Our friend Will Tottle, who shared a post with us on the emotional benefits that dogs can provide, has written another great piece on how music helps with mental health. You can read his comprehensive article here.
There are times when everyone can benefit from a change of scenery. When the comfort of my day-to-day routine becomes so mundane that I want to scream, I know it’s time to shake it up. I’m not talking about anything drastic—just enough change to keep life interesting. I know I’m not alone.
Of course, travel is one obvious way to change the view. There’s nothing like a trip to a foreign land to alter your perspective. I’ve had the good fortune to visit South Africa and parts of India. Seeing the Big Five (African elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, and black and white rhino) from a jeep on an early morning safari or riding a took-took through the insanely crowded streets of Delhi are definitely effective ways to adjust your attitude and your outlook. When I look at photographs from those trips, I’m transported back to what I will always consider to be adventures of a lifetime.
If international travel isn’t in your budget, another option is exploring a nearby town. A few weekends ago, I drove three hours south and spent the weekend with a friend I hadn’t seen for a few years. Not only did we have a great time catching up, but we did what girls do best—shop. Saturday morning we went to the local produce market, and while we were in the cute downtown area, we checked out many of the local stores. Sunday, we went to breakfast and shared an enormous and delicious salmon-avocado-tomato bagel. By the time I got home on Sunday night, I was recharged and excited about the week.
Sometimes, as much as you want to get away, leaving town isn’t possible. Regardless, you can still change the scenery by altering your routine. Many of us are creatures of habit, and that can be a good thing. For me, a routine is what it takes to get things done. Most mornings are the same: coffee, write, exercise, and grocery shop. Afternoons are more flexible. Generally, they include more writing, phone calls, emails, cooking, and some socializing. Some days, I need to shake it up. Instead of the gym, I go for a hike. Instead of writing, I call a friend and suggest meeting for lunch, coffee, or a glass or two of wine. Instead of taking the freeway, I travel the back roads and explore streets and neighborhoods I’ve never seen before. Somehow, adjusting my schedule recharges my battery, improves my outlook, and adjusts my attitude.
The recent fires in California have filled my hometown with smoke, making outdoor exploration a bit challenging. Fortunately, I’ve been able to escape via movies on Netflix and by reading a few good mysteries. There’s nothing like binge watching and reading to change the landscape. Not sure what to watch? Rottontomatoes.com lists the best movies of 2017, the top 100 movies by genre, and the best movies of all time—and more! Looking for good books? Check out Goodreads.com. Read or write reviews, sign up for the 2018 reading challenge, and become a part of the community.
Finally, for some of us, “Tis not a change of scenery you need but simply change the way you look at the scene you are in.”
It’s easy to forget to find joy in the journey—whatever that journey happens to be. A while back, I started going to a Speakers and Entrepreneurs Network meetup in Sacramento because I thought speaking to groups would be a great way to market Don’t Stop Now: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life. Unlike a lot of folks who think public speaking is more terrifying than jumping out of an airplane, I enjoy it—once I’ve memorized the speech.
In April, I made the commitment to be a presenter at the July 5 meetup. I spent a couple of weeks writing and refining my twenty-minute talk. Then, I started memorizing it. That’s when the flashback to a high school speech contest loomed front and center. I’d memorized The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. I got off to a great start. About half way through, my mind went blank. I froze. I waited for the words to come. They never did.
It was not my finest hour.
Since then, I’ve given many talks but none that required memorization. Even thought I’ve written the upcoming speech, memorization has been more difficult than I expected. I was starting to stress out about it, worried that I wouldn’t be able to commit 2500 words to memory. That’s when I got some great advice from Sandra, my friend and acting coach. “Find the joy in learning the speech, not just in delivering it.”
To find joy, I adjusted my attitude. And, I did exactly what I do when I write a book. I enjoyed the process of researching and writing—just as much as holding the final product in my hand.
Basically, I employed what the wiser part of myself already knows:
Every day, I learn another paragraph and practice what I know. I rehearse in my bedroom in front of a full-length mirror, in the back yard while I’m working in the garden, and in the car while I’m driving (to see how much I recall without looking). And, I’m having fun. My goal is to have everything memorized by June 20 and use the rest of the time to perfect my presentation.
