One Thing at a Time

One Thing at a Time

I’ve often heard the saying: one day at a time, but something that cropped up for me today is the importance of taking things one THING at a time.

As a species, humans are actually quite horrible at multi-tasking. We might think we are pretty good at it. Completing a task on our computer while listening to music and taking a call without interrupting our work might make us feel like superheroes, but in fact, attempting to multitask has been found by research to reduce our ability to complete any one task, or at least reduce our ability to complete it to the best of our ability had we focused on just one task at a time.

Several months ago when I started a new workout routine I got really excited by the newfound energy I had. Moving my body in the mornings not only gave me a surge of adrenaline and endorphins, but creating a routine that carved out ample “me time”time gave me a new sense of direction and motivation for my life. I got high from these positive feelings. I decided there were many things I wanted to change to improve my physical and mental health.

Some of these things included creating a new workout routine I could stick to, writing monthly goals and intentions, being consistent with writing blog posts, creating a course on stress management, stopping the birth control pill, starting meditation, going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, drinking less coffee, drinking more water, increasing vitamin intake to coincide with going off the birth control pill, convert to more natural products including food and beauty products… and the list goes on.

Fast forward to several months later, and I have found myself feeling scatter-brained and unmotivated. This past week I’ve been doing some thinking and I think the scatter-brained-ness is because I have tried to make too many changes at once.

So, I’ve decided it’s back to the basics for me. One thing at a time. I am not ashamed that I get excited about making positive changes in my life. Sometimes I just get really energetic and excited about the potential for change that I commit myself to several different things and then a week later when my energy dips, I realize I cannot possibly keep up with several new changes or habits. It’s just too much multitasking.

Maybe some people can handle the multi-tasking, but it’s just not the right thing for me. And I don’t think it’s right or it works for most of us. The right thing for me moving forward is going to be one thing at a time.

One thing at a time looks like focusing on one major intention or goal each month, or for several months, until the change has become a habit and incorporated into your daily life, or the goal has been accomplished.

Although we glorify humans’ ability to multi-task and “hustle” I truly believe the value lies in slowing down, single-tasking, and pressing pause when we need to.

What Happened to the ‘Health’ in ‘Mental Health’

What Happened to the ‘Health’ in ‘Mental Health’

When we talk about mental health, we aren’t talking about health. We’re actually talking about the lack of health. ‘Mental health’, as a term, attempts to signify the state of one’s mental well being, but it has become more synonymous with “mental illness” or the lack of mental health.

You can observe a similar trend with the study of psychology. The study of psychology focuses on situations where mental health, per say, is lacking or off balance. Rather, when mental function is unhealthy. The fact that psychology focuses on what is missing from mental health, or how one has fallen “mentally ill” and must be restored back to their mental health, spurred the need for a topic called positive psychology.

Positive psychology, aside from being one of my favorite and most inspiring classes in college, covers the topic of mental flourishing and the idea of optimal mental functioning. It does not focus on illness, but rather focuses on betterment.

I’ve found this is similar to the way we talk about mental health today. Mental health, and talking about it, is often stained with a negative light, and makes you think of things like stigma, shame, and illness. And this might be ok for now. Well, not the stigma and shame part. That’s why I’m so open about my struggles with ‘mental health’. I believe that talking about it open and honestly is my way of attacking the stigma and shame head on. And I love doing it, but alas, mental health does not need to be seen in this way.

Regardless of what the conversations around mental health in this country have showed you, and what our medical community’s approach to mental health has showed you, you do not need to fall ill to take an interest in and prioritize your mental health.

Like positive psychology is to psychology, mental wellness can be to mental health. And there are so many ways that we can improve our state of mental wellness and make it a priority.

Here are some of the ways you can seek out mental wellness.

  1. Live authentically and purposefully
  2. Give yourself the time and outlets to find authenticity and purpose in you life – this can mean practices like meditation, reflection, mindfulness, or yoga
  3. Prioritize movement
  4. Treat your body and gut with compassion
  5. Be open to helping others and also set boundaries
  6. Cherish social support
  7. Listen to your body and let yourself rest

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and ways that you seek mental wellness! It’s something that is so near and dear to me, and I’ve incorporated into my course on stress management.

