mental health

Mindful Painting: Turning Anxiety Into Art

By Monica Kovach

If you’ve had any experience trying to develop a mindfulness practice, you know it can be hard work. Mindfulness, by nature, illuminates whatever is present - the good, bad, and the ugly. Learning to face all parts of ourselves with compassion and equanimity is no easy task, especially when we’ve learned to hate, fear, and avoid parts of ourselves.

Growing up, I was a pretty anxious kid, but you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell. I was afraid of doing anything wrong, and I got really good at flying under the radar. I learned to value “goodness” and “niceness” so much, that when any aspect of my personality showcased any opposite qualities (like anger or impatience), I worked hard at denying them, and thus, buried them. If you’re having a hard time picturing what this might look like, think: UniKitty from The Lego Movie.

And just like UniKitty, these buried parts of myself were destined to boil over at one point or another, and when they did, it was extreme. Not extreme as in I unleashed hell on everyone around me; because, I was still deeply afraid of negatively affecting anyone. It was extreme in the way that I reacted toward myself.

Self-deprecating shame spirals were a common occurrence, as were migraines and emotional breakdowns in the form of uncontrollable crying. And later, panic attacks.

All of this self-inflicted abuse continued until I learned how stop avoiding the parts of me I didn’t love, and ultimately, accept and love them instead. How did I do this? Mindfulness. And therapy, let’s be honest. But mindfulness was a big part of my therapy journey as well, so yeah… Mindfulness.

This concept and practice of mindfulness is really just about observing what’s happening in the moment - thoughts, sensations, and emotions - without judgment. It’s the “without judgment” part that really tripped me up at first; I would immediately label my thoughts or emotions as “bad” because I learned to do that at an early age.

The thing that really helped me break free from the automatic judgment response was art - specifically painting. I never considered myself a painter; in fact, I went to school for photography and was pretty attached to that identity for my creative outlet. But when I started experimenting with watercolors as a medium to express my inner experience, it just clicked. The way the colors blend, move, and spread across the page matched my inner thought-scape. Their watery nature felt like an accurate representation of subtle, elusive states of mind, body, and spirit. Their fast, fluid unpredictability said “Yes, this is what emotions feel like.” And after a while, I realized that I was practicing mindfulness.

By representing my thoughts and emotions as abstract, fluid swatches of color, I was able to literally observe what was happening in the present moment. I was able to release judgment, knowing that unpredictability is just part of the watercolors’ nature, and that it would be silly to judge a watercolor painting for doing what it does best. How easy it was, then, to replace key words in that sentence: It would be silly to judge a mind for doing what it does best. There’s a fascinating thing that happens when we create something that resonates so profoundly with our inner experience. It’s like looking into a mirror, and seeing all your flaws, strengths, and features. Then, magically, we look at the image looking back at us, and see ourselves with fresh eyes… With compassionate eyes… With loving eyes. It’s this compassionate and loving experience that I was a stranger to for most of my life.

Watercolor painting opened up an avenue for self-expression, authenticity, and ultimately, self-love. And while I still dance with anxiety, my relationship to it has changed; I now realize that it’s just part of the masterpiece that is my fluid state of being.

Monica is an art therapist and career coach, based in Detroit, Michigan. She runs TheGrowthStudio.org, where she helps dreamers, doers, and change-makers find and live their calling.

The Business Strategy That’s Good For Your Mental Health

Over the past year I have researched and been distracted by all the shiny objects that promote a ‘6 figure income’ and all the other claims that go along with that. And no, I’m not going to give you another one now. However, I will tell you one that’s caught my attention lately that many business strategists have been loving. Doing one project at a time. Sounds so easy doesn’t it? It’s not that easy to do when we’re faced with a to-do list up to our eyeballs, emails pinging and not to mention that shiny social media. Now, I’m not a business strategist by any means, my business is mental health and is focused mainly around improving teen mental health. But, I did want to explain how this strategy might not just be good for your business but your happiness as well.

It’s all got to do with flow. Psychology Today relates flow to ‘being in the zone’ concentrating on only one thing. When we’re faced with a task that may be challenging some of us tend to procrastinate and put it on the back burner. Even if this is something that might really help your business take off. So how can we find ‘flow’ in business and be happy? When we are in moments of flow we aren’t thinking about all our other stresses in life. We’re not worried, at that moment in time, what we’re going to have for dinner, how this bill is going to get paid and whether you can afford those brand new shoes. We are fully focused on the work that we are doing, we might not be super happy, but we’re not feeling down either. We are content.

