Tag Archives: stress

Fun, Leisure, and the Soul

(Taken from Chapter 12 of Soul Health:  Aligning with Spirit for Radiant Living)

DSC_0055 one stepResearch shows that people who don’t take time off for vacations are at higher risk for serious health conditions and also shortened life spans.  The Framingham Heart Study, likely the most comprehensive ongoing research on the development of heart disease, has followed twelve thousand men for over a decade to see if there are ways to improve both health and longevity.  The study found that people who took frequent breaks or vacations from work tended to live longer.  A survey done in the state of New York indicated that men who took annual vacations reduced their risk of death by 20 percent, while those who had taken no vacation within the preceding five years had the highest incidence of heart disease than any other men surveyed. The positive impact of leisure time is unquestionably good for mental as well as physical health.  A study of women who took frequent vacations showed that they were less likely to become depressed, anxious, or fatigued, and they also reported less stress at home. Overall, leisure time consistently shows positive enhancement of health.  Not only does time away from everyday stressors allow us to reconnect with ourselves, but there is clear evidence that intentionally planning leisure time into our lives promotes creativity, staves off burnout, recharges our batteries (both physically and mentally), promotes overall well-being, improves higher performance and productivity once back at work, and strengthens the bonds between people outside of work. Fun—our ability to let loose and play— is highly under-rated among adults.  As our responsibilities increase, our pursuit of fun decreases, often drastically.    And the longer we go without this pleasure, the less we seem to think it is a priority.  Even so, how many people do you know who fantasize over working more versus playing more?   It seems that even when we wish for more fun and time to play, we often don’t make a point of creating this in our lives. DSC_6888 Biologically speaking, fun does more than soothe the soul.  When we engage in playful activities, our serotonin level—the substance balanced by a typical antidepressant—boosts instantaneously.  In addition, our stress hormones drop, our endorphins—the natural pain killers—increase, and sometimes adrenaline rises, too, which boosts our energy levels.  If that isn’t enough proof that fun is good for our health, then consider that vicarious enjoyment—just watching others play or laugh—is also enough to boost these chemicals. Laughing at yourself also helps with managing difficult experiences within the human condition.  This self-directed joviality has been shown to lighten our perception of stressful events and allows us to maintain a level of resilience in the midst of life’s battles.  We cannot deny the issues that need work in life, but the research does offer hope for a healthier life when we can think of the events of everyday life as manageable.  In other words, when we find humor in the human condition, we can heal many aspects of our soul health. Despite the positive effect of pure fun and leisure, many people nevertheless either avoid them or think they are unworthy of joy or unable to experience it.  Unfortunately, they often turn to unhealthy substitutes such as alcohol, other drugs, over-spending, sex, gambling, or any other vice that may temporarily numb their stress.  The problem with these substitutes is that they always negatively affect other branches of soul health.  These substitutes for joy further disconnect people from their soul, often while actively damaging the health of other branches.  This can create a vicious cycle; they dig themselves further into the ditch of ill soul health, only to continue seeking false relief through one of their vices. The ability to recognize that your recreational branch of health needs work takes honesty and courage, given that the work may go against what you were taught a child.  If your caregivers were workaholics, overachievers, or simply naysayers about fun, your sense of self-worth may influence you to follow in their footsteps.  If your parents weren’t playful or fun, you may not have learned to integrate it into your own life.  But, no matter what the reason, if you don’t feel you have enough fun and leisure in your life, you probably don’t.

(To read further, purchase Soul Health: Aligning With Spirit for Radiant Living at www.drkatherinetkelly.com, www.amazon.com, or www.barnesandnoble.com)

Drench Your Soul for Optimal Health

Water is the soul of the Earth.  ~  W.H. Auden

Many people—including myself—talk about feeding their soul.  Although this can apply to eating an amazing meal, it usually means nourishing one’s very being, which goes far beyond what food can do.

water droplet

Our body is made up of approximately 60% water– with our blood consisting of 92%, our brain and muscles 75%, and our bones 22%.  With this in mind, it makes sense that we spend some time exploring our relationship with water and the many ways we can use it to achieve optimal health.

For starters, many know that we can go about a month without food, but only about a week without water. Although there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that we actually need to drink eight glasses of water a day, it is strongly advised that we stay hydrated not only for our physical, but also for our emotional health.  Did you know that dehydration can cause both physical and emotional fatigue as well as symptoms similar to depression?  Research also shows that most Americans are chronically dehydrated which might contribute to the relatively high rates of depression in the United States.

