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The free time conundrum

22 Jul

Once upon a time I was quite skilled at balancing out my free time and my work time. I took yoga classes, volunteered, painted, meditated, socialized, exercised, blogged, and rested. Somehow I have gotten into this rut of either 1. working 2. doing house projects or 3. lazing around. There really hasn’t been much in between. So after many weekends devoted to house projects and finally reaching what my husband calls “the end of the internet” (i.e., there’s nothing good to watch on Netflix) I declared that this past weekend was for relaxing and adventuring, but then we didn’t actually know what to do. What is that?! barney I know it makes sense. For years I worked several jobs without a lot of free time and then when I started running my practice full time, there was ALWAYS something extra to do. Also, we bought a house a couple of years ago and there’s always some project to work on. And I do get out sometimes. I see my friends, I go to yoga once a week, I still knit like a fool, I read books. But when it comes to a long, free weekend day? I’m at a total loss. Pooh So here’s the thing. We have a baby on the way in a few months (more on that later and yes, I’m thrilled and it has been and will continue to be a roller coaster, I am sure!).  I don’t want to waste my precious free time for it will certainly be taken over by the little one! So I’m getting back to basics to make sure I actually get out and about to do enjoyable things. So every free weekend (sometimes we have family in town or we are going out of town), I want to try something new. I also want to get back to making Sunday recipes. That’s it! Here are some of my ideas:

  • Go berry picking
  • Hike in a new place (an easy hike for me, please!)
  • Take Radar to the beach
  • Paint a picture for the baby’s room
  • Go to a new farmer’s market
  • Get a massage
  • Blog instead of wasting time on Facebook and other sites (yes, I’d rather waste time blogging!)

So that’s it for now!

Inspiration

23 Feb

JKZI’ve been working.  There’s been some procrastination.  I’ve been hanging with dogs.  I’ve been walking.  I’ve been drinking lots and lots of tea.

What else?  Sleeping.  Reading.  Talking.  Enjoying visits from dear family members.  Doing weekly acupuncture.  Drinking weird herbs twice a day.  I bought a new chair for my office, which some of my clients call my “throne” (I love that, it makes me laugh).  I’m working on a new business website, which is surprisingly time consuming and thankfully I’m being helped by folks much better at such things than I! I’m still trying to stay off facebook, but sometimes I habitually just log in to it.  I quickly realize I’m not missing much.

I’ve been thinking a lot about life in its present form, as well as things that have happened in my past.  It feels like peeling away the layers, which is good although it is sometimes painful to face the truth that I miss some people and probably always will.

I’m trying to stay inspired, informed, and excited.  Sometimes I become very thrilled or extremely nervous when thinking about what I want to DO and ACCOMPLISH and how things will BE in the future.  When that wears me out I try to remember to just be in the present.  Just do one thing at a time.  Just take it step by step. Just breathe!  All that good stuff.

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It’s all in the mind

4 Feb

“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” -Buddha

I have a cold right now so my mind is a bit fuzzy.  Still, February is the month to focus on the Mind.  Some of the goals include:  to be more focused, to spend my time doing things I love, to learn more, to rest my mind when needed, to take in the benefits of a regular meditation practice.  I have been a bit baffled as to where to begin.  So I’ve decided to do something really concrete that I KNOW is going to only benefit my mind: I am taking a much needed Facebook break.

412-facebook-cartoon

Cartoon by Cathy Thorne.

Cutting out Facebook is definitely taking something AWAY rather than adding something to life, the preferred approach that, for me, is more likely to result in lasting change.  But sometimes this type of drastic measure is needed.  Using Facebook doesn’t really add anything helpful to my life, other than being able to send messages with some friends or keeping up with my book club.  I waste time on it, I often feel bad about myself when looking at it, and I get annoyed with all of the political posts.  I don’t see a reason to be on there very often, and yet I am on there every. single. day.

