Finding Peace in a Hectic Life

 

Just as at the eye of the hurricane there is stillness, so in the midst of confusion or distress there is an inner place of stillness, the secret place of the Most High.

– Martha Smock

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The last year of my life was very hectic.  I went from being unemployed to serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, more than hour-long drive away from home. Most of the time, I wasn’t mindful.  I spent months walking around tense and uncomfortable. Stressed-out and irritable had become my default way of existing.

We all know people who live this way. And I certainly don’t think I need to lecture you on the fact that many illnesses are preventable because they are stress related.

What I am going to say, though, is that I started this blog so I could exist in this world without succumbing to its torments. Over the last year (or two) I wasn’t blogging and I wasn’t doing anything about my stress levels.

My solution to stress has always been to immediately abandon the operation: My health came first and either I would let go of the goal entirely, or find another way to reach my goal.  Sometimes, this isn’t always feasible. I couldn’t didn’t want to quit my job.

My actual job wasn’t all that stressful, and it was a joy to be around the people I worked with. My commute, however, seemingly sucked all my energy and free time from me. Life started to feel like a never ending wash, rinse and repeat cycle.

I’d squeeze in grocery shopping, cooking, laundry and whatever other chores that were obligatory for me to continue existing as a human and working at my job.

But the problem with wanting a slow-paced life, and having a fast-paced job is that these two life choices are at odds with one another. So how could I find the time and space to just relax, when there seemingly wasn’t any?

queueWell, I’d seen articles that say the average American (with a 78.9 year average life span), spends 6 months to 2 years of their lifetime waiting. (I apologize for the vague statistics, I really couldn’t find any hard data or studies on this and I didn’t want to just make up stuff like other people on the internet.) But Timex did do a survey a number of years ago to determine how much time people spend on a daily basis doing various activities, including waiting.  We wait in line, in traffic, on-hold, for public transit, and for a significant other to get ready. We spend so much time waiting for the “real action.”

While waiting, I always felt impatient, stressed out, frustrated, and in a hurry to get on with my day. I felt my time was too valuable to just be standing around doing nothing while I have to wait to get one menial task completed. Especially when this waiting time, I thought, could be better served, well, not waiting, of course.

But the mindfulness I learned by practicing yoga made me realize that I was missing an opportunity.

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Photo by FIPverksted at Morguefile.com

I was missing an opportunity to take some deep breaths.

I was missing an opportunity to clear my head.

I was missing an opportunity to center myself.

I was missing an opportunity to calm down, find peace and relax.

I lamented the fact that I had no time to relax, but I ignored all the time I did have to relax.

Those little quiet moments I had between the crazy, busy ones, were moments I decided to reclaim for myself. Every moment that I was “waiting” was a moment to find peace.

Now, I try take those little moments to come back to myself: relax the tension in my neck and shoulders, quiet my mind, and release any lingering worries or thoughts. Maybe even say a prayer.

You may not have long spans of time where you can just relax, but I bet you have plenty little moments in-between the busy ones where you can re-center myself.

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Get Rid of Stress/Anger/Frustration, and Find Inner Peace

I’ve been going about this slow-paced lifestyle all wrong: trying to ease the stressors of everyday life by trying to organize the outside factors in my life. I’m not saying that doesn’t help, but it certainly doesn’t solve everything. 

I’ve had an epiphany just now and realized that it doesn’t matter how empty my house is, (minimalism) or how stress-free my work environment is, if I’m not contained in a bubble of inner peace. I need an aura around me that neutralizes any energy that conflicts with stress-free, slow-paced life I’m trying to establish here. Because even if my world is chaotic, I won’t even notice if I’ve surrounded myself in 360 degrees of inner peace.

Yesterday was a pretty horrid day at work. Things did not go my way. And I took to the Internet looking for a way to assuage my anger and frustration. It’s funny how all articles geared towards calming you down are really there to shake their finger and say you shouldn’t have gotten angry in the first place… helpful, right? Well it didn’t help me. So I after watching too much anime (call me a nerd, I don’t care), I realized that I needed a bubble of protection. So, no matter what the goofballs swing at me, their thoughts/actions/energy wouldn’t touch me. Imagine a sword having no effect as it nears your body; the sword melts into oblivion while you stand there protected by your bubble/positive aura/whatever.

