Expressive Writing Can Help You Heal

Give sorrow words;
the grief that does not speak;
whispers the o’er-fraught heart
and bids it break.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 3)

Expressive Writing Can Help You Heal

Confronting Upsetting Experiences: Expressive Writing for Healing

People often block out thoughts that provoke negative emotions as a way of reducing their stress and regulating their moods. However, intentional suppression of deep-seated emotions not only increases susceptibility to illness, but also amplifies the emotionality and associated psychological effects of the suppressed thoughts.

Discussing, venting, clarifying, or expressing a trauma is a natural human response. When this necessity is inhibited, emotional stress and physical illness ensue.

Facing up to deeply personal issues can promote physical health, well-being, and beneficial behaviors.

The scientific research on the benefits of putting negative experiences into words is extensive. Studies have shown that expressive writing about oneself and one’s traumatic or stressful experiences does produce significant health benefits. Expressive writing helps ameliorate mood disorders, reduces symptoms among patients with serious illness, improve a person’s physical condition after a heart attack, and even enhance memory.

Writing about Emotional Topics Brings About Improved Physical and Emotional Wellbeing

'Opening Up' by James Pennebaker (ISBN 1572302380) James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, first investigated expressive writing as a healing process in the 1980s. Since then, research that spawned from Pennebaker’s pioneering studies, has revealed benefits could accrue to those who were dealing with divorces, lost love, death of loved ones, job rejections, terminal illness, even college students struggling with first-year transitions.

Here are the main points about the expressive writing method:

  • Choose the part of the day when you are most contemplative (that’s the morning for most people.) Sit down at a place where you are not likely to be disturbed.
  • Reflect about a very personal and important event. Consider a significant emotional upheaval that influences your life the most or has in the past. Your topic can be about a distress or failure, lost love, health-, school- or career-related anxiety, relationships, inner conflicts, death of a loved one, or just about any topic that you would like to express.
  • If you’re writing about an experience or an event that involves another person, it can help to organize your writing as a letter to that person, whether alive or dead.
  • Write your deepest thoughts about your chosen event or experience continuously for 20 minutes. If you run out of things to write or reach a mental block, just repeat or recap what you have previously written.
  • In your writing, deeply explore your thoughts about the event and describe its effect on you. In other words, write both about what happened and how you feel about it. Think about how you can handle these events and their consequences now—what you can do specifically.
  • Connect your personal experiences to other parts of your life. How do they relate to your childhood, your parents, people you love, who you are, or who you want to be?
  • Write for yourself as your thoughts arise. Be as direct, intense, and serious as possible. Do not worry about grammar, spelling, comprehensiveness, legibility, or structure. On the opening day of writing, your stories are not very structured, but over the three or four days, you will develop a more structured narrative.
  • After writing for 20 minutes, do not look back over. Simply fold the papers you used, seal them, and put them away (read more about the “worry box technique.”) Unlike psychotherapy, the expressive writing technique does not employ feedback to the participant.
  • 'Writing as a Way of Healing' by Louise Desalvo (ISBN 0807072435) Make a mental note of how you feel. It is not unusual to feel sad or disheartened after writing—these feelings usually fade away in an hour or so. In research experiments, many participants have reported crying or getting upset by the experience of writing about emotional upheavals, but most participants testify that the writing experience was meaningful in helping them organize their experiences.
  • Repeat this exercise for four consecutive days. You can write about the same experience on all four days or about different experiences each day. If you choose to write about the same topic on all the four days, try to wrap everything up by the fourth day.

Note that expressive writing is distinct from keeping a daily journal in that it allows people to step back for a moment and evaluate their lives. Pennebaker once said, “I’m not even convinced that people should write about a horrible event for more than a couple of weeks. You risk getting into a sort of navel gazing or cycle of self-pity. … But standing back every now and then and evaluating where you are in life is really important.”

