We’ve all been there, you don’t feel very well, someone says something that irritates you, and you snap their head off. Not your best moment, but as we’ve all been there, generally forgivable, every now and then. But what happens when pain and exhaustion, and the short temper that comes along with them, become chronic? You snap at loved ones more, which leads to guilt, after all, it isn’t them you are mad at. its the unending pain. It also leads to less understanding and more hurt feelings from the one being snapped at. No one wants to be grouched at all the time. It isn’t fair to pass that pain on to those around you. The fact is, if you don’t learn to control it, you will drive everyone away.
So, how do you find your sunny side when pain attacks? There are a few important things you can do, starting with being pro active about pain management. If suffering in silence is leading to biting the heads off of loved ones, well, that’s not exactly silent suffering now is it? No, that’s more like turning yourself into a ticking bomb, all it takes it someone to light the fuse and BOOM. Don’t be a bomb. Use pain remedies to ease your pain. Even if they only dull it, that offers relief and lowers the chance that you will blow up over nothing.
Along with easing your pain, the next most important thing is going to be honesty. It’s time to stop burying the bomb. Stop pretending its all fine, stop keeping the pain to yourself. No, do not become one of those people who never talks about anything but how terrible they feel, that will send people running for the hills as well, but do be honest about the bad days. Simply letting loved ones know that you feel a little extra touchy today, gives them the chance to walk around that hidden minefield. If they do happen to set you off, they will at least know why. So many of the relationship issues we run into in life are due to misunderstandings. Help them understand you better by being honest.
The next piece to work on is your reactions. Yes, you hurt, yes you are frustrated. It’s entirely natural to be grouchy and snap at people. It’s also entirely natural to pee, but we don’t run around peeing on everyone. Learning to catch the anger before you unload it on the next person to bug you will help keep them around. When you feel the anger building, when the frustration is making you short and grumpy, do whatever works for you to let it out, vent it so it stops building. You might take a walk, write it out, light a fire, do some planned destruction like demo or breaking things that need breaking for a project like a mosaic. You might turn to art or music. Personally, I use walking, writing, and a few lines from a Clutch song:
“So I Take A Deep Breath And Count To Ten,
Ain’t Gonna Let It Get Under My Skin.
Take A Deep Breath And Count To Ten.
Think Of All The Nice Places That I Been”— Careful with that Mic-Clutch
It’s been my strategy for so long, my kids know when Mom’s humming that tune, they need to keep a wide berth! Speaking of counting, when you don’t see it coming, and find yourself about to snap someone’s head off for bugging you, do what the song says, take a deep breath and count to ten, then answer. You’ll find that ten seconds and the deep breath, give you a moment to diffuse the reaction and control your response. Remember as annoying as they might be in the moment, they are not the reason you are so pissy. Controlling your reaction will lead to less guilt later on and fewer apologies.
The final tip for controlling your reactions when chronic pain has you feeling like a jerk, is distraction. Honestly, some days you just can’t quiet the pain. Some days its just going to be there, gnawing all day. One of the best things you can do for your attitude is to step away from it and into a hobby or project that soothes you. Pick up a great book, dig out a puzzle, the fly tying gear, your knitting needles, sink into a great movie or series, color, draw, create, whatever it is that captures your attention, do that. Distraction helps us set the pain aside for a bit, and doing something we love soothes us, between the two, you will find yourself less on the edge and more able to cope.
While its completely natural to be a grump when in pain, no one likes a chronic grump. Using a few strategies to manage your pain-itude will help you be the loving person you want to be. Chronic pain steals enough from us, don’t let your sunny disposition be one of the casualties.
How do you diffuse anger? Share your strategies, it might save a relationship or two.
While I try to begin each day with hope that the trajectory of 2020 will turn itself around, it seems like this might be a year loaded with trials and stress. If you suffer from a condition that is aggravated by stress, this is not good news. Add it to the pile right? It seems bad news is in abundance as storm after storm hits our country. With all the fear and life altering unpredictability of a hurricane, to say that the recent events have shaken things up is an understatement. As uncertainty, anger and fear continue to sweep the nation, and we face what will undoubtedly be a rough year (or ten) of recovery and healing, it’s going to be really important to take the time to attempt to manage stress and treat your body well. It is not the time to add fuel to the fire, we’ve already more than enough fires to fight at the moment. Being as healthy as you can, will make whatever comes next easier to survive.
