And the dam breaks? On blockades of many sorts…

For any writer (or aspiring writer), there is always this occasional feeling of having a mind completely devoid of creative inspiration. I like to refer to this as the writer’s blockade. It isn’t a mere issue of searching for the write words (yes, that was intentional), feeling that there are an overwhelming flood of ideas waiting for your feeble vocabulary to give them shape and form… no. It is a full blown, beautifully empty blank where upon no amount of prodding, poking, free-flowing, and rambling seem to dislodge anything coherent.

Many of my writer friends have complained about this sensation of having nothing on which to expound. There is nothing so elusive as the creative impetus that decides to go walkabout without any notice. I mean, really? It isn’t as if I lost the English language in there somewhere, right? The hours become days. The days become weeks, and suddenly you find that you haven’t written a post, piece, or paragraph in months. The obstructions of the blockade can take on varied forms… and often, they are as individual as those they plague.

For instance, I spent the last three weeks working on a post that had presented itself to my mind months ago. I struggled with this, and it still reads like dog poo on the bottom of my favorite boots. The sentences stilted and the vocabulary just clunky and unnatural. I honestly cannot figure it out. At other times, the words seem to flow of their own volition out of the tips of my fingers (maybe a case for possession?). Then, at other times I cannot seem to put an idea worthy of the letters into any form. The muse has departed… apparently for another zip code, possibly a different state, another country, left the planet entirely? I’ve had some brilliant (well I thought they were) ideas while driving, in the middle of a session, during a meeting while I was presenting on something else entirely, or possibly at 4:00AM when a 10 pound demonic feline decides to apply all of his weight into a focused area directly on my boob… However, when I later approach an actual keyboard at a more convenient and appropriate time… poof! David Copperfield couldn’t have made anything disappear that well. It is a good argument, I suppose for having a voice recorder of some sort close by at any time to capture these thoughts before they seem to evaporate and blow away like so much smoke. But I can already see how that would turn out. When the recordings are listened to later, what I thought was perfectly intelligible speech with creative inspiration summons a demon or opens a hellmouth.

The worst part is that I generally fail to recall even the topics in the vaguest manner. It concerns me that perhaps my short term to long term memory transfer process is starting to get a little fragile. I really am not ready for that particular issue yet. Or maybe it is just that I have too much data trying to be stored in a finite space. Well, hell… my hard drives are full… or maybe corrupted. Bad sector, format C. Perhaps it is a symptom of descending madness… they do say that there is a fine line between that and genius, right? Ok, maybe that is pushing it. I don’t believe that genius is one of my failings. However, I must be grateful for small favors, I have not yet started singing nursery rhymes in my head or subjecting you to them (with a special shout out to my dear friend)… Oops. There I go… Mary had a little… dammit, Tess!

 

Respect the One that Brung ya…

So, aside from the attrocious grammar and ignorance of verb tense, the phrase itself is an old one that you may or may not have heard before. It goes back to a bygone era, but the concept holds true today… in a sense. Let me preach on it…

The time was that when you chose to be with someone, whether that be for the evening or for a longer term, it meant something. It meant that you would take that opportunity to spend the time indicated to interact with them. Sometimes that might mean with social activity; sometimes mutually enjoying a form of entertainment. For those longer term endeavors it meant that there might be multiple opportunities to interact exclusively or mutually within social context. The point being that when an individual made a choice of their own volition to be with another, they had the consideration to attend to that person.

Over time, those old traditions or manners have faded. Many might consider that these antiquated expectations have no place in an independent, modern, emancipated world. I don’t agree. That may surprise a lot of readers, especially those who know me best and longest, but hear me out. I am a strong proponent of individual rights and standing up for what is right and honest. Believe it or not, these philosophies are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I have observed a good deal of human behavior in the past… well, we’ll not disclose the precise amount of years, suffice to say it’s been more than a few decades. One of the things that I find repellant, if not truly repugnant is bullying. What I have found is that due to the advent of the modern romantic comedy, many people have a problem differentiating between playful banter and public degradation… by most interpretations, bullying blandishments. Due to the magic of film and television, we are made privy to interactions and conversations that would… and should… have been between two people instead of a public display.

