”, his poetry or anything else of his. Have I been living under a rock all these years? It’s high time I get down to reading his works!!!
As it’s been years since I’ve read anything by the Brontes, other than Jane Eyre, I will be listening to Villetteby Charlotte Bronte when I finish Northanger Abbey.
I would love to hear what old books you are reading or plan to read this year!
Let me be honest: it is a challenge to walk the wellness path I encourage others toward. It takes lots of time and dedication to the dreams I want to manifest. It takes willpower, grit, gumption, tears, motivation from many sources and plenty of failing forward. I have many areas I still want to master. In the spirit of transparency, here are some of the things I am working on this year:
I need to be dedicated to daily writing, daily meditation and yoga, daily practice of my instruments. I have an irregular schedule, so I’m thinking that the best way to make these things happen are to make appointments in my calendar app and then follow through. I am not a morning person and do not think clearly enough to write first thing, except morning pages, perhaps. But maybe yoga would work in the morning.
Here is the emotional/mental/spiritual aspect of myself I need help with the most: being grounded in my body enough that I can be calmer, less anxious. I startle easily, am a “Nervous Nellie” as Alan calls me, and am often on the verge of panic. I am taking an herbal blend and use essential oils in the diffuser to help with this, but there are more pieces of this puzzle to be found.
The relational and personal growth-type of area I most need help in: being able to stop what I’m doing and focus on the other person, whom I love, without being preoccupied with work and wishing I wasn’t interrupted. It is really hard for me to change gears, let go of my plan, and be present with someone when I think I really need to get back to whatever I was doing.
I may fake it as well as I can on the outside, but inside, I’m fuming at having to live someone else’s plan for myself. Sometimes I can tell them that now isn’t a good time, but plenty of other times, I need to let this be my life: giving my time, energy, love and attention to the other person.
After all my years serving at church, reading books on selflessness and about being more like Christ, I wonder if I’ve progressed at all? I still like what I like and although I can be a grownup and do all the responsible, giving things on the outside, on the inside I am often willful and rebellious, smart-mouthed and sarcastic. It’s a good thing we can’t hear each other’s thoughts!
So, what do I tell myself? Do your best today! That is my aim everyday, as I’m sure it is yours. We aim to be our best selves, we sometimes miss the mark, but we reassess and keep going after the goal.
How do we treat ourselves after falling on our faces? Plenty of negative, critical self-talk, right? To care for yourself, though, and to promote inner emotional and mental health, you need to be kind to yourself. If you, like me so often, tend to beat yourself up with your thoughts and inner talk, then switch it up! Be encouraging. Find things to compliment about yourself. Remind yourself that mercies are new every morning. Tell yourself “I love you and you deserve to be loved”.
For Lent this year, I gave up negative self-talk about my body and my actions. Every time I catch myself getting ready to unload the mean words gun, I am amazed at how natural it is. It feels weird saying “I love you” to the parts of my body that I’ve never liked much. It feels weird to not criticize the way my jeans fit or my face looks on live video. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s stretching me in the right direction!
So today, assess your life and be honest about where you need to grow, be more consistent, be kinder, let go, create space, or boundaries. But notice the way you talk to yourself and if it tends toward the negative, then begin to sweeten your tone, be encouraging and kind, and tell yourself you are loved and lovable. Because you are!
I haven’t been “to church” in over a year. Long story, but after my whole life, I needed a break.* Sunday mornings are no longer a mad dash to arrive on time. I get up when I feel rested. Eat gluten free pancakes or French toast with Alan and the boys, go to the gym, plan my menu, make a new “weekly” page in my bullet journal, write, read, and work on projects. Occasionally, I feel heaps of guilt for not being involved and serving the way I was raised to. There was a security in doing the same thing each Sunday, to knowing I was serving God and the church community, and in receiving approval from the circle I was in.
After major life changes in the past two years, including leaving the church I was involved in and getting a divorce, I’ve been finding new ways to relate to God and think about spiritual matters. This can make me feel unsure of myself as a spiritual person, as a believer, as I explore outside of the familiar framework I’ve leaned on since childhood. Will I return to a local expression of faith some day? Perhaps I will. I like to think I will.
For now, I’m looking for God everywhere I am, as I always have. I am retaining my relationships with friends who believe. We share thoughts and ideas, holding real and honest conversations about church and faith. After leaving the community I came from and spending this past year asking myself what I believe and what do I identify with, I sense a close connection with Celtic Spirituality or Celtic Christianity.
What mattered to the ancient Celtic believers resonates with me: having a hope-filled outlook, caring for our environment, appreciating art and music and using them as an expression of worship, being hospitable and open to change, etc. Like the Celtic Christians, I use imagination as a way to connect to and understand the divine. Although these characteristics can be found in other faiths and indeed, in other forms of Christianity, this is where I feel most at home. It’s interesting, because as a young adult of eighteen or nineteen, I felt drawn to this way, and here I am again. As T.S. Eliot said,
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
As I always have, I enjoy finding resources to enrich and develop my spiritual understanding.
Here is one tool I use to dig deep: it employs the practice of a weekly and one yearly examen, or reflection of my days in these seven areas: spirit, mind, body, work, home, relationships, and resource stewardship. There is also a moving forward or “reset” for the week ahead. Included is spaced to develop something called a “Rule of Life” that one can develop as a way to be intentional about personal priorities for daily living. Check it out:
The next three books enrich my spiritual journey. Maybe they would do the same for you.
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessingsby John O’Donahue would make a lovely gift to another or oneself. I received my copy as a gift. The contents are grouped by “Beginnings”, “Desires”, “Thresholds”, “Homecomings”, “States of Heart”, “Callings”, and “Beyond Endings”. No one wrote quite like him. The grace and musicality of his words, poetry or prose, speak and reach into the dark and confused places, as well as the light and clear ones. Here is an excerpt from the poem “For The Interim Time”
You cannot lay claim to anything: In this place of dusk, Your eyes are blurred; And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart And you can see nowhere to put your trust; You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence. Do not allow your confusion to squander This call which is loosening Your roots in false ground, That you might come free From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind, And it is more difficult and slow to become new. The more faithfully you can endure here, The more refined your heart can become For your arrival in the new dawn.
The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner. I’ve only just begun reading and savoring the content in this book, exploring the practices and engaging in the artistic reflections. Week Three, for example, “Sacred Tools and Sacred Spaces“, discusses the sacraments of daily life, the sacred art of living and then engages the reader with contemplative practices–lectio divina, reflection questions, visual art exploration, and poetry exploration. It’s deep, but has fun hands-on ways to explore and express.
The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen, I’ve already mentioned this week, but here it is again. This was his personal journal from a very dark, anxious and fearful season in his life–his journey through. A friend of mine gave it to me at the start of a dark, fearful season of my own.
So here is a glimpse into my own story of faith. I’d love to hear from you–what’s encouraging you today?
* (Disclaimer: I’m not encouraging anyone to leave their church or local expression of faith. There is plenty of life, growth, encouragement and goodness to be found in thriving faith communities the world over. If you have found such a place, I hope you can stay, call it home and become one of the family.)