There is always something happening on Facebook.  People posting pictures of their recent tropical vacation, George Takei’s latest meme, comments on photos, and so on.  If you don’t check in regularly, it creates this feeling of missing out on something important.  Logging in and seeing notifications and messages can be very exciting.  If you are like me, Facebook is extremely compelling.  I have a very visual mind and while I enjoy seeing the pictures and updates, it also has a powerful, almost hypnotic effect on me.  I have had vivid dreams about people I’m “friends” with on Facebook, people I haven’t seen or really even thought about for years.  I can waste amazing amounts of time just shuffling through things and looking at basically nothing.  Then there are the darker results.  I compare myself to others.  I judge others.  I get grumpy.  My specific triggers?  I hate seeing pictures of tropical vacations (jealous), pregnancy posts (jealous), and posts about football (stupid).  Don’t even get me started on the political posts (shutup!).  The non-comformist in me kind of hates the trite way Facebook promotes traditions such as posting about what you are thankful for on Thanksgiving.  But I still look at the photos, I still comment about what I’m thankful for and I still get grumpy and judgy.  To be clear, I don’t wanna feel, think, or act in this way.  Nor do I want to waste a lot of time.  But still I go to Facebook and waste time, feel awful and know that I’ll keep on doing it.  Ugh.  Besides, I am also so freaked out about the ever changing privacy settings that I rarely even post anything of substance on Facebook, instead just writing about my dogs and sometimes about food.

Recent research shows some disturbing things about the use of Facebook:

  • A research study demonstrates activity on social media can give us a quick hit of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for reward-based learning.  Dopamine transmission occurs with drug use, sex, and other addictive types of activities.  It is both funny  and disturbing to recognize that there are real, physiological results of someone “liking” your photo on Facebook, writing on your wall, or sending a message.  It feels good and can therefore become quite compelling, if not addictive.
  • A study  by Stanford’s Alex Jordan finds that Facebook users consistently over-estimate the fun their friends are having and underestimate their negative or unhappy experiences. Jordan concluded that Facebook could be exacerbating the tendency to assume that everyone else is happier and enjoying themselves more than you are.  Jordan comments that the research participants “were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life”.   Information on this research study can be found from this article and also this one.
  • There’s also a study about the use of Facebook by those with narcissistic tendencies.  People displaying narcissistic tendencies tend to have more friends on Facebook, they tag themselves on more things, and regularly update their newsfeed as well as their profile picture.  Additionally, they tend to respond aggressively to comments made about them.  I begin to wonder about what comes first- the narcissistic tendencies or the overuse of social media, especially for younger folks.

So there’s lots of great reasons to cut down on Facebook time.  Here’s how I’m going to do this:

  • I am going to keep my account open, but will only login two times a week to check on updates from my Book Club or anything else.  I will only be on for 10 minutes during those two logins.  
  • I will keep this up through the end of the month and then reassess.
  • During all of that time I would normally be on Facebook, I will free up much needed space in my head.  I can instead read, go on a walk, write on my blog, talk to people in real life, etc.

Lastly, check out this very awesome video if you haven’t before.  

Possessed by technology

17 Jan

I want to be more mindful.  That’s the main reason I took on the Body-Mind-Spirit Project.  I want to be mindful about how I take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally and physically.  Lately I’ve been working on my morning routine.  My goal is to accomplish a few things before I get going with my day:

  • Do some yoga 
  • Meditate
  • Walk the dogs

That’s really it.  There is nothing too complicated here. The order doesn’t matter, the time spent doesn’t matter, I just want to DO IT.  But… it is hard.  Mainly because I get very distracted and then?  I check out.  I’m sure this happens to other people.  You intend to just look at your phone or check your email quickly.  But then the next thing you know, an hour has gone by and you’re looking at shoes online.  What just happened?

Yep, I get possessed by technology.  It completely takes over and I am powerless.

Evil Tech Squirrel

Evil Tech Squirrel found on Myside’s Spew.

