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Small Things Matter

I started keeping a gratitude journal when I had a bout with breast cancer 10 years ago. It was a health wake-up call for me on a lot of levels. Journaling allowed me to see the good things that were going on in my life and a way to shift my attention to the more positive things. It was hard to do daily, and still is, because it can be a highly emotional experience. But as I keep at it, I find greater emotional peace and contentment with my life.

How many of you have ever practiced regular gratitude journaling? Are you currently keeping one? If yes, maybe you will learn a few new tips, and for those who have never tried or have tried it and not been able to stick with it, hopefully today’s blog will help you make this a new, lasting, healthy habit.

Gratitude, like most desirable traits, needs to be actively practiced for it to become something we do without thinking. Most of us look at gratitude as an admirable character trait, but practicing daily acts of gratitude can have a big impact on our health and happiness too. These effects become more evident in the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. It only takes a few minutes a day, but the lasting mood boost it gives you can take you from feeling ok to feeling great on a regular basis.

What is a gratitude journal?

Quite simply it is a tool to keep track of the good things in your life. No matter how difficult or hard life can get, there is always something to be grateful for. When you are going through a tough time, it may be hard to find something to be grateful about; however, if you do it, you can pull yourself out of a funk. Writing the good things down in a journal on a regular basis also helps prepare and strengthen you to deal with the difficult challenges in your life when they do pop up.

It’s very simple to start: Simply write or type the things you are grateful for on a regular basis. Some people say daily, but I have found three times a week is plenty. It gives you more of an appreciation, and you don’t take things for granted. You can use a journal or a notebook. If you find it easier to do things digitally, you can use one of the many gratitude apps or even a Word document to write down the good things present in your life. So once you decide how you want to keep your journal and you have it, simply start noticing and noting the things you are grateful for. Examples might be: You got a promotion; you won your tennis match, your morning cup of coffee.

Benefits of a Gratitude Journal

So what have people noticed when they keep a gratitude journal?
It lowers their stress levels by shifting focus away from what is stressing them right now. It can help you feel calmer, especially when you do your gratitude journal at night. It can give you a new perspective on what’s important to you and what you really appreciate in your life. It also helps give you clarity on what you want to have more of in your life and what you can do without. It can help you find out and then focus on what really matters to you. You learn more about yourself and as a result, become more self-aware. It can make you feel accomplished, even if it’s a small accomplishment, and therefore increase your self-esteem. It can make you be more giving and generous to others. Kindness and compassion grow when you give them away. One day when you are down in the dumps, you can read through your gratitude journal to re-adjust your attitude and remember the many good things you have in your life.

So, it appears, gratitude journaling has a lot of potential upsides and no downsides. But how does it differ from keeping a daily planner, diary or notebook?
The main difference is the focus of the action you are taking. For example: A gratitude journal finds things to be grateful for. It focuses on what you are grateful for. A planner plans and organizes you schedule. It focuses on what you need to do. A diary records the events of your day, both good and bad, as you reflect on what happened in your day. A notebook is something you use to take notes for work or class or as a personal development tool, like setting goals. It is for taking notes about present or future events to help you remember important points. Each one has a place in our lives, but they are not interchangeable. Granted, a planner may give you things to look forward to and be grateful for, but chances are there will be some events or responsibilities that you are not so grateful for. A diary focuses on both positive and negative events from your day and not necessarily on what is good and helpful in your life. And of course, a notebook includes things that do not necessarily have any value to you. So gratitude journals really are unique…their only purpose is to help you notice and appreciate the positive things in your life.

Ideas for Your Gratitude Journal

Your gratitude journal is unique to you and your life. It is for your eyes only so you can write anything you feel without worrying what others will think. Here are a few prompts to help you start writing about all of the things you are grateful for:

  1. Write about a person in your life that you are grateful for. For example, your mentor, your mother, your best friend.
  2. What skills or abilities do you have that you are thankful for? For example, if you are a good cook, a good listener or a good tennis player.
  3. How is where you are in your life today different than a year ago, and what positive changes are you thankful for? For example, I’ve learned to slow down, smile and say a kind word to the people I encounter throughout my day.
  4. What hobbies or activities would you miss if you were unable to do them? For example, I am thankful that my legs still allow me to run after 40 years.
  5. What are you taking for granted that you can be thankful for? For example, your phone, your coffee machine, the clean, fresh sheets you slipped into last night on your bed.
  6. What materialistic items are you grateful for? For example, your home or the new Kate Spade handbag you found on sale.
  7. Who has done something this week to help you or make your life easier and how can you thank them? For example, my college intern who posted and sent out my blog this week.
  8. What foods or meals are you most thankful for? For example, the delicious dish you had last night at your favorite restaurant or the tasty, crunchy apple you had at lunch today.
  9. What elements of nature are you grateful for and why? What about living in Charleston are you grateful for? For example, the sunrise on your early morning walk or run. Or the walk you took after work the other day in downtown Charleston.
  10. What part of your morning routine are you thankful for? For example, your morning cup of coffee or waking up without an alarm.
  11. What aspects of your work environment are you thankful for? For example, flexible hours or supportive co-workers.

Plan to write in your gratitude journal at least three nights a week for 15 minutes before bed. Set an alarm reminder and schedule it in your calendar. Keep your gratitude journal by your bed or on your nightstand, so you will see it before going to bed. Writing in it at night helps to put you in a relaxed mood and therefore sleep better. I like to pick a pretty gratitude journal so every time I look at it, it reminds me to be appreciative. Write as many things as you want to, but 3-5 is a good number to aim for each day.

Remember it’s for your eyes only, so it doesn’t have to be “deep.” You can be thankful for your family, a new book or movie you recently enjoyed, or what you ate for breakfast this morning. Don’t just go through the motions, but be conscious about your “attitude of gratitude.” You don’t have to set a minimum number, just celebrate a few things you were grateful for that day. Sometimes if you are struggling to even start, come up with only one thing. Try to focus on people and experiences rather than things. Yes, it’s okay to be thankful for your phone or new pocketbook, but the joy you receive from important relationships and experiences probably impacts you more than a fondness for your things. Try to savor and think about each thing you write down instead of hurrying to write a quick list. Note surprises in your day and the emotional response they generate for you…things you didn’t plan. For example, an old friend you have been thinking about lately reaches out by text or a phone call.

Sometimes a picture conveys what you are feeling better than a sentence or two. Add a picture to your gratitude journal. Decorate it; get creative with it because this can help you stay motivated to use it. Last but not least, give your gratitude journal a chance. Do it for at least a month before you make any judgment about if it’s making you happier and if you are enjoying the process. If you have fun with it, I think you will find you look forward to writing in it. Whether your gratitude journal is something you write in or use on one of the many apps, how you do it is up to you.

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How to Make the Most Out of This Fall

As September ends I can’t say I’m disappointed. It’s the beginning of fall and the end of the hurricane season. And even though some Septembers are calm, this was a year that Mother Nature lashed out with a fury.

Luckily for us here in Charleston, all we suffered was a lot of anxiety and only a little physical damage. But as my thoughts and prayers continue to go out for our friends in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, I began to reflect again on what I have left to do in my life for the remainder of 2017. What do I need to re- focus on? And I start thinking about what I want to accomplish next year …Are there things I need to be doing now to make it happen?

Even though we no longer seem to have four distinct seasons here anymore, we do have the remainder of our lives to look forward to with good health and happiness. Seasons allow us to enjoy a variety of clothes to wear and a bounty of healthy choices at farmer’s markets. They also heighten our appreciation of nature and allow us to savor what is given to us naturally.

We can flourish and blossom in any season if choose to do so. We understand the power of rest, paired with diligent and consistent effort to reach our goals. But what we know and understand to enhance our lives is not always what we do.

Many Americans don’t take annual vacations or even unwind with a long weekend even though they know that doing so is a healthy investment. Others choose the other extreme which is to ignore anything that looks or feels like “work” when it comes to improving their health and quality of life.

There are excellent ways to schedule your hectic and overscheduled lives that allow downtime to balance, unwind and improve your health. First set goals around what you what to achieve, make them measurable and timed. By taking the initiative and following through to your desired goal, it will provide you with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment crucial to living a good life.

Take an objective look at your life. Are you stuck in the same routine? Have you scheduled your vacation or even a long weekend getaway? What have you accomplished and enjoyed in the past 12 months? Did you take time to celebrate the things that you achieved?