That said, self care and stress management are anything but easy for most of us at the moment. If you are struggling to meditate, exercise, and eat well, you are not alone. Stress tends to bring out our worst habits as we reach for things to sooth our frazzled nerves. Personally, that means comfort food and binge watching sitcoms all day long. Which leads to feeling terrible, as lack of movement and piles of sugar feed inflammation and instigate other autoimmune symptoms. Which leads to…well, eating more junk and less moving, of course because I feel terrible.
Rinse and repeat, throw in a few days of attempting to behave myself and a smidge of exercise now and then, and that describes my life for the last two months. As the shit continues to hit the fan, I’ve become increasingly aware that this is A) not sustainable and B) not helping.
Since tanking my own health and mobility clearly won’t make this situation better, I’ve decided to focus on the fires I can put out, starting with the ones I’ve been dumping fuel on. That means watching what I eat, exercising daily, and managing stress, the three biggest keys to living well with rheumatoid arthritis and many other autoimmune conditions. Now is a great time to work on new habits and healthier responses to stress. With so much of it around, we’ll certainly get plenty of opportunities to practice.
Retraining our stress responses won’t be simple, but it will be worth it. Think about your own stress habits. What crutches do you turn to when it all becomes too much? Try to come up with a list of things you could do instead of reaching for that familiar, but ultimately destructive, soothing habit. Post the list where you can see it, preferably somewhere near the crutch you are trying to put down. That way, the next time you head to the snack cupboard after watching the news, you will be reminded that a walk will help you release the tension without feeding the flames. In time, feeling stressed will make you want to take that walk, just as it now has you reaching for a doughnut. Unlike the doughnut, all the walking will build a stronger, faster you. The way things are going this year, you just might need that speed to outrun the next storm.
When it comes to tackling any heath problem, the support of an experienced and knowledgeable team of health professionals makes all the difference. The more well rounded and varied your team members are, the more likely you are to successfully manage a chronic condition.
One of the longest standing members of my support team, is a dear friend who has been there for me every step of the way, Angela Harrington of WBFL-Fitness. Always a big fan of Angela’s attitude, a perfect mix of empathy, kindness and a dash of snarky realist, I’ve recently decided to make her a more official member of my team. Why? Simply put, I need a kick in the ass. As my friend of decades, I know I can count on Angela’s constant support and understanding. As my health coach? I know I can also count on her to give me the kick in the pants I need to take all of the things we have talked about and turn them into actions, actions for healing.
I recently sat down with Angela to talk about WBFL, her mission, and what she has to offer.
Q. What does WBFL stand for?
A. Workout Buddy For Life Fitness
Q. What drew you to this path?
A. I thought about becoming a personal trainer for several years but never really thought anyone would take me seriously. I even told one of the personal trainers that I hired that I loved working out more than going to Disney World. I did not start taking myself seriously until February 2018 when I met my Workout Buddy For Life, Stacy. She had just started working with the same personal trainer that I was training with and we would pass each other as one was leaving the workout and the other was going into one. I could tell she was apprehensive about being in the gym because it was written all over her face. Since I really hated going to the gym alone, I asked our trainer to introduce us and to give her my number to see if she was looking for a workout buddy. Fortunately, Stacy called me. We started out slowly, working out once a week for half an hour, in addition to our weekly session with the trainer we were both working with. It took some time for Stacy to work up to my level so that we could work together more. I told Stacy that I had just enrolled in the National Academy of Sports Medicine for my certification in personal training, at our trainer’s recommendation. And the rest, as they say, is history… Almost, because Stacy ended up getting her certification with me.
Q. What are your goals for WBFL? Your mission?
A. My goals and mission are for WBFL is to show people their inner strength through their outer strength. Because of Stacy’s willingness to work with me, I was reminded that in one of the group training classes I participated in, there was a woman who considered herself more fit than I was because of my size (weight loss has been the biggest challenge of my life). When the 6-week session was done, the woman came up to me and told me that I made her realize that everyone’s health and fitness journey is different and that she was wrong for silently judging me. I had proved to her that my weight was not going to hold me back as I was stronger and faster than many of the people in the program. The fact that I could do things she could not opened her eyes and her heart. I want to help women find their inner strength by finding their physical strength.
Q. What is the most important thing for people who are struggling with their health to know?
A. People need to know that there is no perfect or easy method to getting their health on track. It is not one size fits all. Some things will work for me that will not work for you, and vice versa. Finding what works, unfortunately, is going to cost a lot of time and money. I know this from experience which is what makes me different than most personal trainers. I have been working out for YEARS, and have tried several different diet methods, replacement meal shake/bars, have had doctors prescribe me weight loss “medications” (that literally did nothing) and even walked the line of considering gastric surgery. It honestly was not until recently that I found something that has me losing weight and resetting my body.