20150628_133915While hydration is certainly one way that we can drench our soul, there are many other ways that water can enhance our lives.  Many use it for relaxation—whether taking a long, hot bath, a casual walk by the beach, or go for a nice, cool swim. We often enjoy water elements as part of our environment—through placement of fountains in our homes or workplaces or by choosing to live by lakes, streams, and oceans.  Socially, we may opt for boat rides with friends and family, tubing or rafting trips down a river, or water-skiing, surfing, or parasailing for the more stingrayadventurous. Intellectually, many are fascinated by water and the creatures that live within it and choose to visit aquariums and wildlife preserves to learn about our amazing friends in the sea.  Spiritually-speaking, many use water as part of ritual and celebration, whether through baptism, blessings, or other ceremonies held on or around water.

From the soul’s perspective, water is an essential element.  It quenches our body’s thirst, but also washes away the energetic residue we carry as a result of the human condition.  I have a fountain flowing nonstop in the waiting room of my psychotherapy office to help clients relax before appointments.  As part of my own self-care ritual, I look forward to my long salt bath at the end of each week, ai20150619_120247ding in my own release of stress and tension picked up since the weekend.  At times I crave time at the ocean or make a trip to a mountain lake for a weekend hike.  I chose a house in a neighborhood with four small lakes, all offering daily sightings of water fowl, turtles, and frogs.  I also take the occasional trip to the spa where I can soak in a salt pool, complete with massaging waterfalls.  And yes, my drink of choice is water, getting in between 6-10 glasses of water a day.  There’s no doubt about it—water is soothing, body, mind, and soul.

With so many ways that H2O helps our lives to flow better, why is it that we take it so much for granted?  Over 70% of the earth’s surface consists of bodies of water, yet, we overlook the vital nature of this important element, both as a part of our planet, but as an essential part of our lives.  Consider how the “flow” of water in your life can also enhance the flow of your soul.

A Confession of Fun: How Play Enhances Soul Health

I’m embarrassed to admit what you’re about to read….. I forgot the importance of play. Literally and figuratively.

Sunshine for your soul quoteYears ago, I said that my first book would be about adult play. From early in my life, I observed that the adults around me didn’t have enough fun. They balked at the idea of being goofy, avoided laughing just for the sake of laughing, and undoubtedly worked far more than they played. Somehow we got the idea that we were lazy or irresponsible if we allowed joy into our lives. Instead, we’ve instilled guilt into those who choose to enjoy fun and leisure and came to believe that those who “indulge” in too many joyful activities are behaving badly through such reckless use of time.

This awareness stimulated my mission to write a book about how adults need to have more fun in order to live more radiant lives. I did presentations in graduate school about the importance of play, I bought Play Dough and Slinkys for workshop participants, and I read all of the research I could find on the positive benefit of fun and leisure on our physical and emotional health. I did what I could at the time to illuminate the fact that fun was a key aspect of our everyday experience as humans—one that is healthy and also second nature for anyone experiencing the human condition.

Then I got busy. And I got stressed. Life took over, and throughout the completion of graduate school as well as in the early years of my career, the notion of sending the message of fun got lost… just like in most adults. I forgot my mission.

Branch with border

Even when I was creating my “whole” health model, the fun and leisure branch of  health was overlooked until I had a conversation with a client about the different aspects of wellness. In the middle of the session, it dawned on me that the branch that I had once so strongly endorsed had been swept to the shadows. Right at that moment, I realized why the system felt incomplete, and soon after the final link of the soul’s influence on each aspect of our existence clicked as well.  Our soul—the voice of our inner truth—rules our lives so much that it seemed inadequate to call the model anything other than The Soul Health Model.  Fun completed the model and raised it to the level of evolution instead of remaining an inessential element of the human condition.

Sick Tree aka SoulAFun feeds our soul, and no one can convince me that the healthiest person on earth omits this essential ingredient from their lives. In fact, I would go as far as to say that humor saves lives.  Research is clear that laughter decreases stress, helps us fight illness, improves our outlook on life, and much more. Without the nourishment of fun, our souls can starve, wither, and most definitely lose that radiance that is an inherent right for all of us. But with healthy and frequent doses of this elixir of life, we can remain buoyant even when life tries to dunk us under.