Give yourself permission to ebb and flow with the seasons, and within each, you’ll find something to savor and enjoy. If you do, you’ll always have something good to look forward to no matter what time of the year.

Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk…

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5 Tips for Breaking Bad Habits

This past week I was invited to speak to the Mount Pleasant Rotary Club on any topic relating to health and wellness that I’d like. Having been an active Rotarian in the past, I knew it would be a tough assignment because my audience of intelligent, middle-aged men already knew the basics of staying healthy. What could I tell them that’s new?

I opened with a brief description of my own bout with breast cancer, how I won that battle and what I was doing to maintain both my physical and mental well-being. Obviously, I explained, my health wasn’t as great as I assumed it was 11 years ago. I got cancer even though I wasn’t overweight, did not smoke and exercised regularly. So, I had to get extremely honest with myself. What was I doing or not doing in my life that caused me to get cancer? I had to move past my fear, learn all that I could about the disease and make the necessary changes if I wanted to have quality in my later years.

What I learned was that preventive maintenance is by far the most important step to take to shield oneself against chronic ailments; in fact’s it’s 80% of it. Not genes, luck, or bad luck in this case, but how I chose to live my life day in and day out. This was something I could control and wanted to control through making healthy choices and doing away with some of my bad habits. My focus last week with the Rotarians was on how to do the latter.

Here are 5 tips I shared for breaking bad habits regarding health:

Tip #1: Notice When Your Habits Are Automatic: Most habits occur thoughtlessly. Our minds are pre-occupied with other things. Lighting up a cigarette, gobbling down a bag of chips, consuming too much alcohol and staying put on a comfortable couch rather than going out for a walk are all mindless habits.

Tip #2: Practice Mindful Awareness: A few of us can quit bad habits cold turkey. For everybody else, it requires a conscious awareness and an abundance of determination. Mindful awareness is the ability to take notice of when and what we are doing habitually without becoming upset when we realize it. The goal is awareness, not action. Be conscious that you are smoking a cigarette or eating a whole bag of chips or lying around for no good reason. Engaging in your bad habit with full awareness lessens the frequency and duration of unhealthy patterns. Know what you are doing but don’t beat yourself up. It’s counterproductive.

Tip #3: Identify Daily Triggers: Habits are often tied to things we do on a regular basis. Do you automatically grab a cigarette after a meal or when you get into your car? Do you eat more than you are aware while in conversation or standing up? Do you become a couch potato every evening after dinner and click on the television? Note your triggers and think about them.

Tip #4: Mind Your Emotions: In addition to habits being tied to everyday events, they are often tied to emotional situations. We eat when we’re sad, stressed, depressed, lonely or bored. We order another drink when we’re happy and having fun. You get the message.

Tip #5: Ride the Urge Wave: Being aware brings to light a worrisome urge to engage in a bad habit. Be aware of this. Understand the urge before it starts, and be prepared to ride the wave of discomfort when it comes. The mind seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It’s a survival mechanism. Problem is, the mind focuses on short-term pleasure but not the pain that comes in the long run. However, most urges last only from one to five minutes. So, learn to ride it out. And the more times you ride it out the less often and intense the urge will be when it repeats itself.

Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk

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Guest Post: 5 Tips to Organize Your Day

We’ve all been there…You look up from the screen staring back at you and realize you’ve been watching videos on Facebook for 45 minutes. Why does this happen? How do you stop doing it?

The internet is one of our best tools in today’s world. We can use it to connect with others, research information, and administer business; however, it has its down sides as well. Social media is a serious culprit when it comes to stress, time management issues, and relationship problems. People spend so much time online that it affects their real-life duties and connections with others. To make it even worse, we can access any social networking site from the palm of our hand, no matter where we are. According to a marketing study by Mediakix, people spend more than 5 years of their lives on social media. That’s a lot of extra time you could spend doing that overdue laundry or working to expand your business, isn’t it? So, you may be thinking, how can I limit my time on the internet each day? Well here are a few tips to help keep your daily scrolling as productive as possible.

1.Instead of looking at social media to read news articles, subscribe to a reliable news source. You can have news alerts sent directly to your phone through Apple’s “News” app, or you can subscribe to Fox or CNN for email notifications. This will cut down the amount of fake news you are reading, and it will help keep you away from the distractions of cyberspace.

