September pretty much chewed me up and spit me out.
Despite my best efforts, I was awash in tasks and challenging situations and new things to learn. There was a lot of fun packed in there too but really it was all too much.
When I woke up Sunday and realized it was October I decided there and then that I was slowing everything way the hell down so I could catch my breath.
I mean, I still have lots of things to do but I am flatly refusing to do them in a hurry.
And I am not taking on anything extra.
I’m going to firm up the beginnings and ends of my days and keep the work in the middle from spilling over into them.
Today, I was giving some thought to what that might look like.
How can I help October feel more restful?
What would make my days feel slower and easier?
And, of course, how can I have those things without having to a lot of work to make things restful, slower, and easier?
I had already decided on journaling, drawing, and yoga as key elements of a slow October and was trying to figure out what yoga videos to do (I like to choose in advance!) when I discovered that Adriene is a step ahead of me.
This month’s Yoga with Adriene/Find What Feels Good playlist is called Ease.
And it includes this practically vintage video of Adriene demonstrating Sukhasana (The Easy Pose).
Easy Pose? That sounds GREAT!
So, that’s yoga figured out for October, now I just need to find the ‘Ease’ version of drawing and journaling and blend them into my days.
If you have been following my fitness journey, procrastination is an evident theme. Fitness as a habit is a concept that still evades me. As I’ve been searching for ways to make fitness less of a chore, I have discovered a fitness-related activity that I can absolutely get behind. It involves another person, a bed, and maybe some Enya. Any guesses?
Massage therapy. That’s what you were thinking of, right? Massage therapy may not be an active exercise, but it can benefit your fitness journey.
I started getting massages a few years ago to combat my migraines. I discovered that if I have a massage at least once every two months, my migraine rate reduces drastically. I have gone from having two or three migraines a month to rarely having one. Not only have massages lowered their frequency, but they have also reduced their duration. I went from having migraines lasting 48 hours each to ones I could quell within six hours. One of my favourite benefits of this is my reduced intake of painkillers. I went from taking the maximum dose of extra-strength ibuprofen each day to only needing a single dose at the start of my symptoms. Therapeutic massages have been vital in increasing my quality of life.
While I started my massage journey because of my migraines, I have found another wonderfully beneficial use for them: post-workout relief. Since I have yet to make fitness part of my daily routine, each time I engage in a heart-pumping, sweat-inducing session, I feel it in my entire body the next day—and the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Whether I swim, run, lift weights, clean, or even lift my kids up more frequently in a day, I become very sore. Lactic acid crowds my muscles, and I am left regretting pouring my self-care time into something that hurts my physical body.
This is not to say that massages don’t have some painful moments. If I go too long between sessions, or if I cheat on proper body positioning, my trouble spots put up a fight to remain tight. My massage therapist, a lovely Mexican woman who works out of her home, does not lose the fight. Ever. She is a muscle whisperer. I’m sure her previous experience as a physiotherapist adds to her anatomical knowledge, but it’s her intuitiveness with the body that makes her stand apart from other massage therapists that I’ve experienced.
Does she hurt me sometimes? Yes. However, the relief from her oscillating thumbs proves the experience worth it. Soon the pain follows her hands as they knead the tension into submission. My lymphatic system breathes relief as the tension is pushed away from its source. My immune system makes note of the restored balance to my body’s fluids. Everything flows healthily again.
Even after I make intentional fitness a regular habit, I fully intend to keep up with my massages. The health benefits from working out plus the health benefits from massages equal a physically and psychologically healthy me. It’s too good to pass up.
Massage allows my tight muscles to loosen and release the pent-up lactic acid, making my metabolism more efficient. The opportunity to be silent and abandon my stresses is life-giving. Massage is post-workout care, and it’s self-care. For a busy mom, it is one of the best hours of my month.
So do yourself a favour and add a massage routine to your life. When you add it, be intentional in your search for a great massage therapist. When you find them, visit them regularly. When you visit them, leave your mental load at the door, and enjoy a relaxing and healing hour.
Do you have a massage therapist that you adore? Brag away in the comments below.
Stephanie Morris is a transcriptionist and writer based in Alberta, Canada. She is a wife, a mom of two, and a newcomer to the career-writing world. As a fancier of history and literature, she aspires to blend the two in fiction and nonfiction pieces. To follow Stephanie’s writing adventures, find her at @words.and.smores on Instagram.