I’m curious—have you forgotten fun? What do you do for to play? What feeds your soul? Are you lacking humor? How do you use laughter to lighten even the heaviest situation? When was the last time you intentionally scheduled fun into your life?

I would love to hear from you and also hear any specific stories of the use of laughter that show the powerful healing that can take place when you have allowed yourself a good dose. Email me at evolve@drkatherinetkelly.com. I plan to compile a list of “reminders” for others who have forgotten their own way down the fun and leisure path.

The Angel in Starbucks

I can’t get this out of my mind.  It revisits me nearly every day as I try to create my “to do” list.   In fact, if it weren’t such a true reminder of what we all need to be doing, it wouldn’t haunt—or perhaps bless me the way it has.

I’m talking about an experience I had the day after Thanksgiving last year.  A friend and I got together to grab a java, then go do some work on a few videos and photos for my website.  We went to a Starbucks Coffee on her side of town, one that I rarely visit since she lives several miles away.  I had ordered my usual Venti Decaf Skim Latte and was over at what I call the “chemistry counter” sprinkling cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla powder onto the nicely done cloud of foam that was resting gently upon my drink.

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I could sense someone’s energy just behind me so I started to move to the side, apologizing for taking up the entire space.  What I heard next still rings loudly in my ears.   An older man’s voice came over my right shoulder saying, “Oh, no ma’am, please take your time.  When I was your age I rushed through too much and missed a lot of my life.”

Ouch.  I could feel his pain, but it immediately flared mine as well.

I went back to the table where my friend sat and shared what I had just heard.  We had a short conversation about it as I spotted the man a few tables away from us.  He was sitting alone, wore an ex-marine’s baseball cap, and was probably about 75 or 80 years old.  He looked weathered but generally healthy.  Throughout the time there, I would glance over at him just to see how he went about reading and drinking his coffee.  I mostly wanted to see if he was fully taking in his day.

Why is it that we go through life saying that we wish we had more time, yet we fill our day with meaningless tasks—mindless t.v. shows, surf time on the internet,  and any number of other things that won’t necessarily change or improve our lives?  Why is it that our regrets are almost always about what we didn’t do rather than what we did?  How did we get so lost in this human condition that our limited time on this planet doesn’t even enter our awareness?

I have to admit that this anonymous man made me think.  And still does.  In my book, Soul Health, I talk about the need to be discerning about every aspect of our lives in order to align ourselves for radiant living.  I suppose I wouldn’t have written the book if I had it all figured out, but this brief interchange has changed me in a deep way.  It penetrated my core and reminded me in a very profound way that there is a greater purpose to being alive.

Time FliesI’ve always taken life very seriously, gleaning whatever I can from each experience.  But this unnamed angel has deepened my awareness that time really is of the essence.  We have all sorts of sayings and clichés about the word (“Timing is everything”, “Standing the tests of time…”, “Time flies…”, etc.), but perhaps the most profound is Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “Lost time is never found again.”

The funny thing is, a client of mine reminded me just the other day of the words I said to him a few sessions earlier.  We were wrapping up the session and he asked me how things were going in the rest of my professional life.  I told him about the many projects I’m working on and he said, “Ya know, someone with long, brown hair once told me about the word discernment…. something about picking and choosing your activity to make sure you get the most out of life…..  I wonder if you know her.”  I hate it when my words come back to haunt me.  But the truth is, like the angel in Starbucks, even my clients serve as messengers of things I need to hear sometimes.  He was quite proud of himself as he walked out the door—a gentle and wise man in his own right—but clearly gloating that he had gently nailed me about the goings on of my own busy life.

Time.  An underappreciated word.  Think on it.

Body “Language”

(Taken from Chapter 4 of Soul Health: Aligning with Spirit for Radiant Living)

Some patients I see are actually draining into their bodies the diseased thoughts of their mind~~ Zacharty Bercovitz

Assessing the physical branch of health, alone, is a necessary but insufficient when addressing optimal soul health.  We cannot experience radiant health unless we understand not only how the soul directly influences physical health—and how physical health affects the soul, too— but also how problems in any of the other branches of well-being may manifest in the physical body.

Young Woman Meditating on the FloorCountless theories attempt to explain or understand the mind-body connection.  The oldest and most comprehensive that we know of is the practice of Chinese medicine which has existed for over two thousand years.  Yet, in Western culture, it is considered an alternative practice to modern medicine.  The theory behind Chinese medicine is based on the harmonious interaction of internal entities that regulate overall function.  Practitioners of Chinese medicine place little attention on anatomical structures themselves; instead, they focus on identifying the source of the inner disharmony that causes physical illness.

