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Cure for a Bad Mood: A Change of Perspective

Something amazing happened on Memorial Day.

I woke up in the worst mood ever. I felt depressed and confused about pretty much everything and I almost cried through my morning walk. I got home and sat on the couch staring at the wall for a half hour or so because I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do anything else. I didn’t feel like writing, making art, reading a book, eating breakfast, or even taking a shower. The sunshine and birdsong outside didn’t even cheer me like it usually does.

It was a scary feeling because I was questioning pretty much everything. I had a good cry on the couch and then somehow fell asleep even though I’d just gotten up from a full night’s sleep less than two hours earlier.

When I woke up 45 minutes later, I felt amazing.

I didn’t notice at first, the but bad feeling was completely gone. All the confusion was gone even though nothing had gotten much clearer; it just didn’t seem as scary any more. I knew things would work out.

I made myself some breakfast, got dressed, wrote for awhile, spent some time with Sam, then walked down to the park to lay on the grass and read a book until it was time to leave for our hike.

We hiked up a canyon trail with our friends Kyle and Destinee, I don’t remember what it was called, but it was beautiful. I love hiking so much. It’s exhilarating without hammering my knees like running does, and nothing makes me feel alive like being out in nature. I climbed up to a little cliff to sit and look down the canyon at Utah Lake. Destinee didn’t climb up with us and the boys climbed a little higher, so I got to sit by myself for a few minutes before climbing up with them.

As I sat with my toes dangling over the drop-off, I wondered how I had felt to awful just a few hours ago when I felt so happy then on the cliff. Nothing else in my life had changed but me. I’ll never underestimate the power of a nap again. It’s just a shift in perspective.

I had a great memorial day. We had a great time on the hike and then we went to a cemetery to put flowers on the graves that didn’t have any.

The moral of the story: Indulgent nap+fun hike with friends+putting flowers on graves=cure for a crappy mood.

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There is Always a Way

Nature never fails to inspire and encourage me. While out on a run/walk/stop and pet cats the other day, I noticed tiny little flowers growing through the cracks on the sidewalk.

The wisdom and perfection of nature astounds me. Even when faced with a seemingly huge obstacle (like a slab of concrete) these flowers still found a way to grow and blossom into what they were always meant to become.

I think we can take a lesson from that.

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Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different 🙂

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

Winter Solstice and Winter Self-Care

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Although it’s been freezing and frosty for weeks, today is the first official day of winter, or the day the Winter Solstice occurs. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are the furthest we’ll ever  be from the sun, that life-giving source of heat and light.  Today, the gradual shortening of the days ends and many cultures around the world celebrate rebirth. Today is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and time seems to stand still as nature lies dormant. The trees have shed their leaves, the sap has frozen, the birds have migrated. All is silent.

I was going to create a painting to celebrate this special day, but my spirit and body seems to have aligned with nature because I too have slowed down. I’m ok with this, because I think it’s what my body needs.

My big goal with winter and winter blues this year is to make peace, while giving my body and spirit the best support I can. Dark days are hard for me. I’ve been fatigued and melancholy lately. Not depressed, just less enthusiastic.

I’ve also been reading all I can about the effects of winter on the body and spirit.  Though it seemed a little “woo woo” at first, I’ve really come to understand the concept of yin and yang, the two complementary energies that govern the universe. Yin is slow, cool, wet, feminine energy while yang is fast, hot, dry, masculine energy. Winter is yin, while summer is yang. These two energies exist within us and we feel better when they’re balanced. Makes sense.

Today is the slowest, most yin day of the year.  During the winter, we have very little yang energy to spare and quite a bit of yin energy. This can look like we have no energy, but yin energy is just slower and more  contemplative.

In the winter, we can balance these energies by building and conserving what yang we have, and releasing excess yin. Do yin exercise, like restorative yoga and walking while avoiding strenuous yang activity like running and aerobics. Eat yang foods (warming spices like ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon and tumeric) and avoid cold yin foods like cucumbers, lettuce, and mango (i.e. “summery” foods).

This concept was galvanized for me yesterday when I felt kinda bla and attempted my favorite exercise DVD, hoping to gain some energy. I made it about ten minutes in before feeling like I was going to keel over. However, I was all warmed up for a walk, so I bundled up and took a stroll around the block instead. It felt great, then I for a yummy, yang-building lunch I had eggs scrambled with onions, tumeric and garlic salt.

So instead of burning yang energy that you don’t have today, try slowing down. Trade your kickboxing class for some gentle yoga, have a spicy stir-fry for dinner, and enjoy a quiet evening rather than running around Christmas shopping, preparing for parties, or doing chores.

Take the hint from nature. This is a time to slow down, focus inward, and renew.