I was organizing/running an arts festival for a community arts festival and, at the same time, every project I’m part of that had been on hiatus for the summer was suddenly revived.
(Seriously,. Last Tuesday, I had four different groups write me to try and set a meeting between Oct 3 & 5…a time when I already had several things scheduled.)
And this is all my volunteer work so it doesn’t include regular work nor does it include household or family-related stuff.
I was getting overwhelmed and frustrated and I kept feeling those annoying, pointless thoughts creeping up on me.
You know the ones, I mean? They gang up on you when things get stressful – even if that stress was impossible to prevent. They start with ‘You should have…’ and they go downhill from there.
I was trying to just ignore them but that seemed to make them fight harder to be heard.
So, I decided to take a few minutes to review.
Was there any truth in those annoying thoughts?
Maybe a little bit here and there (I wrote those things down to journal about later) but mostly no.
I think my brain was looking for a reason why I was so overwhelmed and figured that I must be the cause.
So, I decided to set some boundaries with those thoughts and try to keep them at bay.
I made the little card below – well, ok, it’s two little cards next to each other- and said it aloud every time I looked at it. And, obviously, the gold star was for my hard work – both my work on the festival and my work to stand up to those thoughts.
And it really helped.*
Since I had decided that I was doing the best I could with the resources I had, the only thing to do was keep at it.
I had to do today’s best, whatever that was, with the resources I had at that moment.
I tried not to think about how things could have gone differently with different preparation or different resources, I focused on what I could do right now.
So, I don’t know about your stress level right now.
I don’t know what you have ahead of you, behind you, or around you.
I don’t know what you are trying to deal with.
I don’t know what your brain is annoying you with.
But what I do know is that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have.
I wish you ease and I wish you self-kindness.
And I offer you this gold star for your hard work – your work on all of the things, your work to focus on today’s best (or today’s okayest!), and your work to find ease and to be kind to yourself.
*I’m sure that having some clear exercise goals that I could see on my wrist-spy without having to choose to track them also helped with my stress levels. Without my wrist spy on the case, I probably would have subconsciously put my exercise aside for the week. However, having this little phrase reminder close at hand helped on a completely different level. I guess the exercise did the heavy lifting and the little card cleaned up whatever stress was left over.
Yes, I know that September is really full of ‘get back into the swing of things’ pressure but that’s all the more reason to give Action for Happiness‘ Self Care September suggestions a try.
After all, finding new ways to create more space for yourself in your own life is a great way to decide just how many other things you want to fit in around that space.
This calendar has a lot of ideas but remember that you don’t have to do EVERYTHING. You can just pick SOME things.
Pick a few that appeal to you and run with those.
Please be kind to yourself about this (and about everything else.)
If you are interested in developing more self-care practices, I really enjoyed Dr. Pooja Lakshmin‘s book ‘Real Self Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included)’ because she gets into the deeper issues surrounding taking good care of ourselves. There’s a good written summary of many of Lakshmin’s key points here from a podcast called Inspired Together Teachers. (By the way, I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, I just read the summary.)
Back in February, I started keeping a fitness journal. It started out as a handwritten thing but after a month or so, I started using voice dictation to keep my journal on my phone.
Every single Monday since then, I have opened my Google doc journal and chatted a bit about how things are going with my fitness plans.
This isn’t the kind of tracker I have tried to keep before – a record of the specifics of individual exercise sessions – it’s a reflection of how I feel about my exercise lately. I make notes about the kinds of exercises I have done, whether I am feeling better or worse for having done them. I pay attention to which exercises feel good and which ones are getting on my nerves – and whether the annoyance is worth it.
I do a screen cap of the weekly report from my Fitness app and write about whether my perception of my efforts matches the report.
I talk about whether exercise has felt difficult or easy or anything in between in the past week.
I note any specific highlights, struggles, challenges, or high points, what contributed to those feelings and whether the feelings lasted.
My fitness journal has become exactly what I hoped it would – a place to celebrate, a place to whine, a place to notice the changes, the differences, and the benefits that come from my efforts to move my body in beneficial ways.
It’s a container for all of my ideas and thoughts around exercise and fitness. It lets me see how I have changed my mind, changed my approach, changed my plans over time. It shows me what works and what doesn’t work.
It has let me see what aspects of fitness and exercise matter to me and which ones don’t.
It has shown me what a little extra effort and a little more conscious relaxation does for my well-being.
Having notes from my previous self makes it a lot easier to do the things that matter to me.