Where might I get this bubble you might ask? Well I’m going to pull it out of the roots of my being and surround myself with it. And what the heck am I going to pull out of I’m feeling horrid? I’m going to pull out the wonder of the universe. I’m going to connect with nature, and use the full force of the Universe to support me. I’m starting to think that reconnecting with nature will help me establish a strong, stress-shielding bubble.

Ah, but what about the anger, you say?  All this thinking and I hadn’t figured out how to get rid of it. Until I found a couple YouTube videos on guided meditation. I watched this one video…. focused my attention on these naturalistic images, pushed my thoughts away, and the anger began to subside.

After a second and third video, I started to feel a little better. But what I realized is that you have to be ready to let it all go. If you aren’t truly ready to let the anger and frustration go, it will stay… and I’m not 100 percent now, but I’m way better than I was. I mean, I was holding back panic attacks while I was meditating.  I’m not there yet. I honestly think a few weeks of this will do me justice.

I’m not saying quit minimalism, spend money recklessly, and fill your life to the brim with obligations and responsibilities. I’m saying that even in the midst of chaos, you can find a peace so still and calm. that it won’t matter how quickly the wind blows.  Am I there yet? No.  I still get angry at a lot of things before I even have the chance to “ACT,” instead of instantly “REacting.”  Nonetheless, I’m going to to work on changing all of this, and I’d like to share this journey with you.

What you should stop stressing about right now: #6 What other people think about you.

Sibling rivalry taught me how to worry about what other people think.  I am the oldest of four. Two younger sisters, and a brother.  I’m going to preface this by saying that I am, by far, the most sensitive of the bunch, and most likely to over-read into other people’s actions and reaction.  Coming up, I thought my parents had a favorite.  And it wasn’t me.

By birth I am a strong Leo. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Leo is the fifth astrological sign of the Zodiac, and ruled by the sun.  It is the only astrological sign ruled by a star, in the center of our solar system no less.  Thus, it is by no surprise that Leo’s personality traits are often defined as such:

“…they love being center stage. Making an impression is Job One for Leos….these folks never shy away from the limelight.” —Astrology.com

“…driven by the desire to be loved and admired, Leos have an air of royalty about them. They love to be in the limelight…” —GaneshSpeaks.com

“…are driven by a desire to be loved for what [they] bring to others…Many Leos are attracted to the theater, the performing arts and public relations…[they] truly understand the importance of putting on a good presentation.” —HuffingtonPost.com

So imagine now, as a child who sought the adoration of others, I began to concern myself with who got better grades, who had the most stellar achievements, who had the best PSAT score, who went to the better college… all so that I could seek the approval of my parents.  Of course I couldn’t out-achieve my younger siblings and I felt inferior. I felt that my parents focused on their favorite because they out-achieved me. Poor, Talia. I thought.

Of course it is natural for a youth to seek these things, but as an adult, it’s who has the nice apartment, the nice car, the best job, the most money… and who has them first.  As the oldest, it’s only natural that I should have them first, right? Thus, I’d be worthy to be among them; so that my accomplishments and achievements are discussed a length; so I am the superstar adult-child. I have concerned myself at great lengths about what they thought, and making sure that I’ve impressed them. 

I sound vain, don’t I?  But that is what approval seeking is… it’s vanity.

Now what have I done? I’ve followed a certain path only for approval, and failed miserably at it. I’ve wasted precious energy trying to be something of value to other people.

Over the last few months I’ve been working to embark on a journey for myself. I’ve decided to shed any approval seeking  ways and begin down the road less traveled. I’m going to make unpopular choices, because when they make sense for me.  I’m starting my own business (and hopefully a non-profits) and whatever else I want to do even if I don’t meet some superficial standard I set to be good enough for my family.

When I pursue my ambitions wholeheartedly, I will find value in myself.   I am a Leo after all.