Picture a meet cute between a couple of feisty, not unattractive people. Due to the circumstances of the sincronicity that brings them together, they are placed in antagonistic positions; be it vying for the same taxi or the same employment position. They verbally spar, and we love the witty repartee… because we are behind the camera. Ultimately, that antagonism provides energy and passion that will become angrily shouted affection, followed by professions of love… and scene!

Let’s try another. Spouse enters domicile and announces his/her presence. Their partner appears with look of chagrin and disheveled appearance. Dialog and interaction leading to discomfiture on one part, frustration on the other, and vague threats of sending said partner “to the moon” accompanied by a raised fist and followed by a laugh track…

How about this? Single, but involved individual in a live-in, long term committed relationship finds themselves consistently frustrated by their partner’s habits/lack of attention/too much attention to others… goes out with a trusted friend and spills their guts about every flaw and perceived injury. The friend is supportive. They spend hours of advice-giving and shot drinking. It is all very empowering. It shows the importance of a support network.

What is my point? These are all manufactured and artistically created situations.

I’m going to take the second scenario first. For anyone with a knowledge of classic television, The Honeymooners had very recognizable tableaux. The audiences of the day laughed at the implied spousal abuse threats. Why? Mostly because many of the viewers never believed Ralph would hit her, and at the end of every episode, Ralph kissed Alice. No one at that time thought about the “comedy” show as being a representative of abusive relationships. At the time the show was filmed, spousal abuse and the horror it can be were secret sufferings of untold numbers of people. What went on inside the home was private and nobody’s business… thankfully, that attitude has changed somewhat with the intervening years, though the real horror is still all too prevalent. See below for links and organizations that can help.

With the traditional romcom banter, we’ve all been programmed to see the end game of the situation with passionate acknowledgement of the attraction they fought from their first meeting. We’ve been taught to see it as cute and witty and passionate. But let’s take a look at those caustic remarks flung by opposing parties in front an audience. In the Hollywood version, it is funny. No one has their feelings hurt terribly. But we’re not talking about a live studio audience or the invisible observer of the silver screen. We are talking right out there in public with actual people that you might actually see again in other aspects of your life. Does that change the story? Does the embarrassment of having someone point out your flaws and shortcomings in the middle of a café or office feel different than what we imagine for the characters on the screen?

Last, but not least, is that coffee shop dish with friend or friends. Besties and supportive friends are awesome when you are getting your groove back, but once you’ve given them all the grimy details of the bad guy/gal in your life, it may be super hard for them to see that person in any other way. Intentionally or not, the protagonist/story teller has brought one or more other people into the intimacy of the relationship. Given the impact of technology in the lives of many people in society, that number can be multiplied exponentially when folks tend to vent on one or more of their social media venues… warning, that includes “vaguebooking” because most of your friends will know to whom you are referring. Do yourself and your relationship a favor and leave off the character assassinations if you aren’t ready or intending to walk.

I can feel the judgment boiling off of my people out there saying “You need support! You shouldn’t have to keep secrets! You shouldn’t project facades…” Yeah, all of it, but I’m decidedly not talking about abusive situations, for which the answer is to get to safety (and absolutely positively reach out for help in those situations, see the links below). I’m not talking about ignoring something that should change, for which the answer is to work in concert with your partner. I’m talking about respecting a person that you chose to spend time with, whether that time was a few hours or a few decades. I’m talking about not degrading them or humiliating them in a public venue and to your friends and family. I’m talking about setting an example in your own behavior for 1) how you might like to be treated and respected, and 2) how you feel others should consider and behave towards that individual. Whether we realize it or not, how we treat our significant other (and how we talk about them) cues our friends and others around us to act in kind, and displays outwardly how they will be permitted to treat that person. When you disrespect your partner vividly and hurtfully in public, it opens the door for everyone else to consider them with the same disregard and flagrant disrespect. It plays up like the mob mentality that says “Hey, her man (or woman) treats her like crap, she must be crap. We don’t have to be respectful.” It may seem like I’m blowing it out of proportion, but just observe sometime how behaviors change depending on how the S.O. of any individual treats them in a group or public setting.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that we all have to show devotion to anyone we decide to go out for coffee with? No, but respect is not devotion. On a date (be it first or perhaps even further along the line where things are still casual, and there is no serious risk of harm involved), perhaps the chemistry is just not there. End it as civilly as possible. No harm, no foul. If you truly just can’t stomach one more second, consider how to curtail the event without creating more drama than is absolutely necessary. If the guy (or gal) deserves a glass of chianti in the lap, so be it, but that should be the exception, not the rule. In a longer term relationship, recognize the difference between gentle ribbing and hurtful humiliation in front of other people. What looks cute on a movie or television screen might be pretty uncomfortable before the live and quite real audience of friends or acquaintances.

