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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

 

Here are a few thoughts as we near the end of the year

 

A couple days ago, a search for someone’s coordinates took me deep into my journals from last year. I did not find what I was looking for but I did find some gems I would like to share with you here.

 

For those who don’t know me that much I want to say that I LOVE self-help books. Some are good, some less so, but I enjoy exploring these different takes on life. I usually write down what strikes me and it always seems so clear when I record the thought.

 

Lately, I have been struggling with the sense of time, how little we have, how fast days go by and what I manage to accomplish or not accomplish in a day…I’m sure most of us struggle with this at one point or another. The thing is, time is the same and the only constant for everybody and while some of our time is spent on necessary physical needs like sleeping and eating and some at making a living, we still have control over a large chunk of our time.

 

This is the portion I am concerned with; this is what we need to make decisions about. While the possibilities seem endless, one of these decisions is how we choose to perceive our lives.

 

Our reality is a selective act of attention and interpretation. I love this because it says it all “Focus is everything” and focus will change how we see our reality. We need to be aware and don’t lose sight of this fact.

 

Focus is a selective act of attention and what we focus on grows. So if we focus on what is wrong with our lives, we’ll continue to feel bad. If something needs to be changed, the focus should be on visualizing a better outcome and on finding a solution, not on the stressful situation or what we’re upset about.

 

Interpretation of “reality” takes place through internal dialogue, in other words during a conversation between ego and itself.

 

I admit I have often focused on the wrong things, bringing feelings of sadness and discouragement. I have been working on this my whole life and I now try to start each day with the conscious realisation that I can make the choice to focus on something positive.

 

Starting the day with gratitude is one of the keys. Focusing on what we are grateful about instead of what we don’t like is a good way to bring more good things into our life.

 

I found a trick to start my day on the right foot by writing this simple sentence in my journal before going to bed: “I am grateful for….” When I open my journal in the morning and I see these words, there are always immediate things that pop into my mind. I am grateful for a lot of things. And when I run out of things, I keep on writing these few words again, “I am grateful for…” and more things come up.

 

We don’t have to be grateful for major things all the time, even little things, small events will help. It is about cultivating a gratefulness attitude and it creates positive momentum in our internal dialogue. Somehow, this simple act conditions us to stay attentive to see more “gratitude-worthy” experiences to come into our life.

 

Life is all about energy and where attention goes, energy flows.

Sometimes, we need to actively reject negativity, avoid it. I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that our brain suffers from a negativity bias. With everything we read and hear on the news, it is easy to forget that life is still good and miraculous.

 

We all have to go through some trying experiences but it is important to remember that when things are bad, they will improve at some point. We need to hang on and focus on whatever is positive. We must commit to turn away from negativity whenever and as often as we can.

 

Since all negativity cannot be ignored all the time, being aware of this bias when in a negative frame of mind, can help keep away some of the feelings of fear, anger and anxiety and also assist in making the conscious decision to be positive and realize our purpose.

 

So if we want to improve our reality, we need to improve our focus on positive events and things. It is well worth the effort.

 

Let’s start this New Year with hope and make a conscious effort to increase positive energy in our life.

 

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Yesterday, I outlined the way overthinking and ruminating could take over our life sometimes, and why it just doesn’t work to find a solution to any problem.

Thinker by Rodin Photo©SuzanneBélair

 

Rumination can be very gripping and when we are in its web, it manipulates our thinking one way and the other. We feel stuck and compelled to continue in order to figure things out and find a solution but evidence proves the opposite happens. When we feel distressed, stressed out, no insight can be gained from ruminating. On the contrary, things get worse and we can start a downward spiral. So how do we break this habit once we realise that no good can come of it?

 

In the book “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky, some strategies are outlined. I started putting some into practice and, to my surprise, they work:

 

1- Distract yourself- break the pattern. It sounds simple but it is very effective when you remember to use it. As soon as you realise you are overthinking, engage in an activity that usually makes you feel good and absorbed like a sport. Move, read something funny, go for a walk with music you like and listen to the words.

 

2- Say to yourself, even shout “Stop” or “No” or “Enough already” and go on to something else you need or want to do. In other words, force yourself to snap out of it and find something else to think about.

 

3- Set aside some specific and limited time everyday, say 30 minutes, to ruminate and refuse to engage in overthinking except in that time slot. Chances are when the time comes, you won’t be able to ruminate.