Yesterday I had the best of intentions to get things done.  I recently posted that I’ve been taking it easy, trying to focus on relaxed and loving transitions rather than harassing myself into doing things, for example bounding out of bed and running outside in my pj’s to take the dogs on a walk in icy, 30 degree weather (yuck).  BUT, I went to the other extreme and got a bit lazy.  Yesterday I let the dogs out in the backyard and checked my email.  I checked my other email accounts. Then, oh look!  Some messages on Facebook!  George Takei posted something funny!  Blah blah Blah.  Later, as if I couldn’t even control my movements, I was back in bed with the laptop, dogs happily sleeping by my side.  We did NOT go on a walk and so much time was wasted that I eventually had to get ready to leave for an appointment, followed by an afternoon of walking other people’s dogs.  Yep, that’s right.  I walk other people’s dogs and didn’t even walk my own dogs.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.

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“Oh, you’re leaving? I guess we’ll just stay home and do this all day.”

Driven to actually do helpful things upon waking, I resolved to put my laptop far, far away from the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.  Last night I placed it on the dining room table.  The dining room is in the far corner of the house and you just don’t really go in there unless you have to or want to.  Today I woke up and let the dogs out, made some tea, did some yoga, meditated and then we went for a walk.  I got my dog walking clothes out before doing yoga so it was all ready to go.  I made my bed shortly after waking up so I wouldn’t feel tempted to get back in it, which is SO tempting when it is cold.  As I did yoga and meditated I noticed little thoughts coming up and trying to entice me to grab the computer .  Oh my shins are sore from walking. maybe I can google the best stretches to do for this!…I bet I could find a great meditation to do online instead of just sitting here.  Instead of following those impulses, I just noticed it and moved on.  I told myself VERY CLEARLY that there would be no computer time until AFTER the dog walk.  Besides, those thoughts are stupid.  I know some stretches to help my legs.  Also, meditating IS just sitting there.  Sometimes we have such silly thoughts.

So putting my laptop far away and telling myself NO COMPUTER UNTIL YOU DO YOUR ROUTINE, it worked!  I did my stretches, meditated, and the dogs had a great walk.  Afterwards I made breakfast and some decaf coffee (yeah, I’m that boring) and then sat down to peruse my email (nothing much there) and Facebook (the political posts upset me) and then into my blog reader (now I like that!).

The Huffington Post recently published an article about practicing mindfulness with technology.  Some recommendations include taking deep breaths before jumping on the impulse to check text messages or emails and also to notice how taking part in social media and other forms of technology makes you feel.  I found this article very helpful!

Do you get possessed by technology?  Have you been able to successfully change habits, or build new ones?  If so, how?  

Sadness

15 Jan

Yesterday I felt very sad.  I won’t get into a lot of the WHYS, but there were a lot of things that bubbled up to the surface.  I was thinking of some upsetting situations and my hormones got the best of me.  I let myself have a nice big cry, remembering what I always tell my clients- Crying can be helpful.  Crying is a way we release stress hormones from our physical bodies.  Crying is cathartic.  So I just let loose with it.  I leaned my head against the wall.  I grabbed the hand towel from the bathroom and used it to catch my big ole tears.  I let my body posture completely slump down like a rag doll.  Radar, blind superdog, came into the room and began to growl at me.  Really, blind dog?  You growl at me when I’m sad?  This is what Radar tends to do when he isn’t sure what is going on and something startles him.  Although he knew it was me, I don’t cry like that very often.  My hypothesis is that he thought something was wrong with me.  He growled a bit and did these little yip barks.  I told him “I’m okay, it’s okay” and he stopped with the barks and growls.  All the while he held his little funny face really close to me, trying to assess each second with his big nose tilted towards me.  Once he got over his startled growling, he just sat next to me and that was comforting.

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“Are you okay?”

