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Navigating Stress and Anxiety With Mindfulness and Gratitude Journaling

“I used my journal a lot at this time. Being in gratitude would truly help me cope with the anxiety. At the time, everyone was reaching out to us. But it was really something I had to process myself and in my own way. I was also trying to hold it together for my son. I never wanted him to feel how stressed I was or that there was anything wrong.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Margaret Alvarez, I am an artist, art teacher, and creativity coach. I am from Houston, Texas. That is where I still live with my husband and 8-year-old son. 

I have been an artist ever since I could hold a pencil. I attended the High School for The Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. Graduated with a Bachelors’s in Studio Painting from the University of Houston and I received my Master’s in Teaching from National University. I am currently teaching kindergarten-8th grade art in a private school. I have been teaching K-8 art for 15 years. 

I am beyond passionate about art. It is who I am. I love being creative and sharing this with my students and my clients. During the pandemic, I started My Artsy Coach. Along with being a full-time art teacher, I am a creativity coach who teaches people to combine creativity and mindfulness.

I bring my experience as an artist and teacher, but I am also very interested in practicing mindfulness. I especially love teaching the benefits of both creativity and mindfulness combined. It brings me so much joy!

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I struggle with stress and anxiety. This started when I became an adult. I started to realize that “adulting” caused major anxiety. All of the responsibilities and uncertainty were hard to cope with at times. When I was young I used my art journal to cope. As I got older, I started doing a bit of research on happiness.

I got really into universal laws and self-help books. I would watch or read anything that I thought would help me. The one common denominator was “gratitude”. No matter what, gratitude was almost always mentioned. So about ten years ago, I started using my art journal as a gratitude journal combined with my art. 

I would set the intention on the first page of my art journal. It is specifically for my gratitude. When I feel anxious, worried, or frustrated, that is when I would go for my journal. I would draw, collage, or write. I started this ten years ago!

Anxiety happens to me often. I get lost in my thoughts and now that I have a family and even more responsibility this is what I do to cope. I work in my journal weekly, sometimes more if I have a lot going on. 

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

One example of my own personal struggle with anxiety is when my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He had a speech delay and was struggling with behavior in school. Before I knew it, we were getting him evaluated. He was diagnosed shortly before his third birthday.

Obviously, this wasn’t planned. He was attending the school where I was teaching. I was thrilled that we could ride to school together and that I could see him walking with his class in the hall. It hit me so hard that he was no longer going to be at the school with me.

Not to mention, we had no idea what to expect. This was a really tough time for me. I was constantly thinking of what “might” happen. I worried about what school he would attend or if he would be non-verbal forever. 

I used my journal a lot at this time. Being in gratitude would truly help me cope with the anxiety. At the time, everyone was reaching out to us. But it was really something I had to process myself and in my own way. I was also trying to hold it together for my son. I never wanted him to feel how stressed I was or that there was anything wrong. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

When I embraced gratitude, my whole life changed. Gratitude is the one thing that always brings me back to the present moment. It helps me worry less and feel less anxious. I didn’t know how significant my gratitude art journal was till years later.

When the pandemic happened and my anxiety was high once again, I decided to share my ideas. This is when My Artsy Coach was born. I knew that everyone was on edge and I wanted to help. It felt like divine timing. I wanted to share this practice and become a creativity coach.

I think that prioritizing my happiness as a young adult was a good starting point for me. I did the research and tried to discover what it was that would make me a happier person.

I think in general, people forget about themselves a bit. I now make it my priority to teach people how to use gratitude and creativity. This is just another tool to achieve peace and happiness and channel stress and anxiety into a creative flow. This is self-care. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

First, I did the research. I needed to educate myself on happiness. Reading and experimenting with different methods was really helpful. Once I found a way I began to practice it regularly and all I can say is that gratitude came naturally to me. It was easy to be in gratitude. I felt the benefits immediately and that was really satisfying. I also started to see the benefits affect how my life was evolving. 

You can start off by simply listing. I try not to overwhelm people with the creative part right away. Sitting down once a day is a great start. Some people do this in the morning. Also, you have to take it easy on yourself. If you miss a day just move on. You can easily just take a moment and make a gratitude list in your head. 

Once you find the right kind of art journal, you can buy a few simple supplies. Colorful pens, crayons, and watercolors are a good start. Play around with making your lists colorful. Doodle or draw if you want. It’s really about being in the moment. No judgment, this journal is for you and you alone. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I am married. My husband is my best friend. We have been through a lot together and so I shared my journey with him. As my son got older, I started to reach out to anyone who was navigating life as a special needs parent. I would have loved to have advice in the first year, from someone who had been through it. 

My husband also encouraged me to share my story through My Artsy Coach. Which is why I started creating workshops and online classes. I find that most of my clients start out really nervous about the creative part and leave feeling proud. The mindfulness piece takes time, but I think that anyone can incorporate this into their lives. If they choose to, it can be life-changing.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

Take care of yourself first. Prioritize your well-being. It is so important. Start slow and go easy on yourself. There is no judgment.

Art journaling for me is very private. I don’t share every single page I create. I know that for me, it was organic. I wanted to be more mindful and grateful and so I used my art journal and set that intention. I literally wrote out what I was doing so that the intention was set. I had to make that commitment and I am so glad I did because now I get to share how this practice has changed me. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?



Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can read more about me here, or on Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Facebook.

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.