 

Also proposed are talking to a sympathetic friend and writing. Personally, I don’t feel this would work as well. The friend might not be available at the time you need to talk and some fragile feelings of low self-worth or even shame might interfere with anything positive the friend would have to say. Writing ruminations down only makes them more real, it is rumination in the written form and will likely bring a feeling of helplessness when you re-read them later and are in the grips of it once again, thinking, Oh No !  I am still at the same point 5 years later !
In practice, each person does what works for them but the important thing is to stop the pattern before it gets too far.

 

Other actions to take are:

Put your hand in front of your face. Look at it. This is real. Your thought pattern is interrupted.

 

Take one step towards solving your issue. When you act and feel proactive about straightening out a problem, you won’t need to ruminate so much, and it will feel like you are going in the right direction, moving forward.

 

One thing I do sometimes is project myself in the future, “next year, next month, next week, it will be behind me”. Will this be important in 5-10 years from now?”

 

When I read the book, I felt I could let go of all my ruminating because it became very clear to me that no good can come of it. Rethinking decisions that have been made in the past, reliving sad moments or failures, imagining all kinds of negative things (even if it seems real), does not get us anywhere but down. I am working hard on freeing myself from this habit since I read about it. We need to move forward and realize that we do not control everything.

 

Better to use some of these strategies to stop overthinking in its tracks. I can say I am now a recent ex-ruminator. Like any habit breaking, it gets easier with time but awareness is important and remember, it does not mean you don’t care about the past, the future, someone else’s well-being, or have no problems, it only means you care enough about yourself to see that this is going nowhere, that it is only a big waste of time that could be put to better use.

 

Try the strategies, you’ll surprise yourself !

 

 

(1) Lyubomirsky S., 2007,The How of Happiness, The Penguin Press, New-York, London.

 

http://www.suzannebelair.com

©2014 Suzanne Bélair

 

 

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After a lot of internal complaining and feeling sorry for myself one day, I opened the “How of happiness”, a wonderful book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, that I recommend to everybody. I found myself at the chapter talking about “ruminations”. I must admit I am an expert ruminator and have been all my life.

 

I remember my mother telling me that ruminating was for cows- “Stop ruminating”, she would say. But despite this, my whole life sometimes seems like a giant rumination. Turning around and around in my head everything I don’t like. Have you noticed that overthinking is rarely about what is right in your life or what you are happy about?  We ruminate our problems and situations because we think that somehow, the more we think about it, the more we’ll find some insight that will give us the solution, the “key” to our own happiness.

 

The thinker by Rodin

The thinker by Rodin Photo©SuzanneBélair

But scientific research shows that it is the opposite that takes place. People that ruminate are generally unhappy and suffer feelings of distress and anxiety. (1) The author talks about rumination like a bad habit that needs breaking if one is to find some happiness. She gives tools to stop rumination when it starts, or as soon as we are aware that we started doing it. Although ruminators think that the more they think about their problem or issue, the more insight they’ll discover  into their own personality and solutions to their problems, or find the answer as to why something is not working, the opposite happens: Ruminators go deeper into their problem and their personal distress, bringing a lot of negative consequences to their life.

 

Sadness is enhanced and sustained, the overthinker becomes biased and doesn’t see reality as it actually is, it becomes a vicious circle. If we are ruminating on a problem, it impairs our ability to find a viable solution because our mind is being taken over by negative feelings, it saps motivation and often provokes a “victims” mentality where we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t see any solutions. It also interferes with concentration and stops us from taking any initiative.
So instead of gaining insight into ourselves and our problems, we gain a “distorted and pessimistic perspective” on our lives. If there is already a tendency to negative mood, the combination of ruminating and negative mood is toxic. Overthinking and ruminating will eventually take a significant toll on us and on our relationships if it hasn’t already.

 

I like that the ruminating is presented as a habit that it is possible to break. According to the author, becoming happier means taking the decision to break free from overthinking about both major or minor negative experiences, it is about learning not to pay attention to every bump in the road whether small or big, and not let them affect how we feel about ourselves and our life as a whole.

 

There is a real sentiment of freedom once we realise that no good can come out of overthinking and ruminating. It is the first step to recovery and seeing our lives clearly and finding happiness.
Tomorrow I will post some strategies to overcome this bad habit.