They also need to know that health really does start in the grocery store. What you buy and eat is more important than any exercise – which is super important, but you cannot exercise out of a bad diet (I do not know where I got this quote from, but it is so true).
People need to know that there is no perfect or easy method to getting their health on track. It is not one size fits all.
Q. If you could travel back in time and tell your younger self something, what would it be?
A. I would tell myself that health, nutrition, and fitness are the primary investments that I need to follow through with. We only get this one life; one body and we trash it until medical issues or medical scares force us to change. Also, I would tell myself to become an advocate for my own health, not just my family’s. I let myself think, for years, that there was something wrong with me because I could not lose weight.
Q. What do you struggle with the most personally?
A. I personally struggle with the impressions and stories I put into my head that other people “must” be thinking of me. I am still overweight by approximately 60 pounds, so who am I to tell someone how to eat and lose weight?
Q. What makes you qualified to help people get their lives on track?
I am a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Nutrition Coach, and a Certified Behavior Change Specialist. I am currently working on certifications for Women’s Coaching Specialist and Pre & Postnatal Coaching Specialist. From there, I will continue my education and learn new methods through exercise and nutrition.
While my training and education means I have gathered many tools that can help people who struggle with their health, I think the thing that best qualifies me is the fact that I am walking the walk and talking the talk. I do not have my clients do anything that I have not at least tried. As I said before, I know that some things will work for me that will not work for others. I am here to help people reach their health goals by coaching them, working with them to create their own customized program once they have selected which method, of my offerings, and I know how to make their success become a lifestyle. I, also, admit that I do not know all. For that reason, I am a part of a “Mistress-mind” group who are all associated with health and wellness; so, if I do not know the answer to a question, I do have resources ready and willing to help me out.
Q. Any final words for our readers?
“Keep Working Out Buddies, Your Perfect is Growing!”
~Angela Harrington, WBFL-Fitness, LLC.
If you would like Angela’s help getting your health on track, pop on over to her website or reach out to her on Facebook. Her personalized approach, coming from a space of understanding and experience, is truly a unique gift in the health coaching world.
Are you tired of the 24-hour fear train? Of playing hide and seek with germs? Of watching the days of the calendar tick by as you wait for the world to pull itself together? If you’re like me, you’ve had about as much of this circus as you can handle. I’m at the end of the line, getting ready to hop off. I’ve waited patiently for the train to pull into a station where we can all safely disembark. Since it hasn’t even slowed down once in the past two months, looks like its time to tuck and roll. So, I’m going to jump off this crazy train and back into life, or whatever parts of it are still open.
Before you decide I’ve just lost my mind from too many cooped up days, let me reassure you, that’s not it. Not entirely anyway, though my mental health is definitely involved in weighing the decision and one of the driving forces, it’s not because I’m nuts that I am going back to the real normal (you can keep your new normal). I am going back to preserve my mental health, but more than that, I’m returning to my normal life because I don’t believe in living in fear. You either tackle the problem or you run from it, cowering in the corner is not one of the accepted responses in my book. After all, it’s called the flight or fight response, not the flight, fight, or fetal position response. Unless you are being mauled by a bear, the fetal position leads to nothing but peril. It makes you vulnerable. As uncomfortable with vulnerability as the next guy, that’s not a place I can hang out. Honestly, I’m impressed I lasted this long, my fight response is strong. I am not one to back away, let alone turn into a cowering puddle. Nope, I am not doing that. I can’t cower in fear, I tried, really hard, to respect the fear of my loved ones, and play by the new rules, but as the restriction to my life look like they may end by Fall, if we’re lucky, its time for me to go back to living life, dangers and all.
No that was not a typo, I’m going back to my life of dangers, because for me, that’s the reality of life. I’m not blessed with a fear free life, with good health and easy days. Mine has been one of struggle and hardships, of constantly putting on the big girl panties and getting on with it even though it completely sucks. A life of adaptation. A life choc full of danger from internal and external forces. In my experience, you either find a way to conquer the fear of the dangers you face, or turn into a weeping ball, there really isn’t much room for middle ground when it comes to life with chronic illness. Flight isn’t an option when the problem is literally carried inside of you. Good luck getting away. So, live in fear or learn to push through the fear and grab onto the living left in your life.
It’s called the flight or fight response, not the flight, fight, or fetal position response.
