fitness · motivation · rest · self care · time

Go Team: Adjust Accordingly

Here in Canada, most of us had a long weekend and we’re starting our week on Tuesday instead of Monday.

We had an unusual Monday and now we are heading into a short work week.

Image description: a GIF of a stick person who is rapidly alternating between lying on their bed and jumping ​up to sit at their computer and work while an analog clock spins rapidly on the wall above.
I hate how short weeks can end up feeling like this. Image description: a GIF of a stick person who is rapidly alternating between lying on their bed and jumping up to sit at their computer and work while an analog clock spins rapidly on the wall above.

How many of us have adjusted our schedules and expectations accordingly?

It’s a trap I fall into on the regular – my schedule or capacity* is altered in some way and yet I still try to do as much work/keep the same routine/fit AllOfTheThings in despite having less time or less energy.

​. Image description: a GIF of a black cat with white paws that walks under a cardboard box that is being held up with a stick. The cat bats the stick with its paw and the box falls down and traps the cat beneath.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, you accidentally make things worse for yourself. Image description: a GIF of a black cat with white paws that walks under a cardboard box that is being held up with a stick. The cat bats the stick with its paw and the box falls down and traps the cat beneath.

This happens to me most often when I’m not paying close attention, when I forget to take stock of how much I am trying to fit into my schedule. During short weeks like this, I’m especially prone to it.

Trying to cram the same amount of stuff into a smaller container is a direct route to extra stress and frustration, and to a persistent feeling of ‘not measuring up.’

And it doesn’t matter if the ‘stuff’ you are trying to cram in is work-related, fitness-related, or personal. The issue is that we have set expectations that are way too high for us to meet.

In this case, it’s about time and about routines, but a mismatch of expectations and capacity about any goals or plans that we have set for ourselves can lead to those same feelings.

So, Team, whether you are heading into a short week, or an ordinary one, and whether your expectations are around your work, your workouts, or about anything else, I’m inviting you to pause for a moment and think about whether they match your capacity.

If there’s a mismatch, please don’t be hard on yourself.

We all fall into that trap sometimes.

Instead, why not reevaluate your time and your expectations and adjust accordingly?

Your brain will thank you.

As always, I’d like to offer your gold star for your efforts. In fact, here’s a whole bunch of gold stars – adjusting your expectations will take a lot of little efforts over and over so it makes sense to offer you a lot of little gold stars in recognition of those efforts.

Image description: hundreds of small shiny gold stars ‘shooting’ toward the screen against a black background.​
Image description: hundreds of small shiny gold stars ‘shooting’ toward the screen against a black background.

*For example, if I’m feeling sick or if I have slept poorly.

Sat with Nat · self care · sleep · walking

Nat tries to keep an East Coast mindset in Southwestern Ontario

Recommended Soundtrack: Blow Up by The Beaches

It’s only a few weeks of being back in Ontario and I can already feel the sense of calm contentment slipping that had settled over me in New Brunswick.

It’s partly that I know more about what to do here, where to go, who to see and there is just more of those things and so little time to do them!

Thanks to my partner, we had taken a bit of a tourist’s view of New Brunswick and we are looking to bring that with us in London. If you only had a weekend here, what would you do? Where would you go?

So we are making plans to see more sections of the Thames Valley Trail. Walking has remained our foundational activity, rain or shine.

It’s low cost, low equipment and easy to just get up and go!

Natalie and Michel smile at the camera with a beautiful walking bridge behind them. There are young people enjoying the view in the background.

Last Saturday we accidentally walked 10 km of the North Branch so I could see the beautiful new path and bridges. It’s along the river and through the southern portions of property owned by The Sisters of St Joseph, Scouts Canada and the Ivy Leadership Centre. It’s beautiful.

I’m grateful we have both cultivated enough mobility to spontaneously go on a decent walk. Good shoes help as well as all the little walks we do each day.

My legs are strong and flexible, my feet feel good, it’s nice to be a pedestrian tourist and see new sides of the city I’ve lived in for 16 years.

So I’m working on staying in the moment, carefully leaving unspoken for time in my life and scheduling time with friends.

