On Pushing Away Fear

I am not in the habit of rereading books. When I finish a book,  I tend to move on to a new one and rarely find myself returning to stories no matter how much I loved them the first time around. There are, as is always the case in life, a few exceptions to this rule. Ordinary People was the first “adult” book I ever read way back in fourth grade. The school library copy I was reading landed in a swimming pool when I was on vacation and I was forced to buy it because of the damage. It’s the same copy I still have and I’ve read it countless times since my elementary school days, gently turning the stiff, nearly ruined pages. When I was young, I also read Say Goodnight, Gracie over and over again. It’s an incredibly sad story and I cried every single time I read it. I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird more than once because it was assigned reading in a couple of different classes. Same with The Canterbury Tales. And I’ve read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, several times now, even though it was only published four years ago.

Wild is the book I think about most often. It has stuck with me in a way that no other writing has. The wilderness, the solitude, the search for a self that is better and more whole than the person that heartache and self-hatred has forced you to become. I will return to certain passages in this book at moments in my life when I need particular inspiration. The section I go back to most often is one where Strayed writes about fear. As she first sets out for her long journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, Strayed describes her mental processing as the full weight of her decision (and of her immensely heavy, overpacked camping backpack) settles on her:

Within forty minutes, the voice inside my head was screaming, What have I gotten myself into? I tried to ignore it, to hum as I hiked, though humming proved too difficult to do while also panting and moaning in agony and trying to remain hunched in that remotely upright position while also propelling myself forward when I felt like a building with legs. So then I tried to simply concentrate on what I heard–my feet thudding against the dry and rocky trail, the brittle leaves and branches of the low-lying bushes I passed clattering in the hot wind–but it could not be done. The clamor of What have I gotten myself into? was a mighty shout. It could not be drowned out. The only possible distraction was my vigilant search for rattlesnakes. I expected one around every bend, ready to strike. The landscape was made for them, it seemed. And also for mountain lions and wilderness-savvy serial killers.

But I wasn’t thinking of them.

It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.

I am in the middle of a major transition in my life. My most significant transition yet. I find myself repeatedly returning to this passage. “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story…” Whenever I am feeling unmoored and anxious about an uncertain future and all of the hiccups, both large and small, that could greet me on my path, I make the conscious decision to tell myself a different story. I remind myself that I am strong, I am brave, I am safe. I tell myself that everything will be okay, because I have the power to deal with whatever comes my way. It is working. In the past few weeks, I haven’t felt even a little anxious about what the future holds for me. I feel confident and capable. I decided not to be afraid, and I no longer am. I am telling myself a different story and allowing that story to guide me.

It has been about a year since I read Wild in its entirety, but I return to this section probably once a month, pulling the book off of the shelf and opening directly to page 51, where the spine is a bit worn and loose from so much use.

Our lives are made up of thousands of little stories we tell ourselves, and that others tell about us. If you are feeling lost, afraid, stuck or unsettled, try evaluating the stories of your life and make the choice to tell a different one. Tell yourself you’re not afraid and perhaps, before you know it, you won’t be anymore.

The Elusive Trainable Cat

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This is my adorable cat. He’s so soft and sweet, and when he’s cold he likes to snuggle up against you and purr. He’s also incredibly mischievous, ridiculously stubborn and downright bad most of the time. I think this is 95% his personality and 5% our failure as cat owners when he was still an energetic kitten. I’ve always appreciated cats for being strong willed and independent. When this guy was little and was constantly jumping up on our counters and kitchen table, the vet told us to use a spray bottle and spray him with water every time he jumped. This would force him down and eventually he’d learn to stay off the counter. It worked the first couple of times; he did not enjoy being sprayed in the face. But he quickly learned that the water was just an irritant and not a danger and before long, rather than jumping down when sprayed, he would just hunker down, stare us straight in the face and allow us to soak him until he was dripping wet. It was pathetic and a little alarming. We eventually just gave up and he won ownership of the counters and tabletops and anything else he could jump on, which was basically everything in the house because he’s pretty fearless when it comes to leaping from surface to surface.

