Courage, Dear Heart (Wellness Wednesday)

We were getting ready to drive to a music gig near Keuka Lake, filling water bottles, ironing clothes, and packing snacks when I spotted the mail basket. I rifled through the pile and came across a letter addressed to me from the U.S. District Court. Oh no!!! (Oh, yes.) It was a jury summons–but this was worse than usual: for a period of at least a year, several times per month, an hour and a half drive each way.

At the moment I felt like freaking out, but we had a three-hour performance that afternoon, so I read it over once and set my freak-out aside until after our show. By the evening, my chest felt tight, by the end of the next day, I had a sore throat and my shoulders and neck were sore with tension.

I filled in the online questionnaire and gave a valid excuse why I couldn’t serve (my business can’t survive without me), but I have to wait three weeks to find out if I still have to go.

So, now I have a choice to make: I can live each moment until then in fear, worry, upset, dread, and panic, or I can find ways to act and think differently–with positivity, joy, and courage.

Gretchen Rubin’s Third Commandment from her Happiness Project is “Act the way you want to feel”. Does that seem too much like “Fake it till you make it”? But think about it: Where will those good feelings come from if we don’t take the energy we have and transform it into something better?

If you don’t happen to wake up happy and positive each day, do you just let that dark cloud of gloom hanging over you ruin your whole day? I’ve absolutely been guilty of this. I’ve also had days where I wake up super negative but do the things I know will propel me out of my funk.

The first scenario is a passive one: I just go with whatever happens, just feel whatever feelings I feel and act however I feel. The second scenario is active: I take what I have and make something better out of it. Do you know these are both decisions?

You and I can either decide that we will let our feelings run us OR we can decide that we will run our feelings. You are more powerful that you realize! You have the power to make or break your day!

But what about if you’re already an anxious person (like I am) and you happen to be in an extremely anxious season? The Fall seems to heighten anxiety for me and I know I’m not alone. We don’t have to take it! (Does this remind you of a certain Twisted Sister song?)

I wanted to share a list of things that help me calm down. Some of these I am learning in Ayurveda School, some of them I’ve learned in the HSP class I’ve been taking, some I’ve learned as an aromatherapist, and some I’ve discovered on my own. They all help, but there’s just one catch: We have to actually do the things!

Get up before the sunrise.

Practice meditation/pray.

Journal and write your manifestations. (Listen to Rachel Hollis in this podcast episode on why.)

Visualize how you want your day to go, walk through any known difficulties and decide how you will handle them. (Thanks, Brendon Burchard, for your awesome High Performance Planner!)

Develop a daily yoga practice. It could be 5 minutes or 90 minutes, but practice. There is nothing else like it for calming the mind, connecting the mind and body, and grounding you.

Drink herbal tea/coffee substitute. You know what? I don’t love most herbal teas, but I drink it because it calms me down. Lemon balm has been daily go-to. However, I just found a new caffeine free gluten free herbal tea that satisfies my coffee craving without the jitters. If you’re a coffee nut like I wish I could still be, you gotta try it: Teeccino Dandelion Coconut Roasted Herbal Tea.

Go for a walk outside. I always feel refreshed and my nervous system feels soothed when I do.

Eat lots of plants.

Have a gratitude practice. This could be in your journal in the morning or at night.

Keep a positives journal. This is new to me, but the teacher of the HSP class said sensitive people focus on the negative too much and need positive things to keep them grounded. Make notes of what good things happen in a day, things you love, moments of happiness, and then read through these when you’re feeling anxious.

Read poetry. YES!!! If you think you don’t like poetry, start with children’s poems and approachable poets like Mary Oliver and David Whyte. Poetry speaks to and nourishes the soul, the emotions I would say that if you’re a sensitive person, like I am, you may not be able to read some poetry that tends to be chaotic, angry, and violent. I tend to gravitate toward poems that express reverence for nature and that speak to the inner life of a person. These are a good place to begin:

Devotions by Mary Oliver

The House of Belonging by David Whyte

Favorite Poems Old and New by various

Get enough sleep.

Get a massage whenever you can and do self-massage daily. Even if you don’t get to a full body self-massage every day, which I highly recommend, at least do a foot massage right before bed. Some warm sesame oil and a drop or two of Lavender essential oil massaged into your feet will send you into blissful slumber.

Practice positivity. Focus your thoughts and speech on “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.” This is found in Philippians 4:8.

Spend time processing your day: thinking about and journaling about it. According to my HSP teacher, sensitive people need about two hours of alone time each day.

Take one day off per week. Does this sound impossible? I know, it’s pretty difficult for me as well. When I do it, my life is better. We all need adequate rest and time for recreational pursuits. Work on this one and I will too!

Use an aromatherapy diffuser near your desk while you work and in your bedroom at night. Turning it on for an hour or two at a time is a wonderful way to calm down your mind, emotions, and your whole body. Calming essential oils like Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Black Spruce, Cypress, and Mandarin are a few to try, either individually or blend a few together.

That’s my list. I hope you find some useful tools to help you handle bouts of anxiety. I would love to hear about what things help you when you are feeling anxious.

And, finally, here is an aromatherapy blend to use in your aromatherapy diffuser.

Calming Blend For Anxiety

1 drop Vetiver

2 drops Black Spruce

2 drops Red Mandarin

3 drops Lavender

PS: Today’s title was taken from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis: “But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.”

In Praise of Old Books

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 Emerson that 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 Villette by Charlotte Bronte when I finish Northanger Abbey.

I would love to hear what old books you are reading or plan to read this year!