Translating an Emotional Experience Into Language Makes the Experience Graspable: it Can Help You Find New Meaning in Life’s Ordeals

New research has shown that expressive writing—followed by expressive rewriting—can improve happiness and lead to behavioral changes. Narrative storytelling of an unpleasant and chaotic experience may make the experience and its effects more controllable. For instance, according this New York Times article,

At the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, life coaches ask clients to identify their goals, then to write about why they haven’t achieved those goals. Once the clients have written their old stories, they are asked to reflect on them and edit the narratives to come up with a new, more honest assessment. While the institute doesn’t have long-term data, the intervention has produced strong anecdotal results.

Expressive Writing Can Help Change the Way You Feel About Traumatic Events and About Yourself

Idea for Impact: Expressive Writing Can Help Change the Way You Feel About Traumatic Events and About Yourself

Expressive writing is a method of self-help that supplements the value of therapeutic talking to someone accepting and non-judgmental.

By exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings with a reflective, inquiring, honest attitude, you can shift perspective. Standing back and reflecting on your suffering from different points of view can bring about an improved emotional state. You can create your greatest opportunities for change by confronting the realities, reframing your experiences in terms of your values and priorities, and identifying impediments that stand in the way of purpose, joy, and contentment.

For more on the means and methods of expressive writing, as well its many confirmed physiological and behavioral benefits, read James Pennebaker’s Opening Up: the Healing Power of Expressing Emotion (1997) and Louise DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing (1999)

How People Defend Themselves in a Crisis

How People Defend Themselves in a Crisis The desire to protect and enhance one’s self-image is among the strongest motives of human behavior. No wonder scientific literature is laden with discussions on the ways in which people invoke self-deception in the interest of maintaining a favorable sense of their selves.

People have a propensity to avoid conscious awareness of fear-triggering worries, conflicts, and uncertainties. They engage in thought patterns that distort the external realities as a way of coping with distress.

Psychologists use the term “ego defense mechanisms” to describe the pattern of thought and behavior that arises in response to the perception of psychical danger.

Defense Mechanisms Play an Important Role in Self-Preservation

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) wrote in The Ego and the Id (1923,) “We have come upon something in the ego itself which is also unconscious, which behaves exactly like the repressed—that is, which produces powerful effects without itself being conscious and which requires special work before it can be made conscious.” Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud (1895–1982,) and other psychologists identified twelve primary defense mechanisms:

  1. Denial: explicitly refusing to acknowledge the threatening reality even when presented with indisputable data (e.g. someone with a terminal illness rejecting the imminence of his death.) Denial may give the respondent some time to evaluate the meaning and seriousness of the threatening reality before reacting to it.
  2. Disavowal: acknowledging the threatening reality but downplaying its significance
  3. Suppression: intentionally engaging distractions to eliminate from consciousness any thoughts of the threatening reality
  4. Fixation: committing inflexibly to one specific mind-set or course of action
  5. Substitution: replacing an unattainable or unacceptable instinctual object or emotion with one that is more accessible or tolerable
  6. Displacement / Transference: redirecting emotions from their original object to a substitute object that is somehow associated with the original one.
  7. Compensation: making amends for a perceived deficiency that cannot be eliminated (e.g., a physical defect) by excelling in some other way.
  8. Grandiosity: exaggerated feeling of power or influence over the threatening reality
  9. Idealization: ascribing power or influence to an existent or imaginary “savior” (an individual or a organization)
  10. Defense Mechanisms Play an Important Role in Self-Preservation Intellectualization: thoroughly rationalizing a particular thought or action, by means of a misleading, but self-serving justification
  11. Projection: incorrectly attributing to others any objectionable thoughts or actions. According to Sigmund Freud, projection makes a person perceive his objectionable character traits in others as a means of avoiding seeing those very faults in himself. For example, a man who cannot accept his own anger may cope with his feelings by accusing others as angry.
  12. Splitting: fragmenting, isolating, and focusing on only certain elements of the threatening reality, instead of considering the complexity brought about by the crisis as a coherent whole

Idea for Impact: It pays to familiarize yourself with these twelve defense mechanisms and be able to identify them in how you (and others) react to emotionally charged situations, especially in close relationships. Defense mechanisms are natural forms of self-protection. However, used excessively, they can turn out to be pathological.

