Hiya, here’s the first post in another series of daily stress releaf ideas. It’s about my Stress Bramble exercise, which may help you if you’re feeling overwhelmed and worried about stuff.
I find it useful to get whatever stress I’m feeling on paper. And find it even more helpful to sketch it out as a bramble of stems and leaves, as if all the stuff in my head is intertwining like vines. Which is how I feel: tangled and messy!
Then when all of my angst and confusion is on paper, I can at least examine it and notice where I wrote the most. Where did I draw the most leaves and words? This helps me feel more aware of it all. And because I’m aware, I feel more in control and able to tackle some of it.
This one from last year shows I worried the most about my sister, which made sense since she was very ill with cancer. I thought about her every day, especially at night. My other greatest worry was, not surprisingly, my kids. The lockdowns did a number on their mental health. Gosh, I’m so thankful we’re coming out of this pandemic!
Have you ever used a mind map like this before? If you want to check out the full exercise, you’ll find it in the Leaf Your Troubles Behind book.
In the meantime, I wish you a stress-free day!
Just a quick post to let you know Leaf Your Troubles Behind: How to Destress and Grow Happiness Through Plants is now available for sale. You can buy it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and your local bookstore. Thank you so much for your support! This book started as a fun pandemic project that actually turned into a book. It’s aimed at helping you grow a happier in life. Also, read on for the three winners of the Leaf Your Troubles giveaway.
I’m happy to share the winners of the giveaway are Alyssa, Jennifer, and Donna! Alyssa, Jennifer, and Donna, please read your latest newsletter email for details on how to get your paperback copy.
And if you didn’t win, don’t worry. I’m giving away a few more copies on Goodreads! But the offer ends in 7 days so click here for details.
Finally, don’t forget that I’ve created a companion workbook, which you can download by clicking here. Until next time, have a great day and don’t forget to relax with a plant!
Earlier this year, I worked with a sleep specialist. I wanted to regain those luxurious seven and a half hours I’ve usually slept these last several years. But in January, I started experiencing intermittent bouts of insomnia and by February it became chronic. So I sought out a sleep doctor and worked with a specialist nurse to track my nighttime habits.
We went over the usual litany of possible obstructions to sleep: screen time in the late evening, the glow of nightlights, bed comfort, room temperature, unwanted noise, alcohol use, etc. These are all part of what experts call “sleep hygiene.” In other words, how well you accommodate your body’s natural ability to become sleepy and actually sleep. My sleep hygiene was quite good. I’d solved earlier problems of noise and light on my own, which left the last and most common factor in getting good rest: stress.
Investigating my Habits
I’ve experienced it a lot these last two years. The pandemic put a huge strain on our family. We had pets die. My sister was diagnosed with advanced cancer. Despite these circumstances, my nurse told me over 90 percent of insomnia cases are solved with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I was skeptical but willing to try. And so, I began a system of tracking my sleep.
I created logs where I wrote down when I feel asleep, how long I slept, and when/how many times I woke up. I also tracked when I got in bed and left my bed. It was all kind of silly to me since my pattern was stable. Fall asleep for a few hours, wake for a couple hours, then sleep for two hours or so. On really bad nights, I experienced very little if any deep, black out sleep.
Our aim was to figure out how much sleep I could generate. Some folks only sleep about six hours and seem to be fine so we needed to find out how long my body needed. I started staying up until one in the morning and setting an alarm for seven. This strategy didn’t help. I was tired at midnight but then overtired by one and couldn’t fall asleep. Plus, I caught a cold and felt rundown. So I ditched this method.
We talked more about cognitive issues and winding down my thoughts at the end of the night. This has been difficult since I’ve been dealing with all of what I described above. And then there’s always a ton of the next day’s work to think about!
My specialist advised me not to stay in bed whenever I was conscious as this often led to me seeing my bed as a place of worry and stress when it should be a clear-headed refuge. But I like to read in bed before falling asleep. I like to wake up slowly and let’s face it, there was no way I was getting up during the night to sit in a cold quiet house or wash dishes or watch TV.
