sarahmichigan: (fitness)
Remind myself that it's not selfish to make time to exercise, and things that need to get done will get done, even if I spend an hour on "frivolous" things like exercise.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Damn, I love it when something really makes you feel alive. Even if it's soul-ripping grief, there's almost a rush to that sense of totally being right here, right now, alive, right down to your bones.

A couple recent examples:

a) Last night, during a period of sprinkling rain, I went into the backyard to pick fruit from my very own raspberry bush. While I was squatted down picking, it changed from a sprinkle to a downpour. Being in touch with the elements always makes me feel really alive. Those berries were the sweeter and tarter for having come from my own soil, picked in a rush of rain.

b) I've been doing research on local "Pick your own" farms and have been talking to a lot of farmers. Most of them (with a couple exceptions) are pretty small operations, with farmers who are old, wrinkled rangy men. They have been incredibly kind to me, telling me jokes, driving me around their farms, teaching me about gooseberries and the dozens of varieties of apples. I even got to meet a llama today!

So much of the time, I've remarked, I feel guilty. No matter what I'm doing, I feel like I should be doing something else. If I'm doing housework or yardwork, I'm resentful or wishing I was sitting around reading a book or reading LJ. When I'm lazing around playing solitaire or reading a book, I think I should be doing housework or doing some paying writing/editing work. When I'm doing my freelance writing, no matter what project I'm on, I think I should be doing more on another one, or that I should be getting some housework done.

It's taken me a while, but I really think that -- at least for me, maybe for a lot of people-- the inability to be here now is the major root of anxiety. That's why doing yoga or focusing on your breathing often works, and probably why sex is such a good de-stresser. I have to say that  while walking around in the sun smelling apples and tasting fruit and stooping to pick sugar snap peas and talking to 80-year-old farmers, I had very little time or mental energy to focus on anything else. I was present and relaxed. It was awesome.

I need to cultivate more of those moments in my life.

sarahmichigan: (Default)
I gave a kick-ass speech about size acceptance in my dreams last night. I was with a group of former co-workers having a drink. I mentioned in passing that I'd given up talking smack about my body and had pretty much learned to accept and even love myself and my fat. One of my co-workers asked, "But how?"

And I went off on a rant, and hit all the highlights pretty well:

-I stopped trying to suck in my stomach and pretend it wasn't there and started really looking myself in the mirror without criticizing.

-I learned to buy and wear clothes that weren't too tight (because many fatties refuse to buy clothing in bigger sizes when they put on weight) or too loose so that I had no shape, but rather sharp, tailored clothing.

-I realized that this was the size I was meant to be, and that all the women in my family are around my size, or bigger.You can chalk this up to similar eating habits, but multiple scientific studies with twins show that genetics is the hugest influence on ultimate adult body size.

-I've learned not to care if people think that I've just "given up" or have "taken the easy way out"; my mental health is just as important as my physical health, and constantly striving to be a size I'm not meant to be isn't any good for my mental health.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
It sometimes irks me that my week is so structured that it's difficult for me to do anything spontaneously, to make a coffee date with less than 2 weeks notice, or go visit my writing group that I've abandoned for more than a year, or whatever.

And yet, I thrive on structure and scheduling, and I tend to feel anxious if I don't have at least some structure. Plus, I get more done with a schedule. For instance, if I didn't have my 3 solid "go to the gym and lift weight" days solidly planted in my weekly schedule, I know that I would not be very consistent with those workouts. 

I wish I could find a balance, where I had enough structure and scheduling that I felt calm but wasn't SO tightly scheduled that I feel like it's impossible to find time to make friends or even spend more time with current friends.

I think this balance is one of the things I'm seeking with my new job arrangement- I'll be pretty scheduled 3 days a week, with more freedom the other 4 days a week. If only I could figure out how to apply that better to my social/family/personal life. . .
sarahmichigan: (Default)

1. Because of our diet and weight loss culture, I think many people drastically UNDERestimate how many calories they need to maintain. There's this idea that the "right" amount of calories for a moderately active adult (not a teenager, and not a senior) woman is around 1,800 and that's not considered a diet. A weight-loss diet, most people think, is restricting to somewhere between 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day (only less if you're really on a drastic diet, and you probably can't get all your vitamins and minerals without supplements on that few calories). From the calculations I've been researching, I could, on my most sendentary days, probably eat 2,100 calories and maintain or even lose weight. On days when I hit the gym for my 55-60 minute workouts, I could probably eat between 2,500-2,800 calories and maintain my current weight. I generally eat less than 1,000 calories by noon, and that includes breakfast, lunch, and a mid-morning snack. No wonder I'm so hungry in the middle of the afternoon and often half-way through my post-job workout. I am thinking of trying to eat more hearty breakfasts and lunches and see how that goes.