The reality is that everyone can benefit from prioritizing their mental health, or mental wellness. There are countless ways to do it and you need to believe that you deserve it.

 

 

Listen to Your Body

Listen to Your Body

Your body always knows what it needs before you know what it needs. And if you listen closely, you can hear it. 

When we are stressed, the body will exhibit signals, from extremely minute to obviously loud, and we can use these signals to understand and cope with the stress we are experiencing.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stress, because stress manifests itself differently in different people.

The next time you feel stressed, if you are able, stop whatever it is that you are doing. Take a minute and listen to your body. Scan from your toes to the crown of your head and examine what you feel. Listen to what your body is telling you. Are your calves tingling? Is your heart rate accelerated or heavy? Are you sweating more than usual? Is your breathing shallow? And how do your head and your mind feel. Does your train of thought feel like whatever is normal for you? Are you feeling aches anywhere? These are just some questions to ask yourself, but the feelings in your body can guide you. I created a worksheet here (Brain Dump Worksheet) to help guide you in this process.

Bodily signals have been a way for the body to speak to the mind in organisms since the beginning of time. The body tells us when to eat, when to drink, and when to rest. Less acknowledged is the body’s ability to tell us when we are stressed.

The body acknowledges extreme threats with a very noticeable stress response. This response acts through the sympathetic nervous system, a part of the autonomic nervous system, which is a system that maintains homeostasis, or balance, in the body. The autonomic nervous system unconsciously acts to keep the body’s many systems in balance. So, without you consciously thinking about it, the body is working to interpret and react to external signals like threats to your body and life.

A sympathetic nervous system stress response is colored by symptoms like an accelerated heart rate and breathing, sweating, and a sense of urgency. This reaction prepares the body (fight or flight) to literally face the danger at hand or run from it. In modern society while such severe threats are much less common, we still experience stress, and stress that can be present for long periods of time.

A good way to listen to your body is to sit in a quite, comfortable place, observe your thoughts and feelings, and write them all down. Do a body scan like I described above. Use a worksheet like the one I created here (Brain Dump Worksheet) to guide you. I know you want to become less stressed, or at least better at managing your stress, and this is the first step in doing just that.

 

How to Stress Well while Traveling

stress_well_traveling

Traveling can be stressful. Planning your travel dates, requesting time off from work, purchasing plane tickets, booking accommodations, booking other necessary modes of travel, ensuring your travel documents are up to date, packing… not to mention being in a new place with potentially a different language and culture… the list goes on.

Luckily the joys of traveling outweigh all of these stressors. Otherwise we wouldn’t travel as much, right?

I’ve always had a passion for seeing new places, so I’ve grown to become familiar with the process of traveling, preparing for traveling, and dealing with stress while traveling. Recently I took an 8-day trip to Europe. This trip didn’t require much planning compared to other trips I’ve been on, but nonetheless I still prepared accordingly and practiced several key strategies to anticipate and manage stress during my travels.

I want to share what I’ve learned from my experiences, and the strategies I’ve learned that have helped me to manage stress while traveling. And maybe you can try out several of these tips during your next adventure and let me know how they work for you.

1. Do your research

This one seems straightforward. Do your research! Your research should start as soon as you decide you want to go on a trip. Whip out a word doc or an excel spreadsheet and open a new Google tab. Research where you want to go and find a place that offers what you’re looking for and fits with both your budget and how far you want to travel. Doing initial research to educate yourself about all of the factors that are important to you for your trip will provide you with insurance and also the confidence that you are making the right decision for you.

2. It’s all about preparation

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Preparation for a trip is one of the best ways to keep stress at bay once you are actually on that trip. This tip goes hand in hand with doing your research, and it will help you to avoid situations that could cause stress. Prepare in terms of researching the weather so you can pack temperature-appropriate clothing, research the currency exchange rate so that you know when and how to exchange your currency, research the safest or most fun or communal (whatever it is you’re looking for!) hostels so you increase your chance that you will be staying at a hostel that you will enjoy. Bring back-ups of essential items like travel documents and credit cards in case of emergencies that you cannot fully prepare for. Preparation for a trip will help to minimize the possibility of stressful situations cropping up and catching you by surprise.