Lion

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now: # 5 Other People’s Problems

Now don’t think I’m a cold-hearted, narcissistic  a-hole for telling you to forget other people’s problems.  I care very much about the people who are close to me, and I pray for their well-being. However, worrying about, or stressing about their problems is really just a waste of my time and energy.

A couple of years ago really close friend of mine confided in me that her boyfriend cheated on her with one of her best friends. My heart broke. I was angry, frustrated and hurt.  I wanted to exact revenge on the perps. However, people who know me know that I’m only 98% words and 2% action (makes sense that I’m a writer, right?) Legally, I have no right to do anything anyway….

So I told this friend of mine that she deserved no such treatment, and I advised her to move-on from both of these people.  I raged and I fussed and I whined and cried to myself.  And what has happened? My friend has decided that everyone makes mistakes and they deserve forgiveness.  Another punch in the gut for me.

The thing is, people are going to do what they want to do. Doesn’t matter what advice you give them, 9 times out of 10, they’ve already made up their mind.  When someone comes to you with their problems, they want one of two things 1) Confirmation that they are doing the right thing and/or 2) Emotional support.

Another really frustrating situation is when one of your friends should be angry about something and they aren’t.  And for a span of time, this seemed to be happening to me quite frequently. Something bad would happen to a friend, and they were just so blasé about it.  And boy would I rage and fuss and tell them to take up arms.  I just knew that I could fix their problem for them, if only they would let me completely take over the situation and fix their life.  Do you know what happened after I went on my rampage? They became even more blasé about it

I’ve learned that if someone you love should be angry about something, let them be angry. If you get angry for them, then they don’t have to get angry. If you take action on their behalf, they don’t have to take action.  Sometimes, it takes time for people to realize what has happened to them or what they have done.  People come into their own understanding about life at their own pace.  Everyone lives and breathes at their own rate, and you have to let them do so. You can love people and support those around you, without completely taking on their problems.

Besides, if you are taking on other people’s issues, you aren’t handling your own.  Handle your business, and maybe, just maybe, those around you will follow suit.

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now: #4 Keeping up with the Joneses (Kardashians)

When I was in college, I found a group of “friends” who liked to maintain a certain image.  While I loved my college, I found that many of the people who attended the school had their parents paying for everything.  I was lucky that my parents were paying my tuition. My first semester of college, I had very little money.  I didn’t save very much money because I have/had issues with delaying gratification when I was in high school (but that’s another story).

In college free time was spent eating out, going to the movies, partying and shopping.  I mean, how else could I solidify my new friendships? My peers came to Miami to immerse themselves in the carousal and debauchery of the city. Even though I came for an education, I was “supposed” to indulge. So, to fit in here, I had to change everything about myself: I had to get cute, skanky clothes, a tiny bikini, and have tons of money to go out eating (or whatever,) four or five nights out of of the week. I didn’t even bother with the designer labels I was supposed to have plastered on every piece of fabric I wore or carried.  Still, I never felt comfortable in the skanky clothes I bought and I really didn’t want to go out that much.  Forking over a ten-dollar cover charge to a cheap and dirty night club so I could suffer from midnight to four am was a waste of money, especially since I usually preferred sleeping during that time. My version of  “keeping up with the Joneses,” was keeping up with my “friends” at an expensive college in Miami.

What I failed to realize at the time, was these people weren’t my friends if the only way I could be friends with them was if I had to participate beyond my financial means. Real friends can appreciate you for who you are, what you do, not for how much you spend to hang out with them. The truth of the matter is, I wasn’t having that much fun trying to keep up with the things they enjoyed doing.

Yet at the time, I felt like I would have no friends if I didn’t spend my time and money the way they did,  dressed like them, and gave a flying fudge about my partying/drinking quota. Instead of involving myself in the cheap/free on campus activities and organizations that interested me, I got a credit card my sophomore year and spent more money than I had in the bank. This credit card spending turned me into an American debt slave who is now forced to find a full-time job to pay for my past transgressions. It’s been nine years and I still haven’t been able to escape the financial costs.

I guess that’s because I hadn’t figured it all out yet. Trying to “keep up with the Joneses” did nothing but made me miserable. I spent a ton of time wanting things I thought I wanted and couldn’t have. I didn’t know that

Happiness isn’t getting what  you want, it’s wanting what you have.