So often we have our eye on the destination and ignore the journey. Focusing on the journey has made learning a lot more fun and much less stressful. While I’m using this technique to learn a speech, it applies to many other areas of life. For example, if you’re having a dinner party, make sure all the prep is as enjoyable as the meal. Same with planning a vacation. Make learning about the destination and planning what you’ll do when you arrive interesting and exciting.
In the words of the Indian educator and philosopher Srikumar Rao, “There’s no destination. The journey is all that there is, and it can be very, very joyful.”
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and figuring out how to deal with it is the pressing question. Overwhelm is what happens when you get too much of something. You can be overwhelmed by remorse, sadness, or by any emotion that you don’t know how to deal with. You can also be overwhelmed by people, places, and things, like the laundry, a traffic jam, or the news.
The cause of being overwhelmed is different for everyone. When I was in Los Angeles, I was overwhelmed by traffic. Now that I’m back home, I’m overwhelmed by the list of things I want to accomplish in a given day. I take one look at my to-do list, feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what needs to be done, and suddenly, I’m paralyzed. I know I need to make phone calls, write a new blog post, take the car for an oil change, and shop for groceries, but instead, I’ll plop down on the couch and read a book or watch something on Netflix.
Recently, I decided to conquer my beast. After looking at my list, I realized that the 25+ items fell into a few basic categories. Sorting the list into three main categories—personal, my writing business, Don’t Stop Now book—and prioritizing each item within a sub-list helped decrease my anxiety. The next step was to pick the most important item from each sub-list and assign a due date. Do I really need to get everything done today—or even this week?
I decided to limit to three the number of items that must be accomplished in a given day. There are days when I do more, but only because I’m on a roll, or feel inspired. What helped the most was putting the tasks on my calendar. For example, I go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning. The grocery store is on my way home. Instead of shopping on Tuesday (because I always have), it’s more convenient and a time-saver to stop on a day when I’m already driving by.
Generally, nothing on any of my lists is an emergency. Instead of spending time agonizing over what needs to be done, it’s much easier to put it on my calendar in a logical place and just do it.
To summarize, here are the four steps I’ve been using to avoid feeling overwhelmed by tasks involved with daily living:
What makes you feel overwhelmed? What are you going to do about it?
Coping with stressful situations can be a challenge, but I came up with three ways to make it work.
I recently returned from a two-week road trip to Los Angeles and back. My daughter, who has had Lyme Disease for 15 years, decided it was time to try stem cells. She made the appointment, we booked an Air B&B, and headed south down the no-man’s-land of Highway 5. We took a short detour to Paso Robles for an overnight visit to see an old friend, and we arrived at our destination in West LA early in the afternoon.
The Air B&B was nice and clean, but our assigned parking space was tight—so tight that it took several attempts to get into the spot. The first time I parked, I had to crawl over to the passenger side to get out. Every time I parked the car, I held my breath in anticipation of hitting either the wall or the car in the next stall.
Then, there was the steady background beat of the traffic. And the traffic! Our daily commute from the Air B&B to the clinic was 3.5 miles straight down Santa Monica Boulevard to Beverly Hills. On most days, the appointments began at 9:00 and ended at 5:00. Our average commute time was 35 minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic. How people live this way is beyond my comprehension.
While my daughter was at the clinic, I did the grocery shopping and made us healthy meals. Fortunately, both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were close by, and I found a cute coffee shop within walking distance. Even though I had a GPS, not knowing exactly where I was going added to my stress.
I wasn’t surprised by any of this. During our two-week stay, I noticed that my back ached more than usual. At the time, I thought it was from sleeping on a different mattress. In hindsight, I realize that my stress was from the traffic and my fears of getting lost and hitting the wall or another car in my attempt to park.
Sometime during the end of the first week, I figured out three things to help me cope with stress: simplify, pay attention, and remember to breathe and stretch.
My daughter was undergoing treatment that had the potential to repair the damage Lyme Disease had caused. The stress of LA was a very small price to pay for a potentially large return.
Will Tottle, editor of Dog Owner in the U.K., has written a comprehensive piece on how dogs can help with mental health. We recommend that you take a look here.
Thanks, Will, for a highly informative and enlightening piece.
Guest blogger Hollie Grimaldi-Flores warns about the dangers of too much giving, which can lead to burnout.