What are you up to this month?

health · mindfulness · motivation · self care

Christine is letting an app boss her around

I have been receiving the Action for Happiness newsletter for years. I usually read it at the beginning of the month, glance at the included calendar, and occasionally I refer back to it a few times over the following weeks.

Here’s the ‘Self-Care September’ calendar:

a multi-coloured Action for Happiness calendar with cartoon drawings of a clock, a person looking at photos, two people hugging, and a kettle, tea and cookies around the edges. This month's theme is 'Self-Care September' and each block of the calendar has a different prompt for self-care.
Image description: a multi-coloured Action for Happiness calendar with cartoon drawings of a clock, a person looking at photos, two people hugging, and a kettle, tea and cookies around the edges. This month’s theme is ‘Self-Care September’ and each block of the calendar has a different prompt for self-care. An accessible PDF is available here. Image source

This month, though, something made me give it a closer look and I finally noticed that Action for Happiness is on Instagram and that they have an app.

And even though I usually avoid letting apps send me notifications, I impulsively agreed to let them interrupt me. And I am really glad I did.

I am now on my third day of being bossed around by this app and I LOVE it.

It’s such a cool thing to get a reminder of one simple way to be kinder to myself today (I mean, that’s my kind (ha!) of thing anyway but it’s fun to get a prompt that I didn’t come up with.)

For example, here’s yesterday’s prompt:

Image Description: an embedded image from the Action for Happiness Instagram feed. There is a pink background and a simple drawing of a person with beard washing dishes in a sink. There are several dishes on the counter beside the sink. The caption says ‘Notice the things you do well, however small.’ The bottom right corner of the image appears to be folded back so there is a red triangle in that corner. A small white banner at the bottom reads ‘Action for Happiness.’

When I got that on Thursday morning, I actually took a moment to think about the fact that I’m good at remembering everyone’s schedule and that I was happy with the drawing I had made the night before. Without the prompt, I still would have known those things but I probably wouldn’t have taken the moment to consider them and I would have missed out on that feeling of satisfaction.

I’m looking forward to a whole month of being bossed into moments of happiness.

I think it will be really good for my brain and that has to be good for the rest of me too, right?

PS: If this kind of calendar seems vaguely familiar, it’s because I wrote about them before.

ADHD · fitness · habits · mindfulness · self care

Don’t Hold Your Breath, Christine

No, I’m not being snarky with myself here. I’m not stuck waiting for something that will never happen. I’m literally reminding myself not to hold my breath when I’m trying to focus.

Do you do that too? Or is it an ADHD thing?

Either way, it’s no fun. I’ll be trying to work on something and I won’t realize that I have been holding my breath until I catch myself sighing as I exhale. It’s not a good feeling and it involves a lot of unnecessary tension and I really want to stop doing it.

And in the course of figuring out how to break the habit, I’ve started by just being more conscious of when I might hold my breath and trying to stop myself earlier. But I have also been doing some research into different breathing videos and techniques. I figure that if I can practice breathing in more beneficial ways then I can not only stop holding my breath but I can replace my ineffective technique (holding my breath) with one that serves me better.

I mean, even if it doesn’t work, I get to spend some time breathing slowly and chilling out. There’s no downside to that.

So far, I have discovered that I really like having a visual element instead of just audio because it engages more of my brain so I can focus with more ease. (You know, so I don’t end up holding my breath while I practice breathing.)

Here are a few of the useful things I’ve found:

I’m not particularly anxious at the moment but I’ve still found these breathing GIFs for anxiety pretty good.

And I’m a fan of this video:

A video called ‘Deep Breathing Exercise = 2x The Anxiety Relief.’

And I find box breathing very relaxing:

A video called ‘Box breathing relaxation technique: how to calm feelings of stress or anxiety’

And if you are into breathing in shapes, this is adorable!

A video called ‘Deep Breathing with Shapes- Coping Skills for Kids’

In addition to playing around with all of these videos and GIFs, I have been reading James Nestor’s book Breath and I plan to talk about it on an upcoming post. I’m not sure exactly when that will happen yet, though, so don’t hold your breath on that one. (Ha!)