I saw that quote the other day, and it touched me in a profound way.  I’m sure I’d heard it before, but for some reason, it stuck with me this time.  It explains why I haven’t gotten to a place where I’m just content with what I have.  The idea of keeping up with the Joneses seems like such an antiqued issue. When I think about that phrase, I think of the Stepford wives. Identical houses, lawns, lives, all in a suburban subdivision.  Really? Who lives like that: Peering over our neighbor’s fence to check out their brand new super-deluxe barbecue grill.  That’s not me!  I don’t live in house with a yard and a fence.  I don’t even have a patio 😦 but that doesn’t mean I don’t get stuff envy.  I envy people’s high rise apartments overlooking the city, their nice new cars, and their Facebook lives. Everything people do these days is so transparent. You see every detail about peoples’ lives you barely even know.

Keeping up with the Joneses in 2013 is really about “keeping up with the Kardashians.”  We drool over lives of  people who are dripping wet with disposable income. Images of everything we cant have is plastered all over TV, Instagram, Facebook, billboards, and anyplace that has a flat enough surface for print and an image.

And we want all of that stuff and envy the people who have it.  While you spend time wishing you had more money to go on more vacations, or buy a new fancy camera to take Instagram photos, you could be living your life.  You don’t know what life is like on the inside of that life. Even if you wanted “their life” you could never have it. You could never be inside their life.

I try very hard to stop wasting time envying and copying other people. What they are doing and what they have has little to no effect on my  existence. I don’t know how they acquired the things they have. I am on my own journey. When I dance to beat of my own drum,I’m so much happier. Once I stopped trying to maintain a certain image (tight clothes, jeans shirts, etc.) everything has changed. I’m less concerned about fitting in and maintaining a certain façade. Instead of keeping up with the Joneses, the Joneses will one day wish they were keeping up with me. 😉

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now: #3 Your Expensive Gadgets

Oh! How we get attached to our fancy gadgets.  It’s pathetic.  I get it though, because I do it too. We spend $199-$399 on a cell phone and then all of our hard-earned money goes down the drain when the screen cracks. Or it falls into a huge sloshing puddle when you get out of your car on a rainy day. It’s ruined, you didn’t buy accidental insurance, and you have to wait 15 months before you can get a new one without paying full price.

Think about the anguish you felt when your last expensive gadget broke before its time. That’s a lot of emotional energy for something that will be rendered useless in 2-8 years from the date of purchace.  The gadgets that we own have fleeting value. The phone that you cared for like a newborn baby will be treated like a hunk of junk in a few short years. Maybe sooner. That emotional energy that you are dedicating to a thing could be used for loving another human being or animal.

I’ve had people snap at me over “misshandling” their items. I’m probably guilty of it too.  Think about the anxiety you feel when a child picks up your brand new iPhone. (Curse those sticky and clumsy hands!)  All you want to do is snatch it back from them because it might get broken.  Real mature, right? Ever notice someone carelessly carrying a cup of liquid around you and your new suede loafers?  How quickly do you get away from them? We all have our items that we protect ruthlessly from damage.  At the end of the day, these expensive things will eventually become outdated, worn out, broken and in a dumpster.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care for your items. You should take care of them, but don’t idolize them and carry them around on a golden throne. These items are not kings and queens so stop treating them like royalty. Actually, these things are here to take care of you. I’m not just talking about gadgets. Anything that you might have splurged on: a pair of shoes, a purse, a leather jacket, a GPS device, is here to help you and make your life easier.  Nonetheless, you functioned perfectly before you found those items and can function just as well without them.

I’ve been trying to stay away from expensive gadgetry because I know I may get a little too attached to it, and worry about its well-being a little too much.  The screen on my Samsung Galaxy Player recently cracked from a 1.5 foot drop. It reminded me of the short life of these items and that I shouldn’t value them over time spent with loved ones. Sometimes it’s easier to have a lower-end phone because I have no desire to worship it.

