Category Archives: mental health

5 Songs That Make Me Happy

Today sucks. Let’s just put that right out there in all its depressing honesty. It’s rainy and dreary, and Trump officially becomes President today. This is a terrible day, and even my dog who is normally a bright, happy face in a too often grim world has decided to say screw it, and has spent the entire morning collapsed in an immovable snoring heap, electing to sleep the day away rather than wake up and face the surreal horror of the day’s events. Am I being too dramatic? I don’t care. This is a day for not caring.

Ideally, I would climb back into bed, pull the covers over my head and mainline old episodes of Arrested Development streaming from my phone like I do when I’m fighting a cold, but there are a few things I have to get done today, and at almost 36 weeks pregnant, being in bed is not as comfortable as I desperately need it to be. So I am forced to face the day, and remain jealous of the dog’s continued slumber.

When the simple act of everyday living feels like a harrowing task, I often turn to music to lift my mood and motivate me to get moving. I find that actually doing things is never as bad as the anticipation of having to do them, so if I can just jumpstart my activity, I usually feel much better off than when I succumb to the desire to remain sluggish and immobile all day. But it can be hard to motivate myself through sheer force and will alone, and that’s where these five songs come in. If I really can’t get going, I put one on and let the upbeat music shake the cobwebs from my mind and limbs.

I have said before that I think it is physically impossible to feel sad while listening to Paul Simon’s, Graceland, so feel free to consider that entire album as song number 6. I am not under the impression that the following songs are the five greatest songs in the world, or anything like that. So don’t send me your comments about my shitty taste in music. This is about feeling happy, fer chrissakes! Nor am I suggesting that these songs will help you feel better when you need a little boost. But I encourage to think about what music does lift you up and get you moving when you are feeling low, and then I suggest that you listen to that music a lot today. Like maybe on constant repeat, starting around 12:01 pm. Turn it up loud so it drowns out the voice in your head that keeps repeating “how is this happening?”

San Fermin, Sonsick

 

Robyn, Dancing On My Own

 

Spoon, The Underdog

 

Whitney Houston, How Will I Know

 

Kate Nash, Later On

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

Pokémon Go and the Power of Getting Out

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When I first read about the new Pokémon Go interactive game Nintendo released, I thought it sounded pretty silly. I am not a Pokémon person. I didn’t even realize until recently that it was a game. I remember there being a tv series that I never saw, and I always figured it was like an anime version of beanie babies with stuffed figures that you could collect and trade with friends. That there was the ability to battle and compete within the Pokémon world was completely unknown to me. So it is very safe to say that I am not Pokémon Go’s target audience, and that I have no intention of taking part in its newest iteration, but it’s been interesting watching the reactions to this game.

Though I remain skeptical that a cultural phenomenon that further glues people to their smartphone screens and encourages them to connect to the world only through technology is actually a positive thing–and there have certainly been some negative consequences of the game with people hurting themselves and disrupting spaces where game playing and levity don’t really belong (please people, do not catch Pokémon at the Holocaust Museum)–I am pleasantly surprised by the tremendous anecdotal evidence that the game is helping people with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions be more active and social. It’s a positive benefit that I had considered when I first heard about the game, and I’m glad to see so many reports of people who normally struggle with motivation and social interaction finding that they are inspired to get outside.

You can check out a long list of tweets and posts from people about how the game has helped them here, and here.

Guided Meditation App

As I’ve mentioned before, prolonged, self-directed meditation is not really my thing. I have tried it in the past and it just doesn’t work for my personality and mindset. But lately I have been getting increasingly into short guided meditations as a way to reduce my stress and bring a bit of energy to my body and spirit on draining (far too hot) summer days. In the past I have used Youtube to find guided meditation videos, but I recently started using the Stop, Breathe & Think App. It’s a quick and easy way to take a step back from the stress and grind of your daily life and make time for quiet moments of reflection and release.

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The app has a good selection of guided meditations that mostly range from 3-10 minutes in length.

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Each meditation lists the length and the general purpose of the meditation, so that you can choose one that best suits your needs in the moment.

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I like that they are short little practices, because I can fit them in between my appointments when I need to settle my mind, or at the start of my day if I need a bridge between waking up and moving into my daily routine. I have not tried the Falling Asleep meditation yet, but I look forward to testing it out the next time I am struggling to quiet my mind at bedtime.