Do you have any breathing videos or techniques to recommend? What do you use them for? What do you like about them?

fitness · habits · rest · season transitions · self care

Working Outside: An Internal Debate

I’m writing this while sitting on my patio and wondering if I want to take my laptop outside for the rest of the afternoon.

I mean, if you were sitting here, would you want to make yourself go work inside?

A view of a backyard patio, plants, lawn and trees
The view from my seat under my patio umbrella. Image description: a photo of one side of a backyard deck with a view of a red shed with white trim, a patio chair with a red cushion, a variety of potted plants, some grass and trees, and my dog, Khalee.

Yet, as someone with ADHD who does freelance work from home, I already have to put a lot of effort into reminding myself that there is a time for work and a time to relax/be at home. I generally try to limit where I work so I have environmental reminders to keep me on track.

So, if I start working in my relaxation space, am I going to blur that line I have worked hard to draw?

On the other hand, I have done lots of work outside in the past. I don’t really remember if it made it more challenging to keep that boundary or not.

And while I have enjoyed my deck in previous years, I hadn’t put as much effort into creating a restful backyard before. My new deck and an increase in my planning capacity (thanks to an increased dose of ADHD meds last fall) has helped me plan and create a much more enjoyable space this summer.

I don’t know if I should draw stronger boundaries around this restful space or if my environment would help me work with more ease. If I could work with more ease, maybe it would be easier to draw a line under my tasks for the day and move on to my hobbies and relaxation.

In the past, while writing or doing other office work outdoors, I have managed to create a good rhythm for my day – working in short sessions and then breaking for yoga, other exercises, drawing or reading. That’s probably a healthier way to work than trying to force myself to focus for long periods. There would be less sitting and more movement, which is always good for me.

But, maybe I could make my workday shorter if I told myself to stay inside for X amount of time and then go outside to exercise and/or relax?

Am I overthinking this? Almost definitely.

Does it have to be all one or all the other? Probably not.

I still think it is worth asking myself all of these questions though.

I am trying to be more conscious of the choices I am making and of the patterns I am following. I want those choices and patterns to contribute to my overall fitness, my health, my happiness, and my peace of mind.

I’ll probably try working outside in small amounts and see how it affects my sense of relaxation the rest of the time.

In the worst case scenario, it won’t work out and I’ll have to redraw my boundaries. I can always use more practice at that.

Image description: a GIF of a person’s hand drawing a line on white paper with a black sharpie marker and then the sharpie rolls away.
Image description: a GIF of a person’s hand drawing a line on white paper with a black sharpie marker and then the sharpie rolls away.

PS – Yes, I am aware of the irony of being outside while composing a post wondering about whether I should work outside but writing for this blog is in a grey area between work-work and recreation so really it’s kind of fitting that I am writing it on my phone while outside.

habits · rest · running · self care · training

Navigating the Tricky Balance Between Effort and Ease

I’m feeling wobbly. I’m not quite managing the balance between effort and ease. Could be that I’m finally allowing myself to feel the full weariness of the pandemic, now that we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (a tunnel that emerges into an as-yet unknown future). Could be that I’ve been gorging myself on a lot of inputs, between the multiple Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems trainings I’m attending, the practice groups I belong to, plus writing coaching clients, and my own workshop development and writing, plus some deep dive personal development work.  That psychic tiredness may be spilling over into physical tiredness, too. But I keep trying to push my way through the depletion into a higher energy state. This tendency is most obvious in my physical activities.

Here’s an example from a few days ago. I woke up in a hole. The voice in my head who likes to tell me I’m not enough was on a tear. Vivienne (that’s the voice’s name and yes, I give the voices in my head names) hadn’t actually taken up much air time recently. I’d almost forgotten how ferocious she can get. I headed out on a run, with the idea of appeasing her. When she’s on a bender, she wants me to sweat first, then get to some tasks. From the first step of my run, I was dragging. About 45 minutes in, I arrived at a short, steep dirt hill, where I sometimes do repeats. I thought, “No, no, no.” Vivienne said, “Oh yes.” I tried to negotiate, “Okay, but just three.” Vivienne said, “Do the full five.” Five is my usual. I did them. Vivienne’s concession in our semi-détente was to allow me to skip the plyometric jumps I do at the end of runs. Mainly, because I’d almost whiffed a jump on my last run (from tiredness). The hill repeats inside of an 8.5-mile run were enough to satisfy Vivienne’s performance standards for me that day. Almost … there was still the Peloton ride.  