We can put this into action by listing our tasks or projects in order. For me this looks like creating a Facebook ad before writing a blog post. Then writing that blog post before checking in with my clients. Of course, there are many different projects that your business has, but doing them one at a time creates less distraction and more flow. For bigger projects this might look like setting aside 1 hour everyday before starting the next big project, and I recommend setting a timer to do this to minimise distractions. Moving from one task to another without completing the first one will only cause anxiety, frustration and a lot of procrastination.

Be happy, do one task at a time.

Alex is the founder of Positive Future Youth and a registered teacher. She spends all her spare time with her head in positive psychology books and loves the idea of improving what’s right than focusing on what’s wrong.

Alex specialises in positive thinking, improving anxiety and building confidence in pre-teens and teens. She has recently written 2 books on how to help children be more positive. You can check out her free ebook here and connect with her over on Instagram and Facebook.

Self-Care For Entrepreneurs // Retreat Yourself

By Kate Williams

As many of you know, my word for 2016 is 'nourish' and I wholeheartedly believe that taking care of yourself is a sure bet for entrepreneurial success. When you are stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, overworked and stretched too thin, your body, mind and biz will suffer. So while it's not always possible to book a holiday or escape to the spa, this new business is just the solution you need. When I first heard about Kate's business, Retreat Yourself, I immediately knew I had to share with my Blog Society family....enjoy below and make sure to check out our giveaway to one lucky reader! (I've been lucky enough to see this box first hand and can say without a doubt it was jam packed with the most exquisite goodies I've ever seen!) x Jaclyn

Hi everyone, I'm so happy to be sharing my own story with you guys as there is no better time to talk about self-care than at the start of a new month and while the seasons are changing and I'm so happy tell you a little about my journey launching my brand new business (yes it's been a roller coaster!) The Retreat Yourself Box is Australia’s first seasonal health & wellness subscription box. It’s taken a spin off the usual subscription boxes we see on the market and created an entire experience, to really help you get the most out of your health and life. 

When you subscribe to Retreat Yourself, you receive a retreat on your doorstep at the start of each season (4 boxes per year) to help you get grounded, healthy & ready to transition to the season ahead.

The box is packed full of 10-15 sample and full sized health and wellness products worth well over $100. It also contains the RY Wellness Guide, which is a magazine style booklet containing loads of healthy recipes, stretches and yoga poses, lifestyle articles and beauty tips and tricks from health gurus across the globe. The box is all tied together with the exclusive Retreat Yourself day plan, which explains how to create your own health retreat at home, using the products and guide featured within the box. It’s essentially a health retreat in a box!

Having launched this Summer and selling out of the Summer Box twice, the Retreat Yourself Box has hit the ground running.

So why Retreat Yourself? And where did this idea begin?
Retreat Yourself was born just under a year ago. I was living in Melbourne at the time and had my heart set on starting an online coaching program for women which involved all areas of health – mind, body and soul, and learning to love #1. I was in the middle of doing an online business course called B-School, had just finished my personal training certificate, had enrolled at Beautiful You coaching academy to become a qualified life coach, and was going to combine them with my certificate in Holistic Nutrition that I’d gained a couple of years prior. I’d started my website and Instagram page, and was (and still am) a part of many different small business groups for female entrepreneurs who were starting or working in heart-centred business. I found that even though I was surrounded by so much support, I kept coming up against dead ends. 

Starting an online coaching program just wasn’t flowing for me, and I really wanted to reach people on a much BIGGER scale. Not only did I want to help women who were seeking my services, but also women who would never have ever considered hiring a coach to help them with their health and happiness. I was actually seeing a life coach at the time and I’d often have people say to me “but why Kate? You’re good at life!”. People just didn’t get it. The stigma that only people who were struggling with life should have a coach was surrounding me, and I felt as though it was holding me back and keeping me dead in my tracks. 

A few years ago I had a friend who had been receiving Bella Box. I thought it was such a great idea! Starting a health food box was then stuck in my head, but I was about to head off traveling again and was unsure whether I’d return. The idea sat dormant at the back of my mind for the next few years. In March last year whilst I was sitting at my desk doing B-School work on how to grow my coaching business, my mind started to wander. What if I could create a subscription style box that included the type of information that you’d get from a coach? That included products that ANY health conscious person would be interested in, and also encouraged self-care and looking after whole health? I literally sat there that day and the whole idea just came surging out. I knew what it was going to look like, smell like, I knew the name. I knew exactly what it was. It all made sense! And the best part? That I would be able to reach SO many people with this idea. It was a no-brainer. So that day I created a business plan, I started searching for a designer and I got planning. I haven’t stopped since! 