Unlike dogs, who seem to feel shame and an unyielding desire to please you at all costs, cats don’t seem to care what you think about them and live for themselves. You can’t train cats, or at least that’s what I’ve always thought. It’s admirable, if a bit annoying. But I caught a bit of an interview on NPR the other day that suggests otherwise.

Sarah Ellis, a cat behavior specialist explains that, compared with dogs, cats are “less likely to understand the cues that we may give, for example, things like pointing. They’re less likely to naturally attune to us, so they’re much less likely to look at our faces, to be able to read our expressions, and that’s where we’ve got less of a currency … than we have with dogs when training. Because [dogs] naturally want our affection. They naturally want to please us. With cats we have to use a different kind of currency.”

It might be more difficult and require a different approach than dog training, but apparently cats are in fact capable of being trained, and all that bad, stereotypical cat behavior stems from our own failures to properly understand our cats.

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I’m pretty sure it’s too late for my guy. He is almost 10 years old and has enjoyed a rich life of pushing us around and doing whatever he wants whenever he wants. I suppose I could try to go back and train him now, but odds are one of us would end up dead in the frustrating process, and since he pretty much always gets his way, I’m guessing I would be the casualty of our training war. But if you have a new cat, or are thinking about getting a cat (you should, despite being selfish jerks cats are really wonderful and super easy to care for), you should check out this interview and learn how to create a better, more harmonious relationship with your feline companion.

Post-Run Stretch Sequence

I almost never cool down and take time to stretch after running or working out. I’ve just spent however many minutes exercising, and when I’m done, I want to shower and move on with my day, not spend more time stretching and giving my body some time to release and wind down from the workout. But I always feel so much better when I take a few minutes to stretch my legs. I really have a tendency to tighten up after a run and then continue to feel tight and uncomfortable all day. A short stretch routine post-run almost entirely does away with that discomfort. I am lazy, though, and if I have to create my own stretching routine, I’m far more like to just skip it. Lately, I have been using this short yoga sequence to loosen up legs after my runs. It’s really quick–less than 10 minutes–and hits all my major areas of running-related tightness. Check it out if you could use a little guidance and motivation to add a bit of stretching to your running or workout routines.

 

5 Recipes For Fall

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I have decided to live in denial that the heat index was 100 degrees yesterday and will be creeping back up that way again today. It had cooled off! We were in the clear! Sigh. As I continue to look forward to fall and more pleasant temperatures, I thought I would share a few of my favorite fall recipes, so that you can have them ready to go when the best season officially arrives.

Salsa Chicken

This is the easiest crockpot recipe in the world and is perfect for football Saturdays (the only football day that matters in our house).

What You’ll Need:

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

1 1/2 cups of salsa of your choice. (A chunky salsa works better)

1 tsp ground cumin

pinch of red chile powder

3 tbsp fresh lime juice.

What You’ll Do:

Coat slow cooker with nonstick spray and arrange chicken breast halves in it.

Pour salsa over chicken.

Cover and cook on HIGH about 3-3 1/2 hours, until chicken is tender and cooked through. (The salsa will thin out a bit as the chicken cooks and makes it’s own juices.)

Stir in the cumin, chile powder and lime juice.

Cover and cook another 15 minutes before serving.

 

Potato Leek Soup

Another super easy crockpot meal. Add some additional spices to kick up the flavor a bit (I go with red pepper flakes, dried thyme, and some black pepper, but any spices that sound good to you will work), and enjoy at the end of a long day when you could use a little bit of extra comfort.

What You’ll Need:

4 medium-size leeks (white part only), washed well and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

4 medium-sized to large russet potatoes, peeled and diced

4 to 6 cups water, or vegetable broth or chicken broth, or some combination

Salt to taste

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

French bread for serving

What You’ll Do:

Put leeks and potatoes in slow cooker.