2. Set a specific time and place where you can check social media. Limit yourself! For example, you can allow yourself fifteen minutes on Facebook while dinner is in the oven. When the oven timer goes off, so should your iPad or computer.

3. Spend time cleaning out your email account. Put all spam emails into your junk folder and block tempting stores and social media sites from sending you more emails. This will help transform your inbox into an efficient space!
4. Make a to-do list before you can get online. Get your house organized, your tasks done, and take care of yourself before you log on to see what everyone else is up to. Prioritizing your tasks will help you stop wasting time online.

5. If you really enjoy reading a specific blog or watching a certain channel on YouTube, allow yourself to look at one thing you enjoy a day. Getting online to read a new blog post about skincare tips or to watch a video about cooking is a lot more efficient than indefinitely scrolling down your timeline.

Unfortunately, social media can be an unknowingly bad habit. People often do not realize how much time they are spending online. Luckily, any habit can be broken in just 21 days. So, if you find yourself on the internet too much, make today day one! Reflect on how long you spend on the internet per day and imagine what you could be doing with that extra time. Time efficiency is important in our overall wellness. Not managing your time properly can lead to a lot of unwanted stress. This stress has a huge impact on your mind and can even make you waste more time worrying about all you must do. It’s an endless, vicious cycle, so get ahead of it! Plan social media into your daily planner just like an appointment. Make time for you to catch up on what is going on in everyone else’s lives, but do not let go of your own life to keep up with others. Once you make this change, you will have plenty of extra time to get moving! Go for a walk, take a yoga class, or spend time with your family. Once you can realize the key to managing your time, so many other rewards will follow.

Guest Blogger: McKenna
Business Administration Major at the College of Charleston
Marketing Intern at Wellness Beyond Fifty

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What Two Minutes in a Day can Mean for your Life

Where were you last Monday afternoon? Like pretty much everyone else I was outside watching the total solar eclipse, a once-in-a- lifetime event here in Charleston. More specifically, I chose to watch it with 1,500 College of Charleston students, faculty, staff and “friends” who gathered on Rivers Green, behind Addlestone Library, to watch the heavens put on this astronomical show.

The college’s viewing party was the backdrop for NASA TV’s national eclipse broadcast. NASA anchored its eclipse coverage from the campus as it tracked the celestial event across the United States from Oregon, to Charleston, the last city on the path of totality. My late father worked for NASA alongside Werner Von Braun as part of his executive staff to send a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s; I didn’t hesitate to get a photo of me as an “astronaut” while on the college campus.

And while the image captured above was taken before the total eclipse, the temperature had started to drop and darkness was descending upon us. At approximately 2:46 pm (EDT) 99.6% of the sun was covered in the Charleston area.

But most important was the lesson it brought to the forefront.

While, yes, the 2017 Solar Eclipse was a natural phenomenon, it serves the purpose to remind us all that beauty is everywhere every single day if only we choose to slow down and observe it, absorb it, and be present.

Due to the heightened media attention, preparations by city and government officials as well as residents and travelers, the event was well known by all to be significant. But do we need to be told when something is significant? Do we need to be witnessing the beauty with millions of people for it to be an event worth slowing down for and savoring?

What Monday’s event, which lasted 1 min, 33 seconds at its longest duration, reminded me to look for was the beauty in every moment, every day, whether directed by media, the community, family or friends. Because we can’t wait 99 years for about two minutes of awe. We should recognize the awe that exists around us all the time.

Ultimately, it is a shift in each of our minds. A belief followed by conscious actions, ways of living, thinking and being, that enable us to cultivate what, to some, may seem impossible. The good news is, it is entirely possible. Take, for example, the following seemingly ordinary moments I observed Monday outside of the eclipse’s occurrence that, when fully appreciated, reminded me of how sweet and beautiful life is:

— Awakening up from a deep restful sleep.

— Having the opportunity to sit in the quiet of early morning and enjoy a cup of coffee before everyone wakes up.

— Having close friends at my house enjoying a wonderful lasagna lunch, leftover from the night before, before we set out to experience the eclipse, adding more memorable moments to a lifetime of many together.

Indeed, being in the present moment, and being mindful, remind us that we don’t need an ecliptic event to savor and appreciate the “small things” that add richness to our lives every day.

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