Making Peace with Winter Blues

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”

Henry David Thoreau

It’s that time of year again. Since I was a child, I’ve had winter blues. I’ve never been officially diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) but I know that my moods, energy levels, appetites, and creativity are very seasonal. Even my art is seasonal.

I usually dread this time of year and pretend it isn’t happening. I curse the snowfalls, the darkness and the cold and I retreat into my little turtle shell until spring. I always pretend that this year will be different. I will eat the right foods, exercise a ton to keep my serotonin up, take all the supplements I need, somehow find the money for a light box, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Has it ever worked? Nope.

This year though, I’ve decided to stop fighting it. Call a truce. Make peace with winter. I’ve accepted that I’m entering my low-key, quiet, contemplative time of year. I need to allow myself to be slower, quieter, and to even…enjoy the change of pace.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like a slug all winter, so I wanted to share some ideas of how we can embrace this time and stay healthy.

  • Do what you can to stay healthy, but don’t be militant. Simple carbs like sugar and white flour can raise serotonin levels briefly, but often leave you craving more. Get enough protein to keep your blood sugar stable. Exercise helps boost your mood, but be compassionate on the days where you really need a rest. Make it easy to stay healthy. Stock up on healthy staples and if you have a freezer, try preparing a bunch of healthy meals in advance like soups, casserole or stir-fry and crock-pot meal ingredients that you just have to open and dump into the cooking apparatus. Pick up some fun exercise videos. I’m a fan of belly dance, kundalini yoga and kickboxing videos.
  • Keep warm. I’m a frugal person, but I’ve found that one of the nicest things I can do for myself during the winter is to shell out the extra money on the gas bill to keep my apartment warm and to take lots of hot baths. Also, I notice that I’m a lot more likely to exercise if I’m not freezing. Invest in an electric blanket and cute, warm clothes to layer. Get some warm exercise clothes if you plan on trying to exercise outside.
  • Remove as many stressors as possible before your energy starts to sink. Do your holiday shopping early and/or online. Do a deep “Fall cleaning” so you don’t have to be as vigilant with housekeeping in the winter. Prepare Christmas cards early. Take on less responsibility if possible so you can create “white space” in your schedule, and give yourself plenty of “transition time” instead of rushing from obligation to obligation. Take care of as many nasty chores as you can before the temperature drops. For me, this means car maintenance. Blegh.
  • Take advantage of sunny days. Get as much sun as you can. Decorate your home with candles and lights. The lack of light is a huge factor of winter blues. It’s no accident that many winter celebrations that take place at the darkest time of year include light as a major part of their traditions. Think Hanukah candles and Christmas lights.
  • Make your home beautiful all winter. I hate taking down Christmas decorations, because then my home looks so drab and depressing after a month of lights and glittering ornaments and beautiful colors. This year after I take down my little tree, I want to put up some other beautiful winter decorations so I won’t have to look around at the newly dreary walls and feel sad after I put the Christmas décor back in the closet.
  • Find things to celebrate, but don’t try to overdo it.My November Gratitude Project is a good example.  Perhaps you could spend the evening of the winter solstice taking a candle lit bath, or read a special book. This gives you things to look forward to and ways to make peace with  the season rather than fighting it.
  • Acceptance, compassion, and gentleness. You probably won’t be the Energizer Bunny during the winter. It’s ok. There is a season for everything. I get some good thinking done in the winter. Read good books, think, write in your journal, learn to knit. This is the season for slowness. Nature takes a rest, and you can too.  You will have rough days, but this is also a time to exercise patience. Spring will come. It always does.

Happy winter!

Respecting the need to slow down

I had some really nasty dreams last night, we won’t get into that but when I have bad dreams, getting up doesn’t count. I feel like I wasted all my sleep time. It’s kind of like my cousin Dane rationalizing that “free time didn’t count because I didn’t have that much fun.” Great. I’m turning into a seven-year-old.

I finally looked at the clock at 7:40, which is a reasonable time to get up, but I just couldn’t. I don’t like sleeping past 7 or 7:30, but I don’t work today. I have nothing I have to do today (except pack and maybe decorat a Christmas jar. And put gift coupons into envelopes.)

Why did I dread getting up?

Because I felt like getting up meant I had to put in an exercise video and go for it. And I didn’t want to.

Dilemma: Allow myself to be lazy even though I know it won’t serve me, or to force myself to exercise when I don’t want to?

IE isn’t permission to pig out on churros or to be a couch potato, but quite the opposite. My body was telling me it wasn’t ready for action yet even thought it didn’t want to sleep more. Ok, I respect that.

So I got up and sat on the couch with my computer until I feel like doing something. I have that luxury courtesy of Christmas break, and I know my body well enough to know that after a little while, it will want to move, just not the second I pop out of bed.

