stress relief through knitting

Are You Truly Aware of Your Stress?

I write often about stress – deadline stress, secondhand stress, workplace stress, holiday stress, and even why we are stressed. I bring up this topic often not only because of the negative health effects of stress, but because stress keeps us from truly living our lives.

How aware are you of the negative effects of stress in your life?

Are you aggravated and terse with your family?

Have you stopped doing things that you love?

Are you making poor choices?

Do you find yourself inefficient and ineffective?

The other day I spoke with someone in job transition. She was very stressed about finding a new job as she is the breadwinner of the family and healthcare is a necessity. Her thoughts kept swirling around her fears. She had moved into a constant stress mode – shutting down her body and her reasoning mind. She had a hard time concentrating and didn’t seem to move quickly or efficiently in her search. The stress of finding a job was actually preventing her from finding one.

When we are in the midst of stress, we – as wonderful thoughtful caring intelligent individuals – cease to exist. Our primitive survival brain takes over. A strange being infiltrates our body and clouds our mind. We react to issues from a place of fear. We are mired in our fight-or-flight reactionary circuitry. We are not thinking, only reacting. We lose our cognitive rational mind. Often we are so focused on our fears and stress, we are not truly aware of what is happening to us. I am sure every day you mention something about being stressed, overwhelmed, or being too busy. But are you truly aware of your stress level and how it is keeping you from living the way you desire?

stress relief through knittingThis is why April is Stress Awareness Month. The key to minimizing unhelpful stress is to first become aware of it. We can not change what we can not see. If you talk to someone who is stressed, you can hear their voice rise, see their muscles tighten, and witness their shallow breathing. But they don’t see it. Like a bull in the ring, they can only see red; they only see the trigger of their stress and not what it is doing to them. Without the ability to turn off their survival mind, they stay blind to what is happening to them. In order to become aware of our stress, we need the State of Gray.

In my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I talk about the State of Gray as a pathway to disengaging our stress mind allowing us to become aware of our actions. Meditation is the most commonly thought of way to get into the State of Gray. For those in the throes of stress, taking thirty minutes to get into a Zen-like state can be impossible. Luckily we have many ways to achieve a State of Gray, and meditation is just one of them. You can also strengthen your right brain through yoga, guided imagery, conscious breathing, chanting, self-hypnosis, prayer, or any activity that gives your left brain a rest. If your monkey chatter and stress levels are high, find some activities that occupy your mind just enough to keep it busy, but not frantic. When I am too crazed to quiet myself into meditation, one of my favorite ways to unplug is to play solitaire. Solitaire is just enough thinking and enough routine to occupy my left brain, allowing more space for my right brain to breathe. Other people have found success through knitting, running, and other forms of repetitive movement. Be a kid. Get lost in something creative like coloring or humming your favorite song. Try different techniques until you find the one that works for you, and then practice it at least once a day for fifteen minutes or more.

I always professed these alternate ways to obtain the State of Gray and therefore minimize stress. This came from my own experience and observation. But now I have proof. A recent study conducted by Wool and the Gang showed that 68% of respondents found knitting helped them overcome stress while a whopping 97% of people felt happier not while doing yoga or meditating, but while knitting. So as you look for ways to reduce your stress don’t think you need to become a yogi on a mountain top, unless that really interests you. Instead look to the things that you lose track of time doing. How do you naturally relax and recharge? Petting a dog? Coloring a picture? Then grant yourself some guilt free time to indulge in what you love.

This April practice the State of Gray, become aware of how stress affects you, and begin to make small changes which can have a large impact on your health and your enjoyment of life.

In honor of Stress Awareness Month, From Type A to Type Me is on sale on Amazon April 4-11, 2016.

woman smartphone

Virtual Versus Actual Reality

Do you feel sweat on your brow, does your heart quicken and your throat contract, does dread and panic spread across your mind and body – when you realize you don’t have your mobile phone? Then you could have Nomophobia.

This mental state, which is not recognized in the current DSM-V, was first labeled by a study conducted in Britain. The term “NO-MObile-PHone-phOBIA” was coined in Britain back in 2010 and was noted to be to be experienced by 58% of men and 47% of women. Steward Fox-Mills explains that “whether you have run out of credit or battery, lose your phone or are in an area with no reception, being phoneless can bring on a panicky symptom in our 24/7 culture.” I have observed this as an apparently severe aliment of the Millennial, but believe more GenXers and Boomers than would like to admit it are probably affected by this phobia every year.

woman smartphoneWhen did we become so attached to being attached electronically? When has a text, a Like, a link, or being Followed become more important than a live connection? When did we become more rewarded and connected to technology versus living breathing beings?

Knowingly or unknowingly technology companies have tapped into our neuropsychology, especially those of us who are extraverts. “Extraverts thus appear particularly sensitive to impulsive, incentive-reward-driven behavior by temperament and by situational factors heightening positive affect,” reports a study in October of 2010. Basically the more immediate the reward, the more the reward is valued. Every time we get a text, a Like, or an email we get a little boost. The reward endorphins can become addicting.