I thought a lot about what to DO about being sad and realized I didn’t really need to do much of anything.  My sadness felt appropriate, it wasn’t overwhelming, and I was trying to take care of myself.  I had a yoga class to teach so in preparation for it, I did a long home session of restorative yoga, moving very slowly, deliberately and carefully, like a moving mediation.  It helped.  Driving to yoga, I still felt pretty sad and realized I was going to need to pick my energy up just a bit or my students would spend 75 minutes crying into their mats.  I put on my favorite pick-me-up song, which I prefer to listen to at a loud volume while I hit the steering wheel to the beat.  This helped too.

XTC- Making Plans for Nigel

Yoga class was fine and it was actually quite nice to move around and get my mind on other things.  As I drove home, I listened to another song, this one is one of my go-to sad songs.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- People Ain’t No Good

Once I was back home, I ate some warm soup, talked with my husband, and we watched some TV.  Oh and I ate some delicious dark chocolate.  After a good night’s sleep, I really don’t feel sad anymore.  However, if I hadn’t let the sadness bubble up and be present when it needed to be, I would perhaps feel less present and connected now.  Although it isn’t fun to feel sad, it happens.  I recently listened to this podcast, Opening to Our Lives with Jon Kabat-Zinn.  He talks about how in Western culture we tend to EXPECT constant happiness, which is completely unreasonable.  Sadness happens.  This really resonated with me.  It is what we do with it and how we treat ourselves that really matters.

Here are some of my general approaches towards sadness (based on DBT approaches for emotion regulation):

  •  Be curious.  Is it appropriate to feel sad? Do I have a reason to feel sad?  Investigate what it is all about.  Typically, emotions present themselves for a reason- they show us things!  Sadness can show us what is important and what we value.  When we feel we’ve lost something in line with that, whatever it might be, we feel sad.  However, there are also times when we inexplicably feel sad and it is helpful to know we can pull ourselves out of that if we need to.
  • Recognize appropriate sadness.  If there’s a reason to feel sad, try to sit with it.  Practice self-care even while feeling it, for example doing something soothing (drinking hot tea or taking a bath), or take part in an enjoyable activity (playing with my dogs or chatting about things with a loved one).  Sometimes when I feel sadness for a relevant reason, I just let it go through me (like I did yesterday) and assume that once I get through the wave of sadness, I’ll move on to something else.
  • Practice opposite action. If the sadness is making it hard to tend to necessary things (like teaching yoga, for example) OR if the sadness seems like it doesn’t fit the situation of what is going on, try using the skill of Opposite Action– Do the opposite of what you feel like doing.  The idea is that the opposing action can inspire different thoughts and feelings, which can actually change your mood.  This is what I did when I listened to the XTC song, which tends to make me energized and excited (instead of listening to the Nick Cave song, which makes me feel even more sadness).  When we’re sad, we tend to want to isolate and be very quiet.  Instead, try going outside, watching a funny movie, talking to a friend about light topics, and so on.  Exercise can be very helpful for this also.

Emotions are like waves. They come and they go.  They have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Some of them are very large and some are very tiny.  They will always be there.  We can learn how to understand them and how to work with them.

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Water waves

Photo by Rob Casey (photo links to original source).

What do you do to take care of yourself when you’re feeling sad?  What are some of your favorite songs to listen to, either as a pick-me up or to really feel your sadness?

Trying to find a balance

11 Jan

What I dream of is an art of balance. –Henri Matisse

jazz-by-henri-matisse2

Life continues to move forward, as it inevitably does, and I find myself grounding and re-grounding all the time thanks to this project.  I’ve pulled myself away from the check-marks, numbers, the musts and the shoulds of what must happen every day.  While they were instrumental in setting up a basic how-to for my project, they were not very helpful.  I decided to do this project because I was feeling disenchanted, uninspired and disorganized.  But I’m quickly seeing how I could turn into an orthorexic exercise addict who can’t function without daily meditation.  No thanks, that’s not really what I’m going for.

