emember the commercial where the woman is frazzled from non-stop phone calls, kids screaming, and dinner turning crisp on the stove? Frenzied from the pressure, she summons a bath product to "take her away" from the stressful situation.
What if the stress could disappear just by swallowing a chill pill? Kate Hanley, who concentrates on the mind-body connection, is the perfect teacher for showing women how to decompress from stress.
Hanley is a Brooklyn-based writer and registered yoga instructor. She is the author of the recently released book The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity. She has been featured on the Today Show and served as the coach for the iVillage.com Mind-Body Community Challenge.
Kate is a regular contributor to Body + Soul magazine. Her work has been published in Yoga Journal, Playboy, Delicious Living, TimeOut New York, Prevention.com and LHJ.com. Hanley hosts her own website ms.mindBODY where she discusses ways to increase one’s sense of wellbeing.
WOW: Welcome to WOW!, Kate. Most of the world operates at a break-neck pace. What has led to people being so uptight and/or stressed out?
Kate: First off, we’re all so busy that we get stuck in a constant state of go-go-go. I think we just get stuck on overdrive, where we’re living for our to-do list and it seems like there’s no time left to take care of ourselves. The real problem comes when we get so used to being chronically frazzled that we don’t even notice how bad we feel. It starts to feel normal, and then we take even fewer steps to counteract the mental and physical effects of stress.
WOW: I’m guilty of making daily to-do lists and worry when I don’t complete everything. What are common stress habits that people exhibit?
Kate: Oh man, you name it. Overeating, irritability, insomnia, neck pain, back pain, headaches, forgetfulness, shortness of breath, fatigue.... They all feed on each other and any one symptom can trigger another, leading into a nasty downward spiral if you don’t make an effort to get the needle moving in the opposite direction.
WOW: I must be very stressed! I’m plagued with four of the symptoms you listed. Centering energy is important. Can acupressure relieve tension and help me refocus?
Kate: Traditional Chinese medicine maintains that we all have vital energy, known as chi, coursing through our body along meridians, similar to how blood flows through our arteries and veins. When chi gets blocked anywhere along the meridians, that’s when we get imbalanced. Acupressure works by stimulating points along the meridians where the chi is closest to the surface. It brings attention to a problem area and encourages the chi to flow freely again.
If you get bleary-eyed when looking at your computer screen for too long (and who doesn’t?), use your thumb and middle finger to hold either side of the very top of your nose, directly between your eyes. There are acupressure points there called “eyes bright.” Applying steady, gentle pressure to these points—long enough for you to take several breaths—can restore your vision and refresh your mind.
WOW: Thanks, I will try that. Are there other ways for people to "tune in" and listen to their bodies during a stressful situation?
Kate: The quickest way to become more rooted in your body is to become aware of your breath. Resting your hand on your belly just below your belly button and taking a deep breath so that you feel your hand move away from your spine as you inhale is the quickest way to short circuit your stress response.
WOW: That’s great advice! You enjoy different alternative therapies. What types bring balance to a writer's life?
Kate: Physically, yoga can really help counteract all the sitting writers do. It’s imperative that we get out of the chair and do some moving around every day. And making that movement mindful will also benefit our creativity, objectivity, and overall sanity. Yoga is mindful movement, but it isn’t the only kind. Tai chi, qi gong, dance, capoeira, walking, and weeding are examples of other types. The most important thing about the type of movement you choose to do is that you enjoy it and that you do it regularly.
“Yoga, like any mindfulness practices, teaches you how to turn down the volume on your own internal naysayer.”
WOW: It’s important to not just sit in front of the computer screen all day. Still, the creative juices sometimes dwindle if I take a break. How does yoga affect the creative process?