Helping women with their health wasn’t the only reason I started the Retreat Yourself Box. There are MANY angles as to why it began. I’ve never been a big believer in societies prescribed plan - having left New Zealand to explore new places when I was 20 years old; I studied the world instead of going to university. I didn’t believe in spending my youth studying something I may never use. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to help people, but wasn’t sure how this looked. All I knew was that the more I explored and discovered the world, others and myself, the more I’d learn where I wanted to be.

During the last 10 years of travel I have experienced some weird and wonderful things. I’ve spent time volunteering in Nepal, Zambia and Melbourne. I’ve done 7 ski seasons. I’ve backpacked through India, Mexico, America, Sri Lanka, South East Asia. I’ve lived in multiple cities and towns across Australia and Canada, and have spent some time living in Japan. My life has been anything BUT stationary. Even as the beginning stages of Retreat Yourself were implemented, I backpacked across Thailand and Vietnam, having email conversations with my designer as I trotted between different locations. People would often say to me, “I wish I had a life like yours”, and my answer was always – you can! The only thing between you and living your best life is YOU.

One thing that lingered over my head during many years of travel was the thought of “am I doing what I ‘should’ be doing?” “What if I don’t ‘succeed’ at life?” “What if I become a ‘nobody’?”. This pressure loomed over me like a dark cloud for many years during my mid 20’s, which lead me to Melbourne where I was going to get a ‘proper’ job. I somehow landed upon a good role in the corporate world as a Contractor Manager, where I was managing around 200-300 corporate contractors across 18 companies. My strengths certainly lay in the relationship building side of things, with coffee drinking and lunching becoming the usual. Besides the fact that it was great to escape the office, I really liked getting to know about my contractors lives – both at work, and at home. What I learnt during this time is that SO many people aren’t doing what they want to be doing in life. So many people are stuck in their usual comforts and are so paralysed by fear of the unknown that they stay stuck in something that may not be serving their highest good. When I’d chat to my contractors and delve a little deeper than the usual chit chat, they’d tell me that they wished they could start their own businesses, or spend their time creating things, or traveling, or doing what the loved. So why weren’t they doing these things? I’d often ponder to myself. It made me realise how difficult it can be for some people to follow their dreams. Lack of confidence and just general fear would keep them at a stand-still. This to me, was absolutely absurd. So when Retreat Yourself came up, I thought YES! This is how I can help those people who have taken the plunge to start their own small businesses to get their product out into the world and into the hand of potential customers. A HUGE focus of the Retreat Yourself Box is on small Australian brands and people who align with the ethics of Retreat Yourself. It makes my heart sing to know that I can be helping people from all angles.

I really do pour my heart and soul into this baby. I have a vision of impacting the lives of women across Australia, and hopefully one day – across the world. My vision for Retreat Yourself is huge and I will continue to work on it until women learn how to love themselves and put their health and happiness first. Why? Because at the end of the day, YOU are the only obstacle in the way of living your most fabulous life. When you learn to love and care for yourself, the world is yours.

Kate and I are proud to team up and be giving a way to Retreat Yourself box to one lucky and deserving winner. To enter all you need to do is tell is leave us a quick comment below and share your favourite means of self-care (ie. travel, massage, exercise, mediation - get creative!). PLEASE make sure you leave your contact email so we can get in touch with you! One winner will be drawn at random and announced via social media on Saturday 9 April. Entries close 7 April at midnight (EST). Good luck!

Kate Williams, Retreat Yourself  (*You can find Kate on Facebook, Instagram)

5 Ways Working Mums Can Look After Their Mental Health

Working Mothers

By Ellie Hodges

The early years of motherhood are an amazing time. Full of love, hope and wanting to provide the best for your family. Those early years are also a time of incredible change and pressure for women. Navigating new roles and new identities open us to highs and lows of a whole new scale. Comfort zones become stretched in ways that can’t be prepared for, even though you tried, inviting in feelings of doubt and not being good enough. The sense of responsibility is immense and trying to do it all can feel like you are compromising yourself and the people you love daily.