In the end, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have any of these things because expensive and high quality items serve their purpose while they’re still functional. I’m just suggesting that you choose your gadgets wisely and understand their fallibility before spending your money.

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now: #2 What to Wear

Clothing is a mode of personal expression, personal style, culture and history.  They keep us warm and dry. And without clothes, we’d all be walking around naked. We cannot escape these simple facts.  For me, however, I’m starting to feel like making clothing choices is taking too long. As I researched my Fashion for Minimalists post and began a massive clean-out of my closet, I realized it doesn’t matter if I have fewer clothes if I’m still spending all that time pondering what to wear.

Yesterday morning I changed my outfit three times. If I hadn’t, I would have been on time to work. Living a slower-paced lifestyle to me is about spending more time on things that matter and less time on trivial  things.  My only requirements for work clothes is that they’re comfortable, cute, modest, and keep me from being mistaken for a high school student. And even with my new reduced wardrobe volume, I lose 3.5-4 hours a week thinking about clothing, trying to figure out what to wear, changing outfits, and changing back.  I could have been writing, sleeping, or making breakfast. How much time do you spend picking out your clothes?

As most people in the USA probably have noticed, most guys take five minutes in the morning to get dressed.  Why is that? It can’t be that most of them are dirty, stinky slobs. No, many of them just don’t value the meticulous coordinating that women do. My boyfriend has 10 of the same shirt he really likes but in different colors; many men do this.  It is simple to get dressed in the morning if all you have to do is choose one of those shirts; you just go with whatever one is clean. Yet every single article currently in my closet is different in style/shape/color than every other article.  It’s quite silly really; having such a wide variety of clothes seems ostentatious when I think about.

This past weekend, I was staring at my closet after the massive clean out I was telling you about. It was pretty empty. And I thought to myself, “What a beautiful, stress-free wardrobe!” I had to keep myself from getting too relieved because I had a good amount of dirty clothes that needed to be laundered and put away.

Still, I saw the light.  I’ve realized the potential in having fewer options of what to wear. When I researched my Fashion for Minimalists post, I wondered if other people would wear the same clothes every day. Apparently they do. Johan Woods, in his article “Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Clothes Everyday,” says:

By turning daily choices into a routine (like how you dress), you free up mental and creative energy to be used for higher priorities.

The article, and that quote expresses my sentiment exactly. Spending time selecting clothing, especially for someone who is already pressed for time and energy, is a waste of time. Thinking more and more about it, I realized I WANT THAT! In theory, it seems so easy, so effortless. I want to get up in the morning, take 2 minutes to put on my clothes, not even thinking about what I’m wearing,  and get on with my day.  Well not the exact same clothes, but the same outfit.   Now I’m not going to strip my wardrobe down to 7 identical tops and 7 identical bottoms because I’d like some variety when I feel like getting dressed up.  Maybe one day I will. For now, I am going to make more changes that involve limiting the diversity of my wardrobe.  (I’ve realized that I have some transitioning from grad school clothes, to grown-up/professional clothes and therein lies part of my clothing issues…)

I decided that having multiples of my favorite pieces and wearing those often is the way to go. I’ve purchased two of the exact same black skirts that I’ve been rotating along with some other maxi skirts; getting dressed in the morning has become a lot easier.  The black maxi skirt is pretty neutral piece that can be dressed up or down. All I have to do is pair it with one of the bazillion (smh) shirts that I have and I’m good to go. Once I get my shirts paired down to the essential few, for work and for weekends,  I’m good. The idea to never have to have that issue, “What am I going to wear today?” take up more than a few seconds of my time.

Stressing out about clothing is really a pointless endeavor. While our society is vain, judgmental, and probably cares too much about what people wear, don’t you want to wear something that fits within your lifestyle? That is what this is about for me. I could try to coordinate many different outfits and keep up with the latest fashion trends, but it hasn’t been working for me. I’ve often gotten stuck wearing things I don’t want to wear because my job requirements, or its so freaking cold in the office that there isn’t a choice… I’m just trying to get to the point where I can wear what I want without it requiring any extra thought or effort on my part. Time and energy conservation is all part of the slow life.