Add enough water/broth to just cover them.

Cover and cook on LOW until potatoes are tender, 5-7 hours.

Purée the soup with a handheld immersion blender or transfer to a food processor and purée in batches.

Add salt and butter, swirling until it is melted.

Add spices of your choosing.

Ladle into bowls and serve immediately with a big hunk of french bread.

 

Pumpkin Black Bean Chili

This chili is so good. I know vegetarian chilis are considered the lowest rung on the chili ladder, but this seriously takes veggie chili to new heights. I could eat it ever day during the fall and never tire of it.

 

Beet and Brown Rice Salad

I really enjoy beets, but I never really do anything too creative with them. I usually just roast them and call it a day. This recipe can take beets from a side dish to the main meal. It’s very hearty and filling. If you can deal with the inconvenience of cooking with beets, I definitely recommend making this part of your regular fall cuisine.

 

Autumn Tacos

Pretty much anything can be made into tacos, which is great because tacos are amazing. I came up with these one year when I had some butternut squash that needed to be used up. They are also delicious when made with sweet potatoes. These have been a regular staple in our house for years now.

What You’ll Need:

Butternut Squash (you can substitute sweet potatoes), peeled and cubed. (You want pretty small cubes so that the squash cooks through more quickly.)

1/2 Red onion, chopped. (You can use a non-sweet onion, but if you do, use a little less.)

Chickpeas, 1-2 cans, drained.

Fresh cranberries, a generous handful, finely chopped. (Substitute with dried cranberries if needed, but it won’t be quite as good.)

Ground ginger

Dried thyme

Sea salt

Tortillas

Crumbled feta cheese

What You’ll Do:

Preheat oven to 350.

Saute the squash and onions in a bit of oil until onions are soft and the squash is warm.

Combine the squash and onions in a bowl with the chickpeas and cranberries.

Season with ginger, thyme and salt, to your taste.

Dump the mixture into a glass baking pan, cover with aluminum foil and bake 10-20 minutes, until the squash is soft and the chickpeas are hot.

Remove the aluminum foil, but keep the baking dish in the oven while you warm the tortillas.

Once the tortillas are warm, remove everything and spoon the squash mixture into the tortillas.

Top with crumbled feta cheese. (Optional if you don’t care for cheese, but otherwise definitely don’t skip this step! The feta provides a contrasting flavor that is incredibly delicious.)

 

 

 

Plantar Fasciitis Exercises

Plantar fasciitis is a common complaint among my clients. While it most often affects runners and other athletes, anyone can suffer from plantar fasciitis. The condition usually presents as sharp heel and arch pain in the foot, and results from inflammation and a break down of the fascial tissue in the plantar surface, or sole of the foot. One way to recognize if you have plantar fasciitis is if you experience a sharp, stabbing pain in your heel, especially when you first wake up in the morning. The plantar fascia stiffens overnight, and the pain is often most noticeable when you take your first step out of bed in the morning, before the tissues have had a chance to warm up and soften.

Left untreated, plantar fasciitis can become quite debilitating, leading to persistent pain while walking and standing. Luckily, plantar fasciitis can be treated pretty easily, especially if you catch it early and spend a little time each day doing some exercises and stretches to reduce pain. The videos below offer some easy exercises and additional information about treating plantar fasciitis.

 

 

 

3 Ways to Curb Irrational Worries

There is an old pine tree in my front yard that sits just beyond my bedroom window. In the morning, I can watch the birds flying back and forth through its branches while I am still in the bed. When a storm rolls in and the wind picks up, I can see its limbs sway back and forth as I drift off to sleep.

