Merry Christmas! I remember when I was young, how a feeling of melancholy would descend upon me after the hype of Christmas. It’s different now that I am a mother. The end of Christmas means I can finally relax – no more shopping, baking, cleaning, decorating, and wrapping. No more constant anxiety about creating the perfect magical memories. It should have been easier this year, as the pandemic limited what Christmas could be. However, somehow it was worse in terms of my anxiety. Perhaps it was because my classes ended later than usual in December and I had at least one child at home since before Thanksgiving. I channeled all my anxiety into online shopping, which I did not really realize until the children sat among their mountain of presents this morning. It was too much.
Later this afternoon, as I folded laundry, I listened to Tim Ferriss’ podcast interview with Leo Baubata, the author of Zen Habits. I didn’t really consider the depth beyond the message behind the idea of “simplify your life” until he explained that it does no good to begin simplifying without identifying the root of the behavior – whether it be the accumulation of possessions or commitments. Most of it is driven by anxiety, which has been heightened by the pandemic. This really resonated with my Christmas splurges and my increased work commitments. Next semester I added another class and another administrative role to the same schedule I struggled with this fall. Somehow, I have not made the best choices because I feel best when I am “doing” and now I need to ride it out until May. Hopefully, I will learn some lessons along the way and find healthier ways to manage my anxiety. It’s not enough to hope 2020 will be better; we need to make it better.
This week I am learning the limitations of my cognitive powers and how anxiety is a full body experience. No amount of philosophy or mindfulness has been able to stop the stress dreams, the stomachaches, or the clenching of my jaw. I am on a steady diet of high fiber, probiotic foods and meditation, yet still I am struggling. Even when I have successfully shut down my rehashing of events and can recognize no reason for stress, a knot of nerves keeps emitting distress signals. All I can do is ride out the storm and do what seems to bring me the most relief: exercise, time outdoors, and creative expression.
Each day my attention has been divided in multiple directions: work, school volunteering, extracurricular activities, my daughter’s health issues, household management, etc. When I am in the grips of anxiety, it’s easy to get frantic with all that I could be doing, but I am currently not. This is when I need to really turn to my mindfulness and simplify my schedule. I have limitations and that is okay. I cannot fall into the trap of social comparison, measuring myself against those that *seem* to be doing it all flawlessly.
This past weekend, I mixed up the time for my daughter’s last soccer practice and showed up to the fields three hours late. When I realized my mistake, I could not help being swamped with agonizing regret and self-loathing. Who does this? I hate to fail others, and I hate to make mistakes, but no good comes from wallowing in negative feelings. All I will do is keep myself in this cycle of turmoil, bad outcomes, and recovery. Instead, I need to reflect on the cause and work towards a positive course of action to avoid further mix ups.
Writing about this makes me feel marginally better, as if I put medicine on a wound. This weekend I have made concerted efforts to speak my feelings, not hold them in and have them mutate into some other form, such as grumpiness. It’s the advice I give my children – give a name to it, so that we can deal with it. Negative emotions hold less power in the light.
Spending New Year’s Eve sick was the best dose of reality. New year’s day was not the day I would begin my marathon training; it was not the day I would sort through my closet and minimize; it was not the day I would begin writing ten pages a day. It was the day I took care of myself, so that I could heal faster.
The best advice I read for the new year was to set daily intentions instead of one overarching resolution. On a given day I may intend to create a new lecture, clean out the fridge, write a blog, or rest and drink lots of liquids. It means taking a moment to read the day, consider my obligations, and gauge my own personal needs. Some days I genuinely need to work out, not to meet a dictating resolution for the year, but to clear my head and balance my emotions.
In my field of composition and rhetoric, I have learned that timing is key. A writer crafts his response to fit a particular moment. The action is co-determined by the setting, the current conversation, and audience. Likewise, my everyday actions are also determined by multiple factors. Perhaps it would be different if my life did not involve children and a job that has varying demands day by day. All I can do is make the best decisions in the moment. This is what I can cook and eat with the available ingredients and the allotted time. I have had write this blog post in pieces because sometimes a six year old appears on my lap or the noise level in the house escalates beyond the point at which I can concentrate. In those moments, I move on to a different intention, which doesn’t require the same cognitive labor or better serves the needs of my household.