The post-run ride is a new routine I’ve developed since acquiring the Peloton in December; big help reducing how stiff and sore my legs are after a run. You know that feeling when you get up from your desk chair and your legs feel cramped up and six inches shorter? I don’t get that feeling nearly as much since I started the new routine.

Vivienne and I both agreed that I should not skip the ride, my protection against the creaky feeling. But … I couldn’t muster the minimum 10-minutes I usually ride post-run. I opted for a 5-minute cool-down ride. More, I did not even start at the minimum (yet elevated) resistance level recommended. Vivienne was unimpressed by my output (output is an actualnumber on the Peloton bike). Our truce was cracking. I was trying to convince her that hey-you-got-on-the-bike-and-that’s-what-counts.   

After all, a couple months ago I wrote here about the importance of counting the 5-minute Peloton rides, because they are essential to our recovery. This day, my breezy confidence about their worthiness was put to the test. When my ride ended, all the statistics shot up on the right side of the screen, as they always do. This was not a day I wanted to see them. But, before I could swipe them away without looking, I saw it. The badge. Congratulations on 100 rides, Mina. As if to say, “Put your money where your mouth is (or more precisely where your pen was two months ago on this blog)! Not only do the 5-minute rides count. You hit your first big milestone on one.”

Other riders on Peloton organize themselves in advance to make sure they do a milestone ride live, on the hopes of a shout-out from the instructor. Still others plan around hitting a milestone live and on their birthday. But me, I don’t even know the milestone is coming, because I’m not keeping track. And when it does, it lands on the least significant ride I’ve done to date (in terms of effort). It sure felt like the universe was having a laugh, as if to say, “Hi Mina, this is The Karmic Coincidence Squad, remember when you said the 5-minute rides count? Indeed, let the ride be counted!”

Back in April, I wrote that our 5-minute rides are as important as the longer, grittier rides. Perhaps more so. Because they are a gift to ourselves. So, my gift to myself with this 5-minutes was ease. Offering grace to my legs and spirit, on a day I needed some. That is milestone worthy.

But maybe the universe was also telling me to take a closer look at how I’d gotten so far out of balance that a 5-minute ride was maximally taxing. Why am I so physically tired? I haven’t been doing significantly more than usual. In theory, I’ve been running shorter distances and making up the miles with between 10-20 minutes on the Peloton, after my runs. But am I actually running less than I would? And is the effort on the bike equivalent to the effort of running an extra mile or two? Plus, I should note the pre-Pilates spins that I’ve added in, too (which are meant to replace the casual bike ride to and from the studio in pre-pandemic times). Also, often those spinning minutes are intervals, even high intensity intervals. Maybe all those 10-20-minute tag-alongs are wearing me down?

I wrote that last sentence the next day after the milestone. As I watched the words unfurl on the page, the reality settled into my body. I’ve had 5 days now to process the message. A short spin may reduce soreness, but it does not, unfortunately, reduce tiredness. My tag-along spins may be contributing to my depletion. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. But sometimes we just need rest. It’s time to re-evaluate my routine, it might have lost its balance.

A small bird balanced between two flower stalks, holding on with its toes. I love that one of the flowers is blown out and missing its petals and the other still has its petals–that felt right for illustrating the balance between effort and ease. KT on Unsplash

The fulcrum between effort and ease is constantly changing. Navigating a course through those uncertain waters is a dynamic, evolving practice. Hitting that milestone as I slid off the bike in a state of wet-noodledom after 5-minutes woke me up to that fact. Again.

In the past 5 days, in addition to taking it extra easy on my rest day, I scaled back on the intervals and opted for a couple of slower, steadier rides over the rainy long weekend. After my run two days ago, I spent the time I would have been spinning, stretching instead. And this morning, I hit a personal best on my ride. That felt like the universe offering me a quick reward to reinforce the message.