Reference: Cheryl Travers, “Handling the Stress” in Michael Bland (Ed.) Communicating out of a Crisis (1998)

Anger is the Hardest of the Negative Emotions to Subdue

Anger is the Hardest of the Negative Emotions to Subdue

The Lekha Sutta, an aphorism of the historical Buddha that has been preserved orally by his followers, identifies three distinct ways that anger manifests in individuals:

  • Firstly, the Buddha refers to the individual who is like an inscription on a rock. His anger stays with him for a long time; it does not war away by wind or water.
  • Secondly, the Buddha relates an individual who is habitually angered, but whose anger does not stay with him for a elongated time, to an inscription in soil that rubs away by wind or water.
  • Finally, the Buddha identifies an individual who is like water. When he is spoken to or treated rudely, he stays impervious, pleasant, and courteous—in the vein of an inscription in water that disappears right away.

Here’s a translation of the Lekha Sutta from the Pali by the eminent American Buddhist monk and prolific author Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

Monks, there are these three types of individuals to be found existing in the world. Which three? An individual like an inscription in rock, an individual like an inscription in soil, and an individual like an inscription in water.

And how is an individual like an inscription in rock? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. Just as an inscription in rock is not quickly effaced by wind or water and lasts a long time, in the same way a certain individual is often angered, and his anger stays with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in rock.

'Dhammapada: A Translation' by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (ISBN B000K6C8NG) And how is an individual like an inscription in soil? There is the case where a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him a long time. Just as an inscription in soil is quickly effaced by wind or water and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual is often angered, but his anger doesn’t stay with him a long time. This is called an individual like an inscription in soil.

And how is an individual like an inscription in water? There is the case where a certain individual—when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way—is nevertheless congenial, companionable, & courteous. Just as an inscription in water immediately disappears and doesn’t last a long time, in the same way a certain individual—when spoken to roughly, spoken to harshly, spoken to in an unpleasing way—is nevertheless congenial, companionable, & courteous. This is called an individual like an inscription in water.

These are the three types of individuals to be found existing in the world.

Idea for Impact: Learn to Corral Your Anger and Manage Your Emotions

Like everything else in the world, anger surfaces and passes away, restoring your previous sense of calm and stillness. Not identifying the nature of anger and allowing it to take over your state of being can lead to disastrous outcomes. Verse 222 of the Dhammapada (tr. Thanissaro Bhikkhu) states,

When anger arises,
whoever keeps firm control
as if with a racing chariot:
him
I call a master charioteer.
    Anyone else,
    a rein-holder—
    that’s all.

Anger destroys careers. It destroys relationships. As long as you lack the capacity to withstand negative emotions such as anger, you will be at a marked disadvantage in life.

How to Guard Against Anger Erupting

The Destructive Effects of Anger are Easily Recognized

Most people who have problems managing their anger hate themselves for losing their temper but can’t bring themselves to prevent their flare-ups.

'The Dhammapada: Teachings of the Buddha' by Gil Fronsdal (ISBN 1590306066) Here’s an appropriate reading from Chapter 17, “Anger”, of the Dhammapada (trans. Gil Fronsdal), a profoundly insightful compilation of the historical Buddha‘s teachings:

Guard against anger erupting in your body;
Be restrained with your body.
Letting go of bodily misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your body.

Guard against anger erupting in your speech;
Be restrained with your speech.
Letting go of verbal misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your speech.

Guard against anger erupting in your mind;
Be restrained with your mind.
Letting go of mental misconduct,
Practice good conduct with your mind.

The wise are restrained in body,
Restrained in speech.
The wise are restrained in mind.
They are fully restrained.

Discover Ways to Work with Anger and Other Negative Emotions

In its many forms, anger can be extremely energetic. When even a mild annoyance arises due to some apparent injustice, it can quickly grow and overwhelm you. Your inner peace is lost instantly.

When anger surfaces, it usually takes you over by the time you come to observe it. Your mind gets infuriated under the direct influence of aggression and can tempt you to act impulsively through aggressive words or actions—which consecutively feed even more anger.