And… if you truly care about the person and the relationship and want it to work out, be careful how you “vent” to friends and family. Should you choose to stay together and work on things, it may be exceedingly difficult for those friends and family members to see the monster you painted so vividly in a more charitable light. The bottom line is that if you don’t want to be with the person in question, then don’t be. Do them the courtesy and show them the respect of letting them go so that they might be with someone who might have more, or different, feelings for them; and you can move on to someone to whom you might be better suited. And one last thing… if you do find that your better suited is someone other than the one you are with, close that former chapter before opening the new one. In the end, self-respect is a valuable commodity, and treating others with disrespect often leads to a lack of respect for self as well. So, in the end, the one that “brung ya” is you. Have some respect for yourself.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline – http://www.thehotline.org/

Crisis Textline – http://www.crisistextline.org/   Text “GO” to 741741

Advocates Against Family Violence – https://aafvhope.org/

Newsome, T. 7 Ways You’re Disrespecting your Partner Without Realizing It. (January, 2016). Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/articles/133567-7-ways-youre-disrespecting-your-partner-without-realizing

Physical Fit: Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, and the “Crud”

Gym-crowding season… That beautiful time when the resolutions of the New Year still have the power to motivate people with a natural state of indolence to gird their loins and push themselves towards more active lifestyles and healthier choices… until the crowds and the close proximity of those individuals become the breeding ground of contagion decimating thousands of inspirational fitness memes and individual resolves. Yes, my friends, I speak of another season: The cold and flu season.

Recently, our local area schools have shut down due to so many teachers and students being out sick. Some people might think that is overly dramatic, but there are folks who would show up to school or work like patient zero if they didn’t shut down the whole place. (See Sick At Work.) However, these institutions of learning are not the only incubation zones for the next plague. We have the workplace, houses of worship (of varying varieties because showing up in public for religious events is totally immune and entirely safe from passing along the next mutation of H1N1), entertainment venues, and of course… the gym.

Oh yes, this place that is the bastion of healthy life choices can become a greenhouse for pestilential flora and fauna. And can I just for a moment comment that humans, of the allegedly adult variety, are just nasty? Seriously.

My gym is actually very nice. It is usually clean. The bathroom/locker room situation is almost a religious experience with esthetically pleasing fixtures and general lack of icky personal detritus. As far as the rest of the amenities, staff make sure there are sufficient wipes, spray bottles, and such to wipe down equipment pre- and post-sweaty activity. That alone would likely be sufficient to slow or completely curtail the spread of plague… if people would actually use it!

Yes… I speak now of the nastiness. Let me preach on it. I have sadly seen it with my own eyes. The nose picker who then grabs the hand-holds of an elliptical machine, the hacking cougher imitating with some skill succumbing to tuberculosis who grabs the free weights with the same hand the recently covered the mouth, and of course the devastating sneeze-monster with accompanying snot who thinks nothing of continuing their bench set with the same hands that received the explosive productions of their nose. None of these individuals actually bothered to wipe down said equipment when they completed their activities, but instead chose to move on and spread their personal colonies of viral agents to yet more unsuspecting equipment and people.

It’s enough to make you gag a little, isn’t it?

I commend these people for pushing through their own pain, discomfort, and lassitude to keep their fitness performance at its best, but please you can take a sick day from your gym routine. In fact, most studies and fitness consultants will tell you gladly that resting and recovering is generally better than trying to ignore a cold or more dire illness. 1) You recover more quickly. 2) You don’t actually share with all the other relatively ailment-free people. Staying home when you are sick is not a show of weakness. It is just good gym-citizenship, and it is a better choice for your own recovery. Now, I get it. I totally do. Not all illnesses have the impact of ague or la grippe. Sometimes, they don’t even seem worthy of notice; an annoyance, no more. If the disease seems minor and you feel that it isn’t even really a hitch in your stride, you don’t want to lose the gains you’ve made in your training. However, keep in mind that there are still the other gym attendees to consider. All the more reason everyone should remember to mind the hygiene and be considerate of others.