This week, I’ve been a bit off on my daily goals and it has resulted in discouragement.  The discouragement led to impulses to give up and say SCREW IT!  Do you know that feeling?  You put really high expectations on yourself and then when you don’t achieve them, you just give up completely?  It happens all the time, the procrastination/perfection circle.  It rears its ugly head and destroys many things and sadly, we harass ourselves into thinking it happens because we weren’t perfect enough, but the procrastination likely would have never occurred it we hadn’t expected perfection.  So the way to stop the cycle is to simply modify the expectations and be more realistic.  I won’t be perfect, so I might as well just ease up.  In the interest of really trying to be kind to myself, I’m letting it go.  I’m listening to that harsh inner critic (and mine is a real beast) and I’m just. letting. it. go.

perfectionism

I’m not giving up on the project, no way.  It is hard and my attention towards it fluctuates, but it is challenging me in interesting ways.  Recognizing that my reaction towards wanting to change things in life results in rigid and unreasonable expectations, I’m just revamping.  This is only 11 days in, so I’m sure such changes will only continue.  My focus on the body has been too rigid and involved WAY too many drastic changes.  Sometimes my head was just spinning with all of it.  Considering that I’m still adjusting to a new schedule and bringing in new things as time goes on (like the dog walking and teaching sporadic yoga classes), I’m doing a lot and I need some flexibility.  I have 4 different months this year to work on the focus on the Body, so this month I’m just keeping it focused on healthy movement and very basic things.

Here’s how I’m breaking it down even more:

  • Walking.  I’m using my pedometer and my goal is simply to get over 5,000 steps per day.  Getting 10,000 is great, but it really isn’t reasonable as a daily goal.  There are some days when I might spent several hours walking dogs and then, yes, I will walk many steps.  But on days when I’m seeing clients in my therapy office, my steps will be much fewer.  As long as I have over 5,000, I’m over the basic recommended number and not in the zone of what is considered a sedentary lifestyle.  That is a very reasonable goal, but it is also enough that I am moving and going on at least one hearty walk per day.
  • Food.  Eating is a big ole can of worms that I am not really ready to quite delve into this month.  I’m considering it to be my focus for April (the next time the project focus will be on Body).  There is so much to cover with this topic that it honestly is overwhelming.  Also, I have a history of getting really strict and weird with food and I am smart enough to know not to go down that road again.  So I’m keeping it basic.  I’m drinking lots of water, taking my vitamins and supplements daily, and eating as many fruits and veggies as possible (at least 5 a day). I love making juices and trying new recipes, but it isn’t something I can do regularly and honestly, I am sometimes just grabbing what I can.  I’m sure most of you out there know what that is like.
  • Structure.  Like a toddler, I need structure.  Silly me, I expected that the rigid expectations walk several miles, do crazy amounts of yoga and make super healthy green juice every morning would just get me bounding out of bed in the morning.  Instead, I’m waking up to many avoidance tactics that are familiar and very well practiced.  So instead, I’m going to gently add in some structure while also emphasizing gentle transitions from one thing to the next (balance!  what a concept!).  I could go into great detail about this, but it feels unnecessary.  Basically, I’m going to try to get to bed at a reasonable time, wake up at a reasonable time and take care of myself along the way so I don’t feel like avoiding different things.  I put off going to bed just because I don’t want to sleep yet and feel like I’m going to miss out on something (what is that?  Am I 5 years old again?).  So, I’m going to just ease into it- make some nice tea, wear some really comfy pj’s (I just bought a new pair at Target), cuddle with my dogs and read a good book.  I’m easing into it instead of harassing myself into it.  See?  Nice and gentle towards myself during transitions instead of acting like a drill sergeant.  There’s a real irony here that I’ve spent literally years of my life meticulously looking after children who needed carefully planned transitions and extremely consistent structure.  I understood completely why they were this way and I preached it like a religion.  And yet?  A night owl at heart, I instead dance around all night, eating chocolate, wrestling with my dogs, playing on the computer, singing in weird voices to my husband and then realize OH MY GOD IT IS SO LATE GO TO BED!  I turn out the lights and go to sleep with my little heart a flutter from all that activity.  I mean, come on! Chill!!!! Or rather, chill.  Okay.  Longest bullet point ever.  I’ll stop.
  • Yoga.  This has to be my favorite thing so far this month, except for maybe becoming completely enamored with the giant, hyper puppy I’ve been walking (he’s so cute!).  I’ve somehow fallen in love with yoga all over again and not just the practice, but the teaching as well.  This past week, my nervousness and apprehension about teaching that somehow came over me like a black cloud last summer just went poof!  and disappeared.  Yoga feels good.  It feels helpful.  I enjoy it.  I love sharing it with others.  I don’t have a set time or day for doing it, but I’m getting a bit in every day and some days, I’m getting a lot in.  That feels good enough for now and I can feel the momentum building.  Plus my teachers will return from Bali next week and I can’t be ready enough for them to come back (even though that means no more teaching for me, at least for now).