Having a disease that could kill me if left untreated and might kill me even with treatments, a disease that weakens my immune system leaving me susceptible to everything from the common cold to an infected toe, a disease which requires me to take dangerous medications that also might kill me, has taught me to handle fear of dying in a way many probably never do. When potential death lies down every path you could possibly choose, when it becomes a constant companion, you get used to it. You become accustomed to knowing you could die sooner than you once imagined. That ticking clock informs many of your decisions, though often not in the ways one might imagine if they can’t hear its incessant ticking. Death lurks in the shadows, waiting, will you walk straight into his arms or run the other way, knowing he’ll still be right behind you? Never a fan of strange dudes who lurk in shadows, I choose to walk the other way. To leave death trailing me, aware he’s there, but not worried about when he might tackle me. As a very wise man once told me, when your number’s up, your numbers up. Words to live by, words I wish I’d heard sooner.
Anxious since birth, I’ve let fear rule my choices most of my life. What ifs have won out over what could have been, over and over again. It seems the saying is true, you only regret the chances you didn’t take. Being sidelined from the career I dreamed of before I ever really took the chance to make it wonderful, haunts my disabled life. Had I pursued it full force, moved somewhere unfamiliar to take any of the amazing opportunities that were available and put myself out there, I might have been in a position to oversee science work by the time my body called it quits. Not working so hard physically might have given me extra years of mobility. The mights and the should haves pile up, forming a wall between what is and what might have been. On the other side, lay many of my dreams. Oddly enough, the constant threat of death brought by chronic disease, is what finally taught me how to live. It reminded me what was at stake. My life. Not only in the biological sense, but in the broader sense, the essence of my life. For life is indeed not measured by the number of breaths we take, but what we do with that breath. I spent far too long holding mine. Far too long holding back in fear.
Realizing it could end any day, really taking that message in and hearing it, changed everything. The mountainous troubles of everyday life shrank, the beauty of the everyday moments grew. Time spent doing the little things became precious as my body became stubborn and unwilling to do the most basic tasks. Eventually, for the transition was slow and painful indeed, fear faded into the background as the fight to preserve my active life took over. Faced with uncertainty concerning the quantity of my life, I did what any sane person would, I turned my focus on squeezing as much quality out of it as I can. This situation? This is stealing quality from my life, and I’ve fought too hard for too long to let it take that from me.
The fact is, I know my days are numbered. I know I am unlikely to get as many as the next guy. I know at some point, there won’t be the option of repairing the damage, and I will be immobile. I know the medication I take might destroy vital organs or leave me susceptible to death by infection. Life has forced me to take chances simply to remain mobile and alive. I’ve made my peace with that. COVID-19? Just another in the very long list of diseases that might wipe me out if I catch them. Diseases those around me frequently pass without even a thought about the danger they have to folks like me. Colds, flus, strep, a bad pedicure, any of that can take me out of the game for good. I could choose to spend my life secluded, on guard against germs…or I can choose to live life with a bit of common sense and caution and hope for the best. Hope? She’s my girl. Through everything, hope has been there for me. Hope keeps me moving forward, even though I can see death in the shadows. She holds my hand when the times get rough and gives me the strength to look fear in the face and say not today.
Today I’m going back to choosing hope. I’m going back to time with beloved friends and family. I’m going back to kissing babies, because babies smell like miracles, and I miss that smell. I won’t be shaking hands, I do like that change, with sore hands that has made me cringe for years, but I WILL be hugging again. I will be hugging anyone who lets me, because if there is anything the world needs right now, it is a nice big warm hug to chase away the fear and remind us we are love.
Is it just me or is the general state of the world a little hard to handle right now? The list of people I can currently have a conversation about the state of the world with, without anyone getting fairly upset, is at an all-time low. For me, that’s a pretty good meter for how we’re all doing, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. I see a whole lot of anxiety, fear, depression, blaming, fear, finger pointing, did I mention fear? Boy is there ever plenty of fear. The general energy, attitude and mood of the world at large has me feeling like I am at the edge of the tornado, clinging onto a palm tree for all I’ve got, trying not to get sucked in. Fear is like that. It builds power as it gains victims, the more people jump on board the fear train, the bigger it gets. Now a few months in with 24-7 coverage, this fear train is officially the biggest of our lifetimes, and it looks to many of us as though it’s jumped the tracks.
The result? Anxiety, stress, depression, and even more fear. I’m certainly feeling it. Are you? Like a small heard of winged elephants dancing in my chest as a troop of pixies poke holes in my brain, I am definitely feeling the effects of the global fear. The fact is, I’m not afraid. No, that’s not accurate, I am afraid, I’m just not afraid of focus of the fear so much as the fear itself. The fact is fear makes me extremely uncomfortable. Far too aware of human nature, I understand that people acting on fear are not considering all the angles. When faced with fear we are biologically programed to act. There is not much room for considering the options when flight or fight enters the arena. Run or face the lion, that’s how we are made, a survival instinct that has placed us at the top of the food chain. But what happens when the lion doesn’t ever stop chasing you? Or the chase lasts for weeks instead of the minutes you were designed for?