2. I read that the working class reaction to food acquisition is to get the most calories you can for your money, while middle/upper class people have a different relationship to food acquisition. There may be a relation between this mentality and super-sizing of fast food, and the tendency of restaurants that cater to the working class to serve big portions, while ritzy restaurants serve smaller portions with better quality ingredients. I definitely think that my brain is wired for "get the most calories you can, and cheaply!" I find myself wanting to take advantage of any offer of free food in the office. Even if I don't eat it right then, I will often squirrel something away in my munchie drawer for later, just in case. That means I don't have to put money in the vending machine later if I'm hungry. Free food! Whee! I've gotten better at doing this only with foods that actually appeal to me. I'm less likely to eat food I don't actually care for just because it's there, unless I'm really famished.

3. In Dale Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living," one technique he mentions is living in "day-tight compartments." Just focus on the day, and let tomorrow take care of itself. This, I think, is good advice. Of course, Buddhists, New Agers, and others who are interested in meditation and "mindfulness" will tell you the ideal is to focus on each second, not just each day, to "Be Here Now." That's good advice, but I think the best thing that works for me is somewhere in between. I need to focus on the next one to five minutes, usually, unless I have a really big block of time set up for something. In the morning, for instance, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to do to get ready for work, and I even think further ahead to all the things I have to do at work and then after work. If I can focus on, "OK, what's the immediate next step, or maybe two steps?" then I feel a lot less overwhelmed and anxious. First I need to finish dressing. Then I make my coffee. Then, I feed the cat. Then, I pack my lunch. Then, I eat breakfast. If I live in five-minute-tight compartments, that usually works best for me. I find that once I get into the 'flow' of a task, I can focus on it and not think ahead to worrying about all the things I need to do later that day.

sarahmichigan: (Default)
So, I just noticed that I'm doing that thing again where I get off-track with self-care activities just when I need them most. It's been kind of a hectic week. I was gone all last weekend, which means I didn't get to take care of the household chores and such that I normally get done on the weekend. Then Wednesday was LONG and I didn't get stuff done that day, either.

Thursday, I just couldn't face going to the gym, so I've already blown one of my fitness goals I set for this spring/summer. I took a buy, and by that, I mean I took a brisk 30 minute walk instead of going to the gym for a vigorous cardio and weights workout. On one hand, I think it was a legitmate "pass." I wasn't sick in the sense of having the flu or injured in the sense of having a sprain, but my repetitve strain was flaring up and I was so exhausted. So, in that sense, I was doing self-care by skipping my workout. On the other hand, I also have been slacking off on other self-care things I could still be doing, like stretching and flossing. I could probably work in some extra ones, too, like scheduling a professional massage or at least a home foot spa (scrub, massage, moisturize, pedicure).

On the plus side, at least I think I'm beginning to catch this pattern earlier. I used to let things spiral until I was so stressed and anxious tht I was bordering on panic attacks or chewing my hangnails so bad that my hands looked like hamburger. I think some extra sleep this weekend and perhaps some socializing will put things right with my world. I also need to start taking decongestants again, I think. I'm getting to that point in my spring allergy season where my head is sloshy with sinus issue.

I just need to hang on for another hour and it's the weekend. . .
sarahmichigan: (Default)
Is to spend less time living in fear.

Really, almost anything else I would want to make as a resolution boils down to that.
-I won't fear food in all its variety and splendor.
-I won't fear that taking a few days off of regular gym-going will melt my muscles and turn me into a couch potato.
-I won't fear that if I don't stay in this crap job that we'll have to sell the house or go without health insurance.
-I won't fear starting projects because I might not finish them.

We live in a culture of fear. We fear we're all going to die young because we're all so sedentary (not true- not supported by studies at all). Or we're all going to get diabetes from being too fat or eating too much sugar (impossible- it doesn't work that way). Young people are all couch potatoes because they stay inside and play videogames instead of going outside to play. But if they go outside to play, they might be kidnapped by a stranger or propositioned by a molester. Trans fat will give you a heart attack, and corn syrup will make you fat. Flying to Florida will give me deep vein thrombosis because I'm short and overweight and an infrequent flier, and these all increases my risk. If I don't conform to some ridiculous and arbitrary BMI standard right now, I am not *really* taking care of myself, and it'll be all my own fault if I end up crippled by 40 and dead at 59.