Other authors (Carolyn Myss, Louise Hay, Michael J. Lincoln, J.P. Barral, Debbie Shapiro, Suzanne Scurlock-Durana and others) directly interpret physical illness as related to emotional or psychological concerns.  Their texts draw uncanny connections between our physical concerns and those of our psyche.  Practitioners who utilize these resources continue to amaze their clients by helping them to make these connections.

The truth is our body “talks” to us in a language that comes directly from the soul.  Because our soul’s potential is infinite evolution, it wants us to create a healthy and vibrant physical environment to foster its growth.  However, our experience of health problems is two-fold.  On one hand we either become ill because we aren’t listening to cues from our soul and, on the other, contracting an unexpected illness can set the stage for our growth in a new direction.  In the former, our soul is trying to get our attention to tell us that we are ignoring important aspects of our lives, while in the latter, an illness can be viewed as a correction of sorts to put our life on a path toward a healthier or more fulfilling way of being.  Our conscious response to either scenario is the key to our ability to evolve beyond the situation.

In my own life, my awareness of the mind-body-spirit connection was growing even when I­­­­­ didn’t realize it.  During my freshman year in high school I developed severe migraines.  One day in class, my vision suddenly blurred and, not knowing what was happening, I went home from school only to develop a severe headache and nausea.  Episodes like this went on for several years until I started to recognize a pattern. Young Woman Thinking Each migraine started during a very stressful time in my life, and persisted under a combination of stress, sleeplessness, and caffeine intake.  When the stress and sleeplessness weren’t enough to get my attention, a drink of soda or coffee would throw me over the edge.  Thanks to the suggestion of a friend’s aunt, I stopped drinking caffeine.  The migraines became less frequent, but it wasn’t until I monitored my stress and sleeplessness that I was able to eliminate them.  I came to realize that I was ignoring the cues from my soul that something was wrong in the way I was living.  Once I eliminated what was causing the stress and sleeplessness, my headaches went away.  Now, if I experience the signs of a migraine, these symptoms serve as cues to assess and adjust my life in a way that rebalances my own branches of soul health.

The body has its own language.  It tells a tale of aches, pains, tensions, stiffness, and illness; however, many choose to ignore what their bodies are telling them and instead allow worse afflictions to undermine their physical health.  Suzanne Scurlock-Durana, a cranio-sacral therapist, or body worker, notes that “Being willing to listen to our bodies is the first step in the journey home to ourselves.”  Many who deny or ignore what is going on inside of their bodies are actually afraid to know their souls.  And it can be threatening to those who are unaware, when others who are trained to interpret the body’s responses are able to read them like a book.

Several years ago a 50-year-old man entered my psychotherapy practice to deal with life stress.  It turned out that he had been having an affair and was deciding whether or not to leave his 30-year marriage.  During that initial interview, though, it was very clear to me that he had other issues as well.  He had a high-stress personality—one that is commonly called Type A.  He was a workaholic, extremely uptight, meticulous about his appearance, and—probably most challenging—he was narcissistic, which manifested in his controlling personality.  At the end of that initial session, I asked him if he had any of the following:  high blood pressure, tightness in his chest, intestinal problems, constipation, headaches, or hemorrhoids.  He stopped with a slightly paranoid tone and asked if I had read his medical chart.  He said that he did, in fact, suffer from a long history of all of those symptoms, which had recently intensified.

debtIt was more than clear to me, though not to him, that his physical symptoms were manifestations of lifelong personality traits and habits.  He admitted that he had never felt happy, that he always had a difficult time interacting with others, and that his doctors had told him for years to cut down on his stress, which he had refused to do.  All along, his soul had been trying to tell him to change his ways, but after years of ignoring its signals, he had developed more intense health problems that were going to be very difficult to turn around.  Had he known how to read the messages from his soul sooner, he might have avoided many years of uncomfortable and dangerous physical complaints.