You end up like me, over here, pacing the floors and feeling like I just might pop at any minute. Since anxiety and I go way back, I can see very clearly all the signs that she’s here to visit once again. Irritability, restless nights, lack of focus, add literal pacing and a healthy heap of unhealthy emotional eating, and the evidence is clear, I’m anxious. Not about getting sick mind you, oddly enough as the world cowers in fear of a global pandemic, that is actually not even on my list of concerns. I don’t fear COVID, I fear the fear of COVID. I worry about the impact, I empathize with those it will cripple, the dreams it will crush, the fallout it will leave behind. I stand beside those who are delaying diagnosis and treatment for diseases that will shorten their lives, or the number of good days they have left. I am painfully aware of the realities of paycheck to paycheck living and wondering how you will feed your children and keep a roof over their heads. My heart aches for those who reside with people who have hate and hurt where love should have been. Between the brutality of reality and the reality of anxiety, I am teetering at an edge I haven’t seen in years. Just between us? It’s a view I’ve worked really hard to put in the rearview mirror. The past couple of weeks that edge has been my campsite. I think I’ve seen enough. I think its time to take a leap of faith and get off the train. Even if that means dodging it for the rest of the year. I was always more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.
As the country turns to a home-based education, it seems like a good time to share what homeschooling has taught me this year. We embarked on our homeschool journey last September. Since then we have both discovered a great deal about learning, cooperation, and ourselves.
Making the decision to homeschool was not something I considered lightly. Before taking the plunge, I turned it over for years, debating with myself if a classroom education, with all the social benefits and resources I didn’t have access to at home, was worth the stress it was obviously putting on my non-conformist youngest child. I told myself he would eventually adapt and learn to sit and learn, to do the work for the sake of getting the work done, to trudge through the monotony of it all. I told myself that for 5 years. Five years during which my son learned that he was different, less than, unable, unfit, and an outsider. All of which is untrue, well except different, he certainly is that!
Last year I began to see the toll it was taking on him. His frustration with school was being internalized. He didn’t fit the mold and he felt like the problem was him. As someone who has often toyed with a career in education and spent a good deal of time in that realm, someone who is not an educator because she can’t play in that broken system, I knew quite well the problem was not him. The problem was the box they were trying to shove him into. The problem is this kid doesn’t fit in that box, like so many others. The problem, at the end of the day, was that they were attempting to change the kid instead of giving him a better box for who he is.
My youngest kid is stifled by paperwork and monotony. As I often told his teachers, this child is not going to grow up to be an office worker, he isn’t built for such things. He craves novelty and information; he carries a curiosity and imagination that demand to be fed. Curiosity wants nothing to do with a workbook. Curiosity wants to explore, to do, to try, to learn. And imagination, well imagination is like a puppy, give it the attention it demands or try to ignore it while it nips, nibbles and bumps you. School wasn’t feeding either of those aspects of my son, and they honestly are a huge part of who he is. In fact, if you asked for two words to describe his personality, those are the words I would choose, curious and imaginative.
Imagination is like a puppy, give it the attention it demands or try to ignore it while it nips, nibbles and bumps you.
So, I watched as struggling lead to hopelessness and low self-esteem. I listened to the ever-increasing list of negative beliefs my son was building around him. My heart broke as he told us he was “stupid”, “Bad at math”, “weird”, “friendless”, the list continued to grow as I watched my child sink into depression. Then one day he uttered the words that sealed the deal. My 10-year-old told me he wanted to die. Life had grown too heavy, constantly buried in work, missing recess for years on end, he was not thriving in public school, and it had become so heavy, he was seeking the ultimate out. I knew immediately what I had to do, whether I could handle it or not. I had to throw him a lifeline, literally. Suddenly a difficult decision seemed not that hard at all. Even if I didn’t know how I would manage it physically.
So, I started looking into what homeschooling looks like, began gathering resources, and soon gave my son the news, this was his last year of public school. In the fall we would begin homeschooling. He was relieved and excited. The promise that this was the end of the struggle helped him get through the last month and a half of school. He finished the year with honors. Because you see that child who was learning he was stupid, was not dumb at all. Five years of struggle, five years of good report cards. Proof enough for us that the problem was not the kid. The kid was smart, the system was going to drown him anyway. So, the lifeline was tossed, and we began our new life in September.
