Category Archives: stress management

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

 

Four Little Words That Will Help You Stay Sane

People love to offer their opinions and advice. That’s basically what this entire blog is. My unsolicited opinions offered up as advice that you can take if it suits you. Advice can be good and useful. Other people’s opinions are often helpful, and are generally offered with an intention of kindness and support. That doesn’t keep unsolicited advice from becoming a bit tedious after a while, though. I have found that pregnancy certainly triggers an onslaught of outsider opinions and shared stories, but it’s not the only life change that is met by a wave of sometimes useful, but more often completely worthless, words of wisdom. A  career decision, a big move, college or high school graduation, wedding planning, a home or car purchase, pretty much anything having to do finances in any way: all of these trigger a need in people to share their own experiences and offer some guidance for how you should manage these events. Again, people are ultimately just trying to be helpful, but with so many conflicting opinions, and occasional anxiety-producing horror stories, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the persistent buzz of other people’s helpful chatter.

I have received an awful lot of advice and opinions since becoming pregnant. Things I should do. Things I shouldn’t do. Comments about my appearance. Probing questions about my pregnancy and birth-related decisions. Overly detailed stories about people’s own experiences without any prompting or questioning on my part. It would be very easy to feel frustrated and exhausted by this deluge of information and ideas, but I have discovered a handy little trick for responding to comments and opinions that I not only don’t find helpful, but that are even hurtful at times.

“You may be right.”

These four little words allow you to close the door on conversations that do not serve your needs. It’s a perfectly polite way to acknowledge someone’s opinion (which again, is usually offered with the best intentions), without having to engage with it in a way that would feel harmful or overwhelming to you. Allow me to offer a few examples from my own experience over the past few months.

Someone: Wow, you’re so big already. No way you make it to your due date.

Me: You may be right.

I don’t need to justify or explain my size and appearance to anyone, and I don’t need to entertain notions of early labor and any anxiety that may accompany that kind of thinking. I have acknowledged the comment without having to engage with it any further, allowing the conversation to move on to other topics if I choose to direct it that way.

Someone: I think women who go in expecting an unmedicated birth are just setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Me: You may be right.

People really want to know how you are planning to labor and the motivations behind those choices, and it seems that almost everybody, whether they’ve given birth or not, has very strong opinions on the best way to do it. These opinions are worthless and they should not be offered unless you specifically ask for someone’s advice or birth experience. I find it’s better to just acknowledge other people’s opinions on this topic and to not offer your opinion in return.

“You may be right” has become a bubble that sits between me and everyone else, and allows the advice and comments that I’m not interested in hearing to bounce off and away from me. It’s been remarkably helpful in keeping me centered and emotionally well throughout my pregnancy so far.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you’re inundated with unsolicited opinions, or contradictory advice, try creating a You May Be Right bubble as a way to cut through the noise and focus only on the comments that help you feel stronger and supported in your own decision making.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.)

 

Declaring Independence From Your Clutter

While my dog spent his holiday weekend cowering in fear at the sound of fireworks popping and cracking throughout the neighborhood, the humans in my household enjoyed a long, lazy weekend of backyard barbeques and television binge watching. In the middle of all that languid relaxation, we did manage to tackle some much overdue spring cleaning.

While we worked our way through episodes of the most recent season of Orange Is The New Black yesterday, I pulled piles and piles of stuff out of our closets and drawers and we slowly went through the mess, throwing out junk and a heaping pile of dried up pens, and organizing what remained into a storage system that would make the things we needed easier to find. We went from feeling like we had absolutely zero closet space available, to having lots of room to spare. It is a great feeling to open my downstairs closet and know exactly where everything is. I feel a sense of relief just thinking about it.

I prefer to clean in overzealous bursts, taking on large scale organization projects all at once and knocking them out over the course of a couple of hours. I go for big change–cleaning that feels cathartic and restorative, and sets up the satisfying visual of going from massive mess to idyllic cleanliness. Not everyone prefers this method, and for some people, physical or mental health limitations might make large scale cleaning impossible.

If you find yourself needing to get your house in order, but need some motivation or a cleaning method that is a little less demanding than my particular all at once style, you should check out UfYH (aka, Unfuck Your Habitat. Be warned it employs regular and repeated use of swearing). There are helpful tips and tricks for a variety of cleaning tasks and situations (laundry tips, cleaning when moving, recommended cleaning products), as well as cleaning challenges and advice on how to use cleaning/break time systems to help you move through your cleaning tasks without burning yourself out, or becoming distracted by other obligations. The UfYH methods can be applied not only to cleaning, but to studying, job searching, and a variety of other often tedious chores that you may need a little extra motivation to push through.

Check it out if you feel the need to clean up your habitat, but you don’t know where or how to get started. There are daily prompts, photos of people’s before and after cleaning success, and lots more tips and answers for how to clean pretty much everything on the UfYH Tumblr page.

Do You Have a Nighttime Routine?

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I am not a strong sleeper. I tend to have trouble dozing off. It seems like as soon as my head hits the pillow, a million thoughts flood my mind and I cannot get them to pipe down enough to let me get a little shut eye. Or if I do happen to fall asleep quickly and easily, I wake up every couple of hours, stirred by some little sound, or the need to go to the bathroom. I’ll fall back to sleep again right away, but two hours later, I’m awake again, and the cycle repeats all night long.

I am trying to get better at establishing a regular nightly routine–something that signals to my mind and body that it’s bedtime, and we need to start getting sleepy and stay that way throughout the night.

I’ve started performing the same skin care ritual each night, a slow and methodical routine of washing and moisturizing that is the first step in letting my body know that it is time to wind down. The intentionality of the care and the repetition of the behavior is soothing, and I’ve come to find that it is one of the more relaxing parts of my day.

I also started keeping a notebook next to my bed so that I can jot down any last minute worries or reminders that pop into my mind the second my head hits my pillow. I have found that most of my bedtime thoughts are focused on things I need to remember to do the next day, as if this one last, sleepy reminder will somehow make those thoughts stick in my mind. I wake up in the morning knowing that there’s something I’m supposed to remember to do, but naturally I can never actually remember what it is. Writing those thoughts down not only gets them out of my mind so I can relax and drift off to sleep, but it makes the following morning less stressful too because I’m not searching my brain to remember whatever it was I thought of the night before.

Lastly, once I am in bed, I begin by positioning myself on my back, with a pillow beneath my knees for additional support and comfort. Then I slowly scan my body and try to relax each part of my body from my toes to the crown of my head. I breathe deeply, with slow, full breaths from my abdomen, and try to feel my body relaxing and releasing into the mattress beneath me. My tendency is to sleep on my side at night, but I find this relaxation exercise to be a little easier when I’m on my back. It has been a good way to release the tension of the day, and helps me further shift my mind away from any intrusive thinking that could get in the way of my ability to fall asleep.

This has been my first week with a dedicated focus on implementing this routine, so the jury is still out on whether or not it will make a major difference, but I have found that I awake feeling more refreshed than I have in recent weeks, so that’s definitely a good sign.

Do you follow a specific nighttime routine? Do you have trouble sleeping? You can check out more tips for improving your sleep here.