The app is free to download and offers a lot of information on how meditation and mindfulness work, how best to practice, and what benefits you can expect to experience by incorporating meditation into your regular routine.

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The Stop, Breathe & Think app is available for iPhone and Android devices, and can also be used online instead of via smartphone.

 

(This is not a sponsored post. More Well is in no way affiliated with Stop, Breathe & Think.)

 

A Bright Story For Your Darker Days

It has been a rough couple of weeks, both in my personal life, and in the world at large. It always seems like bad news travels in groups, piling up, one sad story on top of another until they completely block your view of anything light and bright that exists beyond the massive stack of sorrow that the world has created. I have a tendency to want to carry it all in my arms, to hold up everything sad and broken, to challenge myself to fix it, and then admonish myself for the inevitable failure to do so. It’s been a tough few weeks for a lot of people. A time of loss, of uncertainty. A time of confusion, and frustration. It is so easy to sink into the darkness that the world creates around us, to give in to a feeling hopelessness, and helplessness.

I came across this short essay from Elizabeth Gilbert the other day, in one of those serendipitous instances when the Internet introduces you to the very thing you need to see in that moment. It was a nice reminder that, though the world may all too often feel dark and unmanageable, we always have opportunities to create light. There are always chances to brighten up someone’s day, to spread joy and warmth, to give comfort. I am sharing this essay here in the hopes that it may speak to someone else in the way that it spoke it to me, and to remind all of us that while life can be chaotic and beyond our control, we still have the power to act with kindness, to turn ourselves into a million little bright spots shining against the backdrop of a dark world.

Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated—with one another; with the rainy, sleety weather; with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.

But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom. “Folks,” he said, “I know you’ve had a rough day and you’re frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here’s what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight—just leave ’em with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I’ll open the window and throw your troubles in the water. Sound good?”

It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who’d been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?

Oh, he was serious.

At the next stop—just as promised—the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up—but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.

We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.

But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?

That’s what this bus driver taught me—that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy “influencer.” He was a bus driver—one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.

When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name. How we behave matters because within human society everything is contagious—sadness and anger, yes, but also patience and generosity. Which means we all have more influence than we realize.

No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated—one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.

-Elizabeth Gilbert

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Hiking, For Health and Healing

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Lake Helene, Rocky Mountain National Park

I live just down the road from one of the oldest parks in the United States. I have to cross over a highway to get into the park, and though I can often still hear the steady white noise hum of traffic, I very quickly and easily feel like I’m escaping the city for a bit as I make my way through park paths that are lined with towering trees and thick forest growth. On many occasions, I have had to stop in the middle of a run to allow a family of deer to cross a path in front me. Once I almost lost hold of my dog while we were walking when he caught sight of a fox and was adamant that he be allowed to chase after it, deep into the trees. The park is busy and well used in its recreational areas, but the winding, wooded paths are usually quiet and empty, and I love the feeling of being all alone, right in the middle of the city.

It was beautiful this morning and the dog and I went for a long walk through the park, and watched as a storm began to roll in from the west. It reminded me of hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park a few summers ago, how you can watch the weather changing as you climb higher, and how quickly a storm can develop and chase you back down a mountain.

I am missing the quiet joy and reflection of long hikes. Being in nature, any nature is remarkably good for you:

Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside. {Source}

There is something particularly special about hiking, though. I like long hikes, with good elevation. I like the effort of a slow, steady climb. I like the feeling in my feet and legs in the days that follow that remind me of that effort, and transport me back to moments on the trail, and allow me to escape again, to lose myself in those memories.

We are just about halfway through the year and I cannot figure out where 2016 has gone. It feels like time is rushing along and I am missing it in a swirl of business planning and life planning, and burying my face in my phone too often. I am determined to make some time this summer to get out of town, away from obligations, and spend a few afternoons on a hiking trail. I am feeling the need to disconnect and bask in the quiet effort of a long hike.

Maryland has a wide range of hiking options. You can check out a lengthy list of Maryland hiking trails (many of which are within an easy drive of Baltimore City) and find a hike that meets your needs and abilities here.