Four Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Worry

January 27, 2017

For the past week, I’ve found myself waking every morning from anxious dreams. I’m OK during the day when I can use my conscious mind to relax, but by night, my subconscious takes over…and evidently it’s worried. I suspect this is a reaction to the level of anxiety in my nation and the world right now. While I can’t seem to help being anxious and worried about the future, I realize that those feelings are completely useless and are robbing me of joy. Maybe you feel the same? So I’ve been actively trying to reduce my anxiety levels instead of pretending things are fine or simply distracting myself. Here are four things I’m doing to combat anxious feelings:

  1. Accept that yes, I live in troubled times. There is suffering, hate, misogyny, fear. This, sadly, is nothing new. We will always have to fight the darkness if we don’t want it to overcome the light. 
  1. Refuse to add to the darkness by expressing hate for people or institutions I don’t like or disagree with. (Yes, I’m allowed to dislike and disagree—but I don’t have to express my opinions and feelings in a bombastic, dogmatic way.) Don’t add to my fear by reading and watching lots of news. Avoid lengthy discussions about problems the world faces. When I do choose to read the news, I choose the most unbiased sources I can find, look for context, and don’t accept stories without verifying.  I don’t bother with sources that specialize in half-truths or click bait, even if they’re primarily intended as entertainment.
  1. Support my body, mind, and spirit with uplifting, anxiety-reducing simple pleasures. Use my essential oils to calm anxiety and support my immune system. Be present and mindful. Enjoy the cooler weather we’re having by walking more, and opening the windows for some fresh air (I rarely do that here because of the humidity). Spend extra time with Tank, my four-legged therapist. Listen to happy music while working. Read a good book. (Check out Belle’s list of spirit lifting books here and mine here.)
  1. Look for ways to spread kindness and happiness. Encourage others, donate money, be a good citizen. Be kind, help out, stay positive. Don’t give up on looking and hoping for the best.
There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but that doesn’t mean these practices are either easy or worthless. They are within my power to do, as so many other things are not.

As Corrie ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Now if only I could convince my subconscious of that.

How do you soothe yourself when you feel anxious?


The Sweetness of Water

January 25, 2017

Photo courtesy Andreas Nusko

Introduction by Ted Kooser: My maternal grandparents got their drinking water from a well in the yard, and my disabled uncle carried it sloshing to the house, one bucket of hard red water early every morning. I couldn’t resist sharing this lovely little poem by Minnesota poet, Sharon Chmielarz.

New Water

All those years—almost a hundred—
the farm had hard water.
Hard orange. Buckets lined in orange.
Sink and tub and toilet, too,
once they got running water.
And now, in less than a lifetime,
just by changing the well’s location,
in the same yard, mind you,
the water’s soft, clear, delicious to drink.
All those years to shake your head over.
Look how sweet life has become;
you can see it in the couple who live here,
their calmness as they sit at their table,
the beauty as they offer you new water to drink.

Reprinted by permission of Sharon Chmielarz, whose most recent collection of poems is “The Rhubarb King,” Loonfeather Press, 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Sharon Chmielarz. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


How to Have More Everyday Adventures, or What I Learned From Linda Formichelli’s How to Do It All

January 20, 2017

If you want to enrich your life with activities that inspire you, and you’d like a jumpstart into action, then Linda Formichelli’s newest book How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Createa Full, Meaningful Life—While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie is a good place to start.

The “Do It All”—or D-I-A—concept the book is referring to is not the common challenge of combining paid work with a personal life. Rather, it focuses on ways to pack more of what you love into your life. You might even say it’s about having more everyday adventures! The first two-thirds of the book contain motivation, time management strategies, encouragement and inspiration. The last third breaks down the plan itself with chapters on each of 12 “Desires” Formichelli chose after talking with other women about what they wish they could be doing with their lives. Some of these Desires are: love your looks, travel, create an amazing home, become well-read, gain mad skills, and so on.