 

 

(1) Lyubomirsky S., 2007,The How of Happiness, The Penguin Press, New-York, London.

 

http://www.suzannebelair.com

©2014 Suzanne Bélair

 

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Perception of what surrounds us without the mental screen, without ego is what I seek. As much as possible, awareness can be attained with our full presence, our pure conscience, without the ego, being to being, experience to experience.

The “thinking” mind  is learned, not instinctive at all. It is made up of training, numbers, data, past impressions which have affected the ego. It is necessary to go more deeply into our being to arrive at a communion with what surrounds us.  Even our own reality is not accessible to the ego or our “thinking” mind which always seeks to label, catalogue, fit everything into some box to some extent in order to be able to appease itself and go on to something else.

Reality of what surrounds us is sometimes perceived for short moments, moments that open the door to a deeper understanding, moments that amaze us.

It is only by respecting the present moment that we can attain this perception, this magical wonder where everything becomes clear and simple. Finally, we think “Here is what I did not understand before, here is what I could not see”

This is what I am looking for and what I am trying to convey when I paint, this communion with the subject, the precious reality that is always impermanent, that we must accept as such.

Impermanence ©2013 Suzanne Bélair Oil on canvass, 12 X 24 in

Impermanence
©2013 Suzanne Bélair
Oil on canvass, 12 X 24 in

In practical everyday life, it is necessary to call on our reasoning mind. But it is as important to be able to disconnect from our “thinking” mind and connect with the deeper consciousness of what we are, and to the present moment. It is sometimes difficult to perceive with our inner being, to observe what is without judgement.

In his book “The power of Now”, Eckhart Tolle suggests a good exercise to arrive to this non-judgemental observation. He recommends we get out of our daily temporal mode as much as possible. If this is difficult, he proposes we observe our habitual tendency to want to run away from the present moment by thinking ahead, about what is coming up. This projection into an imagined future creates either hope if that imagined future is better than the present or anxiety if we imagine the future worse than the present.

In both cases, it is but an illusion and these thoughts influence how we live our reality, our present moment. He also suggests that this presence as observer of ourselves, of our thoughts, our emotions and our reactions to situations, will get us to see how our “thinking” mind brings us either into the future or into the past in a repetitive fashion.

Without making it a problem, it is useful to look at our thoughts, feel the emotion and watch our reaction to get to a point where we feel the calm presence that is inside all of us.

http://www.suzannebelair.com

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I have been working from home for many years. Back 20 years ago, when I had my business and the kids were still at home, I had a large office built in the basement. Then as a writer for the ABQ and finally as an artist, I always had my studio in my home but back then, it was still an open area where everyone would wander and comment. Not very much painting got done in those days.  It is not until my older daughter moved out that I claimed one bedroom as a closed studio space for myself.

When everyone was gone, husband at work, kids busy somewhere and eventually moved out, it was easy for me to carve some time for myself and my art and I must admit I was very lucky. I would unplug the phone, put the music on and drift into my own world of colours and shapes. Sometimes, I would feel my father standing beside me, also an artist who died many years ago.

Today, everything is different. We recently moved to a smaller house and my husband decided to retire, all at the same time or just about. After much consideration about getting an outside studio, I decided to keep it at home even if the space is limited. This choice came out of convenience mostly and also because I feel like I work better alone and without distractions. I also like the fact that I can work at anytime, even the middle of the night if I want to, without having to drive anywhere.

It took me over a year to be able to block out sounds from other rooms in the house and I still have some problems with this. It is getting better every day.  I still don’t write enough, not as much as I used to and this I blame on the loss of routine. I used to exercise, then write sitting on my couch for one hour before tackling anything else. It was easy when I had the house to myself… Sometimes, I would spend the day writing and researching.

We have to be flexible in life and it is not always easy at first when you are faced with major change. Here are a few tips to eliminate distractions and interruptions and get back our creativity that I found work for me.

First, I now dedicate a minimum of two full days to painting and a third to find inspiration and work on drawings and concepts. Since I have done this and told everyone about it, I find it has reduced  my anxiety of not finding enough time to paint. It is a compromise and I wish I could dedicate more time for my art like I used to, but it works for me and some weeks, I get 5-6 days in. But no matter what, my ‘’sacred days’’ remain.