I was boggled by the self-flagellating self-hating commercials on TV over just a few hours on January 1 and 2 that I saw. We're all lazy, fat, ugly, and unorganized but if we spend enough money, we might be a little bit closer to acceptable!

Granted, it's New Year's resolution time when we all beat ourselves up en masse for our personal failings- it's a tradition! But good lord! I do not regret my decision to avoid most commercial TV on a weekly and monthly basis after that small taste. Advertising plays on one of the biggest and most common fears ever: that we're not OK the way we are and nobody will ever love us. I think that sucks and I refuse to expose myself to that kind of message on a regular basis.

After all: Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I know that regular exercise is good for my mental health, but I always forget what a huge difference it makes until I slack off for a while and then start up again. During the last couple weeks of August, I was walking and stretching, but not really getting good heart-pounding cardio exercise for very long. I was pretty freaking moody, too. Since going back to the gym starting last Saturday, my general energy and mood has bee much improved.

Read more... )

Memo to self: If you make time for intense cardio workouts at least a couple times a week, you will feel SO MUCH BETTER!
sarahmichigan: (Default)
This is a rant, not a well-reasoned polemic, so if you want to take issue with my logic or facts, please be gentle about it.

Read more... )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I've been reading "Slowing Down to the Speed of Life." It's sparked some interesting insights and has confirmed some things I had already figured out for myself.

A few things I'm not crazy about: 1) it has a sort of New Agey tone that grates sometimes, and I don't believe that developing "unconditional love" for people no matter how they act is necessarily a mentally healthy thing. 2) While I agree that how we think about things often *colors* our experience, I don't necessarily think that our thoughts "create our world."

However, I've already picked up a few tidbits that have helped me stay calm when I was feeling upset or rushed. First is the idea that you have two basic modes of thinking, and being in the wrong mode at the wrong time can cause stress. You're either in analytical/processing mode, or you're in intuitive/free-flowing mode. If you have all the data you need for a cut-and-dried problem, like pricing tickets for a trip, then analytical/processing mode is appropriate. When you want to do some creative task or make a decision about a relationship, often free-flowing mode is more helpful. If you don't have all the facts you need, and you keep trying to process in analytical mode, you just drive yourself crazy and stress yourself out. It's better to put the issue on the back burner and let your intuitive side try to sort things out. This is often the reason why you have great insights when you're dreaming or when you've given up on a problem for the day. The idea of NOT over-processing an issue that I don't have all the facts on has been extremely helpful. Just let it go until you have the facts you need.

The second and third ideas I found helpful are similar to insights I had a few months ago. I decided that while I can't always change external stressors, I CAN work to take care of myself and make myself more stress-proof, and I can change my attitude about these stressors. I've also talked on my LJ about the idea that if you rush, you'll muck things up, and it'll take longer to complete things than if you slow down and do it right the first time. Sometimes it's important to move swiftly, but "rushing" is never productive. The book goes into a lot of detail about these concepts. If you start your day with a To Do list of 10 things, and you keep filling your mind with stressful thoughts about "How am I going to get this all done?" and "I never have any free time!" you're still going to have to do all 10 things, but you're going to be stressed, distracted, and inefficient. If you acknowledge that you're having stressful thoughts about how busy you are, but just let them go and try to get into the free-flow zone, you'll be able to do those 10 things more efficiently without stressing yourself out.

I have noticed this last bit of dysfunctional thinking in myself. If I obsess about how busy I am and how much stuff I need to do, I get stressed and cranky. If I just tell myself, "Sarah, it'll get done, and what doesn't get done probably wasn't that important," then everything usually gets done, and I feel much more relaxed about it all.

I do have one quibble with the idea that your thoughts create your experience. The authors seem to be saying that the ONLY reason you get upset or stressed is because of your thinking. While I believe that's at least partially true, I think that we're wired to react to certain stressors on an instinctual level that's pre-thinking. If someone verbally attacks you, your heart races, you sweat and shake, and it's not because of your thinking-- it's an instantaneous reaction, and the person's attack IS causing you distress, not just your own thinking. Of course, you can use your own thinking to defuse the situation, such as thinking, "Geez, he's having a bad day. I know that I did nothing wrong, and this guy is usually not this nasty, so I will try to stay calm and react with compassion."