The Effective Strategy I Discovered
In the end, I discovered a strategy on my own that gave me good solid sleep. It was something unexpected and easier than I’d imagined. And it had no tracking or psychological “shoulds” built into it. And of course no medication.
You might have heard of “morning pages.” It’s the daily ritual of writing three pages of stream of consciousness as soon as you wake up. The idea is to declutter your mind before going on with your day. Start off mentally free and clear. Author Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way, created the practice. And several creatives I know swear by it.
To be honest though, I could never get into the habit of morning pages. I’ve kept gratitude journals before but not morning ones. After I wake up, I’ve always felt too sleepy to journal and never had much clutter in my head in the morning anyway. I mean, I’d just woken up from being unconscious, which had wiped my worries and concerns away for the night.
So I flipped the habit around. Instead of journaling in the morning, I journaled right before sleep. I free wrote in bed, a stream of consciousness without editing. I started with how the day went. What was bothering me, worrying me, annoying me, whatever. I cut loose, not holding anything back. I bitched, griped, felt sorry for myself, bemoaned whatever went wrong. My grievances tumbled onto the page.
Also, I wrote down my not-so-emotional stuff. What I had to figure out. What I had to tackle. Who to call or email the next day. The stuff that was still unfinished and would carry over into the next day. I dumped it all onto the page.
The Unexpected Happened
After a few days of this, an interesting thing happened. I slept better. I fell asleep more quickly and stayed asleep longer. It was as if I’d drained my brain and it was ready to do nothing else except shut off. Since I’d put all those thoughts and feelings bouncing around in my mind on the page, I had nothing else to mentally spin out about. It was all external and somehow finished for the time being. What’s more, it was in a place I could refer back to the next day if I needed to. But heh, it turned out I rarely needed to.
Since I’ve been writing in my night diary, I’ve slept in a deep blackout sleep most nights. If I do wake up, I’m not automatically stressing so much about being awake or what’s bothering me or what’s on my mind. I feel more clear-headed, more relaxed and I fall back to sleep more easily.
It’s as if the page has absorbed all of my mental junk and is holding it there for me until I’m ready to deal with it again. It reminds me of David Allen’s system of Getting Things Done. He recommends writing out every little and big thing you have to do in order for you to clear your head of the stress that work generates. It’s about dumping all the unfinished stuff out of your mind so you can get organized.
This tactic is in some ways similar. I write for as many pages or as few paragraphs as I need. I don’t judge my writing or my life, I just record. Feelings and frustrations are best. And to be honest, since I’ve been night writing regularly, my days have gotten less stressful. Perhaps because I’m more rested, I don’t know.
Also, I don’t date my entries because I don’t need to review on what day which kind of stress happened. There’s not much point in that for me, although some folks may find that useful. I’m more inclined to write out the stress and move on. In fact, I’m thinking of recycling all my entries at each month’s end so I don’t judge myself for feeling badly about the same thing more than once.
A Recommended Respite
Nowadays, I actually look forward to getting into my bed. I journal and then, when I have nothing more to write, I read a light book and sleep. I encourage you to try it. If you can at least empty your mind of your stress and its related mental junk, you’ll probably be able to shut down for a longer rest. Then, because of that sleep, you might end up having better days since you’ll be rested, more clear-headed, and able to seize the day with more positive energy.
Recently I found an older book with some lasting ideas. Rory Vaden’s Take the Stairs offers great inspiration for those looking to stop procrastinating in all areas of their life. The one aspect though most people won’t want to hear is succeeding in life takes self-discipline. Vaden says you can’t succeed if you take shortcuts, like an escalator. Only if you take the stairs will you build muscle. Similarly, if you take care of the hardest tasks again and again, especiallys when you don’t feel like it, you will accomplish your goals.
Seven Principles of Self-Discipline
Vaden structures the book according to seven principles of self-discipline: sacrifice, commitment, focus, integrity, scheduling, faith, and action. Here are the most memorable things I learned from each of these.