I have the urge, and guess what I feel like doing? Walking in the snow and taking pictures of this winter wonderland. I can hardly believe it myself. I don’t like snow, I dislike cold even more and I really hate wet feet, and I’m sure to encounter all on my walk. Frozen fingers while trying to get a shot of frosted tree branches? Check. Numb face? Check. But it sounds like fun. It won’t burn calories like a 45 minute Tae-bo video, but it will make me feel good (once the numbness goes away.)

So I leave you know to put on a couple pairs of pants, a sweatshirt, wool socks and my whole hat/scarf/glove collection, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and if I don’t write before then, Merry Christmas!

Spending out

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Hi, I’m McKella and I am a tightwad.

Not that that’s a bad thing. I’m very frugal and it’s helped me a lot over the years, but sometimes I toe the line between frugal and downright cheap.

For example, I don’t have health insurance. I’m four months overdue for my annual checkup, I haven’t been to the dentist in three years and I use each pair of contacts much longer than recommended.

Spend out is another rule borrowed from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I didn’t include it in my original happiness rules because…well, I really don’t know. Maybe I was afraid, or I didn’t think I had a problem. So I’ve decided to spend out and just cough it up for the things I need that I’ve been putting off.

  • Go to the freaking doctor.
  • Replace my running shoes
  • Look into getting health insurance.
  • Get a few new shirts- a bunch of mine are getting holey and threadbare.
  • Razor cartridges
  • Order new contacts
  • Get a dental exam

Also, yesterday I purchased something I’ve never had before: real workout clothes. We’re talking that nice DryWic stuff and clothes that were made for actually exercising instead of ratty t shirts and cutoff sweats. And you know what? I think I worked out harder, I felt stronger.

Buy the things you need .You’re worth it. However, recognize the difference between wants and needs. My wants list:

  • iPhone- would be awesome and practical, but I have a perfectly functional Samsung Solstice
  • Nicer Camera- the one I have isn’t great. Actually, it’s pretty lousy, but funds don’t allow right now, and I’m not a food blogger or anything so I don’t actually need it right now.
  • A mountain bike- don’t have time to use it like I’d like to, and winter’s on the way.

Don’t be cheap. Take care of yourself first. You deserve to be healthy, secure, and happy, so use good judgment and put your money into those areas.

How to Move with Joy

Forget everything you know about exercise for a minute. I know the word “workout” strikes fear into the heart of many and conjures up images of clanking metal weight machines and seconds ticking down on a treadmill, misery and the like, but it does have to be that way. Unless you want it to, of course.

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Moving your body is meant to feel good. How do you like to move? Do you love kayaking, or hiking, or riding your bike around town to save gas money? Perfect, do that. The idea of “joyful movement” is foreign to many, so here’s how to love moving.

In my experience, it boils down to three things: Motivation, finding a form of movement you love, and making sure you have time to do it. Those first two can be reversed if you want; moving just because is great, but I like knowing how it’s helping me too, because that helps a little more with #3.

1- Finding movement you love. What did you love to do as a child? What do you dream of doing now? Make a list of active things that sound fun to you, and try them all until you find something you can do regularly, or just keep trying new things. This doesn’t have to be things like rock climbing or white water rafting (though it could be) it could be something as simple as walking, hiking, and playing tag with your kids. For me, I prefer walking, hiking, and yoga. I have a list of more adventurous stuff, but these are the three that require the least money and equipment and I can do them regularly.

2-Find time to do it– You’ve heard the advice to “schedule” a “workout” like you would any other appointment, but  that just feels like another thing I have to do and that makes me want to do it less. I find routine works best, so I take a walk or hike first thing every morning, and I try to do yoga before bed. Find a routine that harmonizes with you day, so you’ll start looking forward to it, and your family will also get used to the routine and hopefully respect it.

3-Motivation– sometimes, the weather is awful or I just don’t feel like working out. There’s a difference between feeling ill and feeling lazy. If I’m lazy or the weather is awful, sometimes I just go to a gym or do a workout video. It’s never my first choice, but I know if I don’t exercise, I get cranky and just feel “off”, so I usually do it even if I don’t want to. Acknowledge what exercise does for you, and go above the “It keeps me skinny” crap. Instead, focus on how movement gives you alone time, or helps you manage stress and anxiety, or how you have so much more energy when you take your morning bike ride.

Let you exercise be fluid to suit you. Some weeks, I like intense cardio and even throw in some weight lifting and others, I just want a brisk walk followed by some stretching. If you’re going through a stressful time like getting married or moving, now is not the time to train for a marathon. Let exercise complement and improve your life, not take over it. The last thing you want to do is stress over something that’s meant to be enjoyed.