3. Mentally plan out or visualize how your trip will unfold and prepare accordingly

Visualize how the trip is going to go. How do you want the trip to go? How will the trip go in the best case scenario? Not only is it useful to visualize how the trip will go so that you can plan and prepare for each leg or day of your trip, but it will also help you to envision the type of experience you are seeking. Visualizing your trip beforehand will help you to imagine potential stressful situations beforehand, and this will allow you to prepare for, or at least know when to expect them while on your trip.

4. If you forget something, don’t sweat it

Packing for a trip can be very stressful for me because I want to ensure that I don’t forget anything. For some reason while packing I often think, it would be awful if I forgot something like my toothbrush… I cannot forget it! But in reality, wherever you’re traveling there will be stores for you to purchase anything you forget. Take packing seriously, but don’t sweat it. Keep a list of the things you will need, but remind yourself that it will be OKAY if you do forget something. You can likely buy whatever you forgot once you’re at your destination.

5. Get good sleep and hydrate the week before traveling

Getting good rest and hydrating well the week before traveling is important. It’s not always feasible, but if possible, you should try to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night during the week leading up to your trip. You should also make sure to drink plenty of water and fluids like coconut water. Traveling takes a lot of energy out of a person and continuing to stay well rested and well hydrated the week before your trip will help you to stay balanced and avoid any immune system weakness while traveling.

6. Hydrate and eat nourishing foods while traveling

Similar to the last tip, it’s beneficial to hydrate and eat nourishing foods while traveling. Traveling, especially flying, is very dehydrating to your body. Skip the alcohol and bread on the flight, and drink plenty of water, tea, and liquids like coconut water. Bring your own snacks and water bottle to the airport. Snacks at the airport are overpriced, and since you can take an empty water bottle through security you can fill it up at a water fountain once you’re past security. Taking these precautions will help you to feel better once you arrive at your destination. Retaining your physical strength will also bolster your mental clarity and ability to manage any unexpected stressful situations.

7. Keep an open mind

While traveling, keep an open mind. Things will not always go according to your plan. When I travel, I like to make a ‘loose’ plan for each day, and one that leaves flexibility in case unexpected opportunities crop up. I also don’t like to make reservations for anything, unless it’s something I absolutely want to do and it requires a reservation. Otherwise, I find reservations to become too stressful. Factors like train delays, language barriers, or getting lost might cause you to take longer than you expected to get to a reservation, and these situations can be very stress inducing. If you plan out your days loosely, and leave plenty of time for whatever might happen, you’ll be better suited if and when a stressful situation presents itself.

8. It’s OK to break away from your plan

In addition to keeping a loose plan, I think it’s also important that you remind yourself that it’s OK to break away from you plan. One of the fun parts of traveling is that you will discover things you didn’t plan for in your research. Perhaps it starts raining unexpectedly and you decide to ditch you plan to head to the park and instead discover a cozy tearoom. Don’t hold yourself to your plan very strictly. Use it rather as a guide of the things you’d like to do. That way, if a situation arises for which you must break away from the plan, you’re less likely to feel stressed by it.

9. Journal through stressful moments

There inevitably will be some stressful moments while you’re traveling. While we can prepare the best we can for whatever stressful situations might come our way, we might still be faced with stressful situations that have been presented to us to challenge us. Accept these moments as situations for learning and growth. Bring a small journal on your trip and write your way through any stressful times (if that’s your preferred method of stress management). Alternatively, take time to meditate, go for a solo walk, treat yourself to a nice meal or cup of tea, or spend time in nature. Release your stress in the healthiest way you prefer, and get back to enjoying your trip.

10. Take the time to reflect

Taking the time to reflect will help you to stay grounded while traveling. Sometimes it is helpful to remind yourself why you wanted to take a trip and what you wanted to get out of it. Take the time to thank yourself for planning out this opportunity for yourself. By choosing to travel, and experience a new place, you are actively committing to your growth as a human being. Reflecting and showing gratefulness to yourself is a natural way to increase levels of feel good hormones, like serotonin and epinephrine, and help you to keep a positive mindset during your travels.