And since my journaling only takes 5 mins or so every Monday, it is definitely worth it.
I’m giving myself a gold star for sticking with my fitness journaling practice. ⭐️
Do you keep a reflective fitness journal? What is your practice like? Do you find it helpful?
As we roll toward the end of August, we’re into/getting into one of the pressure points in the year.
You know what I mean, that feeling that you *should* (shudder. Yes, I still hate that word!) jump back into a regular schedule or that you *should* (shudder, again) be gearing up for fall, that it’s time to put the ‘laziness’ of summer behind you.
NOTE: In addition to my hatred for the word ‘should’, I am also not a fan of the word ‘lazy.’ Sure, sometimes we’re using it in a positive, indulgent, way, celebrating our lack of activity, but mostly it seems to be used as a way of chastising someone for resting or for not being actively busy at this exact moment. AND it’s used as a weapon against people with ADHD which makes me dislike it even more.
And, as always, I vote no on all of that.
Yes, most of us are back to (or getting back to) regular schedules and if that inspires you to go a bit harder with your exercise or with your work, that’s totally cool. Forge ahead.
But if you are like me and all of this messaging leaves you feeling tense and overwhelmed before you even get started then let me offer a counter-message:
It’s OK to do the bare minimum.
You don’t have to ‘go big’ with every single part of your life all the time.
And this is especially true if it feels like everything is gearing up all at once.
Sure, you may not have control over the pacing of some parts of your life right now – particularly if you follow an academic schedule – but you can give yourself a break on the parts that you do control.
You can ditch things that aren’t urgent.
You can scale back in some areas.
You can do the bare minimum in others.
And these things are just as true in your exercise/self-care/wellness plans as they are in every other part of your life.
Maybe you don’t need to jump back into your fall routine/plans just yet. You can reevaluate your plans and choose a graduated schedule for adding things back to your day-to-day.
You can choose a scaled-down version of whatever your past self planned for right now. If your original idea feels overwhelming, then doing something once or twice a week and building up to your plans for three to four times a week is probably more sustainable anyway.
And, of course, you can always choose a bare minimum version of your plans. Even a bare minimum gives you a placeholder, a sense of accomplishment, a stepping-stone for the path ahead. Lots of people need to make space in their life for their habit before they start building the habit itself.
If you are starting out or just getting back into things, the bare minimum might be a 1 minute walk in the living room or a one line journal or a meditation practice of 10 focused breaths.
If you have well-established fitness practices that you usually jump into but you can’t find the energy for at this pressure point right now, your bare minimum may look different than a beginner’s does. It’s up to you what constitutes the bare minimum but choose the smallest or shortest routine that you feel ‘counts’ as your practice.
Whether you are excited and enthused about jumping back in or whether you are feeling tense and overwhelmed by everything gearing back up again, I wish you ease and I hope that you can be kind to yourself about the process.
And, as always, I offer you a gold star (I think it will show up above!) for your efforts to find the way that works best for you with as little stress as possible.
Specifically, I’m wondering about upper body exercises – what ones you do, what ones you like, and how you structure your workout.
(Yes, I could go see a trainer and I probably will but that’s a project for Future Christine. Current Christine is in a gather-info-then-DIY phase and it’s working for her…ahem, for me.)
Anyway, in a similar sort of way that many core exercises bore me, I find doing multiple sets of the same exercise boring.
For example, I hate knowing that I have to do three sets of bicep curls. I think I’d be okay if I could just do 36 in a row and be done with them but bodies don’t work like that.
Mine especially, since concepts like ‘repeat to fatigue’ or ‘repeat until you are too tired to keep good form’ make no sense to me whatsoever. I mean, I understand them in principle, I just don’t know how to recognize them in practice.
And I also hate knowing that I am going to have to repeat the same set of exercises I just did. As in, if I do one set of bicep curls, tricep dips, and two other exercises and then I have to repeat that same group of exercises two more times? Glerg.
My brain will immediately pull out all the stops to ensure that I never even start the first set.
I’ve tried (and enjoyed) doing strength training in my Apple Fitness + app but there are A LOT of squats in there. I don’t quite have the fitness level nor the coordination to do that many squats that quickly in good form without irritating the muscles around my right knee. (The hopeful word ‘yet’ should be in that sentence somewhere but damned if I can figure out where to put it.)
The ones that didn’t have a lot of squats included a lot of pushups and that’s tricky in a whole different way. I’m also working on that.