The mind’s furor intensifies until you are able to lash out like a cornered cat. Even if you can repress your emotions in the heat of the moment, anger can manifest as a subtle simmering of resentment that you carry along with you for some interval of time.

How to guard against anger erupting in your body, your speech, and your mind

How to Refrain from Erupting in Anger

The most effective way to deal with anger in yourself is by not disregarding or repressing it. Science and experience have shown how poorly “anger containment” strategies work.

When anger rises past a threshold, it requires a reasonable and pleasing expression—an outlet, if you will—to be diffused. The key to expelling anger in a way that must feel good and fair is to invoke your calm, wise self and put out some of the fire of the emotion before moving forward.

To prevent anger from flaring out of control, practice the following first-aid system.

  1. Make a list of what triggers your anger. Most people get angry under predictable circumstances—when faced with situations that they see as unpleasant and unfair. Record events that trigger your anger: being insulted, being blamed unjustly, deceit or laziness in others, anything. Commit them to memory.
  2. When you identify a trigger—when you start to feel angry at someone or at something—induce yourself to immediately take a few deep breaths. As the Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson suggested, “when angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” Preferably, break away from the situation for a minute or two: step away, go get water, or go the bathroom. Removing yourself from the offending environment will buy you a few moments to decide how you want to respond.
  3. When you can separate yourself from the cause of anger, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if whatever you’re getting worked up over is a priority. Is the issue worth getting upset over? Put your irate-self wise by posing the following “5-5-5” questions:
    • Will this matter in 5 days?
    • Will this matter in 5 months?
    • Will this matter in 5 years?

The “5-5-5” questions will prevent you from being caught up in the little trivialities of life. Remind yourself how good you’ll feel if you respond as your best, wise self and how bad you’ll feel if you rashly fly off the handle.

Only when you’re feeling less agitated and more calm, only when your sensible mind is back, can you assess the triggers of anger rationally, and take action in an prudent way.

Idea for Impact: Guard Against Anger Erupting in Your Body, Your Speech, and Your Mind

The antidote to anger and aggression is patience. Patience has a great deal to do with being mindful about the storms of distress and refraining from doing or saying anything, no matter how strong the urge to do so may be. Reflect before you respond.

The more you can manage your emotions, the more effective you’ll be.

Seinfeld, Impermanence, Death, Grief, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed

Jerry Seinfeld Found Acceptance in His Father’s Death

Jerry Seinfeld This February-2002 article from the newspaper-magazine Parade quotes comedian Jerry Seinfeld on coping with the death of his father. Instead of recalling emotions of sadness and loss, Seinfeld declares he found acceptance:

His dad’s death at age 66, when Jerry Seinfeld was 30, was the first great loss of Seinfeld’s life. Did it crush him? Surprisingly, after a brief pause, he says no. “I tend to accept life as it is,” he says. “I’m not one of these ‘Life isn’t fair’ people. I tend to accept whatever the limits are, whatever the rules are.” He sits back. His love for his father is evident, but no more evident than his acceptance of the basic facts that the man is no longer around … “It’s okay,” Seinfeld says. And you get the feeling that it is.

Acknowledging Impermanence Can Foster Happiness

The above anecdote about Jerry Seinfeld invokes the Buddhist concept that everything—including life—is impermanent. The Buddha taught, “Decay is inherent in all component things.”

Life, Death and Rebirth in Hinduism Nothing in the world is fixed and permanent. Everything is subject to change and alteration. Life offers no control or consistency but rather impermanence and successive changes—youth changes into old age; the past changes to the present and then into the future.

Suffering, Buddhism teaches, is caused by unrealistic expectations of permanence—especially in relationships. Accepting impermanence can therefore lead to an existence with less suffering. Appreciating that everything in life is fragile and impermanent can foster an appreciation of the present.

Buddhist Parable of the Mustard Seed

Kisagotami and Parable of the Mustard Seed in Buddhism When faced with adversities you must feel and experience—not deny—your emotions, and then embark on a healing process by looking at the situation in a more realistic light.