What sort of movement brings you joy?

8 Things to do on a bad body day

You’ve coming a long way in learning to love your body with all it’s beautiful imperfections and quirks, but those days, the ones where you feel like hiding in bed all day so you don’t have to face the mirror, are bound to happen once in a while. We all have them. I do all the time. Here’s  what I do to turn it around:

  1. Exercise…or not. Exercise helps you sweat out toxins and stress while releasing calming hormones called endorphins. You’ll raise your energy level all day and possibly strike a truce with your body during you’re run, but exercise may not do it for you today. If you’ve been pushing your body through killer workouts or if you’re starting to develop a negative view of exercise, you might need a break. Go for a calm walk or just skip the workout all together and read a book instead. Listen to your body and your soul to know what you need today.
  2. Wear something flattering and comfortable: Ideally, your wardrobe should make you feel confident and comfortable, but if you have a favorite pair of jeans or a cute dress you’ve been waiting to wear, today’s the day to do it. No tight waistbands, pinchy shoes, or ill-fitting pants. You’ll never feel comfortable in your skin if you’re uncomfortable in your clothes.
  3. Do something you enjoy and excel at: confidence in your abilities helps breed confidence of your body.
  4. Avoid damaging media: stay away from magazines, movies and tv today. Bodies are portrayed unrealistically in the media, and looking at them might trigger comparision thinking, which never helps you.
  5. Instead, read an inspiring book: read Hunger by Crystal Renn, or another book that celebrates all kinds of beauty, or that emphasizes other virtues.
  6. Don’t starve and don’t stuff: Nothing makes me feel worse about my body than feelings stuffed and bloated after eating too much. You may be susceptible to emotional eating today, so be careful to pay extra attention to your hunger and fullness signals.
  7. Stay busy…or not. Use your judgement to decide what you need: to rest, or to keep occupied so you have less time to dwell on the negative. You know yourself best.
  8. Write, if it helps you. List the parts of your body and personality that you love and why, or try finding something you like about your least favorite parts.

What do you do when you feel bad about your body?

My Happiness Project: Health

Continued from Learning to be Happy: Part 3

Happy Monday everyone!

I’ve spent the last week on part one of my personal happiness project, and I’ve focused on improving my health through a short list of guidelines I made for myself.

Here’s how I did:

–          Do a little yoga each day– Didn’t happen every day, but most days. I’ve noticed on the days I did practice, I had more energy and I felt all loosey-goosesy instead of my usual achey upper-back and tight hips. I’ll keep working on this one.

–          Learn to move more– Being a full-time nanny is draining sometimes, so instead of sneaking out for a cookie-dough shake in the evenings or diving into my hidden pint of chocolate hazelnut fudge ice cream, I took walks in the evenings, which helped me unwind and calm down much better than a sugar jolt.

–          Take my vitamins– I remembered about 70% of the time. Whole food vitamins are usually multiple pills taken several times a day. I remembered in the  mornings, most of the time at lunch and only a few times in the evenings. I didn’t used to believe in supplements because I reasoned that good food should have all the nutrition we need, but healthy food isn’t what it used to be and I’d have to eat a ton to get everything I need. I currently take a women’s  multi, herbal iron, fish oil, and an herbal complex called MindTrac to help with anxiety. Also an herbal tincture when I feel overwhelmed or panicky. I plan to add a B complex soon and D3 during the winter.

–          Honor my hunger and fullness– this one is always hard for me, and I’m still working on it. Most of the problem is that I rarely feel hungry. I’m a snacker, so when I feel a glimmer of hunger, I eat and don’t get hungry for awhile. Sometimes I just nibble throughout the day without giving myself a chance to get obviously hungry. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not. Also, I’m a textbook emotional eater. If I’m stressed out, you can bet I’m searching for the nearest chocolate bar. I’ve been trying to take walks instead.

–          Treats should stay treats– I’m the kind of person who loves dessert every day, so I try to stick to a couple pieces of dark chocolate or a scoop of chocolate hazelnut butter when I want something sweet and then have a real dessert twice a week or so and really pay attention to it.

–          Spend time outside every day– Also hard sometimes, because when I get a break, I usually plop down on the couch to write or read and only go outside to dump the compost bucket, feed the dogs or throw away dirty diapers. I take walks outside though and try to enjoy the time I do spend out there. Maybe I’ll throw in a few park visits with the kids this week.

Nobody’s perfect, but progress is much more important than perfection. I’ll continue to work on my health.

Next week: mindfulness

-Be here now

– Sing like I mean it

-Keep better track of spending

-Honor my emotions

-Limit screen time

PS: if you’d like to join me in the Happiness Project, leave me a comment and/or post it on your blog!