 

 

 

 

How to be Your Own Advocate When it Comes to Stress

When it comes to Stress, you MUST be your own advocate! I cannot stress this enough. It’s one thing to have to manage our stress, and it is another to practice control over the stress in our lives that can be controlled.

Now, when I talk about the stress that can be controlled, I’m talking about the stress we experience from various commitments we make that might cause more strain than joy. If they are commitments we plan willingly, they are not usually sources of stress, but if there is some kind of pressure involved in the commitment, then this situation can be a source of stress as well.

Either way, you are the only person who truly understands your current, active level of stress. You are the only person who understands what exactly is on your plate at any moment, day or week, and you are the only person who can communicate your current level of stress.

Therefore, you are in the position to be the BEST advocate for yourself when it comes to stress, your commitments, and events in your life that you can control. So, how do you practice being your own advocate when it comes to stress? There are many ways, and I’ll talk about some here:

1. Understand your boundaries

Understanding your boundaries is a vital way to advocate for yourself when it comes to your stress and overall well being. Take stock of what is on your plate, and what you are comfortable with having on your plate at any given time. Understand what types of things bring you joy, and more joy than stress.

2. Communicate your boundaries

Once you understand your boundaries you can practice communicating them clearly and effectively. You don’t necessarily need to make your close family and friends aware of your boundaries, or be proactive about asserting your boundaries. Rather, practice saying no to things or commitments that will cause you more stress than joy. Speak calmly and slowly. Be confident! You are entitled to your boundaries.

3. Understand that other people, too, have boundaries

Other people have boundaries when it comes to stress. One of the best ways of advocating for yourself when it comes to stress is by showing that you respect other peoples’ boundaries when it comes to stress. Acknowledging other peoples’ boundaries will show them that you care about their well-being, and hopefully they will treat you the same way in return.

4. Ask for help when you need it

Asking for help is difficult. It is something I struggle with, but have been practicing recently at work. Some people see the idea of asking for help as a sign of weakness, and this might keep them from asking for help when they really need it. But it is a fact of life that you’re going to need help at times. You can be brave and go it alone, or you can be brave and seek help in close friends, mentors at work, or family when you need it. Trust that the people you ask for help will say no or be honest if they genuinely think they cannot help you in the way you are seeking.

Advocating for yourself when it comes to stress is extremely important. You cannot expect someone else to do it for you, and if you do lean on someone else to do it for you this isn’t necessarily 100% honest or sustainable. You deserve a life with only the stress you choose to take on. There is stress that you can control, and advocating for yourself is a great way of exhibiting control over that stress.

Tips for Managing Overwhelming Anxiety

todolist postI woke up this past Monday extremely anxious. Anxious about going to work, anxious about having enough time to finish all of the tasks I needed to finish at work, anxious that the tasks not only wouldn’t get accomplished but that they wouldn’t get accomplished well. I woke up anxious also about non-work stuff. Over the weekend I realized that I am leaving for Europe in less than two weeks and have soo much to do before then. Packing, laundry, planning, double-checking that I have everything I need for the trip.

Other life tasks piled on this list as I thought about how I still need to schedule the colonoscopy and wisdom tooth-removal surgery I’ve been putting off for months. I also got summoned for jury duty the day after I return from Europe and need to figure that out. And something that was bogging me not only in terms of anxiety but making me feel weird emotionally was that I needed to figure out a pet-sitting situation for my newly adopted dog while I am gone. I had booked this trip long before I adopted her, and I adopted her with the understanding that the guy I was seeing at the time would take care of her while I’m gone. Well that relationship didn’t work out and thus I lost my hopeful pet-sitter.

All in all, my brain felt like it was going to EXPLODE with the amount of things I needed to accomplish.

With this anxiety my sleep, too, has suffered. I’m not a good sleeper, and I never have been. But in times where I’m particularly anxious I have restless sleep or very vivid, haunting dreams that leave me waking up exhausted rather than rested.

Now that it’s Saturday, and I’ve worked through the week and worked through the anxiety, I want to share some tips that got me to the less anxious place that I am currently at now.

