Today, despite suffering from a flare of my TMJ due to concentrating too much this week (I grit my teeth when I am focused on a task), I am in a good mood. The summer term is over for my university teaching and my grading is done. I also received feedback on my dissertation draft and it is not as bad as I thought it would be. I still have to add some information to make it more cohesive, but four out of the five chapters are good. I seem to have gotten out of my slump when it came to being productive (don’t look at the laundry baskets waiting to be folded in the kitchen!).
So when my son asked if I wanted to make something in the kitchen, I thought why not? We experimented with baking a pie with filling from scratch. Sorry no recipe because we used two frozen deep dish pie crusts from Walmart and followed the directions for cook time from that. Everything else was a little of this and a little of that. We used the apples from my Misfits Market order…we had a lot of apples this time. The pie came out actually looking like a pie which I think is a first for us when it is not a Sara Lee frozen pie.
My house smells like Fall because of the pie and it has me thinking a lot about what the next couple of months will be like. It is way too humid out right now to enjoy the porch or the deck, so I am looking forward to cooler weather with the leaves changing. It is looking like we will still be social distancing. School will continue to be virtual, but my son will be a freshman…he will actually be driving in a couple of months. Scary!
While I would like to return to a semblance of normal, I don’t think we will ever return to the way things were before. Supermarkets gave me anxiety before the pandemic and now it is even worse. So I am thankful for Instacart and Walmart Grocery pickup. I have even setup some of non perishable things I routinely buy to automatically reorder every month from Amazon Prime.
As you know from reading previous posts, I love the concept of Hygge which is appreciating the joy that comes from life’s moments. I take more naps now, cook more at home, listen to music, play with the dogs, and spend time with my family. This is a time of reset and I appreciate that. Now I am going to grab a slice of pie!
“Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” – Christopher Robin
Today is Saturday, but it is a different Saturday. Today is a Do Nothing Day…leave the teleworking and the homeschooling behind. Okay, so technically January 16th is Nothing Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it today. Don’t plan on being productive today. Just plan on being…you may find that by slowing down and doing nothing that you actually discover something. Of course, doing nothing doesn’t mean just sitting in silence like a mystical monk on top of the mountain somewhere. But it also doesn’t mean that what you are doing has to be for purposes of anything other than you enjoy it and can relax.
According to a study conducted in 2014 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 77% of the people surveyed reported regularly feeling stressed. An almost equal percentage of 73% reported experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress. Half of those responding reported experiencing a negative impact to their personal and professional lives. The cost to employers for stress related health care or missed work is over $300 billion (American Institute of Stress, 2016). Stress is an epidemic plaguing many Americans. It can affect their relationships, their work, and their health. However, through making small “c” type creative endeavors part of their daily routine, an individual can see a positive return on their emotional well-being that can lead not only to a lessening of stress levels, but also prevention.
When we are stressed, the body goes into protection mode. Our blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, and our senses become more alert. According to Abbott (1998), “our hormones can also rise the levels of fat, sugar, and cholesterol in the bloodstream” (para. 5). When we are stressed, it can affect our mood and interactions with other people such as being short-tempered and irritable. It can also lead to sleep disturbances, constant colds, and in some extreme cases: death. Overall, being in a constant state of stress is unhealthy for us physically as well as emotionally.
According to Runco (2014), “[c]reativity can help the individual maintain both psychological and physical health” (pg. 110). While many creatives face a stigma of the “mad genius” where the creative is believed to be so immersed in creative work to the point that they let their mental and physical health suffer, that example has more to do with manic type states and does not actually categorize every creative. Actually, creativity can help to alleviate stress and build a more positive mood. Nicol and Long found that music hobbyists with low levels of stress were among the group that had the highest amount of creativity (Runco, 2014). Creative endeavors are one way to cope with the buildup of emotions that need to be let loose.
Maslow (1971) also describes a need for creativity as being part of his Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity is part of the highest tier of the pyramid because creativity is part of what is needed for the individual to reach that stage of Self-Actualization. Artist and author, Julia Cameron (2002) refers to this as “discovering a sense of perspective”. She recounts the story of a woman named Sarah who was described by many to be high-strung, crazy, and nervous. This woman went from therapist to therapist, treatment to treatment. It wasn’t until she began to use creativity tools as part of her daily routine that she began to find balance in her life.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who do small creative projects report feeling happier and more relaxed (Lewis, 2016). According to the study, “[i]ntervention designs are still relatively rare in creative research […], but research suggests that art-making interventions can reduce stress and anxiety” (Conner, DeYoung, & Silvia, 2016, pg. 2). In fact, the study found that the effects of small creative endeavors, small “c” tasks, could induce states of “flourishing”, as described by CsikszenItmihalyi theory of flow states. These states were recorded as lasting longer, up to a day longer, than the time the participant invested into the activity. If emotions can have an effect on levels of creativity (Runco, 2014), then it makes sense that the inverse is also true where engaging in creative endeavors can have a similar effect on emotions resulting in a more positive mood and therefore reducing stress levels.
Stress Reduction Strategies
One suggestion on how to beat stress is to play music; however, music alone is not enough to beat stress. Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine found that when played in conjunction with stress-reduction techniques, stress levels dropped for the participants in their study. They found that upbeat music was also the best selection to play during the activity (Harrar, 1999). A study of the relation of knitting towards stress reduction stated that many people choose hobbies as a way to reduce stress because these types of activities can provide a distraction from the stressor and also provide the individual with a feeling of control in the situation (Utsch, 2007). While avoiding a problem is not healthy, immersing the self into an activity like knitting can induce a feeling of concentration that allows for a more mindful and present sense of being. There may also be connections to Csikszentmilhalyi’s concept of flow and Torrance’s studies of Japanese satori (Runco, 2014). Similarly to knitting, baking is another small creative activity that can provide focus and control (Lewis, 2016).