What You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now and Why, #1 Your Weight

I wanted to do a 10-part series on the things that we stress over but really shouldn’t.  Over the next five weeks, I’ll cover Ten Things You Should Stop Stressing About Right Now and Why. I’ll post one every Monday and one every Thursday. (Yes, I’m getting started a little late, but why put my first post off until Thursday?)

I didn’t actively start caring about my weight until the summer before I was going to start college in 2004. By actively, I mean dieting, working out, and criticizing every lump, bulge, or pudgy roll. I knew I was a little chunky, and I noticed that a week of volleyball tryouts and church retreats (where I ate nothing but salad because there weren’t other choices for vegetarians) made me lose weight; I liked the weight loss. But like I said, I didn’t do anything on purpose to lose weight. Furthermore,  In high school, teachers made a point to convince us that that Twiggy-esque models in magazines were a minority and far from reality. At five foot one, I never wanted to look like those tall, skinny models anyway. Like I, said, I didn’t think about weight, or my body size all that much.

Nonetheless, the summer of 2004 I decided that I wanted to look good in a bikini when I went to Miami for college.  I started working out and going to the gym. I did a little dieting, but nothing too extreme.   Fast forward 9 years later, I’ve become weight and appearance obsessed.  I don’t know whether I ought to blame it on the media, the culture that surrounds me, or the fact that I have to wear shorts, skirts, dresses and tank tops 9 months out of the year in order not to sweat to death.  I cant say exactly when the obsession started. All I know is where I ended up.

I was looking for a specific number under 120 pounds.  In all this time, there were about 3 occasions in 9 years when I saw that number. During those occasions I was extremely active because I didn’t have a car and walked/biked everywhere. But outside of those times, I was focused non-stop on my weight.

Meal times are the three (or more) times a day I would stress about what I’m eating and whether or not it would make me fat.  You all know how frustrating and stressful it is to worry about weight.  The thinking, planning, organizing, counting, calculating, shopping, and the exercise routines from magazines… The rules, the internal debates of what I should and should not eat.  It is agonizing to see the scale go up two pounds after working out hard all week.

The only time I ever lost weight, was when I stopped worrying about it.  Nowadays,  I make sure I eat as healthy as possible (no wheat, few processed foods, no refined sugars etc.) and my body adapts accordingly by shedding extra pounds (on its own time).  It’s really that simple. You can do it too.

It’s time for you to stop worrying about a number on the scale, your BMI or body fat percentage.  Chances are, you already know the number of one of the three. But how does knowing that number help you right this second? It doesn’t change what clothes fit you, right now; it doesn’t bolster your self-esteem. It may momentarily motivate you to get in shape, but when that number doesn’t get lower after you diet and work-out hard for a few weeks, then what?  You need to forget that crap and simply focus on getting healthy.

The reality is, you know if you are doing the right things. And if you  are doing the right things your body will find a healthy weight. I’m not a doctor, and I’m sure there are exceptions, but eating right and staying active will eliminate weight problems. The number on the scale may not be a number that you like, and the “weight loss” may not happen on your schedule, but it will happen, and you will be healthy.

Nevertheless, you are going to trip-up.  Lately, I’ve veered off my diet a little bit, and I’m suffering the consequences.  Still,  there is no need to beat myself up about it.  Maintaining a healthy body is a life practice.  Just as I try to get enough sleep every night, but don’t, I also try to give my body enough nutrients by eating good foods.  If I want to live a long time so I do my best, and that’s all I can do. I don’t want to stress time and energy about a number on the scale.

***

Furthermore, you have to stop worrying about how fat you think you look. As you probably know, poor self-esteem about weight and physical appearance is largely manufactured by the images we see in the media. Every day I’m reminded that if I look a certain way, I’ll be sexy. But the media’s definition of  “sexy” is wrong, and neither you nor I will ever look that way. Nothing you can do, besides having a photograph of yourself airbrushed, will remove all of the real or imagined weight-related imperfections that you have. Even if you are 400 pounds, nothing can change that in this moment. What you look right what now, is what you look like, and  you have to be confident regardless of your size.