Recalibrate often. More ease can enable more effort.

Now the trick is to apply that to my whole life.

habits · mindfulness · self care

The Art of Flouranguishing: How Time and Space Help Me Feel Better

Flouranguishing: the state of simultaneously flourishing and languishing (see also: being human)

Recently a number of my friends circulated an article about the blah many of us currently feel as COVID drags on. The author named the sensation as languishing. Even as we get vaccinated, so much still seems risky or is outright closed off to us. We aren’t quite depressed, but we aren’t quite happy. We are in the doldrums. Sigh. Some days I languish more than others. Yesterday, for example, halfway through breakfast, out of the blue, I was afflicted with a deep sense of oh-what’s-the-point. As the day progressed, I started to perk up, but I could still feel the layer of languish in the background.

Because, generally, despite all during this pandemic, I feel like I’m flourishing (about which I feel some guilt and self-consciousness and even shame—because, how dare I flourish during these dark times, doesn’t that just indicate I’m an entitled, selfish so-and-so?).

The pandemic’s Zoomification of our world made it possible for me to start training toward a certification in Non-Violent Communication (maybe … I’m not 100% committed to the certification process yet, as I write this the sign-up page for the next phase is open in my browser).. NVC then led me to some Internal Family Systems training. I have discovered new ways of working and being. I’m exhilarated every time I uncover yet more ways in which NVC and IFS connect into and inform the work I was already doing (workshops on emotional intelligence, among other things). Athena Casey recently interviewed me for The Intolerance Podcast, which gave me a great chance to synthesize this understanding for myself. Talking with her got me excited all over again about this path I’m on.

Except … for the days when I wonder why I thought it was a good idea to add in a whole different discipline at well into my fifties; and further wonder whether all this curiosity can actually lead where I want it to lead, or whether I’m just an eternal dilettante, destined to pedal as hard as I can, but never go anywhere, a stationary bike I can’t get off. Uh oh. Languishing again.

Then, I perk up. Again. A friend recently mentioned that when we are low about the future, it is helpful to simply change the time horizon. That is certainly true for me. When I look forward a year or further, I can see where I’d like to be, but not how to get there. That’s a languisher, for sure. But when I shorten the time horizon to, say, the next two days, I’m looking at a 2.5-day NVC workshop on gratitude and I know it’s going to be fantastic and I’m going to love it. That’s a flourisher.

Back and forth. Again.

Oh, and that’s not all. There has been other flourishing, too. In response to the languishing article, another friend sent a piece about flourishing during the pandemic, which pointed out a bunch of ways we might discover new richness in our lives these past months. One was connecting with friends and family in a different rhythm. Well, that’s happened for me, too. Pre-pandemic, I was in regular communication with my mother via text, but we virtually never talked on the phone. I’m a phone-o-phobic, so I’ve never been good about calling. Now? –we are having long Zoom confabs twice a month. Sometimes my two brothers join, one of my sisters-in-law and some nieces and nephews. We’ll have New York, Calgary, London (Ontario) and the other London (UK) all together. I’m also zooming with friends in other cities and countries, with whom I was only sketchily in touch before. An IRL friend recently asked me why I was still doing friend-zooms. Why would I stop? I’ve made space for them in my life. Why would I want to diminish the joys of being more in touch with geographically distant friends?

Because, it turns out we can use space, just as we used time, to alchemize some flourish out of languish. Here’s a Zen story:

A student of Zen came to their teacher and asked her how they could learn to feel less frustrated and angry and sad and disappointed. They wanted to know how to calm their pervasive anxiety and sometime depression. The Zen teacher asked the student to bring her a teaspoon of salt. When the student came back, the teacher presented the student with a beautiful, clear glass of water and asked them to mix the salt into the water and drink.

“Pthaugh. Yuck,” the student said, spitting out the salty water. “How is that going to help me?”

The teacher then invited the student to get another teaspoon of salt and meet her down at the lake. At the lakeshore, the teacher asked the student to mix the spoonful of salt into the lake, then fill their glass with the lake water and drink it (this is the land of Zen myth, the lakes are unpolluted, pure and potable).