Many years ago, when I joined a service club for the first time, one of the members warned me to be careful about taking on too much, lest I burn out. At the time, I could not even imagine what she was talking about. How does one burn out from socializing in the name of community service? Frankly, my membership in the service club was my social life. It took more than twenty years, but I now see she had a valid point. Too much giving, without enough getting, leads to burnout. It is true in the workplace, as well.
According to psychologytoday.com, “Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” Each of these stages comes with its own set of symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, loss of enjoyment, pessimism, detachment, feelings of apathy, and increased irritability.
These symptoms arise from caring too much, which is part of the problem. The article goes on to state, “Because high-achievers are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they’re working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy workloads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel”—all behaviors that can cause burnout.
I used to call it the “east coast work ethic,” because many of the people who felt the way I did were also from the east. Surely it was the way we were brought up—to work hard and not complain. But now I see it all around me, with coastal upbringing a non sequitur. There are always people in any group who are the doers, just as there are those who are happy to let the doers take on all the work.
I worked for years in a place that gladly let me log as many hours as I possibly could, usually without extra pay. Once the workday was over, a few of my co-workers and I would represent our place of employment by engaging in community events—bowling or running for a cause, emceeing fundraisers, and attending numerous meetings. We did it with pride for the organization and for the pure joy of helping others. But it took its toll—on time away from family and on our own well-being.
I burned out, and I have no one to blame but myself. Because I didn’t recognize the symptoms, I didn’t see it coming. It’s likely that I never would have stopped if my body hadn’t held a mutiny. I was forced to surrender.
These days when I say yes, I do so gladly. I learned a valuable lesson and intend not to repeat my mistakes.
To those who do too much, I advise you to keep the risk of burnout in mind to protect your health and well-being. To those who are not quick to give, I encourage you to consider stepping up to the plate, at least occasionally. Find the cause that brings you joy or concern. Be part of the solution by giving your time, energy, or resources to the extent that you are able. That might just be the fan needed to keep the flame from burning out.
According to research, pets are good for your health. There are lots of reasons, but I think the main one is that they provide an endless source of unconditional love. The relationship I have with my cat and dog are in many ways as good as it gets.
Most mornings begin with my cat, Flea, an inch from my face, staring at me, looking for a sign that I’m awake. I know what she’s thinking: It’s almost 6:00 a.m. Get up, you lazy human, and open a can of Friskies. Relentless in her pursuit of breakfast, her behavior escalates if I feign sleep. She paws at my cheek, and if I still don’t move, she gently nibbles at my nose. Get up! Like the plants in The Little Shop of Horrors, her mantra is Feed me!
And so I do. We have an understanding. I provide the food and she provides affection. Later in the day, she’ll wind herself around my legs and purr, or bring me a dead bird or mouse—an expression of unconditional love.
Once the cat is fed, I turn on the computer, make a pot of coffee, and begin my day by writing a blog post. Coming up with ideas that motivate, inspire, or inform isn’t always easy. Life isn’t always that exciting. I haven’t taken an exotic vacation in years, and fortunately, I’m not dealing with any catastrophic issues (pun intended) other than my pet.
I can’t imagine life without pets.
In addition to Flea, I also have Loki, a Golden Retriever who is twelve today, April 20. She has shoulder dysplasia, arthritis in her joints, and glaucoma, but loves life despite her disabilities. She has the sweetest disposition, and she greets everyone with affection and enthusiasm. Like the cat, Loki is also motivated by food. It might take her a few minutes to get out of her bed, but her day always begins with a dental bone.
While Flea spends most of her days outdoors, Loki spends her days near my feet, waiting to do something exciting. Before she had trouble standing, every day was filled with walks. Now, walks consist of roaming the back yard and maybe going down the driveway to the mailbox. The days of long walks on the trails near my house are over. Even though she can’t do it anymore, as soon as I pick up my boots, she furiously wags her tail in anticipation of an adventure. Hating to disappoint, I now keep my boots in the car so she can’t see me put them on.
I know our days together are numbered.
“How much longer do you think you’ll have Loki?” my daughter, who has two young dogs, asks. It’s a question I can’t bare to think about, let alone answer. That’s the problem with pets. They don’t live long enough, and then we must deal with losing them.
That’s also the problem and the beauty of getting close. Life is so fragile and transient.
What other option is there than to appreciate each moment for what it brings and generate as many positive memories as possible?
The lesson I’m learning right now is that change is inevitable, even thought I might resist it.