1. Write a daily to-do list

When the source of your anxiety is having what seems like a surmountable amount of things to do on your mind, one of the best things you can do is get those thoughts out of your mind and on to paper. Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and write down everything you need to accomplish this week, or everything you need to accomplish in the future that is currently in your mind. Write one thing per line. Next, prioritize these items in order of what needs to be accomplished sooner to what can be accomplished later. If throughout the day you think of more things that are not on this list, add them to the list. As you accomplish things on your list, cross them off. Crossing items off a to-do list literally releases serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and your brain will elicit a feeling of relief.

2. Adjust your Mindset

Remember, life happens one day at a time. You can only attend to one task at a time, and you can only be expected to accomplish one thing at a time (unless you’re multi-tasking, which I don’t really recommend you do). Adjust your perspective and remind yourself to take things one day at a time.

3. Move your Body

Moving your body will help to relax your mind. I’m usually ok at getting enough movement in my day, but this week I went on two walks during my workday as opposed to the usual one walk I schedule in my day. Moving your body increases blood flow and oxygen distribution throughout your body and to your brain, and will help you to feel less anxious. Moving could also help you to pass off anxious energy. High intensity workouts like running or boxing allow you to transfer your anxious feelings through your movements, and also clear your mind. Think of your anxiety like energy that can be transferred, and punch (a punching bag!) or run it away.

Although there are more tips for dealing with anxiety, in this post I wanted to focus on those that helped me this past week, and that can help specifically for the type of anxiety where you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list.

I hope these tips can be useful for you! And feel free to comment or email me if you have any questions:)

 

An Introduction to Stress Well

An Introduction to Stress Well

All of us have dealt with stress at some point in our lives, so we might as well learn how to experience that stress in a healthy way. People, books, and websites tout ways to reduce stress, avoid stress, or compartmentalize and ignore it. But no matter which of these methods you attempt, avoiding stress is not the solution. I believe that a more effective way to cope with stress is to find ways to examine, evaluate, and manage stress well, rather than avoid it.

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives, if not daily or often. Daily stressors are caused by various factors like concerns about money, difficulty with a task at work or school, trouble communicating with a family member or friend, or generalized worry about the future. Larger stressful events like losing a job, moving, losing a spouse or family member, or dealing with a serious health problem can cause more acute stress responses, and might potentially confound the amount of stress experienced in your daily life. The point is, in different shapes, sizes, and intensities, everyone has encountered stress. You are not alone in your experience of stress, and by sharing both what I’ve learned through classes and research about stress, as well as the ways that I’ve coped with stress personally, I hope to help you feel less alone in this journey.

Since the beginning of time stress has acted as a survival mechanism to nearly every living thing. If you think back to the hunter-gatherer time of human existence, a stress response is what would result from a stimulus, and a potentially dangerous stimulus, and would motivate a human to react in a way to escape that danger.  Acute stress has helped organisms to survive imminent dangers while daily stress has motivated organisms to engage in activities necessary to survival, like acquiring food, water, and shelter, or engaging in activities that will enhance their survival, like going to work every day. As a motivator or driver, stress has served a role in organic and human existence since the beginning of time, and it is not going away. It cannot be avoided and it cannot be eliminated from the body. We might as well learn how to deal with it.

Finally, stress is not always bad, and it doesn’t always signal danger. According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, established in 1908, there is an inverted U-curve relationship between pressure (or arousal) and performance. This law states that as physiological arousal increases, so does performance, but only up until a certain point. When pressure reaches a certain point and becomes too high, performance will start to decrease.  By this law, a small amount of stress or pressure might act as a motivator and is correlated with increased performance, but only up to a certain point of stress, after which it might become harmful to a person mentally, physically, and emotionally.  The more we understand about stress in general, in addition to our unique experiences of stress, the better we can cope with it.

The fact that stress can reach a point in which it becomes harmful to human health is the reason we have been seeking ways to manage and cope with it. Facing stress head-on might be the best way to manage it both in the moment and in the long run. However, there are no quick fixes. From my experience, the practice of facing stress head-on is both terrifying and exhilarating, but you will be stronger emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, because of it. I hope from visiting this site, of anything you gain a new perspective on managing stress, and learn that stress is not always the enemy. If you can work to understand your stress, and work with it rather than against it, you can learn to stress well.