What I am looking for is a way to work my arms and shoulders and upper back by doing multiple exercises for each part.
For example, by doing three different bicep exercises instead of doing three sets of the same one.
I was hoping to find a YouTube workout or to Google a premade workout that I could use as a starting point but I couldn’t find the right combination of search terms to generate what I wanted.
And that’s where I’m hoping you can help:
1) Do you know of an upper body workout that doesn’t include multiple sets of the exact same exercise?
2) Do you have an upper body exercise to recommend? I have weights and all kinds of exercise bands and I like bodyweight exercises so I have lots of stuff to work with.
PS – I know it would be more straightforward to “just” make myself do the boring, repeated sets but it’s hard enough to convince my ADHD brain to exercise in the first place, making myself do something that is hard AND boring burns a lot of energy that I would rather put into the exercise rather than waste it by arguing with myself. The straightforward thing in this case to for me to accept what I’m like and work with my brain instead of against it.
(I mean, I usually post on Tuesdays and this is Friday so that should give you some idea!)
Nothing has gone terrible wrong but I slept kind of poorly and I just couldn’t seem to get a grip on several of the days this week.
For various reasons, I had to do my routine tasks in a different order so my days didn’t get started quite ‘right.’
I got interrupted at unfortunate times and got thrown off as a result.
Ordinary, simple things took way longer than they usually do. (This is VERY hard on a brain that struggles to estimate time. I end up feeling cheated out of something I had already figured out.)
All of that was annoying in itself but what really got me was that I couldn’t figure out what would help.
Did I need to push myself a little bit so I could get my day moving in the right direction?
Or did I need to pause and rest a bit?
Now, to be clear, this wasn’t about trying to be productive or trying to work hard or trying to look busy, this was just about feeling a little less like I was at loose ends.
And I couldn’t figure out what to do.
In fact, this whole week was like running a really irksome science experiment with a single test subject who was trying her best to be cooperative but with limited success.
Here are some of the things I tried over the course of the week:
bringing my planned to-do list down to the bare minimum
taking a bath and reading
reading while lying on my yoga mat
taking a nap
taking a walk
calling a friend
doing a few easy tasks
tackling a challenging task
using my rowing machine
helping someone else with a few tasks
having tea with a friend
These things were all enjoyable or useful and they kept me from getting *more* annoyed but they didn’t help me get a grip on my days. Some days were better than others but I have spent a frustrating amount of time feeling at loose ends.
So, since there was no definitive answer as to what would make me feel better overall, then all I could do was practice self-compassion, try to get more sleep, and keep reminding myself that this feeling will pass.*
Maybe next week, the days will have handles.
In the meantime, how do you deal with days like the ones I have been dealing with this week? (again, I’m not asking about “productivity”, I’m asking about finding some ease)
Do you push yourself a bit to see if you just need to find some momentum?
Or do you try to find more rest?
Or do you try some combination of the two?
*I know that some of you will be reading this and wondering if this is grief-related. Grief is no-doubt a contributing factor – it’s not as all-pervasive as it was at first but it is present and it affects me in different ways at different times. However, I have had this feeling before (it used to happen way more often before I was medicated for ADHD) so it’s not solely grief-related.
On the morning of June 14th, I went for what was to be a vigorous walk with a friend. About 30 minutes into our walk, we took a set of stairs up and out of Riverside Park. Stairs I’ve walked and run up for almost 30 years, with ease. I was so winded that I needed to take stop to catch my breath. Then I got dizzy and my friend suggested we sit down on a park bench. I started crying. This is what I was talking about, I said. I’d been telling her about my increasing tiredness these last months. The trouble I was having mustering for a workout. Not mentally. Psychologically, I still wanted to move. Very much. And physically, my body was fritzing out on me. That morning I’d felt my physical exhaustion as I lay in bed. My heartbeat was erratic. The way it gets when I’ve had far too little sleep for several days running. I’d already made a doctor’s appointment to check my blood work for a clue about what was up. But it’s New York City. The appointment wasn’t for another month. I’d started taking more iron and a B-complex.
We’re walking over to urgent care, my friend said. I agreed. Reluctantly. At urgent care the doctor took my pulse and blood pressure and pointed his finger out the door. You need to go to the hospital emergency right now. Whatever is going on with you, it’s beyond what we have the capacity to address here. I don’t remember his name. As I write this, I’m thinking that I want to go back to that office and thank him.