I’d be lying if I said it was all smooth sailing. As many of you have discovered, transitioning to schooling at home is not easy! You aren’t used to formal teaching, they aren’t used to you being the teacher. Kids must test any new dynamic, repeatedly, until they are really sure it can’t be broken, like really, really sure if they are stubborn like my youngest son! I spent three months constructing a learning plan, making a daily schedule, gathering worksheets, books, websites, and lesson plans. Within the first two weeks of school I would throw most of that right out the window.
Daily schedule? Yeah, no thanks, that was not working for either of us. The schedule was making failures of us both. Worksheets? Unless its amazingly fun, my child would rather stare at the wall all day. Something I knew but ignored at first. He quickly reminded me; I’ll never forget the body language the first time I handed him a worksheet. Like a balloon someone had just let the air out of, he flopped into his chair, defeated. Luckily, there is no reason workbooks need to be part of a homeschool education. I began to tweak the plan, I kept the bones, the master list of what he is expected to learn in grade 6, and reinvented our schedule as needed. Slowly, he settled into the routine of home-based learning, as I adapted to having someone home all the time.
Over the next few months, both of us slowly transformed. He began to be more like his old self, quick to joke, full of ideas, happy, friendly. I watched his confidence grow and listened as he discovered he was amazing at fractions, history, and science. We moved away from the daily tackling of all the subjects and into a block schedule, tackling two to three subjects a day, but giving them more time, allowing for the deep dives my son prefers to take into a subject.
I learned that the chronic disease I thought may hinder my ability to teach, had actually prepared me for this journey in surprising ways. RA has taught me to be adaptable, to be patient, to accept the days I can’t, and go for it on the days I can. Bringing all of that to homeschooling, has worked brilliantly for us. I’ve also learned to be gentler with myself on bad days. Rather than push through because we are “in school”, I’ve realized I can take a down day still. My sweet student is more than happy to read and write and let me take the nap I need to get through on the hardest days. For the first winter in years, depression didn’t eat me up. Not rattling around alone all day, has kept me focused and feeling useful. Providing a physical education for him, means more exercise for me too. In fact, he’s the one most likely to instigate our walks. A push I often need as walking is not my body’s favorite exercise. Feeding a growing boy who is capable of helping create meals, means we both eat better. The transition has been bigger than I had imagined, for both of us.
As we approach the end of our first homeschool year, my son is confident and happy. He’s blossomed into a voracious reader. He absolutely loves creative writing and spends as much time on his stories as I will allow, often picking them back up long after I’ve declared our daily schooling “over”. That is perhaps the most beautiful thing about homeschooling, the learning never stops. Now that teaching and learning have been woven into the fabric of our lives, any moment may be a teaching moment.
He no longer fills his time with as much screen time as I will allow. In fact, I rarely need to tell him that is enough video game time. He chooses more enriching activities now, because we have chosen to weave his learning into the things he loves. We use books, games, and interactive websites. We build, make, and create. We ask questions, suggest solutions and seek the answers. All day, every day. In a way, our homeschooling schedule is 24-7, 365.
Other than history, which we’ve decided to work through chronologically because “the way school jumps around is stupid and confusing” (his words), we are wrapping up that list of things 6th graders “need to know” ahead of schedule. For a kid who was chronically behind for 5 years? That in itself is some sort of miracle. When I add in all the books he’s had time to read, all the words he’s written for fun, and the learning games and projects we’ve done outside of school, it is really quite amazing. Seeing how much he has grown this year, I know we made the right choice for him. Seeing the ways it has changed my life, I can say it was also a wonderful choice for me.
Well, there is no doubt about it, the level of anxiety and fear in the world today is the highest it has been in decades. Not since 911 have I seen this level of uncertainty in fellow Americans. With restrictions and measures to control the spread of COVID-19 changing day by day, the unease many of us feel continues to grow. Whether that fear be of the germs spreading or the reaction to this pandemic, anxiety is now at an all time high. Uncertainty over the future of our food security, job security, and economic future weigh heavily on many along with fear for the health and safety of those we hold dear.
In times like these it is important to find ways to calm the anxiety and fear. An anxious, fearful mind is not a well-functioning mind. Studies have proven that fear and anxiety lower cognitive function and problem-solving skills. In a world where both could really make the difference between making it and not, managing those feelings becomes very important. We’re in the wilderness now, folks, time to refocus and watch for that lion, lest we become its next meal. Luckily, there are a lot of things we can do to calm the anxiety and fear so we can focus on what is happening here and now.