Then there is the over focus on physical form and societal ideas about what being a good mum means. Conflicting advice and judgements abound no matter what you decide which just amplifies the pressure boiler that early motherhood is.

It is no wonder that women struggle most with their emotional and mental wellbeing in the first year after giving birth. But there are things, small and big, that working mums can do to look after their mental wellbeing. When women are grounded, calm, nourished, reflective and connected they live their best lives.

Be Grounded.

Being grounded is about connecting to your why and living from your values. It is the foundation of taking stock in the moment, harnessing your resources and knowing that you will get through no matter what.

  • Tune into what is going on in your life right now: What is going well and feels good? What is tough at the moment and stops you from living how you want to?
  • Remind yourself of your parenting and life values: What sort of parent and person do you want to be? How do you want to be living and spending your time? What relationships and activities sustain and energise you? What matters most to you about parenting and family life? What is important to you as a woman?
  • Make a list and take action: What are the gaps between what you really value and how things are for you at the moment? What small changes would make a big difference to your life right now? Make a plan and implement these changes at a pace that is doable for you.

Be Calm.

We respond best to situations when we are calm and non-reactive. This is helped with forward thinking, routine, feeling unrushed and looking after yourself.

  • Have routines in place for your family: Set a routine that works for your family. Routines that are structured yet flexible and evolve with your family are best. Make sure there is time for yourself and individual interests too.
  • Be an example of calmness in your home: Humans feed off the emotion of others. When you are calm your children will be calmer and how you respond to their emotions in any given moment has a big impact on what will follow. Remind yourself that you have a choice to respond or to react and of the example that you set.
  • Know and practice what keeps you calm: What helps you to feel calm? What helps the other people in your family to be calm? Teaching these skills young will benefit everyone.

Be Nourished.

When we are nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually we show up best for ourselves and for others. Nourishment is beyond basic needs and is essential to vitality.

  • Make space for what nourishes you: What fills you up? When do you feel truly alive? What feeds your soul? Engage in these things regularly and without compromise.

Be Reflective.

Taking the time to reflect on your situation brings perspective and can help you share the load.

  • Keep your expectations in check: Are your expectations appropriate for your current situation?
  • Be gentle with yourself: You are able to do this. You have been doing your best. Having more ‘good’ days than ‘bad’ days is what matters.
  • Balance the overwhelm: Pay attention to the good times. Notice all of the small ways that make your life yours. Appreciate what is going well and do more of it.
  • Let your partner in: Talk to your partner about what is going on for you. Share the load. Ask for help or for things to change that need to.

Be Connected.

I really think there is something in the old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Parenting can feel like an isolating and insular experience that doesn’t need to be.

  • Connect with your community: Find and be with your community, whatever it may be. For example: a mum’s group; your church group; a local playgroup; online forums and groups like Working Mum’s Collective; and so on.
  • Ask for and accept help: From your partner, family and friends. Adjust work schedules as required and look at all childcare options that are the best fit for your family and circumstances.
  • Strengthen relationships: Relationships where we feel valued, understood and supported can make all of the difference. Strong relationships are created mutually and start with the people we care about most, including our children and ourselves.
  • Reach out for professional help: Accessing extra help could be the best thing for you and your family and is not a reflection of weakness. You don’t need to wait for the wheels to fall off completely before reaching out. Here are 7 things that I know about mental health that you may find helpful. Beyond Blue is another great resource and starting point.

These are just some of the ways that a mother can look after her mental health and emotional wellbeing. When a woman looks after herself she is more available to the people that she loves and supports. It is not selfish and it is not a sometimes task. Grounded, calm, nourished, reflective and connected women are resilient and create environments where children thrive.

Quick Practices for Wellbeing
Ellie has kindly put together a downloadable PDF containing quick practices for wellbeing. Download it. Print it. And put it somewhere you will see it on a regular bassi to remind you to look after your own wellbeing.

Ellie Hodges is an Adelaide-based counsellor and coach + curator and creator. She has particular experience and passion for supporting women to (re)claim their lives from: food, eating and body struggles; anxiety; trauma and illness experiences; the journey of pregnancy and parenting; life transitions; and feelings of wanting more but not knowing how.

Ellie believes that recovery, (re)claiming our lives from struggle, and living an emergent life is absolutely possible … for everyone. She has seen others do it and she has done it herself. You can find her on her blog, Facebook or Pinterest.

Image: Unsplash