I walked up the 10 blocks to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. With my note from the urgent care doctor, they whisked me to the head of the line of walk-ins and zipped me through intake. I waited a short time, that felt like forever, for them to take my blood. I sat on the last free chair, that had been wiped free of its streak of … was that shit or blood? I felt tired and frustrated and disconcerted among all the ailing people. Notice that I didn’t say “other ailing people,” because I wasn’t one of them. In my mind. I was just anemic, or just … something else. A woman next to me on a gurney was sitting up and moaning. Pulling on her clothes and skin and hair. Begging for more painkillers. All the patients, regardless of race, looked like they’d been washed with a patina of grey.
Then a nurse (was it a nurse?) came and crouched down beside me with a look of urgency. She explained things to that I didn’t hear. About potassium. About my heart stopping. About follow her, please. Now. She led me into the belly of the emergency department and after a search, found a bed to put me on. I was walking. How bad could it be? She was followed closely by a nurse (I know he was a nurse, because I saw him multiple times) who was carrying an armload of syringes and an array of coloured electrical wiring. Things went sideways from there. I was pumped full of many things, which I understood were at minimum saving my heart from severe damage and more likely saving my life. At one point I said to the nurse, trying for lightness, I guess I’m not wasting your time being here. He looked at me and shook his head. You are lucky you’re here.
I feel lucky now. I felt less lucky in the thick of those next days.
36 hours in the Emergency Department, which is its own kind of special hell. Bright interrogation room lighting. The sounds of people in distress. Incessantly beeping machines. The clank and clatter of other metal and plastic rolling around. Voices talking about dire situations, like the multi-car accident that landed a slew of people into the ED who needed to take priority over everyone else. From my bed, I could see the resuscitation room entrance where ambulances unloaded. At my angle, I could only see the heads and shoulders of the emergency response teams wheeling people in through the plastic antechamber. Then I’d hear the announcements asking for Ron and Sergey to the resuss room. I imagined those less lucky than me. I want to say it made me feel fortunate, but I was so exhausted and strung out, it was hard to tap into my inner resources.
Friends brought me necessities: toothbrush and toothpaste, a phone charger, a pillow, noise canceling headphones, slip on sandals; also, pizza and chocolate toward the end of my second day there. Eventually I was moved to a regular floor of the hospital, where I shared a room with one other person and the relative silence was a deafening relief. Every few hours someone came and took my blood and gave me medications. They dripped sodium through an IV, then magnesium. They stripped potassium from my body. There was an urgent request that I drink successive cups of orange juice to stabilize my blood sugar, only to realize later that oranges are a high potassium food.
I began to feel better.
They did other tests, too—ultrasound for my kidneys, echocardiogram for my heart. Nothing yielded answers about why my body had tipped into such an extreme imbalance.
I begged to be allowed to leave. Later, I saw in the doctors’ notes, Patient is anxious to leave. I was terrified by the lack of answers. And I was terrified to be in the hospital.
It’s been a month and a half since that experience. I’ve been washed through by tsunamis of anxiety. I’ve gotten partial, interim answers. Mostly on things that have been ruled out. I’ve seen a kidney doctor who gave me stopgap medication to stabilize my system and who has promised to be available to me until I get to the kind of doctor I need to see, apparently an adrenal specialist. I’ve had a CT scan with IV contrast, which was a trip to another level of hell. I’ve consulted an Integrative Medicine team, who have given me an alternative protocol to heal underlying causes, if I can trust them and have faith in my body.
I feel shaken to the core. I cry a lot. I sleep, sometimes deeply, and then wake seized by terror.
And, in the midst of the unknown, my body has found a fragile interim stability. My energy has started to return. I’ve been able to run and go to yoga and Pilates. I don’t feel 100%, but I feel so much better than in the 2 months leading up to my hospital stay. Friends tell me I should take it easy. I rebel. I asked the one specialist I’ve actually gotten to see (a nephrologist, aka kidney doctor) whether I could be physically active. To which he said, Do whatever feels possible.
I don’t want to take it easy. I’ve been drained for months. If I have a drop of renewed energy, I want to indulge in it. Revel in it. Be gluttonous. Feast on the energy and come back for a second helping. Moving is my happy place. And my happy place has been relatively inaccessible to me these last months. I’m scared my happy place will move beyond my reach again. I want to fill up on it while I can.
I am more acutely aware than I have ever been that the future will do what it wants. The best I can do is live fully. Laugh when possible. Find joy where I can. And offer thanks to my body every day it can move me to a sweat.