“Aah. Delicious,” the student said. “But … ??”

“Your mind is a glass of water. Now, make it a lake.” 

I already mentioned how we can change time to our advantage. Well, it turns out we can fiddle with space, too. Gratitude, for example, is a huge space maker. For me, if I can make my mind a lake, I make room to access the flourish-nutrients available just from noticing what is going well and being grateful. I’ve stayed healthy, so far. I have continued to run and mountain bike and ski and spin and Pilates and, and … The spring cherry blossoms were fat and fabulous this year. My partner and I celebrated 27 years together.    

Flouranguishing is the art of being present to our humanness. We are rarely all one thing. And we are certainly not a duality either. We do not languish OR flourish. We are rarely (if ever) experiencing one single emotion, one unique condition of being. We live in a soup of simultaneous states. How we use time and space determines which ingredients dominate.

Here’s the constant that I’m trying to work with right now. I have the power to choose what flavours I focus on in the soup. Languishing may feel like it is imposed on me from the outside, due to circumstances beyond my control (the pandemic, the inherent uncertainty of the future). Yet, I can still make the choice to focus my attention on what’s flourishing. As hard as it may seem at times, I want to be present with what is good, right now. To be grateful, even and especially for the smallest things. To engage with life. None of this is to say that I’m pushing the languish away, or compartmentalizing. No. I recognize and even honour the languish. At the same time, I set the intention to notice the flourish.

Running this morning, my body was so tired. I heard out the part of me who was exasperated with my exhaustion. In fact, there was a pretty extended discussion between the various voices in my head about whether I should cut my run short. But then I picked my eyes up off the pavement and noticed what a beautiful morning it was, how good the air felt on my skin and remembered that the only measure of success that mattered today on my run was pleasure. So, when the option to abridge my route came up, I ran right past. I wanted to stay with the trees in all their fresh green. And, when I made that choice, my body suddenly felt more ease, the run more fluid.

Another day, the choice to shorten my run will be the one that resonates for my body and grants ease. My work is to listen for when a decision is about languishing and when about flourishing. With time and space at my disposal, I have powerful tools to support my intention to savor the flavour of flourish.

rest · self care

Why the 5-Minute Rides Count on Peloton

I never thought I’d get a Peloton. But the pandemic and … well, we all know how that story goes. Now I have one in my guest room and I’m on it almost every day.  First, you should know that, unlike Sam and Cate, I don’t race or join challenges to climb Everest or the like. I have never joined a live class. And I always hide the leaderboard away (that’s where you can see your ranking against everyone who has ever done the same class and “race” against them while you ride, even if the ride isn’t live).

Peloton bike in my guest room in front of windows and next to soft orange chair

Call me a dilettante, if you want. There’s worse to come.

I count every ride. I do not delete any rides from my tally. Peloton makes a big deal about counting rides. I just passed my 50th ride. I’m way new at this. During live classes, instructors give shout outs to riders who have hit milestones. I hear a lot of 500s and 1000s and even numbers over 2000. How is that even possible?

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of short rides. Other Pelotonites create stacks, to customize their longer rides. I love the shorter options, because the most common way I use Peloton is as the backup singer for another workout. I’ll shorten my run and do a 10 to 15-minute ride when I get home. That has the double bonus of reenforcing my running strength, but also easing out my legs, which get stiff from the pounding. I’m surprised by how much looser and freer my legs feel as a result of this small habit change. Also, this training technique was effective enough for me to get back to running on March 2nd (after 7 weeks of only cross-country skiing) and run a half marathon with a friend on March 27th. Or I ride for 15-20 minutes before a Pilates class. It’s only really once (max twice) a week that I ride for 45 minutes or longer. And, when I do, I’ve started doing the cool down rides on offer when I finish. Taking that option was a psychological hurdle for me.

For a long time (okay the first six weeks of owning the bike) I no-thanks’d the cool down rides Peloton suggested. Five more minutes? What a waste of time. If I wasn’t going hard-hard-hard, why was I on the bike? Then one day, I was so utterly maxed out when I finished my ride that I decided I had to cool down, or I might just get off the bike, tighten up into a tiny ball of lactic acid and then blow apart in a geyser of sweat.