And speaking of hygiene… there are other forms of communicable ailments that don’t necessarily have to wait for a season. In this case, I’m speaking of the more delicate matters of fungus. Yeppers, that is right. We’re gonna talk feet and down there. Most of us have heard of athletes’ foot (tinea pedis). Heck, unless you have lived in a cave devoid of any media you have to have seen at least one commercial. Some of them have cute little depictions of demonic creatures that want to live between your toes… ew. Most of these commercials are humorous and entertaining, making the idea of fungal infection a laughing matter rather than a health condition or personal concern. Do not be fooled. This outbreak can cause embarrassment, discomfort, and spread to others (sometimes without even making direct contact). Locker rooms and showers, regardless of cleanliness, are great atmospheres for these types of infections. Moisture from shower and sweat, damp clothing in lockers, and people going around without shoes.

Oh yeah. They do. They go without foot covering or protection in public areas. I’ve seen it. I’m not a foot prude, you understand. I would prefer to go barefoot in most seasons… in my own home, on the beach, in my pool… Not in a public gym locker room or shower! And yet, there she was as I walked in one morning after my own workout, getting ready for work… or errands… or maybe an early morning date… I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I was taken aback by her appearance. She was obviously halfway through some sort of operation to tame her hair (which was drying, recently showered, and taking up what appeared to be more than its usual space), leaning close to the mirror to address eyelashes and eye make up with that contorted expression that seems a prerequisite for the activity… and she was barefoot!!! She stood there with her naked feet in direct contact with the tiles of the bathroom floor, and it was all I could do to restrain the full body shiver as my own very overactive imagination pictured all the little demonic creatures from that commercial swarming over her feet and the surrounding surfaces… and possibly coming after me! I quickly grabbed my kit out of my locker and bounced out to go home for a shower and possibly  chemical decon.

There are, of course, other forms of these fungal outbreaks to plague more than just your tootsies. There is the tinea cruris… You might know it more commonly as “jock itch,” but it doesn’t restrain itself merely to the specific area for which the layman has named it. It likes to be anywhere there is close, damp, warm areas: Thighs, buttocks… and ladies, you are not immune. So, air out the drawers and launder those stanky gym shorts and that sports bra as well (oh yeah, didn’t think of that did you?).

Which brings me to ringworm… which isn’t a worm. Did you know that? Nope, not a fauna, but a flora. This one is a fungus as well. This one is tinea corporis or tinea capitis. Actually the tinea is the actual fungus and the other words are where it decides to take up residence. So, in fact, all these fungi mentioned are the same basic condition, just occurring in various locations on the human body. Depending on where the growth sets up, you can lose hair, have scaly or ring-like patterns, and itch like the devil. It is not fun, and it is contagious. It can go from person to person or person to equipment/floor/shower to person. You get the drift.

The point of all this being: Take some care of yourself and others who share your workout space. Please remember to wipe down surfaces of machines and hand holds. In fact, you might just for caution’s sake wipe down before using the apparatus. Use the sanitary wipes and sprays provided. Don’t leave dirty, damp gym attire in lockers to ferment. And for the love of all that is holy and right in the universe, wear your bloody shower shoes and don’t go barefoot in the locker room! YUCK!

The Tribe of the Giant Bags

I need someone to explain to me a trend in the fashionably accessorized…

What is with the ginormous bags?!? They’re huge. You could, I expect, carry not only toiletries, phone, wallet, and car keys in one, but possibly a full wardrobe change, several firearms, and a positive menagerie of pets. Maybe that is it? It is like a new version of homeless chic. You may not be able to afford a place to live after purchasing that Coach bag, but you won’t really need a place to hang your hat… or pants… or anything because it all fits in the bag. Doesn’t matter if you look like a staggering hunchback due to the imbalanced weight dangling from one shoulder or the other… you are en vogue!

I looked up the word “purse” in the dictionary. I ignored the part about the lips being drawn together to express displeasure or irritation (but I could see how discomfort might come into the issue with some of these bags). The definition that pertains in this instance is “a small bag used especially by a woman to carry everyday personal items.” Who needs that much stuff every day while out?!? Holy cowhide! Look at this gal. I’m fairly certain that if that bag actually contained anywhere near the material to fill it, it would outweigh her.