Sacrifice. Choices that are easy in the short term are very often in direct conflict with what makes life easy in the long term.
Commitment. Changing from the question, “Should I?” to “How will I?” is the mind-set shift that makes all the difference.
Focus. Focus is about not allowing your attention to be distracted by less important tasks. The intensity of your focus is proportionate to the clarity of your vision.
Integrity. People with integrity align what they say with what they do. Achievers say they’re going to workout and then go do it. Achievers say they’re going to finish an important project that day and they do. You think it, you speak it, you act on it, and it happens.
Scheduling. We’re taught we need balance but Vaden believes we need to spend appropriate amounts of time on the priorities most critical to us.
Faith. Having faith is knowing that if you fail now, you’ll have something better waiting for you later.
Action. The three enemies of action are fear, entitlement, and perfectionism. If you let any of those three things guide you in the moment, you will procrastinate your intentions.
Overall, Vaden believes for high-achievers, success is not about skill, it’s about your will to succeed. We don’t fail because of poor circumstances, we fail because we lack discipline. Those are hard words to hear but also useful ones. Sometimes when a challenge is overwhelming and painful, it means a greater, more satisfying reward lies ahead. So we shouldn’t blame ourselves if we have a setback, just learn from it and get back on track.
Make no mistake. Self-help writer Gabrielle Bernstein’s latest book, Super Attractor, is definitely woo-woo. It offers mantras, it’s got the word “Universe,” all over it, it references the famous channeler Abraham. If you’re the kind of reader who makes fun of touchy-feely, pseudo-psychological books, then this book is not for you. But if you’re the kind of reader who can see past that and take the author’s advice for what it is, then you’ll get quite a bit out of this book.
What’s It About?
The premise launches from that mid-2000s television special called The Secret. The Secret talked about how when we align ourselves with the positivity and joy of the universe, good fortune comes our way. Basically, the idea is you manifest whatever your mind focuses on. So the question becomes can you “manifest” ten-thousand dollars? Probably not. But if you align all of your mind’s thoughts and actions with that goal, you may indeed end up with ten-thousand dollars eventually.
So while the idea is a little out there, I have to attest that it actually works. I’ve had situations in my life when I stopped pushing and agonizing over a “want,” only to have that “want” fulfilled only because I let go of my angsty desire for it and came at the goal from a place of detached, relaxed love. It’s strange. It’s happened to me with real estate, relationships, and career success.
As Bernstein says, you have to align yourself with what you want to attract. Part of that alignment is positive thinking, yes, but a bigger part is also concrete action. Every action you take, even if small, builds to form a fluid productive process toward your ultimate goal.
The Idea of Faith
But as Bernstein says you can’t push it. You can’t force it. You can’t agonize over it. It’s got to come from a place of love and joy and wholeness. You have to keep an open faith in yourself and the future. And that idea of faith is where the book gets woo-woo. Bernstein talks about her spiritual faith a lot, and she encourages you to do so as well. But she also says whether that’s God, the universe, a higher power, or another larger, more powerful consciousness other than yourself is up to you. The point is to swim with life’s flow, not flail against the current.
What I Got out of This Book
And so, once you buy in, I think you’ll find solid advice here. Bernstein, in her very organized way, guides you through the process. In early chapters, she helps you rid yourself of the negativity that may be holding you back. Then, once you truly feel aligned with positivity, she helps you dial into the abundance waiting for you. She believes the universe and spiritual guides play a part and this is where the book got a little far-fetched for me.
But then she goes into how to align yourself through what you do everyday to this larger plan, which I found highly useful. Also, her ideas about the importance of intention and gratitude also resonated with me. Plus, she wraps it up with some fairly useful ideas about how to keep your positivity going beyond the book.
So, if you’re looking for a book to motivate you into making changes this January, I highly recommend it. Gabby Bernstein knows how to effectively help us discover our best selves and that alone makes this book worth reading.