Revelation. The cool down ride was fantastic. Just what I needed. Brought down my heartrate. Brought myself back into focus. Prepared to meet my day with an even energy. I know, that’s putting a lot on a 5-minute ride. But taking that extra time gives my body a real, physically tangible benefit and has a symbolic value that resonates beyond the workout. Some people don’t think the cool down rides count in the ride count. I agreed, until I started doing them. Like rest days, so critical to our body’s ability to repair and rejuvenate, the cool down honours our body’s need for a runway landing after an intense effort. I was so used to crashing into the finish and bump-bump-bumping off the bike and into my day, that the smooth-as-silk-pajamas transition from intensity to cool down to hello-rest-of-the-day came as a surprise. 

Yes, I am talking about that how we do one thing is how we do anything business. For me, scaling back is its own kind of effort. As much as I love naps and am reasonably diligent around taking a rest day once a week and don’t work myself to the bone, I also do have a tendency to overschedule and not leave enough transition time to reset my nervous system between commitments. Long ago, I used to get a thrill out of arriving almost late for a plane and sprinting through the airport. I think it was a reaction against my father, who liked to arrive hours in advance, stressing about whether he was early enough (and I take here a moment to acknowledge that a few days ago was six years since my father died and I like to include him in some way in my April posts; I miss a lot about him, but not his pre-travel hand wringing).

Cool down rides count. Because they flush toxins and seal in the benefits of our workout.

Cool down rides count. Because they are role models of how to be gentle with ourselves.

Cool down rides count. Because everything we do counts.

Not to get all earnest and mushy on you, I do mean everything. Take five to regroup and check in. Be kind to yourself. Then it will be easier to be kind to the people around you. Oh, and the planet, too.

fitness · flexibility · habits · self care · stretching

Backing it up: Christine treats the symptoms and the cause

My plan for February was to do a little work on my upper back mobility every day.

Alas, that plan did not take into account the fact that February messes with me every year.

A small elderly woman sitting in a living room chair is shrugging with one  arm and holding a cup and saucer in her other hand.
Picture it, February 2021… (Image description: A GIF from the TV show ‘Golden Girls’ in which Sophia Petrillo, a small elderly woman in a stripped dress who is sitting in a living room chair, makes a dismissive shrugging gesture with one hand while holding a cup and saucer in her other hand.)

(I can’t really explain how it messes with me. It’s some sort of mid-winter slump combined with an odd sense of shortened time. Anyway, I have made note in my calendar to take it into account next year!)

But I didn’t get upset with myself about being less diligent than I had intended. I just did my stretches, movements, and yoga whenever I had the capacity and wherewithal to do so.

It turns out, though, that my lack of capacity for daily work on my upper back actually helped me to identify one of the underlying causes of my tight muscles.

Since I was aware that I wasn’t doing the stretches and everything that I intended to do, I really started paying attention to when and how my upper back felt the worst.

And observing that ‘when and how’ led me to realize that not only was my chair in my home office too low and at a bad angle for my back but my monitor was at the wrong height.

An adult man dances in an oversized Adirondack  chair.
My chair wasn’t quite this off-kilter but once I started paying attention it felt like it. (Image description: A man dances while seated in a comically over-sized red Adirondack chair. It’s a sunny day, there is greenery nearby and a few buildings are in the background.)

So I elevated my monitor and I switched out my chair for one that was less fun but better for my back.

Now, I’m not saying that this fixed the problem entirely. My upper back still needs me to do the stretching and yoga. I still need to pay attention to how I’m holding myself and how long I am sitting in one position.

But addressing that underlying cause of at least part of the problem has made an incredible difference.

It’s not just that my upper back feels more mobile and less tight, I feel better overall. I have had fewer of the specific type of headache that generates from a tight upper back and I feel more relaxed.

So even though I didn’t follow my exact plan I still got where I needed to go.

And I’m calling that a victory.