I have referred to myself as an accessory moron, but if there is one area in which I am even more of an imbecile, it would be with regards to handbags, purses, clutches, evening bags… I am not only uninformed, I am totally uninterested. The most likely outcome of me carrying some sort of luggage would be that I totally forget to take it with me and leave it hanging on a chair, in a chair, on a table, under the table… you get the idea. I am not of the mindset to carry my belongings in a stylish receptacle. In fact, I’m likely not to carry a receptacle at all, stylish or not. The only exception is for situations like conferences or travel when I might have a carry-on or utility backpack that is capable of housing all the necessities, but more often to stow the various items and information gathered at booths and tables and vendors along the way. Even so, what do I really need to have with me? I honestly cannot imagine requiring on my person while walking freely about town enough stuff to require the space of a large attaché or small suitcase.

However, that is not so much the issue as  the question of why do purses now resemble luggage? I mean, seriously, I remember a time when purses of the larger variety were restricted to individuals who carried the necessity of changing an infant or toddler (aka, the diaper bag) or to those individuals of an uncertain age (aka, grandma bag). You know what I’m talking about, because mother’s who are trying to travel or just run errands with accompanying offspring cannot do so without many parcels  and items that the rest of us generally don’t require (snacks, drinks, activities, diapers, wet wipes, pack and play cribs, physical restraints…). As for grandma, I never did understand all that. There might be wallet or billfold, checkbook, glasses, tissues (in varying states of use…ew), a collection of candy, gum, and cough drops, hair brush, hair spray, compact (with or without make up)… houseplants and maybe a floor lamp… The words “Just a moment, I have it in my purse…” were generally guaranteed to foreshadow a 20-30 minute archeological dig through a voluminous shoulder bag.

So, when did this become fashionable? I suppose technology can assume part of the blame as people seem more and more incapable of functioning without a laptop or tablet that might be larger than a pocket or clutch. Without the accompanying larger devices though, I’m baffled. I’ve seen young… young people squealing at non-human decibel and frequency over gargantuan constructions designed, I’m certain, to hold most of their worldly goods. What are they actually doing? If they pack the thing to its capacity, they are likely to cause significant and permanent spinal deformity that would draw pity from Quasimodo. You cannot convince me it is necessary for the individual who can actually afford the monstrosity to carry everything she owns, unless… maybe that is it. Due to the cost of fashion, the purchaser is no longer able to afford lodgings and is forced to convey their possessions and all necessities with them at all times? Has our world and society become such that all inhabitants should have a bug-out bag with them at all times? Maybe they actually live in there? Now that would be a trick. I might actually take up the habit of carrying some sort of baggage when they manage to harness some sort of mystical force or scientific breakthrough to create Timelord type technology that makes it bigger enough on the inside for me to crawl into it or possibly a bag of holding capable of also serving as my residence. At that point, we can talk. Until then (and without chiropractic services on retainer), I’m pretty certain that I shan’t be able to join the tribe of the giant bags.

Pause… and reflect

I’ve written before about the gap of time between stimulus and response that Victor Frankl called “choice.” In modern society and a world of technology, those moments and fractions of time seem to dwindle to nothingness as we embrace the faster and the quicker and the immediate gratification. The famous line from Jurassic Park comes to mind… “so preoccupied with whether or not [we] could, [we] didn’t stop to think if [we] should.” Now it seems that we have even less time to consider.

I find myself rushing around so fast sometimes that I don’t even notice and fall into a pattern of just doing and choosing with no thought or reflection about alternatives. I know I’m not alone. I see this pattern mirrored all around me by individuals, groups, corporations, and institutions. Recently, in a meeting, I heard a colleague comment that your first thought is what society tells you, and your second is from the person you want to become. That comment really resonated with me, but I took it a bit further. I interpreted it to mean that your first reaction (whether internal or external) in any situation is usually a reflection of what you have been taught or programmed to think by culture and society; the second response that occurs to you is a reflection of the struggle to become: Something more, someone better, someone memorable, or someone important…  The problem for most people is that the time frame to have those two reactions, responses, or thoughts has been drastically decreased… artificially. The instantaneous response expectation has dissolved that window for choice and almost eliminated the opportunity “think again”. So, what does that do to our struggle to become? What room does that leave to strive for better than reaction?