Anyhow, I'm sure there will be more insights gained from this book. Anything that helps me slow down and de-stress is a good thing, even if I don't agree with the philosophy behind the techniques 100 percent.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
7. Turning it Off. Often when you're worrying, you don't just ruminate on one thing that's bothering you; instead your mind races from one topic to another, maybe touching on six or ten different things you're stressing about. The client who ruminates in this way has to find ways to quiet the mind so they can concentrate on the task at hand. One exercise is to close your eyes, breathe deep, and imagine an empty container. Visualize and name each worry, and put it into the container. When you've put all your issues in the container, put a lid on the container, and put the container up on a high shelf. This has "emptied" your mind so you can concentrate on the task at hand, whether that's writing a report at work, or talking to your spouse about chore-sharing. If you're prone to rumination before bedtime, write out a list of all the things running around in your brain, and shut the list in a desk drawer or put it in a jewelry box or a cabinet overnight. Tell yourself you can pick up the list of worries the next day, if need be.

Read more... )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I got these from a recent Psychotherapy Networker, and while they're aimed at people with clinically-diagnosed disorders like panic attacks or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I think they could help people with lower levels of stress, too.

I'm summarizing/paraphrasing for space considerations.

1. Manage the Body. Eating right, getting adequate sleep, avoiding alcohol, nicotine, excessive sugar, and caffeine, and getting exercise sounds like obvious advice, but neglecting these can undermine the effectiveness of other coping techniques. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause can also trigger anxiety.

Read more... )
sarahmichigan: (thoughtful)
I saw this question asked in an advice column, and I thought it was interesting. I'm paraphrasing, but basically the question was: How do you know when a personality trait that annoys someone is something you should change, or if it's just a quirk that the other person should be more tolerant of?

Again, I'm paraphrasing, but the columnist said it depended on whether it was a personality trait that was actually reasonably liable to change, and whether you really wanted to change that personality trait.

She gave the example of being a worry-wart. Read more... )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I mentioned a while back in this post that I have been listening to the book "Destructive Emotions" on CD:

I'm more and more impressed with the Dalai Lama and his branch of Buddhism. The book is largely a transcript of a multi-day meeting between Buddhists and brain scientists, and one of the big topics in the book is how to teach children "emotional and social intelligence"; that includes things like recognizing and coping with your own negative emotions, learning to recognize emotions in others, and learning to calm down and not react violently in response to negative emotions that arise. I was really impressed that he and the brain scientists agreed that it was necessary to find a secular way of presenting the information. How many evangelistic Christians would be so enthusiastic about turning the precepts of their religion into something secular to make it more widely accepted and applicable?

One highlight so far (I'm almost finished):

Typically, therapists who work with people who have explosive anger issues try to lengthen the time between when the person gets angry and when they act on that anger (i.e. "Take a deep breath and count to ten."). In Buddhist psychology, they believe in trying to catch the anger even earlier, and learning to notice the thought processes that lead up to the feeling of anger. Say a man is in line and someone cuts in front of him. He begins to think, "That's not fair. That person is a jerk." Then he gets angry. Then he is tempted to push the person or say something nasty. Traditional therapy would tell the man to breathe deep, count to ten, and not take action until he'd calmed down. The Buddhist approach is to try to catch yourself earlier, while you're in the "unfair" part of the thought process, and re-frame. "Maybe he didn't see me. Anyway, it's no big deal, and nothing worth losing my cool over." That way, you might even be able to stop yourself from getting really angry, much less acting on it.

I had more to say, but I'm running out of time. Maybe later.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
As part of my book on CD kick, I'm reading "Destructive Emotions." It's about the overlap between Buddhist philosophy of the mind and neuropsychology, and I'm gaining new respect for Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. I think it's especially neat that he thinks that if science proves a tenet of Buddhism wrong (for instance, when he was a boy, Buddhist cosmology still said the earth was flat), then Buddhism should change to align itself with the science. He's doing that to make Buddhism relevant and creditable in the modern world, and I think that's pretty cool.

I think [ profile] novapsyche would like this book a great deal.
sarahmichigan: (pensive)
-I am afraid to lose control. I feel like I've often HAD to be the one in control, the one "keeping things together," and if I let go, people will fuck me.

-Change, even necessary and/or good change, is scary.

-My sexuality is not defined by anyone else. I am a whole sexual being in and of myself.

-A mantid, close up, looks like an alien from another world, with that triangle face and glittering eyes. I bet some movie aliens are loosely based on members of the mantis family.

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