In these rather special and unique circumstances, the very first step we need to take to get the anxiety and fear under wraps is taking a big step back from the 24-hour news stream. If you’ve been watching this disaster unfold all day everyday on the news and social media sites, shut it off, set it down, and walk away! You did good to hang in this long, you deserve a break from your vigil. Because you don’t want to be unaware if the situation changes, choose a time once, or twice a day to check in with ONE news source. Just for the updates, just for the facts. Please don’t choose Facebook as that news source! Whatever newspaper, television newscast, or web-based news source you prefer, skimming it once a day will keep you informed without being constantly overwhelmed. If you are a frequent social media scroll-er, scroll on by the pandemic pandemonium and focus on those cute kid pics, the endless amazing free virtual experiences being offered everywhere at the moment, or pop into my new favorite group Quarantine Karaoke (created by a fellow Mainer 😊 because we know how to get through tough times!) for some music and entertainment. Unplugging from the news will help you put your focus on more positive things. Something that is really important if you are trying to manage anxiety right now.
It is a well-known fact that controlling our breathing can help us through many things. Breathing through pain, the Lamaze method, has long been used during labor. Many women, yours truly included, have continued to use this well-known breathing method to control other types of pain. But, did you know there are many other breathing methods? It turns out there are methods of breathing for increased lung capacity, endurance, pain, sleep, stress reduction and so much more. The simplest, and probably best-known method of breathing for stress relief is deep breathing. Another popular method that I have been using is the 4-7-8 method, a method that has been specifically identified as a great stress reduction and focus technique. Simply breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds, repeat 2-4 times, you may be surprised how much better you feel. The best thing about this anxiety management tool is you can do it anytime, anywhere, and it takes less than one minute.
Since breathing and meditation go together like bread and butter, let’s talk about this ancient method for stress reduction and re-centering next. Used in India for thousands of years, meditation has been gaining popularity in western culture over the past few decades. Chances are, if you suffer from anxiety regularly, someone has suggested you try meditation. There is no doubt that this ancient technique, which involves focusing on our breath and going within, is an excellent way to re-center and regroup. If you’ve tried and failed, welcome to the club, like all things worth doing, meditation takes practice. There are a huge number of free guided meditations available online and even apps for that.
Another gift from ancient India, yoga is a popular and well-known form of exercise in many areas of the world today. With a focus on stretching and strengthening many have turned to this ancient exercise to maintain strength and flexibility, but did you know it also reduces stress? Many of the poses, breathing methods and exercises commonly used across the varied forms of yoga are also excellent anxiety management tools. So, pop on over to YouTube, or dust that yoga workout video off and give it a shot. It is also a great way to get kids calm and centered, so invite the whole family to join you for some morning yoga to get that day at home off to a great start.
Take a walk
Not only is walking great exercise it is also a wonderful way to reduce your stress level. Taking a walk alone or with your family each day is a great way to promote the release of endorphins and decrease feelings of stress. If you are able to walk in a natural setting, that walk will be even more beneficial to your state of wellbeing. In some cultures, regular emersion in nature is even prescribed by medical professionals to help balance the stress of busy lifestyles. The Japanese call it forest bathing. Whether you choose to walk around the block or wander through the woods nearby, taking a walk daily will help improve your mood and, as a bonus, provide you with fresh air and sunshine, both of which help keep us healthier and more resistant to germs.
It is no secret that exercise is a wonderful tool for stress management. If walking and yoga are not your thing, choose something that fits you better. Spending a bit of time focusing on moving your body, working up a sweat, and releasing those endorphins (happy chemicals) will leave you feeling better. So take that run, dig out those exercise videos, sign up for that virtual kickboxing class, and treat your body to some happy chemicals courtesy of biology.
Spend time in nature
If walking in nature is not for you, or you have mobility limits that make that a challenge, find ways to get out and immerse yourself in nature. Take a ride to the shore and watch the waves come in, grab a portable chair and sit at the edge of a field or woods and just watch for a bit. The less active we are, the more active our animal neighbors tend to be. Use this time to animal watch, learn to identify birds in your backyard, or just sit and take it all in. Take some time to close your eyes and listen to the rhythm of the world around you. The natural world is full of life we cannot hear when we are whizzing by with our heads full of worries and lives full of plans. Taking some time to just be in nature is a sure-fire way to reduce the stress you are feeling.