Lately I have been playing a silly gems-based game on my phone, and have noticed little by little how it has taken me away from others – away from life. “I matched four colors! I received a special tool. I made it to the next round.” Each ridiculous “win” makes me feel accomplishment – and then I can’t wait to get the next one. I want that high. The physiological reward overtakes me. Like any “doing” act, I feel accomplishment and pride in the completion.  And like any drug, the rewards are false, short-lived, and potentially harmful. Staring at my screen gives me immediate gratification, but the feeling is fleeting. I need to win the next round to feel the high again. Win, high, drop, repeat. Then I started to notice not only my addiction, but how it was affecting my life. I started to notice how I am reaching for my phone instead of looking my husband in the eye. I realize I am staring more at a screen than at the beautiful sea surrounding me. I realize my life and existence is relegated to a 3.7” screen.

Our modern electronic life offers many opportunities for instant – and fleeting gratification. The key of truly living and enjoying life, however, is to build joy over the long term. For lasting joy, like lasting love it is necessary to be committed to the long-haul, the non-flashy, and the seemingly mundane. Real joy is birthed in finding beauty and truth in every ordinary action and sense.  True love and truly living are not flashy. They exist in the common place, which is where we can find real fulfillment.

Think about your happiest moment, did it involve an award or the work which lead up to the recognition? Were you playing a video game or laughing hard with a friend? Was it the result of a carefully crafted corporate plan or the natural unfolding of a flower? My happiest moments have occurred at the top of mountains or near the ocean. I am not usually “doing” anything. My entire being is receptive of every sound, smell, glimmer, color, and texture. I am engaged. I am connected to nature and others. The difference is being fully in my body. Electronics take us out of our bodies; they restrict us to only a small portion of our brains. To be truly alive, to be truly happy, we must occupy our entire minds, our entire bodies, and our entire spirits.

Where you are filling yourself with instant and fleeting gratification? Where are you consumed with virtual versus actual reality? What precious moments are you missing? How can you bring yourself back to a real, long-lasting, consistent, and joyful life?

Make a start by joining me this weekend for the National Day of Unplugging. Don’t just turn off your phone, but all of your electronic devices. See if you can connect with your family, your friends, your loved ones, nature, and yourself this weekend.

cabo san lucas mexico

Best Laid Plans

The day before we left for Mexico, my friend Kristina generously offered to give me a massage. As she is amazingly talented I could not refuse. The problem was that Kristina comes to people’s homes, and I had no home. My mother was to be out for the morning so we arranged to meet at her house. The first half of the massage was wonderful. After months of stress, here was my opportunity to relearn how to relax and receive again. I was just beginning to reconnect with my calm peaceful center and my mother came home. Then my husband arrived. Spa time was over. Laughter emerged. So much for relaxation! For the second half of the massage the house was filled with voices and movement. Afterwards Kristina said she felt this was to be my life for the next year. She was right.

north dakota oil field housing
Man camp accomodations

As a recovering Type A, I was very proud of only scheduling hotels for the first four days of our trip, not all twenty-one. We had some idea of where we would be when, but we did not make commitments except for the first few days. I quickly learned that even four days was too long of a time to plan. Our second day on the road took much longer than expected. Arriving at my brother’s at eight in the evening did not leave us long to visit. As I had clients the next day, I had wanted to be at a hotel to ensure good internet connection. My brother confirmed the quality of his internet and so we spent two nights in his fifth-wheeler in a North Dakota “man camp” having to switch South Dakota hotel and plans for the next few days. This is when I stopped planning.

It was obvious this trip was not one of simple travel to a new home. The experience of this trip was also one of shedding old ways and learning a new way to be. For the rest of the trip we only knew a day or two ahead of time where we would be. We got into the flow. We changed plans as to where we were going due to forest fires and difficult terrain for our vehicle. We stopped where we wanted to stop. We took a detour to stay in a hotel with hot springs. We arrived in California without a hotel reservation. Scheduling, planning, and deadlines were all removed. We were learning how to move moment by moment and it was wonderful and strangely new.

cabo san lucas mexicoIt was necessary to learn this new way of being. When we arrived in Mexico, we learned that we had to be in the flow. Punctuality is not part of the Mexican culture. Being hours or sometimes days late, or changing meetings at the last minute is the norm. The concept of time was completely different than what I was used to. Also as we were not living in our own home, I had to adjust to a constant flow of others coming through unannounced. Time and space were no longer things I could control (or think I could control). The first few weeks in Mexico were challenging because it was such a big shift shedding the last of my Type-A super planner controller and really learning to slow down, accept the perpetual chaos that is life, and embrace a relaxed flowing state of being.

Where in your life are you trying to control time, space, or activities? Can you really control them? Does trying to control them feel good? How does your desire to control affect others? Where can you try to let go of control and watch things naturally play out? How does letting go change your experience? Share your thoughts with us here.