My goal is not to set myself up for disappointment or agitation but to still have expectations. I have discovered when I have set up unsustainable goals, such as I am going to write 500 words a day, when I fail, I quit. A daily intention is not about a streak of behaviors that can be broken. It’s not a diet you can fail. It’s about waking up each morning and planning what you have to do and what you want to do. Today is the last day of my children’s winter break. My intention is to remove the holiday decorations, visit with my parents, let my children dictate some fun activities, and prepare for a work day tomorrow.
For my last post, I discussed how I developed mindful spending skills through my upbringing. This mindfulness did not translate, and actually at times interfered, with a mindfulness about food. Sometimes we ate just to extract value. To this day, my parents favorite type of restaurants are buffets. I also ate, and still do to an extent, for many other reasons other than hunger. Some I find to be perfectly acceptable, such as eating to celebrate. Others I find to be less justifiable, such as munching to break up the monotony of the day.
I am a grazer. While this means I have been able to avoid the pitfall of buffets and usually always leave a restaurant with a box, I am also constantly nibbling, usually when I pass by a kitchen or office snack table en route to a different task. I truly have no idea how many calories I usually consume a day, and I have always been resistant to the idea of tracking what I eat.
The term “self-monitoring” makes me feel like I am oppressing myself, enacting a more efficient type of discipline than the those exerted on us through institutional spaces. Yes, I have read a lot of theory on social power, particularly the work of Michel Foucault. It makes me want to avoid any sort of “tracking,” especially when it is tied to a networked program, such as MyFitnessPal.
However, I am putting my paranoia aside for 30 days and giving this food journaling/calorie counting approach a try. Two of my co-workers have already lost 10 pounds through this process. I am a bit more skeptical, which means I may already be dooming myself to fail.
Today was my first day. I am hungry, but I am unsure if I want to max out and eat my remaining 214 calorie allotment. Overall, I did consume more sodium and fat than my app thinks I should. I could have eaten more protein and carbohydrates. Maybe I can squeeze in one more snack…
The greatest proof in my life of the mind/body connection occurs whenever I have a break from work. As always, when I anticipate a block of free time on the horizon, I begin making a list of aspirations: work on my novel, exercise daily, revamp all my course plans, design jewelry, finish a painting, socialize more, clean and organize the house, read twelve books, watch movies, discover a new TV series, enter an Instagram contest, etc., etc. Inevitably, the first day of my vacation I wake up sick. This time it was with a sore throat and fever, not sick enough to annihilate my day, but sick enough to slow down my motivation train and face the stark reality that I am a human. Somewhere inside me is an internal regulator that actually knows what’s best for me. Like a doctor who orders a medically-induced coma, this regulator forces me to rest.
There is actually a term for this: “leisure sickness,” coined by a psychologist in the Netherlands. Apparently, when our work pressures us with deadlines and must-attend meetings, our immune systems ramps up. When those external pressures are removed, the immune system relaxes, letting those latent germs play out. My job is to rest and repair. This is just one of my many #firstworldproblems.
Finding a meditation that suits your personality is certainly key. The other night I tested out one of Deepak Chopra’s guided meditations on Youtube. My reasoning was, if he is good enough for Oprah, he is good enough for me. I tried one geared for stressful moments. He opened with asking the listener to smile everywhere, even in “your genitalia.” This made the adolescent inside me really smile, which was stress-relieving. However, after that moment, I spent the rest of the meditation smirking and not being one with the universe.
The same part of me that is inclined to smirk is the same part that found it difficult to participate in the chanting portion of the guided meditation. Deepak began by asking listeners to repeat the words “abundance, existence, and joy.” The English professor in me rebelled against the abstractness. What does those words even mean?! Then, perhaps to show me I am not nearly as smart as I think am, he asked me to say the words in Sanskrit. Even though I was alone in the room, I was embarrassed by my mangled enunciations.
Tonight I tried a guided meditation for stress posted on Health.com: http://www.health.com/health/video/0,,20912167,00.html. Instead of being asked to smile everywhere and chant “existence and joy” in Sanskrit, the meditation asked me to clench different muscle groups as I inhaled and relax them as I exhaled. After going from feet to face, I felt better. Yes, there still was chanting involved. But instead of chanting abstract nouns or muttering mangled Sanskrit, I was asked to mentally say “one” when I exhaled. The purpose of this was to bring the attention to the breath. Once that was established, the “one” was dropped.
This second meditation worked so much better for me. In a way, it is depressing that I find muscle clenching and relaxing more satisfying than Sanskrit chants. Maybe one day I will be mature and cultured enough for Deepak, but I am not holding my breath (exhale). Sorry Oprah!