A person in a yellow,tubular costume waves their arms as they walk through booths at an event.
It’s a very wiggly victory, apparently! Image description: a person in a yellow tubular costume with a happy expression on it waves the long skinny arms of their costume while they walk between booths at an event.
habits · self care

Working Out When You’re Experiencing Depression

Feature image credit: Anthony Tran, via Unsplash

I have experienced depression off and on for most of my life.  I also now experience symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder which can feel a lot like depression, with moments of low moods coming seemingly out of nowhere, triggered often by nothing of which I am aware.  It can be very difficult to maintain exercise and nutrition habits while feeling like crap for days at a time.  The nature of depression is to feel like nothing matters, to feel like life is beyond our control and out of our depth.  These are not motivating, inspiring feelings!  So what do you do if you find yourself feeling low and notice it impacting your healthy routines?

I try to start with some self-compassion.  My self-talk can be especially self-critical during these times, and it’s important for me to notice that and counteract it with less judgy thoughts: I’m doing the best I can; I’m just having a hard time right now.  These moments come and go and they don’t define who I am or how I live my entire life.  If I can remember this last point, that the feelings of low mood are just that, feelings, and by definition feelings are impermanent and changeable, it goes a long way to helping me feel ok with where I’m at in the moment.  It’s just this moment, not forever.

Related to this last point, I try to focus on what I am doing rather than what I’m not.  Most of us don’t throw in the towel on EVERY healthy behavior when we’re feeling down.  Still brushing your teeth and taking a shower?  Still eating breakfast and taking your medications?  Took some time to connect with your sweetie?  All these count and are good.  If you can talk yourself into taking a walk or doing 5 minutes of exercises, that’s great, too!  Give yourself credit for doing that much and know that tomorrow, you might feel up for more. There can also be an element of emotional inertia to these small behaviors, when I can find that doing one small thing for myself helps me feel more up to doing something else I know is good for me, too. 

Speaking of taking a walk, I have found that time outside is one of the most restorative things I can do for my mood.  I almost always feel better.  Sometimes, all I want is to sit on the porch or do a little gardening.  Even that much is a boost. Especially in winter, any moment of sunshine or even just a bright patch of clouds relative to the darker grey around them seems to help.  If your outdoor space doesn’t accommodate some gardening or lounging, or the weather is too miserable, try setting up in a sunnier window.  Put a comfy chair where your face will get hit with some light and take a moment to bask.

During moments of depression, it is especially important that we connect with others.  If you have a routine of exercising with others, even virtually, you may find that these connections help to lift your mood.  I’m very introverted and I don’t seek out a lot of time with others, but I still benefit from feelings of connection.  I try to spend more time playing or snuggling with my cats, to hang out with my husband, or to send notes to friends I haven’t heard from in a while.  Even exercising to a familiar old workout video can give me the illusion of company and help me feel better.  I also like to relisten to beloved audiobooks while I go on my walks or to put in the actors’ commentary for one of the Lord of the Rings movies to play in the background while I’m lifting!

Finally, I try to notice when my depression-related behaviors seem more unhelpful or counter to my long term goals and gently attempt to prevent them from becoming new habits.  I don’t expect myself to never soothe myself with food or to always go to bed right on time.  However, if I find that emotional eating has become more of a norm, or I’m fighting going to bed early enough night after night, then I try to gently redirect those behaviors.  I notice when I’m eating when I’m not hungry and consider if there’s something else that would feel good.  I notice that I’m staying up too late again and consider turning out the light 10 minutes earlier.  This isn’t time for drastic, life-changing transformations but gentle nudges back in the direction of my health and long term happiness.

Feeling crappy sucks. But, there are things we can do to help us move through it and make it slightly less awful.  We will come out the other side; we will feel better again.  I’m going to keep trying to give myself the time and space to be where I am now to know that it is not where I will be forever.  When I can, whatever exercising I can do will help to reduce the impacts of my depression and trauma, and may reduce the length of time that I experience those feelings.  If you can relate, I hope you can also give yourself the space to do what you can do today and be kind to yourself along the way!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher.  She can be found getting a little sunlight in her eyes, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

Photo description: Woman sitting in a sunny windowsill reading a book. She is wearing a white tunic and boots. Photo credit: Thought Catalog IcU, via Unsplash.