I have many such stories about the mind-body connections that I have explored with clients through my psychotherapy practice.  Because I have also had extensive experience in health and medical settings, physicians and other healthcare workers often send me clients with complicated physical illnesses.  On a daily basis, I help clients make the connections between what their bodies are experiencing and what their souls are trying to tell them.  People with foot, leg, and hip issues, often have some sort of fear of moving forward in an aspect of their lives.  Those with chronic headaches and migraines, tend to over-analyze and to be highly self critical.  Patients with breast cancer often have a longstanding need for security or nurturance.  Heart problems may arise from a fear of love or a perceived obstacle to love or loving feelings.   Intestinal issues usually show up in people who hold on to the past too tightly (constipation) or let go of themselves and their identity too much (diarrhea).  Back problems often develop in people who feel overburdened by life and the section of the back that is affected can provide clues as to the kinds and sources of the burdens.   The list goes on and on.

(To read further, purchase Soul Health: Aligning With Spirit for Radiant Living at www.drkatherinetkelly.com, www.amazon.com, or www.barnesandnoble.com)

Beliefs About Fun and Leisure

(Taken from Chapter 12 of Soul Health:  Aligning with Spirit for Radiant Living)

All of us, from time to time, need a plunge into freedom and novelty, after which routine and discipline will seem delightful by contrast. ~~André Maurois

DSC_0163We are a product of our environment.  And if your upbringing instilled a lack of balance in your beliefs about work and play, you probably brought this into adulthood.  Though it is admirable to have a strong work ethic, this alone won’t feed your soul.  And it certainly won’t grant you permission to laugh and play nearly as often as your soul health might require.

In our culture, it is not uncommon for people to feel guilty when they have fun or take time to relax, and this often keeps them from doing so.  Somehow, they have accepted the idea that such pursuits are self-indulgent, despite how much better they feel when they engage in them.   This may have nothing to do with money, and instead have everything to do with the idea that they don’t deserve the time or energy it takes have fun or relax.

Because the recreational branch of health is key to understanding and experiencing radiant living, it is important to look at fun and leisure as an investment in soul health.  Rarely does anyone get to the end of life and wish they had worked more; instead, most wish they had spent more time engaging in fun or leisure.  Their regret inevitably diminishes their soul health.

  • What are your beliefs about work and play?
  • Do they match your ideas about radiant health?
  • Do you feel guilty when you engage in fun and leisure activities?
  • What fun and leisure activities would you regret denying yourself in the next week? The next month?  Year?  Lifetime?

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(To read further, purchase Soul Health: Aligning With Spirit for Radiant Living at

www.drkatherinetkelly.com, www.amazon.com, or www.barnesandnoble.com)

Life’s Detours, Bumps, and Bruises

The really happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery when on a detour. ~~Unknown

I don’t know of anyone whose life has gone exactly as they thought it would or how they had planned. Many view these detours in life as failure, perceiving any deviation from their intended route as annoyances rather than opportunities to grow. They allow themselves to be drawn into the frustrations of their human condition—their wounded perception of the world based on past experiences—, rather than looking at what these diversions many offer to help them evolve. We become mired in our grief of not staying on track rather than opening ourselves to the possibility that these detours may actually offer something of value.

Many years ago I learned that the Chinese word for “crisis” also means “opportunity” depending on how the word is used. From that moment on I started looking at the difficult times in life as opportunities to grow. To say that my perceptions about the events in my life opened up would be a colossal understatement. I began seeing the gifts that these uncomfortable times in my life produced, which not only eased the painful experience of any given event, but also helped me respond in more conscious ways. The result is that I generally have little regret for how I handle things and can also recognize that I am growing and evolving even in moments of deep emotional discomfort regardless of the stress I may be experiencing. When working with clients I often use the words ‘growing pains’ to explain their discomfort while they are working through their issues. Just as physical growing pains can produce discomfort, we may also experience some emotional discomfort as we grow beyond previous ways of handling things in our human condition.

The truth is that meaning and growth is present in everything we experience. If we take the time to interpret these events we can reach a much higher level of consciousness as we apply what we learn to our lives. This consciousness inevitably allows us to grow beyond what we might have had we not taken the unexpected path. And ironically, in most cases, we are grateful that the detour took place.

What unexpected events have occurred in your life recently? Did you take the time to understand how these events may have helped you grow? Take some time to reflect on these experiences and see what you can learn about yourself. It just might be that your detours have provided your greatest paths toward growth.

Katherine T. Kelly, Ph.D., M.S.P.H. is a licensed psychologist in her own psychotherapy and consulting practice in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Her books “Soul Health: Aligning with Spirit for Radiant Living” (release date – coming soon!) and “There’s No Therapy In Heaven: The Soul’s Guide to Mastering the Human Condition” (release date Summer 2013) are in the finishing stages with a final publication date soon to be announced.