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.

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.

 

Driving in a Car with Anxiety

Driving in a Car with Anxiety

The other night I was telling my therapist how I was dreading going to a friend’s party. I wanted to go to the party. I wanted to show up for my friend. But, I also had a lot of reasons not to. There would be many people there. There would be many people there that I didn’t know. What it all boiled down to, was me not wanting to go to a friend’s event because of my social anxiety.

Then, my therapist said something that really resonated with me. The way I’ve been living my life, is with my anxiety sitting in the drivers seat. Not only has my anxiety metaphorically been sitting in the driver’s seat but it has also been driving me around and controlling everything I do. My anxiety has been controlling my thoughts, my decisions, my life, and ultimately me. My anxiety had become the largest factor in deciding whether or not I would do something, and whether or not I would spend time with a close friend.

My anxiety was controlling me and doing a great job at it!

However, my therapist next encouraged me that we could turn this around. I wasn’t stuck in this state, and I wouldn’t have to live my life, passenger to my anxiety, forever. She vowed we could work until I was the one sitting in the drivers seat, my anxiety the passenger, and they’d pay for it!

There was some comedic relief envisioning me taking control of the car, getting into the drivers seat, making my anxiety be a passenger, and making them pay for the ride. However, the intention is solid, and my therapist was right.

Anxiety, like stress, might not be something we can overcome. It is not something we can be cured of. But it is something that can be compartmentalized and towards which our perspectives can shift.

It is possible for us to learn that we can control our anxiety rather than let it control us.

And I want to share this with anyone living with anxiety. It feels like a true monster at times. But with practice and dedication to treatments like therapy, anxiety becomes a monster that can be calmed, tamed, and ultimately put in the passengers seat.

Anxiety, like stress, might be a natural part of life, and it can be helpful to our human experience at times. However, the trick to dealing with anxiety is in retaining our position in the driver’s seat and anxiety’s place in the passenger seat. That way we retain control of our lives and control of our anxiety. And ultimately can live the way we want to. Not the way our anxiety wants us to.

16 Self-Care Tips for Stressful Times

There is no cure for stress. And sometimes when we are in the thick of it we forget to pay attention to ourselves and we might forget to take care of ourselves. Or we remember to take care of ourselves but place that priority at the bottom of our list. This is where self-care comes in. Self care is so important, because, as the name indicates, it’s the act of caring for the self. Paying attention to and caring for yourselves is one of the most important things you can do. You cannot properly engage in whatever commitments you need to tend to unless your self is in solid, reliable condition.

When you’re stretched for time, or are struggling to give yourself the care you deserve, there are some simpler activities that you can engage in to help center and show care for yourself. These self-care activities are by no mans a cure, but they might help you to feel better. Even acknowledging the fact that you need to take five minutes for yourself will help. You are an important, living, breathing, loving being, and you need to take care of yourself too.

16 Self Care Tips

1. Go for a Walk

Pressing the pause button on whatever is occupying me and going for a walk has been one of my favorite activities since I was able to appreciate the therapy of fresh air my sophomore year of college. Walking as a practice helps both aerobically and also emotionally, as the experience of walking helps to clear and reset your mind. Here’s an article that details further the benefits of walking: How Nature Changes the Brain

2. Do a Craft

If you have a go-to stress reducing craft, then by all means go for that (knitting, cross-stitch, painting). Otherwise, you could kill two birds with one stone by making a DIY heated neck pillow (DIY Therapeutic Neck Pillows). I made one of these on a rainy day and then enjoyed my work by relishing the benefits of a heated pillow on my neck and shoulders. Next, I’m going to try painting. My therapist recommended “painting my feelings” and so I’m gonna give that a whirl.

3. Drink a cup (or more) of Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea has the medicinal ability to calm your body, and in response, slow your mind. The herbal scent and taste can provide your body with ease, and maybe enough so to aid in combatting stress and anxiety. You can find chamomile tea at nearly any grocer, or you could even grow your own chamomile flowers and concoct your own take on an herbal remedy.

4. Hug a Friend or Wrap Yourself in a Weighted Blanket

Ask a friend for a hug, and hug them tightly. This one is rather self-explanatory, and the hormone released by hugging, Oxytocin, promotes positive feelings. Alternatively, wrap yourself in a weighted blanket. I’ve been using this one while sleeping for the past several months and it’s helped me fall asleep faster, calm my twitchy/restless legs, and feel more relaxed and rested in the mornings. You can find it on amazon and there are many sizes, colors, and weights to choose from to find one that’s just right for you.  Zonli Weighted Blanket.

5. Eat your Favorite Snack

We are (hopefully) all familiar with treating ourselves, and now is of course a time to continue doing so. So indulge in your favorite snack! Chocolate is a fine go-to, which many tout can actually improve your mood. Nutrient rich snacks will provide for longer-lasting benefits to your health, but a little sugar or chocolate in moderation won’t hurt either. If Reese’s cups are your guilty pleasure, let yourself have them.

