Monthly Archives: August 2016

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.

A New Year

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Growing up, I spent a lot of time on college campuses. My dad is a professor, and as such, academia formed the backdrop of my childhood. From a local campus in a small town, to a private college in a large city, and big state schools in quintessential college towns, I have spent most of my life on and around college campuses. For me, the passage of time and the stages of the year are marked by the academic calendar. A new year begins in September, when classes kick off and the semester begins. I feel the same anticipation, and that simultaneous sense of closure and renewal that one might get as the holiday season winds down and New Year’s Day approaches. It has been nearly a decade since I lived on a college campus and my own life was marked by the start of a school year, but I can still feel that sense of a new year building up inside of me in the weeks leading up to the start of a semester, as if the school schedule creates its own circadian rhythm that shifts my internal being into a new sense of space and time.

I like the wind down of summer, as the days start to grow a bit shorter again and the evenings begin to cool (please god any day now). Time starts to feel like it’s measured in distance rather than hours, and we are slowly marching closer and closer to a new beginning.

Even as a young kid, I always enjoyed going back to school. I liked shopping for school supplies, and picking out my first-day-of-school outfit. Perhaps it’s because I spent so much of my childhood sharing a room with my sister, but I loved having a desk that was all my own, with my name taped to the top of it. I like packed lunches and lined paper, and the sound of the bell ringing.

I love being on college campuses as the start of a new year approaches. Everything looks so clean, and fresh, so welcoming. I live close to a college campus again now, and I’m looking forward to some cooler evening weather in the weeks ahead so that my husband and I can take the dog on some longer walks around the campus grounds and watch as the students begin to return. I love seeing freshman move into their dorms, and imagining their excitement and anticipation. I like the feeling in the air when campus life has started again, but classes aren’t underway yet, so everyone seems light and joyful, but you can sense the seriousness and determination that is beginning to bubble up inside of them.

I ache for the first football game of the season. In college, I lived in a house that was just behind the marching band’s practice field, and the first familiar sounds of the school fight song each summer was like a herald calling  out across the town that a new year was underway. It is one of the things I miss most about those days, and is a feeling that, unfortunately, nothing else can come close to replicating.

I took a break from regular posting and writing this summer. That’s what summers are for, stepping back and embracing a bit of lethargy in our lives. But as always when a new school year approaches, I am feeling refreshed and ready to get back into the swing of things. I’ll be back to more regular posting in the weeks ahead. It’s time to sharpen my pencils and break out my notebooks: a new year is about to begin.

Peaceful Places

I like to eat breakfast while sitting at my kitchen island, with one foot propped up on the unused stool beside me. It’s so peaceful in there in the mornings: quiet and warm with soft light coming through the side door. My husband usually leaves for work before I even wake up, so I have my mornings all to myself and I enjoy soaking in the stillness of my surroundings before my day really starts. It is the most still in the kitchen, in the very spot where I sit and quietly eat, or sip a cup of coffee. I don’t think about anything in particular. I don’t check my email, or catch up on the morning news, or scroll through my Instagram feed. I just take in the quiet and slowly ease my way into the day. It’s perfect. It’s my favorite peaceful place.

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Here are a few other peaceful spots that stand out in my mind, and make me feel calm and content just thinking about them.

My garden, where our flowers are blooming wildly and I can disappear from sight when I sit down in the dirt to pull weeds. I love the sound of big, lazy bumble bees buzzing around me. And I like looking out from between the plants and seeing my dog relaxing happily in the shade of our big pine tree.

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A beach, at sunrise. I am not an early riser by nature, but sometimes the struggle to wake up is worth it to enjoy a view like this. The sand is cool and soft in the early morning, and walking along the beach as the sun creeps into the sky is such a serene and relaxing experience. This photo is from Lanikai Beach in Kailua on Oahu.

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A mountain lake. It’s the freshest, most cleansing air I’ve ever breathed. This photo is from Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is high up in the mountains, so the air temperature was cool and pleasant, but the sun was warm and it felt so nice to sit on the heated rocks and watch as the clouds began to drift down over the lake. Again, we had to get up early and set out in the dark in order to be sure we made it back down the mountain before storms rolled in, but it was worth the early start to experience this view.

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What are your favorite peaceful places?

 

5 Articles You May Have Missed: Good News

2016 has been a tough year, filled with a lot of bad news. From mass shootings, to police violence, an orange-colored sociopath running for president, and the impending disaster that the Rio Olympics is shaping up to be, it doesn’t feel like there is whole lot to feel good about these days. We even got some much needed rain in the Baltimore region over the weekend, and it came so fast and furious that the flooding destroyed Ellicott City’s historic downtown. While it’s important not to simply close our eyes and shut ourselves away from our world’s problems, it’s equally important to step back from time to time and remind ourselves that there are a lot of positive stories and advances that are happening every day. With that in mind, here are five articles that offer a bit of positive news, some brightness to balance out our more recent dark times.

Turns out all those people dumping cold water over their heads was not for nothing. The money raised through the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has helped researchers identify a new gene linked to the disease. Plus a bunch of the money went toward patient services. As someone who has lost a family member to ALS, I must say thank you to everyone who donated and froze their butts off in support of this cause.

You know how everyone says that sitting all day is really terrible for your health? (It is!) Well the good news is that a new study has found that regular, moderate exercise may be able to reverse the damaging effects of our sedentary lifestyles.

The hole in the O-Zone layer is healing.

Here’s a bit of good news for all of my friends who recently had babies: whatever method you choose to get your baby to sleep will in fact improve sleep and will not cause any long-term negative outcomes. So stop reading posts on mommy forums about which sleep interventions are best, and rest easy knowing that whatever you’re doing will work out fine.

When all else fails, read about doggy best friends.