No one wants to halt the tide of progress (or be accused of being the factor that slows it). So, no one wants to say, “Maybe we should take a moment to think…” or “Perhaps we should stop and consider all the options before we make a hasty decision…” So, instead, we rush right along with what seemed-to-be-a-good-idea-at-the-time; only to be followed by a quick brake and reset to try something else when it turns out not to be the best idea. Oh, the time that could be salvaged (and possibly harm avoided) if someone… possibly myself… had taken a moment, quick inventory, and possibly not leaped before looking.

And… rereading, that paragraph sounds really negative and like I am somehow the victim of all this mad, mad, world of faster and “Right NOW!” That is not true at all. I am as much to blame for my chaotic and knee-jerk responses to the world around me as anyone. It is super easy to get caught up in the flow of traffic and find that I’m way beyond a safe pace for me. I am not what I would consider slow, but I’ve found myself more and more reactive instead of responsive, acting on autopilot instead of considerate and conscious decisiveness. That’s a problem.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll tell ya… When I respond, I should do so in my own time, at my own pace, and with consciousness of the choice. When I react, I’m often mindlessly doing something to stop a negative stimulus in my life without any other thought than “MAKE IT BLOODY STOP ALREADY!!!” and occasionally “I have to answer all of these requests NOW or DIE!!!”

So, um… the truth is, I would say that maybe 1 to 5% of the conscious decisions and actions that I’m required to take (excluding commutes by motorized vehicle and crossing the street in heavy traffic) on any given day could result in death. Once upon a time, that number might have been slightly higher, but these days… not so much. So, if I do not actually answer, respond, or act upon requests with immediacy implied by the requester… no one will die. Seriously. Nobody. The people making the requests might not agree, but then, they are stuck in that immediate gratification loop that everything has to be done and done NOW. Chances are that no one will actually be dramatically inconvenienced, despite their prognostications and over-dramatized estimations to the contrary. The other bit about making it stop? Well, that is one of those stimulus response systems that seems to be programmed into humans like classical conditioning. Most parents will recognize it. That voice that becomes a repeated “Mom, Mama, Mommy, Mum, MAAAA!”… in truth the response is not often the wisest or well thought out to this particular prompting, now is it? But that is precisely how my make-it-stop nerve gets overused. Again, I can find other ways of making it stop than giving in, addressing the unnecessarily repetitive prompts, or shooting the subject in question. I can actually ignore it, shut it off, stop reading my email, and put my phone on airplane mode. This might actually not go over so well initially (think what happens when you try to extinguish behavior), but it might also teach others to exercise a bit of patience on their own.

Once upon a time… when someone needed to reach me, they had to call. If I wasn’t there, they had to try again later. Once I had an answerphone, they could leave a message, but they still had to wait for me to call back when I was available. Mobile technology has somehow given everyone the impression that each and every one of us should be available at anytime, anywhere. Vacations, hours of rest, travel times are all no excuse for failure to respond. Well… that shouldn’t be the case. We all need the opportunity to be unavailable, but we also need to be unavailable without the guilt. Yes, I said guilt. Along with this assumption that everyone be available at any time has come this feeling that if we don’t answer (calls, texts, IMs, emails) we will lose out. I’ve actually seen this as an identified and defined phenomenon: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I think that the term is supposed to apply to social context and people with unhealthy attachments to their social media accounts, but it can be more generally applied, I think. We fear that if we don’t respond that a friend will no longer like us, a potential romance will pass us by, a job opportunity will be missed, or (worse) we will get fired.

Why have we gotten to this point? Why do we feel that we consistently have to be the first hand on the buzzer? Why, why, why? And what happened to that momentary space between stimulus and response? In many instances in the rush, rush, rushing of our lives to gratify a stimulus by a response, we fall back on automatic and the first thing that pops into our heads. Sometimes, that might not be so bad… if you are taking a multiple choice standardized test, maybe… The rest of the time, it’s rather awesome to maybe think again. Get a second opinion from a less reflexive self. Challenge that impulse to immediate reaction and try to work towards that better self you wish to become. Instead of rushing to the first response, pause and reflect. You might be more pleased with the results.

2016, goodbye and thanks for all the… well…

What can I say? As most of the denizens of the interwebs would indicate, the last year has been a bit troublesome, dare I say positively devastating in so many ways to so many, many people.