This past winter, we were hit with a blizzard that brought high winds and nearly three feet of snow. My mother called me early on when the snow first started to fall to tell me that she thought we should consider sleeping in a room at the back of the house, far away from the pine tree. She was worried that the wind and heavy snow would bring the tree down, and being in such close proximity to the house, that its branches would come crashing through the house, smashing right through to the bedroom and endangering us in our sleep. “We’ll definitely consider that,” I told her, and then never gave it another thought. This tree must be 100 years old if it’s a day. It has survived other blizzards and hurricanes and countless storms. It is thick and sturdy, and I have no doubt that its roots run deep and long through almost the entirety of our yard. I felt pretty confident that the pine tree wasn’t going anywhere. And it didn’t. It didn’t even lose a single branch.

In case you might think I am sharing this story as a way to poke fun at my poor mother who just wanted to be sure that I was safe, let me share a more recent incident with you. One that has nothing to do with my mom at all.

Our porch light is an old glass light fixture that slowly through the summer fills up with dead and decaying bodies of a bazillion small moths and other bugs. We noticed recently how dim the porch seemed at night and saw that the fixture is about two thirds of the way full of bugs. It is a real pain to clean out because the bottom of the fixture cannot be detached. All you can do is remove the top and attempt to scoop the bug carcasses out with your hand. This is a job I refuse to do because I am too short and it greatly surpasses my gross tolerance. So until my husband decides that he’s ready tackle this disgusting task, the bugs will keep finding their way in and eventually the light may be blocked out entirely. The only harm really is that our porch light won’t be as visible as it usually is. But for some reason I decided the other day that while a bazillion bug bodies pressed up against the light bulb was fine, a bazillion and one would be too many, and the whole thing would almost certainly catch on fire and burn our house down. So I insisted that we shut off the light completely until a time when we can clear out the fixture. I didn’t make this decision the moment I initially saw how full the fixture was, though. I made it later that night, while we were already cozy in bed and I simply couldn’t stop thinking about how the porch light was going to catch fire at any moment.

I am a worrier. My mother is a worrier. Her mother was a worrier. Some families pass down antique jewelry from generation to generation. Ours passes along an irrational fear of incredibly unlikely worst case scenarios. It is no more likely that my porch light will catch fire (as it didn’t last summer in the same situation) than that the giant pine tree in my front yard will come crashing through my bedroom and impale me in my sleep. And yet, while I can write off my mother’s concern as an over-the-top needless worry, it is much more difficult for me to rationally evaluate my own bizarre fears and let them go without another thought.

Over the years, after many pointless concerns have eaten away at my sanity and sleep cycle, I have developed a few methods for addressing these irrational fears and putting the breaks on my worrying before it has a chance to get too far beyond my control.

Designate someone as your rationality meter.

My husband is a very practical person. When something goes wrong, my instinct is to say, “okay, let’s make a list of all the ways this problem can spiral out of control and ruin our entire lives, and then we’ll sit together on the floor and cry about it for an hour.” Whereas he is more likely to suggest that we take a minute to think about how we might resolve the issue, and then simply go about fixing it. I guess his method makes more sense.

Whenever I feel a deep or nagging concern about something I will ask him, “is this something I should be worried about?” and if he’s immediately like, “absolutely not,” I know that I need to just let it go. I like to set my baseline at a state of constant low-grade worry so that if a real concern should arise, I’ll be ready. He only worries when there is actual cause to worry. So if he shows absolutely no concern about something that I assume deserves my full attention and diligent alertness, then I know it’s time to drop it and move along to the next worry. Don’t share your worries with a fellow perpetual worrier. You don’t need to fuel each other’s fires.

Imagine that somebody else has shared this concern with you.

Let’s return to my mother’s worry about the tree. At the time, I couldn’t believe she actually called me to suggest that I sleep in a different room for my own safety. It seemed like a completely unnecessary fear and one that I had no intention of indulging in my own mind for even a second. But again, it’s really no more absurd than my concerns about the stupid bug-filled porch light. And yet, because it was coming from her and not from my own head, I could brush it off as irrational and move along in a way that I can’t with worries I create in my own mind.