The Buddha used a well-known parable to help a woman prevail over the death of her son. Here is the “Parable of the Mustard Seed” from British Pali scholar T W Rhys Davids‘s Buddhism: A Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha (1894:)

Kisagotami is the name of a young girl, whose marriage with the only son of a wealthy man was brought about in true fairy-tale fashion. She had one child, but when the beautiful boy could run alone, it died.

The young girl in her love for it carried the dead child clasped to her bosom, and went from house to house of her pitying friends asking them to give her medicine for it. But a Buddhist mendicant, thinking “She does not understand,” said to her, “My good girl, I myself have no such medicine as you ask for, but I think I know of one who has.” “O tell me who that is,” said Kisagotami. “The Buddha can give you medicine; go to him,” was the answer.

She went to Gautama, and doing homage to him, said, “Lord and master, do you know any medicine that will be good for my child?” “Yes, I know of some,” said the Teacher. Now it was the custom for patients or their friends to provide the herbs which the doctors required, so she asked what herbs he would want. “I want some mustard-seed,” he said; and when the poor girl eagerly promised to bring some of so common a drug, he added, “You must get it from some house where no son, or husband, or parent, or slave has died.” “Very good,” she said, and went to ask for it, still carrying her dead child with her.

The people said, “Here is mustard seed, take it”; but when she asked, “In my friend’s house has any son died, or a husband, or a parent or slave?” they answered, “Lady, what is this that you say; the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then she went to other houses, but one said, “I have lost a son “; another, “We have lost our parents”; another, “I have lost my slave.”

At last, not being able to find a single house where no one had died, her mind began to clear, and summoning up resolution, she left the dead body of her child in a forest, and returning to the Buddha paid him homage. He said to her, “Have you the mustard seed?” “My Lord,” she replied, “I have not; the people tell me that the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then he talked to her on that essential part of his system the impermanency of all things, till her doubts were cleared away, and, accepting her lot, she became a disciple and entered the first Path.

Buddhism: Acknowledging Impermanence Can Foster Happiness

Swiss novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in Siddhartha, “I learned… to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it… Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me.”

Idea for Impact: The key to finding equanimity and contentment in life is to develop a heightened acceptance of reality.

Postscript: The Buddhist parable of the mustard seed is not to be confused with the identically-titled Christian parables in Matthew 13:31–32 of the New Testament: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” This parable also appears in Mark 4:30–32 and Luke 13:18–19.

Six Powerful Reasons to Eat Slowly and Mindfully

Six Powerful Reasons to Eat Slowly and Mindfully

Mindfulness is paying attention to whatever is happening in the present moment, with an attitude of forthcoming curiosity and open-minded acceptance. This enhanced awareness not only facilitates insight, but also reveals reality with a heightened sense of clarity.

Mindful eating is one of the oldest practices in mindfulness. Here are a handful of the most important benefits of mindful eating:

  1. You’ll Eat Less. For many people, eating fast entails eating more. Eating slower increases fullness and reduces caloric intake. Additionally, the more you slow down, the fewer calories you’ll consume. Here’s why: it takes twenty minutes for satiety signs to get from your stomach to your brain. Therefore, when you eat slower, you will have consumed less by the time your brain receives your stomach’s internal cues for fullness. At that time, your brain instinctively directs you to discontinue eating.
  2. You’ll Snack Less and Avoid Bingeing Later. Even if you eat slower, you’ll be just as fulfilled with less food as you would with more food. When you feel fulfilled, you are less likely to compensate for eating less by snacking later or eating more at the next meal.
  3. You’ll Enjoy More. When you eat slower and pay close attention, your senses get more time to expand your consciousness of the flavor, aroma, and texture of food. This consecutively offers more overall satisfaction thereby letting you end eating sooner.
  4. Mindfulness Helps You Savor Food and Eat Guilt FreeYou Can Still Enjoy Those Guilty Pleasure Foods. Even when you’re consuming tempting snacks, high-calorie foods, and sugary desserts, eating slower will help de-condition the notion that certain foods are good and certain other foods are bad for you. Overall, if you can stick to a healthy diet, consuming less-healthy foods in moderation is neither good nor bad. When you indulge your food cravings mindfully and savor every bite of pleasure out of them, you can dispose of any remorse about engaging in your guilty pleasures. In any case, what’s the point of eating an enchanting macaron if you’re going to inhale it mindlessly while rushing from one thing to the next? As I’ve written previously, one secret of dieting success is to not deprive yourself of your guilty pleasures. Cut back, do not cut out.
  5. You’ll Digest Better. When you eat slower, you’ll chew your food better. This brings about better digestion. Digestion actually starts in the mouth, so chewing slowly helps break your food down into simpler nutrients that can be used by the cells. Research has shown that the longer you take to chew specific foods (almonds for example,) the more you intensify the bioavailability of certain nutrients so your body absorbs more of them.
  6. You’ll Feel Better. Food can influence your mood. When you spend twenty minutes eating slowly and mindfully—and enjoying a meal—you’ll feel better and perform better.