I say, take care of your body, and your body will take care of the rest.  All it takes is healthy food and physical activity to get everything in order. What the numbers say doesn’t matter. Your body will shed any excess fat without you trying to will it away.

On a related note, I’ve realized that how I dress myself influences how I feel about my weight and/or size.  Now I’m not talking about being fashionable or frumpy. I’m talking about how tight or revealing my clothes are.  Tight jeans and t-shirts offer very little flexibility in terms of weight gain or loss. Three to five additional pounds can make a pair of pants too tight on me.  And too-tight clothes make me feel fat and worry about my weight, food choices, and exercise frequency. Furthermore, I feel that all my “fat” is exposed when I wear revealing clothes.  I’ve started wearing maxi skirts a lot now, which “hide” day to day changes in my body weight, size or shape. Quite frankly, I don’t want to go back to jeans…And over the last week, I feel that my self-esteem about my body weight/size has improved just by wearing modest skirts. Obviously, that’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

I do want to talk more about clothing, but that will have to wait until next time.

How Stress Affects the Body

So I recently saw this awesome infographic on the Secrets of the Fed website. I know the site can be a bit provocative, but you really cant argue about this image. Every time I see something about the negative consequences of stress, it reminds me to stay focused.  I’m minimalizing and slowing down for a reason.  I need a clean & calm home environment, a healthy body, and positive attitude. The only thing I can do is be prepared for stressful situations by fortifying  my mind, body and spirit, so I can handle the physical ramifications of stress.

See the infographic below:

Courtesy of SecretsOfTheFed.com  No copyright infringement intended

Courtesy of SecretsOfTheFed.com No copyright infringement intended

On a tangent here… I’ve been reading this book on holistic treatments for pet health. It’s called The Nature of Animal Healing by Martin Goldstein, DVM.  And Goldstein poses the question: why do some people and animals get sick and not others? He says that traditional medicine treats the specific illness, not the reasons why the person go sick in the first place. He suggests that illness happens not just because evil bacteria and viruses invade the body. It happens because the body is ill-equipped to deal with the evil bacteria and viruses that invade on a daily basis.

Following his reasoning, stressors weaken the body and make it susceptible to illness. Still, there will always be stressors.  I will always experience crazy drivers on the highway and annoying people who have to have their way RIGHT NOW. The only way I can deal with all of that is by strengthening my body with healthy foods, making my environment one that is supportive, and managing  my reactions to the stressors.

How to you avoid the physical consequences of stress?

Completing The Proverbial To Do List

Ball and ChainWe all have them. You know, that list of things to do that you’ve been tallying up in your head for weeks, months even. I’m not talking about the things on your daily to do list, like taking the dog out or washing the dishes. I’m talking about those items that are relatively low in priority on the daily to do list, but fairly high on the life improvement to do list.

I thought I’d remedy my to do list problem when I started this blog (about a year ago) by limiting myself to five major life improvement tasks per month. I was feeling overwhelmed with all of my commitments, and I needed to clear my head of obligations.  Getting down to only five major tasks relieved my stress at the time, but now, working on five life goals at a time doesn’t suit me anymore.  Five is too many to work on at a time, and since last year, my goals have grown and changed.

This is the current to-do list that is floating around in my head:

  1. Train the dog
  2. Spring cleaning sale
  3. Get back into an exercise program
  4. Study for (and take) the teacher exam
  5. Blogging for my other blog
  6. Work on my novel
  7. Finish my new website
  8. Find freelance writing gigs
  9. Post-defense thesis revisions (I haven’t defended yet and my adviser still isn’t satisfied with what I’ve got; she gave me suggestions to start incorporating into my piece)
  10. Find and apply for summer jobs

This list doesn’t include all of the stuff that I already do on a regular basis.  Every time I think of something else I need to do, it’s like I add a new ball-and-chain that I have to drag around with me.

I figured out that five was too many to tackle at one time when it got down to the wire with my Master’s thesis. In order to get that done, I had to forgo pretty much any other goals I wanted to complete. I had to be singularly focused.  (While I had no other choice if I want my MA), I got the thesis done, to my liking, within the allotted time frame.  Although I still have more work to do, it’s fairly limited and isn’t hanging over my head the way it has been for the past year.