You don’t have to use all—or any—of them; you can choose your own Desires. Formichelli offers examples of three levels of goals for each Desire, from very simple to more involved. For example, if your Desire was to travel more, a simple goal could be taking a day trip; a more complicated one would be taking an overseas trip.

How to D-I-A flies in the face of the ubiquitous advice to slow down and simplify your life. Formichelli writes, “Would you rather look back on a year that was full of fun, adventure—and yes, some stress—or remember a year where you floated through your days stress-free, but that’s pretty much all you did?” She does not believe stress is always bad for you, or that everything we do we (should) do for someone else (and neither do I).

One of the more helpful tools for me was the exercise in determining your top three values—the why behind your Desires. Once you’re clear on what you value, it’s much easier to see what goals will be easier to follow through with. Another plus is a packet of worksheets at the end of the book, also available to download.

I appreciated the advice to rethink my schedule and habits to give my D-I-A Desires prime time, not just the dregs of time left over after I do everything else. The book was worth reading for the energy boost and motivation alone. My only caution would be to remember you determine what feels full and what feels too busy for you. Formichelli has a remarkable amount of energy if she’s anything like she comes across in print, and I would be exhausted and unhappy if I tried to do as much as she does. 

I found How to Do It All readable, practical, and entertaining, and I recommend it for anyone looking to enrich her life with meaningful activities.

What are some everyday adventures you’d like to experience in 2017?


Do You Recognize Happiness?

January 18, 2017

Photo courtesy Karl Fredrickson

“Happiness is within the reach of everyone, rich or poor. Yet comparatively few people are happy. I believe the reason for this is that the majority don't recognize happiness even when it is
within their grasp.”
—Robert Baden-Powell


"Every Contact Leaves a Trace"

January 13, 2017

I’ve been thinking about a forensic investigation technique lately—and not just because I like reading mysteries. No, it’s because I recently came across Dr. Edmond Locard’s principle of exchange, which states, “Every contact leaves a trace.” This principle is the basis of forensic science—trace evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA, footprints, or fibers, can now be used to link people or objects to crime scenes.

Every contact does leave a trace, and not just forensically speaking. The people around us, and what we allow into our surroundings and our minds, leave traces on us and in us. We all have people in our lives who inspire, energize, and encourage us, and thank goodness for them. We probably also know people who drain us of energy or leave us anxious and irritated after every encounter. To protect our happiness and overall mental state, we can seek out the people and things which lift us up, while minimizing contact with the people and things which leave a negative trace.

I try to walk the line between hiding from the legitimate problems in the world and allowing them too much space in my head. I know what I choose to read and to watch leaves a trace, so I don’t choose to read or watch certain things, no matter how worthy they might be. I surround myself as much as is in my power with things I want to leave a trace on my world. My office especially is a place that holds symbols and talismans of inspiration, as well as reminders of love others have shown me, and things I aspire to.  I’m also fortunate enough to have a great deal of control over the people I interact with, and therefore most of them leave positive traces.

What about the traces we ourselves are leaving? It bears remembering that we have the power to influence others with our words and actions.  After all, happiness is contagious.

With every interaction, we touch others and they touch us. What kind of trace will you leave?


Each Unnamed

January 11, 2017

Introduction by Ted Kooser: A while back we published a column in which I talked about my delight in the many names of kinds of apples, and mentioned Louise Bogan's marvelous mid-century poem “The Crossed Apple.” Here's yet another fine apple-name poem for my collection, by Susan Rothbard, who lives in New Jersey.

That New

At the market today, I look for Piñata
apples, their soft-blush-yellow. My husband
brought them home last week, made me guess at
the name of this new strain, held one in his hand
like a gift and laughed as I tried all
the names I knew: Gala, Fuji, Honey
Crisp—watched his face for clues—what to call
something new? It’s winter, only tawny
hues and frozen ground, but that apple bride
was sweet, and I want to bring it back to him,
that new. When he cut it, the star inside
held seeds of other stars, the way within
a life are all the lives you might live,
each unnamed, until you name it.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Susan Rothbard, “That New,” from the Cortland Review, (No. 58, 2012). Poem reprinted by permission of Susan Rothbard and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

12 Week Year

Planning Practices for a New Year

January 06, 2017

During the week between Christmas and Jan. 1, I begin my official year-end wrap up and planning for the next year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do set some big, overarching goals at this time. Or try to. I have a problem with big, overarching goals. Oh, I can set them all right, but I struggle with the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty practicality of how to get from here to there. I’m going to try something new this year, which I’ll get to later, but first, I’m going to share with you some tools I use for planning my goals for a new year.