Cultivate a healthy relationship with food

Mindfulness Helps You Savor Food and Eat Guilt Free

Dedicating time to eat slowly, mindfully, and intentionally—and enjoying the pleasure of food—can make an enormous difference in your diet and health, especially when the rhythm of life is becoming ever faster. Here’s how to introduce mindfulness to your mealtimes:

  • Set aside time to eat. Establish a calm eating environment.
  • Don’t multitask, watch TV, talk on the telephone, or check Facebook and Twitter. Refocus on your food after a distraction or an interruption.
  • Make a conscious effort to take small bites, chew slowly, and pay attention to flavors and textures. If necessary, set a minimum number of chews for every bite.
  • Finish chewing and swallowing each bite before you put more food on your fork.
  • Take sips of water or your favorite beverage after every few bites.

Idea for Impact: Cultivate a healthy relationship with food. Practice mindful eating. Develop awareness, curiosity, and a bit of tenderness about your relationship with food.

8 Effective Ways to De-Stress This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to feel harried.

The “most wonderful time of the year” can present plenty of reasons to be anxious and stressed—even depressed—during an occasion meant for cheerfulness and celebration.

According to this American Psychological Association survey, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men reported an increase in stress during the holidays. 59 percent of respondents testified to feeling nervous or sad, and 51 percent reported symptoms of fatigue.

De-Stress This Holiday Season

Here are some practical tips to help you minimize the stress that may accompany your holidays.

  • Plan ahead and take control of the holidays. Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Look back at prior years and identify your holiday triggers (cranky relatives, gifts, financial pressures, and end-of-the-year demands at work, etc.) so that you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. A little planning and positive thinking can go a long way in helping you find peace and joy during the holidays.
  • Get organized. Put first things first. Don’t get engulfed with demands and expectations. Establish relaxing surroundings. Commence each day by writing down whatever is most important for you to accomplish that day. Make decisions quickly and act upon them.
  • Be realistic and don’t pursue perfection. You are only one person—you can only do so much! Let go of your vision of a picture-perfect holiday. Be pragmatic about what you expect of yourself and others. Establish priorities, avoid procrastination, and let go of impossible goals. Relax and enjoy the companionship of family and friends.
  • Holiday Stress Relief Tips Take frequent breaks. When frazzled, take a nap, go for a short walk, read a book, or watch a funny movie.
  • Try adult coloring books. Studies have shown that coloring within lines inspires mindfulness—being in the present moment instead of in the past (associated with depression) or in the future (associated with anxiety.) Coloring books can set you in a relaxed, absorbed, meditative state and help you reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
  • Say ‘no’ generously. You don’t have to attend every holiday party you’re invited to—it’s OK to say ‘no’ to a few or all of them. Don’t skip the office holiday party, however—it’s a great opportunity to “get noticed.” Don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Meditate, if even for a few minutes. Sitting for just a few minutes of meditation can be an incredible sanctuary of calm and relaxation that you’ll seldom find during the holiday season. Meditation is known to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, strengthen the immune system, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Take time out of the day to lower your stress levels and focus on your well-being.
  • Maintain healthy eating and exercise habits. The holiday season is notorious for ruining healthy habits and adding a few extra pounds to waistlines. Fend off holiday weight gain by being mindful of what you eat and regulating portion sizes. Avoid starving yourself in anticipation of eating at holiday parties. Instead, consume some nourishing snacks to fill you up before dinner parties. Try simple, small workouts each day. Maintain a food and workout journal to help you stay committed to your health goals.