It can help to take your own worry and imagine it as a concern that someone else has shared with you. If my mom called me up and said that she was worried that if my porch light got any more bugs in it the whole house would burn down, would my reaction be to think, “well that seems like a completely unnecessary concern”? Yeah, it definitely would be. It can be hard to see a fear as irrational when it is your own fear. Imagine it as someone else’s fear and evaluate its rationality that way. If it would be ridiculous coming from someone else, it’s just as ridiculous coming from you.

Arm yourself with knowledge about what to do in emergency situations.

Trying to anticipate and predict every possible bad outcome no matter how far-fetched doesn’t actually do that much to stop emergencies from arising. Bad things happen. Freak accidents occur. You can’t stop things from going wrong by trying to dream up every worst case scenario ahead of time. Having a plan for what you would do in the case of various emergency situations (how would you get out of your house in a fire? who would you call in the event of an accident? where would you find your insurance info in the event that a pine tree came crashing through your roof?) gives you a greater sense of confidence that you can handle problems as they arise. I used to be concerned that if I was ever in accident or had to be rushed to the hospital or something, my husband might be in a meeting and I wouldn’t be able to get through to him to let him know what happened and get his help if I needed it. So we agreed that if either of us should have an emergency, we would call the other person twice in a row and then send a text that read 911 and that meant, no matter where you are and what you’re doing, drop everything. The only time I ever got into a car accident, go figure my husband was in an important meeting at the time. But when I called twice and sent the 911 text, I knew he would immediately call me back and felt instantly assured that everything would be okay because I knew I would be able to get through to him and he would be on his way to help.

If you do nothing else to try to address your worries, simply having a plan and trusting in that plan for emergencies can go a long way to reducing your fears.

These tips are meant to serve as ways to address concerns that may linger in your mind and make you feel unsettled, but that do not otherwise upset or infringe upon your general quality of life. If you find that you suffer from persistent worry and anxiety that you cannot move past or properly address on your own, or if any of your fears cause you to change your daily habits, or negatively affect your health and lifestyle, you should seek out the help and advice of a mental health professional. While it is true that the world can often feel scary, and that bad things can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, living with persistent, untreated anxiety is not ideal and will not guarantee your safety and wellbeing in the long run. While you may not be able to live a completely worry-free life, you deserve the opportunity to live in a way that is not guided or tempered by fear. Most trees stay standing even in the worst storms. Most lightbulbs burn out long before they can burn anything down. The world is mostly good and safe, and it’s a much better place to live when you can learn to enjoy it rather than fear it.

 

 

 

 

Loosening Tight Legs: Yoga for Runners

We finally got some cooler weather, which means I am back to running again for the first time in weeks. It feels so great to be outside on a breezy morning pumping my legs and enjoying the rhythm of a good run, but boy are my legs tight and sore afterward! I had forgotten how quickly you can lose your running fitness when you take a little time off.

As I get back in the swing of doing a few miles in the morning, I realize that I’m going to need to be a little more diligent about stretching and post-run recovery. With that in mind, I’ve decided to return to two yoga videos that I’ve used in the past to help ease post-run leg tightness and target my main sources of running pain and tension.

First up is a great routine for releasing tightness in and around the IT Band. If you suffer from chronic ITB tightness, or are dealing with pain and discomfort in your hips and the outside of your thigh, I recommend incorporating this short video into your weekly routine to help ease ITB tension and bring some relief to your entire hip, glute and thigh region.

My second recommendation is a video that is perfect runners or anyone suffering from tight hamstrings. This routine helps to slowly, but deeply stretch and release hamstring tension. I always feel much more mobile after I do this routine, and my legs once again feel like they are working with me instead of against me.

You don’t have to be a runner to experience the benefits of these videos. Anyone suffering from leg pain or tightness, whether too much or too little activity is the culprit, can improve range of motion, release deep muscle tension and reduce pain and discomfort by incorporating these short videos into their regular wellness routine.