Journaling and creative writing are another method for relieving stress and contributing to positive mood building. Building on the work of Maslow’s self-actualization, researchers have found that if an individual participated in positive-writing, this was followed by an increase in mood and well-being. The study also found that writing created an outlet for solving problems and working through difficult experiences. In addition to affecting mood, there was also a documented increase in immune function as well (Lowe, 2006). As was mentioned in the work of Lowe (2007), positive-writing can increase mood and well-being. However, it is also important to record moments of triumph or success. Dr. Stacy Shaw Welch, Director of the Anxiety and Stress Reduction Center of Seattle recommends keeping a folder of past successes and referring to that folder when struggling or feeling anxious about a current project. By doing this, it can lay waste to the internal squelchers that distract us from believing that we are capable of accomplishing our goals (Weiner, 2007). According to Runco (2014), it is important to not only stimulate a good mood, but also to know why one is in a good mood. Therefore, it is important to keep notes or some type of journaling for reflection purposes as well as being able to analyze what task or routine was being completed that lead to the good mood.
Runco (2014) also suggests as creative tools the idea of shifting the perspective of a problem so you can see it from another angle or turning it upside down. The benefits of looking at something from a new angle is that it can inspire renewed interest in the problem which can generate new ideas and it also can change the perspective enough that new ideas will be generated because things will no longer be looked at as obstacles. A major way of changing your perspective may be leaving the problem entirely, taking a break and trying something new or even traveling. Runco (2014) states that traveling produces excitement as it can be stimulating. This change in mood can facilitate creativity as well as help people to be more grounded. They may even produce those aha moments because the individual is no longer so focused on the thing that was stressing them that they are finally able to think clearly.
So how will you spend your day? Will you pack it full of to-do lists? Or will you take a moment to savor the opportunity to find balance and center your being?
It has been months since I posted, but I needed to step back for a while. My dissertation is in the analyzing stage which means I am writing up all my research into the final drafts. We also just had my husband’s social security disability hearing. After three long years, we are hopeful for some good news in the next month. My leadership class jokes that I don’t sleep and I have to admit they are pretty close to the truth.
How are you hanging is there? Since we are in Maryland, we are currently sheltering in place. I am teleworking which is interesting. I teach virtually, so it is not much of a shift for me. However, with so many others also teleworking, the internet has been pretty unstable. My son is also just starting virtual schooling. We are still waiting to see what that will look like. It just started today and so far none of his teachers are fully ready. It looks like we are not going to have to worry about sticking to someone else’s schedule though. Thankfully, the days are nice, so even though we can’t go anywhere, it is comfortable to just be home. Today we had dinner on the deck and even spent time in the Swim Spa (it’s heated, so perfect all year long!).
There is no normal right now and if you try to fake that everything is normal, you are probably just going to add more stress. Take a moment to just sit and relax. Play music when cooking. Watch movies together with your family. Play a board game. Go for a walk with the dog. Set up a tent in your backyard…or even in the middle of your living room. You do you!
How are you going to remember these days? You can stress about them or you can use it to your advantage. Only you can say what will fuel your fire. If life is burning you out, then give yourself permission to take a break.
As I write this post, I am sitting on my deck with a cup of coffee listening to the birds sing. It is a little chilly still, but still perfect and tranquil. I know I have not posted any updates in a while. I caught the crud that has been going around and just getting the energy to read let alone write has been a struggle. The cough is little more than an afterthought now, so things are looking brighter and I want to make sure that I don’t let myself get too far behind.
My survey for my dissertation research closed for the second time. The participation was much better this time than the first go round. My supervising professor and I have decided we are moving forward with the interview portion of the study. That means a lot of work coming up. I have roughly ten people to interview and they are spread across the state. I am so thankful for technology to make the distance a little easier (Hello, Google Hangouts!). This month we also have the whole slew of doctors’ appointments for my husband. We may be busy, but it means we are moving forward.
I plan to post another round up of what I have read in the past two months. Though, honestly, it has not been much. But for now I just want to remind everyone to take a breath and enjoy the sunshine if you have it. Taking time for solitude and reflection is important for your mental health. So the laundry can wait; you will get to the dishes. Grab your beverage of choice and find a comfy chair. Sit in the silence and reflect on the good things that have happened in your life. Even if the bad outnumber the good, there is still something to be gained. What are the lessons that you can learn from the experience?
I just finished reading the book Joyful: the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness which talks about how things bring us joy. In the beginning of the book, it talked a little about how we become cheerful during the holidays because of the decorations and feeling in the air. This reminded me of the term hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) which is a Scandinavian term that roughly means that feeling of comfort and coziness that we get.
In recent years, the term has taken off as a jumpstart to a decorating trend, but it is much more than that. Hygge isn’t just things, it is a feeling. To have that perfect hygge feeling, yes you do need some things like pillows, blankets, candles; but you also need things like good food, conversation, and ambiance. Typically, we experience the hygge around the holidays because all those things are present.
After reading, JoyfulI really wanted it to be the holidays so I could decorate. I love that period between Halloween and New Year’s. So I have already decked out my front porch already in some of my Fall and Halloween decorations (unfortunately, a mouse got to my box first). It might not quite be sweater weather yet, but I am ready! Did this bring me joy? Actually, yes it did. No one else might have their decorations up, but I don’t care. Pulling into the driveway today, I found myself smiling to see my scarecrow and spiders there on the porch. I fully plan to stop at Dollar Tree for some more decorations to replenish what the mouse got to.
Do you decorate for the Fall or the Winter holidays? What are some of your favorite signs of this three month span of holidays?