Kate: Einstein said that he did his best thinking when he was shaving. There’s something about giving your mind a rhythmic physical task to focus on that gives your best ideas the chance to arise effortlessly. Yoga is a great creative facilitator because it encourages your mind to concentrate on what your body is doing—how you’re breathing, or where your big toe is. It engages the part of your brain that is always chattering away and will often poo-poo an idea before it gets a chance to develop fully. Yoga, like any mindfulness practice, teaches you how to turn down the volume on your own internal naysayer. And, as you open your body, you also begin to unlock the deeper wisdom we all have—what you might call a gut instinct, or a feeling in your bones. And that’s where the best ideas come from.
WOW: Discovering the best ideas is what writing is all about. I've read your work on iVillage and you also contribute regularly to several magazines. What do you enjoy about the magazine writing process? Any part you would change?
Kate: I love collaborating with a good editor to refine an idea, and I love seeing a piece come together after I’ve done all my research and I’m in the writing phase. There’s lots of futzing that happens, and I enjoy my own editing process as much as the writing. What I have to challenge myself to avoid is letting my work get formulaic. There’s a certain cadence to women’s service magazines that’s necessary, but it can become irritating quickly if you aren’t careful. I would also change the contracts. Most magazine contracts are pretty unfriendly to writers and there’s only so much you can get changed. And many magazines take way too long to pay. I hate having to spend some of my precious time chasing down payment on something I turned in on time long ago.
WOW: So true! The business aspect of writing takes up time when most would like to focus on craft. How do you come up with ideas?
Kate: I get the vast majority of my ideas from my own life. I live in New York City, I run my own business, and I have a new baby—everyday I need a little help keeping it together, and I use all the remedies I suggest on a regular basis.
“…I wanted to provide a place for people to share their self-care secrets.”
WOW: That’s a great point. You have your own website, ms.mindBODY. What are the goals of that site and how does it work?
Kate: When I did my yoga teacher training (at OM yoga center in New York City), they taught us to always have a theme to each class we taught—whether it was a particular pose you wanted to work on or a philosophical thought you wanted to explore. I started the site to put the many themes I wanted to explore down in words. I also wanted a way to show people who may or may not be “yogis” how a simple stretch, or breathing technique, or meditation, can help you in the midst of your day, even if you aren’t interested in or don’t have time to develop a full-fledged yoga practice. And I wanted to provide a place for people to share their self-care secrets.
As a writer, the site helped me build an audience and prove to publishers that I had the dreaded “platform”—a list of newsletter subscribers who have said that they are interested in hearing what I have to say. It has also helped me get work writing for magazines, since editors can go check out how I write and they can see that I have an expertise in the subjects I’m pitching.
WOW: So, writing what you know helps! Your book focuses on a topic important to you: the mind-body connection. What do you see as the major differences between book publishing and magazine publishing?
Kate: I think book publishing has more respect for the writer. They are investing in you, not just your idea. In magazines, they must constantly feed the content beast, so the idea takes precedence. There are also so many editors involved in magazine publishing—it’s much more writing by committee. Although, I definitely know and love many magazine editors who appreciate me and who have taken the time to develop a relationship with me, for the most part, freelance writers are a dime a dozen. If you don’t want to sign their contract, there are plenty of other writers who will. But there are similarities between the two as well. Mainly, they both want ideas that are proven and yet haven’t been done before.
“The biggest challenge is simply remembering to disengage from whatever’s stressing you out...”
WOW: This is so true. With your background, proving your ideas were worthwhile must come easily. How did you develop the idea for The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide?
Kate: I wanted to show that yoga, meditation, breathwork, acupressure, etc., aren’t just esoteric practices. They can help you deal with every aspect of your messy, modern, million-mile-an-hour life. So, I wrote chapters for dealing with stressful situations at work, out on the streets, in your social life, your love life, and even during life’s biggest challenges, such as illness and divorce.
I was also very inspired by Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals, how she proved to so many people that taking good care of yourself (by making your own dinner) doesn’t have to take a lot of time or know-how. (Although I try not to use any cutesy abbreviations or lingo, with all due respect to Rachael and her overwhelming success.) I wrote each remedy in a recipe format, so you can see at a glance how long it will take, what you’ll need, and the exact steps to follow.