6. Try Yoga

The ancient practice of yoga has been long acclaimed for its various health benefits. Aside from the athletic, flexibility, and other physical benefits, a yoga practice offers a set time you are committing to yourself. The focus on breathing and meditation in yoga also helps you to deal with stress and attain mental well-being. If a yoga class isn’t for you, or you want to try before you buy, I recommend Yoga with Adrienne (Yoga with Adrienne). She has tons of videos for all skill levels (including beginners!) as well as a variety of types of yoga. Check out her page and do some yoga from the comfort of your own home.

7. Write your Feelings in a Journal

Writing in a journal is a classic trick that will make you feel akin to the 12-year-old you that wrote your daily thoughts and activities in a diary. However, if you already like to write, I can almost guarantee that this practice will help you to feel less mentally cluttered. Try taking pen to paper and writing about how your feelings show up in your body. Expressing my feelings through words has helped me to create space between my feelings and my mind, and has helped me to understand that most of my thoughts are not as daunting as they initially seem. I hope you can find this same relieving effect.

8. Go for a Swim

Swimming isn’t for everyone, but if you know how to swim and feel comfortable going to your local pool, (or a natural body of water if you have the access!) I highly recommend it. I’ve been a swimmer my whole life, and although I had my frustrations with the sport, I cannot deny the peace and ease that literally washes over my body every time I jump into the pool. Contact with water has been shown to improve mood and instill a state of “blue mind” where you feel freed from your daily distractions and stimuli and enter a state where you can find peace.

9. Meditate

Meditation does not need to look like sitting on the floor in silence for 30 minutes whilst thinking about nothing. This mental image, what I thought “meditation” is supposed to look like, is what kept me from trying it for so many years. My current therapist was the one to finally convince me to try the practice. Having a background in science and health, I was intrigued by the potential meditation has for changing the way the brain works, and receives and relays information. I like to use this app: Insight Timer Meditation App, as you can select how long you have to meditate and go from there. (Combine walking and meditating for a 2-for-1-stress buster). My favorite meditation guide is Sarah Blondin. I recommend any and every meditation by her. Some meditations are as short as 5 minutes! And I know everyone can make 5 minutes for a meditation. Another good (and free!) app for meditation is Headspace Meditation App.

10. Take a Bath with Epsom Salt

I first tried taking a bath with Epsom salt after it was recommended to me after a massage several years ago. Epsom salt is lauded to relieve aches and pains and also aid in relaxation. If the act of taking a bath was not relaxing enough, adding Epsom Salt to your bath will take it to another level. And once your bath is over, your body will reap the calming benefits well into the next day or two. Further the benefits of your bath by lighting a lavender or other serenely-scented candle, like this one I recently snagged for a bargain at Target (Be Peaceful Candle). Engaging additional senses in your stress relieving practice will increase the benefits you feel. Taking a bath is particularly helpful if, like me, with stress you tend to clench certain muscles or parts of your body. Relaxing your body will help to relax your mind.

11. Scream into your Pillow

I just recently saw the movie Wild, where, during her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, Reese Witherspoon screams into the void of the wilderness. This scream looked absolutely exhilarating, and I thought, how could I practice that kind of release? If you don’t have a “wilderness” or a “void” handy to scream into, instead try screaming into your pillow. This is a quick fix, but boy does it feel fantastic.

12. Go for a Run

This practice isn’t for everyone, but I do know many people that tout the mentally clarifying effects of running. If it’s for you, you know what to do. If not, you don’t need to run for long! As little as 10 minutes can get your heart beating and your brain pumping those feel-good endorphins.

13. Read

Reading a book is still one of my favorite ways to distract myself from stress or anxiety. It might not stand as a healing practice, but sometimes a practice like reading a book can help you slow down and center yourself enough to engage in another, more healing practice. A light, yet captivating story makes for a good stress-reducing read. Conversely, return to a book you know you enjoyed and relive the magic all over again.

14. Laugh

Laughing always makes me feel good, or at least better. If you have the time, several shows that I go to for some laughs are the Office, Parks and Recreation, or Arrested Development. Episodes are usually only about 20 minutes! The act of laughing releases Endorphins (natural pain killers), Serotonin (prevents agitation and worrying), and Dopamine (creates blissful feeling), amongst other feel-good hormones.

15. Call or Talk to a Friend

Call a friend, and do more listening than talking. I have found that when I can be there for a friend, it helps to distract me from getting in my own head or magnifying my own problems. And so, calling a friend might not be a cure for your stress and anxiety but listening to a friendly voice, and knowing that you are still strong enough to help them will help you to feel at ease.

16. Take a Nap

If you are exhausted, let yourself take a nap! Being tired is your body’s way of telling you that you need sleep, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about indulging that. If it’s the middle of the day or light outside, try this eye mask, which has done wonders for my nap game (Imak Eye Mask). Use a weighted blanket for an even better nap experience.