When some people are extremely passionate about one life goal, they get into intense focus mode. They eat, live, and breathe that goal. They carry on with their usual everyday tasks, and put the rest of their energy into achieving that goal. Everything they see in front of them is just a stepping stone to that goal, whether it is relevant to the goal or not.

My friends, I am not one of those people.  I’ve always wished I could be passionate, dedicated, and singularly focused. But I am a dreamer, planner and a flake. I have many dreams, and I make all the plans in the world to accomplish those dreams. Yet on most days, I flake out on my plans. I flake out on my to do list and opt for internet, TV, relaxing, or lying around the house.  I read this interesting article called The Complete Flakes Guide to Getting Things Done. And it’s been helping me, so maybe it could help you too.

Nonetheless, I’d like to impart what I’ve learned from that article and from my experiences to you all.

Work on one thing from your list at a time. Like a said before, I had to focus exclusively on my thesis to get it done. Anyone that’s done a Master’s Thesis or a Doctoral dissertation knows that most everything in your life gets neglected when you are trying to finish up your degree. Don’t think about your other goals while you are completing that one goal. If you do, you’ll get distracted and procrastinate. Use laser like focus to zero in on that one goal and make it a daily priority. Work on it EVERY DAY, in EVERY SPARE MOMENT. Before you know it, you will have reached your goal and can move on to the next one. If you want life to be easier and less stressful, work on one thing at a time.

Treat every task on the list as if it were major goal. What if one of your goals is something you should be doing every day, but you aren’t  Sometimes our goals aren’t specific achievements marked with a certificate,   but habits we’d like to develop, like meditating, working out, writing every day, learning a language or working on our craft, etc. To prevent getting overwhelmed and stressed out, focus on this habit exclusively, as if it were any other life improvement goal. Don’t try to start working out, for example, if it isn’t already a habit, while you work on another goal. Starting an exercise routine is just as challenging as doing a thesis or looking for a new job. Challenging yourself to start a new habit is difficult– I’m sure you’ve heard: it takes 21 to 66 days to start or break a habit. It could be three months before you can work out consistently, without making excuses. Don’t short change yourself the time you need to get a new habit started. If you do, you are setting yourself up for failure.  And once you’ve reached your goal of making that task a habit (like exercising), then add another.

Make your reward for reaching your goal, unrelated to that goal. For example, I’m trying to work out more. My reward isn’t “weight loss” or “better health,” even though I’ll earn those things by exercising. My reward has nothing to do with my weight; it’s not a new pair of smaller sized clothing (that I have to lose weight to wear). My reward for working out is a new guitar.  All I have to do is exercise 80% of the days from March 1st until May 1st, and I get my guitar.

Do your best to keep up with other daily tasks. This was by far the most difficult for me while working on my thesis. It will help you from drowning in laundry and dirty dishes. Also, you won’t have those little tasks hanging over your head in addition to your main task.

Prioritize your life-improvement to-do list. Training my dog shouldn’t be as high up on the list as finding summer employment. She’s not destroying anything; my little pup is defying me and it’s just annoying. But I  will survive without training her right now. I must put my to-do list in order and work on the time sensitive items first. You would do that with any other to do list. Do the same with your life improvement tasks/goals.

And most importantly, think about one task at a time. Yes, I need to I need to find a summer job, my dog needs training badly, and I’m paying for a personal website that isn’t even up right now. But if I think about all of these things while I’m trying to make those final changes on my thesis, nothing is going to get done.  It’s just the way it goes. I tend to waste a lot of energy thinking about what I should be doing, instead of just doing it.  Giving myself permission to be single-minded assuages the guilt I have about not working on the other tasks. Is it really going to hurt me if I don’t exercise for one more month, if I haven’t consistently for a year? Probably not. If I’m thinking about it and feeling guilty, then I’m wasting time and energy I could be directing towards the goal I should be working towards.

I love the lyrics to this song, they’re inspiring and relevent so I thought I’d include the video in the post.

Jordin Sparks, One Step At A Time