Death to Multitasking

I love going to Mexico. For every task, there is a “guy” who does it. They do not have jack-of-all-trades handymen. If you are working on your house, you do not call one person, but have to contact a separate plumber, electrician, and painter. And it is not just about home repairs. If you need your shoes shined, there is a guy for that. Our Mexican friend would never consider shining her own shoes; it is not her role and she would be taking away someone else’s job. She looks at us with a quizzical face when we talk about how much we do on our own. If you need a key made in Mexico, you don’t go to Ace but to the locksmith. If you need supplies for dinner, you have to make three stops to the carnicería (butcher), the tortillera (tortilla bakery), and verduleria (vegetable market). For every task, there is a specialist, a professional who gets it done. But not in America, we do it all ourselves.

We are a country of over-responsible, over-committed, overwhelmed multitaskers.

work frustrationOur professionals are not specialists but generalists accepting every challenge given to them. As individuals, we are not focused on just one role but many. Now with the advent of technology, we have the ability to do everything ourselves, and we do. Neuroscientist Daniel J Levitin points out, “Thirty years ago, travel agents made our airline and rail reservations, salespeople helped us find what we were looking for in shops, and professional typists or secretaries helped busy people with their correspondence. Now we do most of those things ourselves.” Think of all you can do at your fingertips: order groceries to be delivered, create your own business cards, research apartment listings, create an ad to sell items, and a host of other tasks. As I write this post, I am also having a conversation with my sister on Facebook and watching an online auction (and because of this, the article is taking three times longer to write). We pride ourselves on doing everything ourselves all at once. Adding technology’s constant connectivity and expectation of immediate response to this ability to do more ourselves, becomes a recipe for disaster.

Our brains are not wired to do as much as we are. We are not built to handle multiple projects at once. We think we can be at the same time mother-professional-philanthropist or do at the same time driving-texting-parenting, but we can’t. What is actually happening is we are rapidly switching between each role or task. And every time we switch, we are producing more cortisol, the stress hormone that clouds our mind, messes with the functioning of our brain, and negatively affects our physical body. According to Glenn Wilson professor of psychology at Gresham College, multitasking reduces cognitive abilities more than smoking marijuana does. Our multitasking is killing us.

Maybe it is time to slow down.

On our visits to Mexico, we immediately experience a slower way of life. No one is rushed, unless they are a visiting Gringo. People have time to talk and connect. The locals work hard but they are not frantic. Expectations of the community are realistic. No one is expected to be a superhero. No one is responsible for everything. Everyone focuses on their job, then walks away and focuses on their life. Things get done while allowing individuals to live.

Why not try it for a day, or just an hour. Instead of expecting to be able to respond to everything coming your way, why not see if you can focus on only one thing at a time. Turn off your phone and email. Release every other obligation and thought. See how focused attention can not only create better results, but also provide more calm and peace in your life.

To help you release your multitasking ways and in honor of April being National Stress Awareness month, sign up to win a copy of From Type A to Type Me.

It's My Life Inc.

What is Life Coaching Like?

That's me, Melissa HeislerThe other day I was chatting with two friends.  They both mentioned being asked what life coaching was like.  Neither had an easy time explaining the coaching process.  It got me to wondering how many others are not really sure about the process.  There are many different coaches out there specializing in different goals and using different tools and styles.  It is important to find the right fit for what one wants to accomplish and the right coach that matches one’s style.  To give you a glimpse into life coaching in general, I thought I would share with you what it is like to go through life coaching with me.

Why:  Most individuals come to me for one or both of these reasons.  Reason one is they are looking to make a change in their career or find their life purpose.  They may be a college student not sure of a major, an unsatisfied worker looking for more fulfillment or possible business ownership, an individual who has been laid off and figures this may be an opportunity to try something new, or a retiree looking to give back and still be productive without the need to receive a paycheck.  The other reason I am approached for coaching is stress relief.  It could be the stress of a job, balancing children and work, caring for ailing parents, or a host of other stressors.

How:  The coaching process I use is unique for each individual because every individual is unique; however there are some steps in common.  Before we meet for the first time, the client fills out a prework booklet.  This booklet is a brief history of that client’s life.  As a recovering Type-A, I like to move quickly so instead of spending the first few sessions getting to know the client, this booklet speeds things up so we can dig right into uncovering the client’s life purpose or relieving the client’s stress.  During sessions we usually just talk.  Sometimes I talk more, sometimes the client does.  After the session, I send homework which I like to call Life Work because it is for the client, not for me or for a grade.  The Life Work may be written work to help the client see things in a new light, it may be growing awareness of reactions and behaviors, or it may be creating new habits.

When:  Usually I meet with clients every other week to allow enough time to complete the Life Work.  If the client wants to move faster, we can do every week.  I try not to go further than three weeks as we seem to lose momentum the longer time between sessions.  I usually recommend committing to six sessions as this gives enough time to learn, explore, and implement what we uncover.

Where:  Sessions are conducted via phone, Skype, or at my home office in Arlington Heights.

Who:  Maybe you?  Schedule a free twenty minute consultation to see if coaching is right for you.

Ready to get started?