Year-End Review

Before I get into any goal setting, I look back over the past year to see what I’ve accomplished and where I’ve fallen short. This year, I used Marie Forleo’s three-question review, but I also wrote down a list of some of the more mundane things I did that nevertheless were accomplishments, such as reading 109 books, posting to Catching Happiness 106 times, and starting a regular sketching practice (three months and counting). While I fell short on working on my book idea, riding Tank bridleless, purging my house of unneeded items, and various and sundry other goals, 2016 was a better-than-average year for me. I took a moment to savor those accomplishments before moving on to…

Goal Brainstorming

Next, I start writing out all the things that are floating around in my head that I would like to see accomplished in the coming year. This is where I allow myself to dream big, and I include as many of the nagging tasks I’d like to see finished as I can think of. This year, I’ve made a list called “70 in ’17”—70 things I want to happen in 2017. Some of these are writing goals (complete a draft of that book, write some haiku), some are household goals (buy new light fixture for kitchen nook, stain the chairs on the front porch), and some are just for fun (do puzzle with M, buy some new music, go to Fannin Hill with Tank). My idea is to work from this list as I sit down to plan each month.

12-Week Planning

This is the new thing I mentioned above. I recently read The12-Week Year, and I’m experimenting with 12-Week planning. I’m hoping this will solve my problem with carrying out my bigger goals by helping me break them down into much smaller, more do-able increments. So far, I’m still struggling a bit with that—my perfectionism (fear in disguise?) is hampering my ability to choose and break down appropriate goals, but I’m making progress.

Word of the Year

As I’ve done in past years, I choose a word of the year to guide me. Previous years’ words have included open, light, passion, and quality. This year’s word is “deeper.” I want it to encourage me to stop skimming the surface and go deeper, to find the riches that are buried. Be less superficial, more real. Do fewer things, but do them better.

Vision Board

For me, this is just pure fun. I like playing with pretty pictures! I create two—a larger one for my office, and a smaller one to go in my daily planner. I choose images and words that make me happy and draw me to them, that symbolize for me something I want more of in my life.

In January, all things seem possible. It’s in the actual doing that we sometimes run into problems. All this planning, for me, is intended to keep me on track. I share these practices with you in case there’s anything here you might like to try for yourself.

How do you plan for a new year? Do you have any goals or dreams for 2017 you’d like to share?

Jean Hersey

How Will You Shape Your Year?

January 04, 2017

“A new year is a gift, a small piece of infinity, to do with as we will. Things happen. We grow (we hope), and we learn willy nilly. Life moves around us, life moves through us to others, and the year gradually accepts its pattern. We give, we take, we resist, we flow. Our reachings, acceptances, rejections, our hesitancies, courage, fears, and our loves, all these form the shape of the year for each of us, as individuals, as part of a family, as a member of a community.”
—Jean Hersey, The Shape of a Year

New Year

And a New Year Begins

January 02, 2017

I hope you had a most happy and refreshing holiday season. Even though it was 85 degrees on Christmas Day, we enjoyed hosting family for a meal, and apparently we were very good this year, because we all received delightful gifts.

I regret nothing
I spent last week sleeping in, puttering around, dreaming and making plans for 2017, reading, and (let’s be honest) keeping Prudy out of the Christmas tree until I could take it down yesterday. This year’s broken ornament count: two. Not bad.

For me personally, 2016 was an excellent year, and I plan to build on that success in 2017. I have fun plans for Catching Happiness, too—so stick around!

Happy New Year—may it bring you much joy, growth, and meaning!