Sometimes when I write these posts, I feel acutely aware that they are self-centered and perhaps mundane.  Still, it is quite helpful to have a place to write about this process and also to use this blog as a way to stay accountable to the project.  I am REALLY good at starting things and giving up and the fact that I’ve had so many different blogs is just evidence of that.  So for what it is worth, it is so helpful for me to just come on and type all of this.  It would be ideal to only have intelligent and successful things to report, but you know?  I’m kind of a stumbler and I tend to learn things the hard way!  I’m not perfect!  That being said, it is 9:30 pm and I am working tomorrow.  So, time to make some tea and get in the bedtime mode.  Good night, world!  Happy new moon!

Do you ever set very high expectations for yourself?  How does it work out for you?  How do you modify them to become more reasonable and effective? 

A Day Off from Mindfulness

5 Jan
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My favorite animal picture from 2012. (I think the bear is okay).

I didn’t go on epic walks while picking up doggie poo with the little plastic bags.  I didn’t hum songs while carefully cutting up pieces of kale to make a healthy juice.  I didn’t thoughtfully consider my vegetable intake or gaze happily out the window at the big trees while doing sun salutations.  Nope.  Today I didn’t do much of anything related to my project.

Today I went to work and I spent the entire day (and then some) in my office.  That sounds weird, like I never go to work, which isn’t true but I think I’m suffering from some kind of bizarre guilt of the formerly overworked.  The truth is, I am in my office a few days a week and I do a lot of general business running on the other days.  I also sub yoga classes periodically.  And this week I’ll start walking a few dogs here and there, fulfilling a years-long daydream of quitting social service work to be a dog walker because dogs are nice and easy compared to suffering people.  Anyway, after quite a few years of tough social service jobs, enjoying an open schedule and being my own boss feels both freeing and overwhelming. Still there is that nagging guilt causing me to consciously hold back from pursuing full time work again to deal with those uncomfortable feelings and all the uncertainty.  I feel like I should be doing MORE.  I feel scared about the uncertainty of running my own business even though it took years of really hard work to get here.  ACK.  This is the kind of crap that can keep me up in the middle of the night.

I’m starting to realize that this is how my new schedule is- I have some days that are open and some days where I’m just in the zone of doing what I need to/ want to professionally and I’ve got things to do and can’t spend a lot of time fixing perfect meals and chanting OM.  I have never been good at maintaining healthy habits during really busy times.  My hope is that I can find balance with all of this.

Nataliedee

For reals. Image from nataliedee.com

So I’m a bit disjointed and very much thinking about things like schedules, taxes and treatment plans.  Part of this challenge, surely, is to integrate mindfulness and self-care even when having a busy day.  I didn’t succeed to0 much with that today, but perhaps next Saturday I’ll do a bit better.

How do you balance taking care of yourself with taking care of your responsibilities?