Alphabet to the Rescue
By Saundra Alexis Heath
Alphabet to the Rescue is 3 exercises used alone or in combination to help creatives deal with creative anxiety.
1. Deep Breathing – Clients are instructed to take 26 deep Alphabet breaths. One deep breath and exhale for each letter of the alphabet until they have completed all 26 letters. This exercise helps clients calm themselves and focus during breathwork.
2. Alphabet Parade Visualization – Clients are instructed to visualize each letter of the alphabet written on a page and the 26 pages strung together. The client is instructed to softly state each letter as they visualize this parade of letters. This exercise can be repeated 2xs. Clients are asked to describe the alphabet pages. Are the pages plain or colorful? Are they decorated? The coach can lead the client through visually decorating the alphabet page. The coach can also guide the client in increasing or slowing down the pace of the parade of letters.
3. Alphabet Affirmations – The coach instructs the client to think of a positive description, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet and to recite those words in alphabet order, following an I am statement. For example, I am Able, I am Bold, I am Confident, I am Determined, I am Excellent…” This exercise is repeated several times using different alphabet descriptors. It is excellent for assisting clients in replacing negative thoughts and works as well in groups as with individual clients. Clients are allowed to “make up” words for more difficult letters, “X, Y and Z”.
These exercises are powerful in their simplicity and connecting clients with something comforting and familiar The Alphabet. For clients who have experienced trauma at school, The Alphabet Parade visualization, is not recommended as a client’s visualization could place them in an old classroom.
How the exercises can be used in session:
1. The Deep Breathing exercise can be used to help a client become present for the session. For clients who do not enjoy or find their mind wandering during breath work, reciting the Alphabet helps focus their attention. In using this exercise at the start of the session, it is not necessary to use the entire alphabet. This is a great exercise to instruct the client for at home use or any time they are experiencing anxiety, i.e. before or after a difficult conversation, before a studio visit, before a gallery talk or other public appearance.
A variation on this exercise might be to have clients breathe in courage, boldness, confidence, or whatever attribute is empowering along with each letter during the breath work. Or to breathe in an empowering word that begins with each letter of the alphabet. This adaptation would be similar to Alphabet Affirmations but adding breath work.
2. Alphabet Parade Visualization can also be adapted to paper as a mindfulness exercise for in-person sessions. The client takes 1 page of paper and using the whole page writes each letter of the alphabet on the page. The page should be filled with 26 letters. The client should be instructed to write the alphabets in a row with 4 – 6 letters in a row. The letters must be handwritten using pencil, pen, marker or paint. Once the letters have been written the client is instructed to go over the letters in the same or different format at least 5 more times.
3. Alphabet Affirmations can be a really fun exercise that gets clients to bring out their inner BRAVE and shift from negative, victimized thinking. The coach should encourage clients to recite their “I Am” affirmations as though they were bragging to their Momma, a best friend or reciting the affirmations as a rock star on a concert stage. They could also recite the I Am Alphabet Affirmations as a critical review of their work. For example, they might say, “According to reviewer Jane, I Am Amazing, My work is Best in Show, I am Collector Worthy, Definitely Worth Watching…” and so on.
How a creative might adapt it for home use
The 3 exercises form the basis of a creative anxiety management toolkit and should be presented to clients as something that can be used at home at any time, daily, as part of a mindfulness practice and/or as needed. The exercises can be used separately or in combination with one another. Deep Breathing can be used upon waking. Alphabet Parade can be used as a creative journaling exercise and the Alphabet Affirmations can be used before a creative communicates with the outside world, virtually or in person.
An at-home variation for Alphabet Parade Mindful Creative Journaling is to have the client use a different page for each letter of the alphabet and one letter per day. Clients can decorate the page, journal on the page, and add the page to other journals. The idea is to use creating an Alphabet a day page as a way to reduce stress and anxiety by mindfully creating. It is critically important that the emphasis be placed on the process of creating and not the outcome. Attachment to the Alphabets “turning out” a certain way will negate the mindfulness aspect of the exercise.
Results with clients
All 3 exercises have been used with different clients, alone and in combination. They have the individual and collective effect of creating calm and increasing inner peace and confidence.
In working with an actor who suffers from anxiety around remembering lines and having difficult conversations, Alphabet Breathing helps take the wind out of anxiety attacks and gets her to calm down and Alphabet Affirmations minimizes or eliminates the often-ensuing negative self-talk and helps her get back on track. When she begins feeling stressed she will quickly doodle an Alphabet Parade on any available sheet of paper.
This client has reported that it’s helpful to have these tools to prevent or minimize negative emotions or negative thoughts escalating.
I have used The Alphabet Parade as a morning mindfulness creative journaling exercise in my own work. This involves creating a page of alphabets in pencil and then going over the alphabets in marker or watercolor paint. This exercise at the start of the morning creates an inner joyfulness and is a gift of creativity to myself each day.
The exercise I have used most frequently is Alphabet Affirmations. I have used this frequently in both individual and group sessions. It is particularly useful when a client is struggling with negative self-talk and a negative self-image. The Alphabet Affirmation guides clients in reframing negativity into something positive and empowering. This exercise has an almost immediate effect in shifting a client’s energy and perspective. One client in particular who was reeling from hurtful and negative industry gossip used this exercise to recover her self-esteem. Every time a wave of negative thoughts about herself or anyone else would cross her mind and she could feel the welling up of anxiety, she would begin to recite Alphabet Affirmations to herself.
In a group setting I have used this exercise at strategic points in a training to unify the group and reduce the anxiety of the unknown and being present with strangers. In a circle, each person creates and recites one affirmation using the alphabet until 26 Affirmations have been spoken and/or everyone has had the chance to create and recite an Alphabet Affirmation. At first, there may be an awkwardness and vulnerability in the public recitation. However, as each person takes their turn reciting, it creates a shared experience and the group will experience a lessening of anxiety and a sense of being accepted and affirmed by the group.
About Saundra Alexis Heath
Saundra Alexis Heath is the co-founder and Director of Heath Gallery New York, a boutique, contemporary art gallery located in a townhouse in Central Harlem’s historic district. She brings to this role more than 30 years’ experience in corporate marketing and brand-building. Heath Gallery New York’s signature event, HangNight™ provides easy access exhibition and performance opportunities for early career artists. As a brand strategist and creativity coach, Saundra teaches an online course, “From Ordinary to Extraordinary” that guides creative entrepreneurs in developing the mindset and effective action plans to achieve their personal and professional goals. Saundra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.