As the Doobie Brothers song says, “give me the beat boys and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.” Music is a powerful tool, the right song can make us cry, pump us up, get us moving, and even soothe our soul. Playing uplifting music is a great way to decrease feelings of anxiety and drown out the fears of the world. If you also enjoy dancing, crank up those tunes and start a family dance party! Personal favorites when I need a lift are the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Queen, all guaranteed to transport me to my happy place, no matter where I am. Whatever music makes you happy, crank it up, don’t hesitate to belt it out, and dance till you feel nothing but joy!
Sink into a great book
Any bookworm will tell you the hands down best way to forget your troubles and the world around you is to delve into the pages of a great book. One of my personal favorite methods of stress relief and a constant in my life is reading. Whether you love fiction, poetry, biographies, or any other type of written work, grab that want to read list and sink into the pages of a great read. Be whisked away to far off lands, adventure with your favorite hero, re-read an old favorite. Reading reduces our blood pressure, stress level, and enriches our lives. It allows us to experience things we cannot go out and do ourselves.
Write it out
Writing is more than just a form of communication, it’s also a wonderful tool for dealing with uncomfortable feelings. Journaling or free writing about how you are feeling about the state of the world, your job, your family, etc. can help put things in perspective. Sometimes just writing something down will allow you to set it aside and move on with what needs to be done. It can also be a valuable tool for getting the things you wish you could say aloud but never would out of your head. You may find once your troubles are on paper, they are easier to let go, or debunk. Want to increase the therapeutic power of writing down the things you wish you could say? Grab a fireproof container and light that writing on fire, and let it go.
Talk it over
Prefer a sounding board to bouncing ideas around your own echo chamber? A chat with a good friend can do more than just fill the time. Talking things out often helps us to gain perspective. Even when it does not shift the way we see a situation, sharing our troubles with someone we trust is a wonderful way to destress and let go of the things that are eating us up. Since an in-person gab session with the bestie over coffee is likely out of the question, you’ll have to settle for a messenger vent session, phone call or video chat. So, make a date with your favorite folks to vent to and let it out.
Smile and Laugh
We’ve all heard the saying laughter is the best medicine. When it comes to breaking through the stress, it really is true. Laughter reduces our blood pressure, relieves stress and tension, decreases stress hormones and increases immune function. A good laugh will leave your muscles feeling relaxed for up to 45 minutes according to one study. And, as it turns out, smiling is every bit as good for us. When we smile our bodies release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, three well known feel-good chemicals. As a result, the act of smiling can actually make us feel less stressed and more happy. So, dig out those comedies, read a hilarious book, play a foolish game with your loved ones. The sillier the better. Giggle, guffaw, and howl till you cry tears of happiness. You will feel ever so much better if you do.
Despite the many benefits of play, as adults we do not often take the time to engage in playful activities. Play makes us not only happier, but smarter too. Playing reduces stress, promotes feelings of joy and happiness, increases our creativity and problem-solving skills. It is also a wonderful way to forget about the troubles in the world around us and build stronger bonds with those we love. When the world gets to be too much, dig out those toys, go on a dessert adventure with your kids in the living room, and get out those board games for some family fun time. Not only will you all be distracted for a bit, you’ll be happier and more relaxed at the end as well, thanks to those happy chemicals from all the smiling and laughing.
If you’ve ever lost track of time while making something, you know the power of creativity. The creative mind is a wonderful thing. Being creative increases problem solving skills, decreases stress hormones, and is very much like a sort of meditation. The troubles of the world melt away as your brain turns to creative thinking and your eyes focus on the details of what you are making and/or referencing. When creating, brains release the chemical dopamine, known to increase feelings of happiness as well as improve focus and problem-solving skills. It turns out even something as simple as coloring in a coloring book can trigger the release of those feel good chemicals and reduce our stress levels. So, dig out the crayons, paint, cloth, wood, whatever you use to create and sink into a project. Allow the world around you and all the stress it holds to melt away for a bit.
Do whatever makes you happy
Because the ultimate antidote to stress seems to be happiness, anything that makes you feel happy will reduce your anxiety and stress. As we have learned, smiling, laughing, and creating all promote the release of feel good chemicals. There are many other activities that result in the release of those precious stress reducing hormones and chemicals. So, whatever it is that brings you joy, get up and go do it! Maybe it’s a cuddle with a furry friend, a jog around the block, a tidying spree in that closet you’ve been meaning to organize, a chat with a good friend, whatever your happy place is, now is a great time to spend more time there.
While there is not much we can do about the stressful state of the world today, there is a great deal we can do to manage the feelings of anxiety that stress brings. Taking the time to focus on activities that reduce our stress leaves us feeling happier and smarter. With brains that are relaxed and tuned for problem solving, getting through the current chaos will certainly be simpler.