WOW: Awesome idea! Readers want practical strategies. Why 77 simple strategies?
Kate: It sounds nice. There’s nothing particularly auspicious about the number 77.
WOW: I’m ready to try your recipes for stress relief. How can a stressed out individual incorporate your tips into her life?
Kate: The majority of the remedies I suggest can be done in minutes—sometimes, even seconds—and in public. The biggest challenge is simply remembering to disengage from whatever’s stressing you out and spend a few moments doing a very basic practice that will help you process how you’re feeling and move on.
WOW: I try to find humor in stressful situations. What role does humor play in stress relief?
Kate: It’s like yeast in a recipe for bread—it provides lightness, does a lot of the work for you, and reminds you that not all progress has to come from effort.
“I think writing a book is so unglamorous. When you come down to it, it’s all about sitting your butt in your chair and banging it out.”
WOW: Very true. Even though one tries to stay stress-free, writing a book might produce a few nail-biting moments. How did you begin the book writing process?
Kate: I started with a few sample chapters to work out the voice and the format, and then switched gears to map out the table of contents. I think writing a book is so unglamorous. When you come down to it, it’s all about sitting your butt in your chair and banging it out. That’s not to say that it’s not fun. It is. But if you look at 77 remedies with a four month deadline, that’s basically one remedy a day. You’ve got to be disciplined about producing.
WOW: Exactly! Disciplined writing produces results. What's your writing routine like?
Kate: Well, now that I have a baby, I wait until the baby is sleeping or I have childcare and then I write like crazy. Seriously, I try to hew to Anne Lamott’s guidance of writing really shitty first drafts. I strive to not get in my own way by re-hashing a sentence three times when I’m in the first draft phase. Ideally, I let the piece sit for a day or two and then look at it again with fresh eyes to start refining it. I have found that “bad” first drafts are rarely as bad as I fear they might be.
WOW: That’s sound advice! What advice would you offer aspiring authors?
Kate: It only takes one publisher to say yes. And every no you get gets you closer to that yes.
If you are shopping a proposal and getting consistent feedback on why a publisher isn’t interested, take it to heart and seriously consider either tweaking your idea or moving on to the next idea. This was the third proposal I shopped, and I ended up re-working my original idea based on the feedback I got from the first handful of publishers who turned it down. Which leads me to my final piece of advice—keep the faith!
WOW: Keeping the faith is a great recommendation. It’s important advice when building a relationship with a publisher. How did you develop a relationship with skirt!, the publishing company for your book?
Kate: I met with an editor from skirt! at the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. If you are a member of ASJA, you can sign up for 8-minute meetings with editors during the Personal Pitch session, held on the first day of the conference. It’s like speed-dating with editors and agents.
WOW: Sounds like a fun, but potentially stressful time! Does skirt! cater to a specific genre?
Kate: They primarily offer non-fiction geared toward women, and they like their authors to have a unique, personality-driven voice and point of view. I suppose you could call their preferred slant “smart and sassy.” My book is part of only their second annual roster of books. I’m really honored and excited to be working with them. They have been great to work with.
WOW: Thanks, Kate, for sharing your writing background and introducing your new book, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity.
And ladies, if you are feeling stressed right now, check out this clip of Kate Hanley on the Today Show. Kate shares some simple stress relievers that you can do anywhere—even in your chair. Enjoy!
LuAnn Schindler is a full-time freelance journalist living on the eastern slope of the Nebraska Sandhills on a dairy farm with 200+ holsteins. She currently blogs for The Muffin, the WOW! Women On Writing daily blog. Her work has appeared in the Pregnancy, 2: The Couples Magazine, Denver Post, Rural Electric Nebraskan, Absolute Write, in addition to other publications. LuAnn is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and Nebraska Press Women.