Tips to Relax During the Holidays

Idea for Impact: This holiday season, your needs belong to the top

When demands for your time intensify during the holiday season, you need to do more for yourself—not less.

In spite of everything, the holidays are less about gatherings, grub, and gifts—and more about finding peace and serenity for yourself and sharing it with your loved ones.

Happy holidays everyone!

Crayons and Coloring Paper Aren’t Just for Kids

Adult coloring books, composed of outlines of designs (geometric patterns, for example) that you can fill in with colored pencils or pens, have become hugely popular over the last few years.

'Secret Garden' by Johanna Basford (ISBN 1780671067) Coloring books for adults have been around for decades. However, the publication of French publisher Hachette Pratique’s Art-therapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress (2012) and Scottish artist Johanna Basford‘s bestselling Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book (2013) and Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book (2015) ushered in a social phenomenon. Adult coloring books are among the top sellers on Amazon, and completed colored-in sheets are trending on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. And according to a New Yorker article, coloring books are “also part of a larger and more pervasive fashion among adults for childhood objects and experiences.”

Therapeutic Benefits of Coloring: Concentration and Mindfulness

The emotional benefits of drawing, coloring, and other forms of expressive art was first promoted in the 1920s by the eminent Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung. He noticed that coloring mandalas (ritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism) had a calming effect on his adult patients. He journalized (compiled in Jung on Active Imagination (1997)),

I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time. With the help of these drawings I could observe my psychic transformations from day to day … My mandalas were cryptograms…in which I saw the self—that is, my whole being—actively at work.

psychotherapeutic benefits of adult coloring books

Mindfulness Is Being Aware and Being Present on Purpose

Psychologists say that coloring within lines inspires mindfulness—being in the present moment rather than in the past (associated with depression) or in the future (associated with anxiety.) Besides, coloring books, like other forms of expressive art, can put you in a relaxed, absorbed, meditative state and help reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

In an essay on “Coloring Your Way Through Grief,”New York Times columnist Jane Brody discussed the many psychotherapeutic benefits of coloring:

While art therapy has been used for decades to help people express what they can’t put into words, filling in the spaces of a coloring book has a different kind of benefit: enabling people to relax and be more focused…. Coloring within an outlined structure can help to contain and organize feelings of distress and helplessness. Today, there are adult coloring books to help alleviate stress and anxiety, release anger, induce calm and enhance mindfulness… [They can] help people with losses of every kind, including illness, divorce, financial ruin, post-addiction—anything that might force people to redefine their identity.

Idea for Impact: Try adult coloring books for emotional grounding and relaxation. Many colorists find that selecting colors is reassuring. The intentional focus on the coloring process and the repetitive movements can form the underpinning of many self-soothing activities.

Temper Your Expectations: Avoid Disappointments in Life

Temper Your Expectations: Avoid Disappointments in Life

The Buddha’s vision of existence is expressed in the truth of pain and suffering. He taught that redemption comes solely from knowledge, the root of which lies in awareness of the reasons for suffering.

'Wisdom of the Buddha' by Max Muller (ISBN 0486411206) According to the first of the Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths, worldly existence is fundamentally unsatisfactory: “This is the truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.”

Core to the Buddhist approach to life is to lower our expectations, thereby raising our joys. If pain and suffering constitute the gap between what we want and what we have, surely we have the power to change what we want.

Verse 94 in The Dhammapada (ref. Max Muller‘s Wisdom of the Buddha) declares, “The gods even envy him whose senses, like horses well broken in by the driver, have been subdued, who is free from pride, and free from appetites.”