Three days a week, I spend some time lifting weights and taking a dance class. Weightlifting is good for muscle tone and strength. Dancing is a great way to burn calories while listening to music.
Leaving the house to exercise also has a social aspect. Because I spend so much time at the computer, going to the gym forces me to change the scenery. In other words, the gym is an important part of my life. It’s where I go to have fun and de-stress.
Like a lot of women at the gym, I’ve been taking Teresa Cull’s classes off and on for about twenty years. Based on our shared interest, we’ve formed an informal community. We might not know the intimate details of each other’s lives, but there’s a camaraderie of kindred spirits.
Because Teresa’s Fit Jam class is so popular (and crowded), the management is now limiting the number of people who can attend. In the past, there have been more than seventy people in the room at times. Now that fire and safety codes are being enforced, the new limit is fifty. While it’s nice to have more room to move, it means that many women who have been coming for years can’t get into the class.
The chirpy guy at the desk smiled and said, “I can put you on the wait list.” Let me just say that my reaction was not pleasant. I was angry and upset. Although management has been making people sign in and get a card to enter the class, the reason why was never clear. At no time did I realize that the class size was exceeding the limit set by the fire marshall. Had this been made clear, I would have been much more proactive in making sure to claim my space.
Instead of fuming in silence, I expressed my frustration to the staff. I suggested that an email be sent to other members explaining the reason for the change, but that was never done. I was at a conference on Friday, so yesterday was my first day back at the gym. You can be sure I signed up early the day before. My space was secure, but another regular didn’t get in. Of course, she was upset for the same reason I was.
I’m sure the dust will eventually settle, the people who love the class will make the extra effort required to get in, and others will find something else to do. For now, I’m going to continue going. But if by the end of April my attendance continues to cause stress—which is clearly not the ideal outcome— I have a Plan B.
Put my gym membership on hold (perhaps indefinitely). Go to Jazzercise, which I also love. Hike often—especially now when the wildflowers are out. Work out with free weights at home. Call the gym friends I miss and schedule time for coffee.
The first time I understood the power of hypnosis was in 1978, when I was hired to videotape a hypnosis workshop. The instructor was a PhD psychologist. The participants were social workers interested in using hypnotherapy in their practices. Through guided imagery and trance states, participants learned and practiced techniques to help people make lasting change. I was fascinated.
Several weeks after the workshop, I had an opportunity to try hypnosis myself. I had been offered a job I really wanted, but it was in a non-smoking environment and I was a smoker. At the time, I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. I was aware of the health perils associated with this bad habit. I’d try quitting before, but now my situation was dire. The new job started in a week.
I remember being in a very relaxed state listening to the hypnotherapist’s voice. In my mind, I descended a stairway to a beautiful safe place where changes could be made. I don’t remember much else, but I do know that after the session, my desire to smoke was insignificant. A few weeks later, at a follow-up appointment, I learned that I’d been given a post-hypnotic suggestion to drink water whenever I wanted to smoke. I do recall carrying a thermos of water with me long before this practice was fashionable.
Fast-forward to the present. My friend Marge is a hypnotherapist who recently emerged from retirement to start practicing again. I have a session with her every couple of weeks. Sometimes we work on a specific concern, like my chronic low-back pain. Other times it has to do with difficult relationships or issues with my spouse or kids—the usual stuff of life. Regardless of the issue, Marge likes to work directly with the deep unconscious. She’s also a devotee of Milton Erickson, an American psychiatrist who specialized in medical hypnosis and family therapy. He’s also known for his approach to the unconscious mind as creative and solution-generating.
From what I understand, the deep unconscious is the part of ourselves that knows what the conscious part of us doesn’t comprehend—or doesn’t want to. In a deep state of relaxation, it’s possible to tap into that inner knowing. The hypnosis framework is similar for everyone, but the transformational journey is always unique.
What I love about this state of mind is the awareness and insight that result. How simple solutions to difficult problems appear so seamlessly. For example, I recently gained insight into an old thought pattern that has affected me since I was very young. A dialogue between adult Jan and young Jan helped me reframe the circumstances. In the process, I felt an enormous emotional release.
If you’ve ever thought about giving hypnosis a try, I encourage you to do so. At the very least, it’s completely relaxing. It also has the potential to change your life in beneficial and significant ways.