For these two days, I totally refuse to get caught-up in any distraction or any interruption from anyone. I live according to my own schedule, I block out the sounds outside my studio, I don’t answer the phone. My only response to anyone attempting to interrupt me is ‘’I am not here, I am working’’. It happens less and less often now. This has lowered my anxiety level. Before I reserved these days for my art, I was constantly wondering when I would have time to paint, how I would escape without hurting feelings and feeling guilty.

I no longer feel bad or obligated to answer my phone while I am involved in my art. If it is important, they’ll leave a message. The biggest hurdle was to get over the guilt, to claim my own time and space but I am 95% over it now.

Structuring our time is one of the most important step in regaining control and creativity when we work from home.

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Slowing down. Is this opposite to what we all want to do or the ultimate goal?

I look around me and most people are running through life, me included. Trying to accomplish so much is as little time as possible. Already it is 10 AM and I feel the anxiety building up along with the list in my head which only keeps getting longer and longer Of course, I gave myself permission today, a Holiday, to sit around with my coffee after breakfast and surf the net a bit.  Each time I do this, I then pay with mounting distress building up and the urgency to get something done, anything done that will shorten my “to do“ list. And why? Only because of this pressure that I choose to put on myself when all I want to do is paint.

I know I am not alone. When I look around me I find that most of us live as if we are speeding down the highway of life, running to catch up with our own expectations, the expectations of others. We need to slow down, to get out at the next exit and reflect. Unfortunately, it does not get better when you get older, even after a full life of working. Not only do we now feel the physical pain of years of abuse on our bodies, but the pressure has become even more intense since we are very much aware of time slipping out at an even faster rate. 

This is why we need to commit to slow down even if people around us are not in agreement, or even if we are swimming against the flow.

It takes courage to stop and reflect, to meditate and admit that we have been going in the wrong direction, that we have lived our life speeding through it, and that now, we are looking behind and we’re not remembering half or even one quarter of the important smiles, hugs, joys, that should make out the bulk of our souvenirs and that should sweeten our later days.

Right now, all this nostalgia is reflecting in my painting also which is what upsets me the most I guess. Browns, gloomy grays, the colors or lack thereof are reflecting my thinking. I feel like I am at a crossroad and it is not clear right now what direction to take. I am in a shedding mood and will probably scrap a few of my recent paintings as I can’t seem to be able to finish them or be happy with them. I am surprised and sad that suddenly, the colors don’t seem to reach my canvas and seem prisoners inside myself. Somehow, I need to find a way to escape so that I can joyfully paint again. Maybe a few abstract explorations would help.

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Been working on my creativity but have hit a block a couple weeks ago. Is it because I am taking classes? Probably… Each time I get into a box and am told what to do or learn a new technique, it is what happens. Although I love what I am doing , painting portraits in black and white is challenging and easy at the same time. To get into the details of the face or clothing of the person, the hands… The exact moment when your brain clicks into the other mode and you suddenly see all the intricacies and variations, all the small nuances, when you are into it. Love it !!

I am trying to improve my art and my life one week at a time now. I decided to make one change per week and see what happens. It is my fourth week and I’m not sure it is working so far, but I am trying.

This week I am reflecting on an existential question concerning my art: “Am I doing the creative work I intend to do? And if not, why?” To answer this you have to start by knowing what it is you intend to do which I haven’t really figured out yet.

So , basically the answer is No, not right now. I know everything has to do with intention, decisions, choices and I’m all over the place. Well at least I’ve identified what I don’t want to do, so I suppose it is progress.

A year and a half ago, I decided I would use the next 2 years to explore composition and to that extent, I took workshops when I could. I need to loosen up and get into the right brain mode quicker. I take too much time to organize and plan yet I am never satisfied with the results unless I spend an enormous amount of time on my painting. These years of exploration have served to narrow down what I like though, but there is still a malaise, an insecurity, an impatience with myself that I cannot produce enough and to my satisfaction. I love to start projects but always get stuck towards the end with the anxiety of finishing, with the eagerness to start something new.

I love the heart thumping that comes with a new idea. I have come to the conclusion I will never have enough time to paint all the paintings I want to do, to explore all the subjects that interest me. I have to find satisfaction within this limitation. I was told this week I have to accept. Accept the limitations on my time, the limits of my body. I am not accepting this yet.

So I keep on anxiously exploring…

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