'The Discourses of Epictetus' by Arrian, George Long (ISBN 1934255319) Mirroring the Buddha’s teaching, the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus (55–135 CE) taught the following (ref. the Enchiridion or the Manual of Epictetus compiled by his disciple Arrian):

But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; … If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child, or your wife, say that you only kiss things which are human, and thus you will not be disturbed if either of them dies. … Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. … Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. … Whoever, then, would be free, let him wish nothing … wish things to be only just as they are, and him only to conquer who is the conqueror, for thus you will meet with no hindrance.”

Idea for Impact: Trying to change people will result in frustration and futility. They may change in a short time, but unless there is a compelling reason for change (e.g., a significant emotional event that shocks them,) people go back to their natural state. Find the people who have the behaviors you want and teach them the skills they need to be productive.

Choose Not to Be Offended, and You Will Not Be: What the Stoics Taught

Choose Not to Be Offended, and You Will Not Be: What the Stoics Taught

When somebody offends you or causes you distress, think of the anxiety as their problem, not yours.

The Stoic philosophers taught that if you choose not to be offended by others’ actions, you will not be. An offense is up to your interpretation. Instead, treat others with kindness and assert your autonomy.

This moral is exemplified in the following clip from the movie Gandhi (1983) portraying racial discrimination in South Africa and Gandhi’s espousal of Christian values. A young Gandhi and his friend Charles Freer Andrews are walking in a Johannesburg suburb when they’re accosted by menacing louts who yell “Look what’s comin’!” and “A white shepherd leading a brown Sammy!” (Sammy—for swami—was a South African derogatory term for an Indian.) Despite Andrews’s misgivings, Gandhi strides along rather nervously and invokes the Christian principle of turning the other cheek. When one lout’s intentions of “cleaning up the neighborhood a little” are disrupted by his mother, Gandhi responds, “You’ll find there’s room for us all!”

Mastering an Offensive Situation Is Ultimately a Matter of Mastering Yourself

'Meditations: A New Translation' by Marcus Aurelius (ISBN 0812968255) In Meditations, the great Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote about taking responsibility for the things within your control:

Someone despises me. That’s their problem. Mine: not to do or say anything despicable. Someone hates me. Their problem. Mine: to be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake. Not spitefully, or to show off my own self-control, but in an honest, upright way.

Marcus Aurelius counsels compassion for those who offend you:

When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?

Strength dissipates when you choose to be offended, and harbor malice. Marcus Aurelius counsels acting compassionately towards those who offend you:

That kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere—not ironic or an act. What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight—if you get the chance—correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm. “No, no, my friend. That isn’t what we’re here for. It isn’t me who’s harmed by that. It’s you.” And show him, gently and without pointing fingers, that it’s so. That bees don’t behave like this— or any other animals with a sense of community. Don’t do it sardonically or meanly, but affectionately—with no hatred in your heart. And not ex cathedra or to impress third parties, but speaking directly. Even if there are other people around.

Another Stoic Philosopher, Epictetus, who advocated integrity, self-management, and personal freedom, wrote in Discourses (transcribed and published by his pupil Arrian):

For there are two rules we should always have at hand: That nothing is good or evil, but choice, and, That we are not to lead events, but to follow them. “My brother ought not to have treated me so”. Very true, but it is for him to see to that. However he treats me, I am to act rightly with regard to him. For this is my concern, the other is somebody else’s; this no one can hinder, the other is open to hindrance.

Idea for Impact: To Be Offended Is a Choice You Make

Don't Take Things Personally: To Be Offended Is a Choice You Make When somebody insults, mistreats, snubs, or disrespects you, choose not to be upset. To be offended is an issue of the self—it’s a choice you intentionally make. Taking offense is about what you want them to be. It is about your desire to change their perspective and behavior.

Try to isolate offense by choosing to respond differently: by overlooking others’ wrongdoings with compassion and reminding yourself that you cannot change others, just your own self.

The Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament) instructs, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11.) To be offended is a choice you make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon you by someone or something else.

Choose not to let others dictate your emotions—purposely or otherwise. Live life with the wisdom that nobody can make you do anything and that you alone can control how you react to your surroundings and circumstances. Choose to be more at peace.