The thing is, it hasn’t been as directly disastrous to myself as it has been to others and a significant blow to famous personae and individuals who have some importance to us for the images and contributions they have made to us as a society. The number of celebrities and creative personalities who have departed this mortal coil has been astounding. I have tried to look at it objectively. I really have. I suspected it was a perception thing. An article in Snopes.com actually questioned whether it really as the deadliest year for celebrities stating that the overall “notable death” count wasn’t so high (of course that article was written with a good 3 days still available to the reapers to do their worst). The Guardian indicated that it was social media that made 2016 seem so very harsh to our beloved celebrities. Time magazine indicated that it wasn’t so much the number but the caliber of individuals… That sounds like a feasible theory. It must be that it was just a matter of my generation, right? In any given year there are probably as many deaths of well-known or dearly loved public figures as have hit us in 2016, right?

But it isn’t just that. The notoriety is a factor, but there really has been a significant number of people lost this year, and not merely those with enough celebrity to garner the mourning of the whole world. Many were taken before their time. Another article I read recently wants to lay the blame entirely at the feet of drugs and alcohol use/abuse. Interesting theory, and yes, I’m sure those elements played their part for some of the dearly departed. However that doesn’t come close to explaining all. Age, accidents, assaults, and disease also made contributions. None of which diminishes the loss of some brilliant people. In an era when more and more people are pushing the century mark due to the advances of science and health, we saw people dying in what might now be considered middle years. These stars of the Hollywood firmament (had to throw in the Singing in the Rain quote for Debbie), the musical performers, the notable spokes people, scientists, journalists, and others were often a huge part of my more formative and somewhat memorable years. We all hate losing our icons, even those with nice long lives, but the ones we lost in this past year were a bit too close to my age… some significantly younger, and that’s hitting a bit too close. Speaking of close… On top of all these losses in the public sphere, the world around me has been on fire… quite literally because for those in the southern states know that we were on fire for quite some time with loss of life and of much property, nothing unfamiliar to those who have suffered in the wildfires of our western states. And I suppose that is my point in a way… We lose a devastating number of people every year. We lose people dear to us, dear to those around us, people who serve and protect, those who have dedicated their lives in one way or another to serve others. That is really the point, isn’t it? Or is it?

For whatever reason, this year has appeared to hit us all, collectively,  with the representatives of things we cherished. We’ve lost idols, icons, crushes, and heroes. That doesn’t diminish the losses that we suffer every day and every year of those in our personal spheres and the unsung and so often faceless heroes that contribute our society and the world by their service, freely given with knowledge of the risk. I think it brings it into more focus. The public figures and celebrities that we lost this year were beacons and provided joy, beauty, and even a sense of hope to each of us (including those who give their lives and service without fanfare). I think that is what is possibly the devastating impact of the public losses we’ve suffered in 2016. They are merely a fraction of the whole, but they’ve taken people we held onto as superlatives and ideals (though some portrayed masterful villains as well), people who used their gifts to transport us to other lands and times, people who used their influence to keep us informed or to push for change… 2016 took our examples and left us struggling to wonder if we mere mortals can make a difference?

But that brings me to something else about this year that those of us still breathing are watching through the end…

There were some decent things that happened in 2016. Focusing on just the losses and negatives is like “watering the weeds…[instead of] watering the flowers and paying attention” according to the founder of Ziva Meditation, Emily Fletcher. I know, you don’t believe me, but it did. I remember times where I laughed, I had times of elation, I heard my loved ones laugh and cheer and be glad. I performed a wedding to join two of my dearest friends. I saw growth and pleasure and happiness. I watched people stand up for each other. I saw people who not a week before had been at each others’ throats with political differences set all that aside to make sure that victims of the fires had food, shelter, and clothing. I spent time with friends. I saw friends accomplish goals and dearest wishes. I even accomplished some of my own goals, believe it or not.

I don’t want my memories of this year to be overwhelmed by the horrible that has happened this year. With all the positive and beautiful, I’ve also seen some incredibly ugly things that have occurred (not the least of which was the way that I saw people treat each other this year… face to face AND virtually).

If I have a hope for the new year, it is that perhaps we can focus more on ourselves…no, wait, it isn’t that sort of focus. I think it is time that we stop blaming an external locus of control for all our ills. It is time to stop blaming each other for something lacking in our own lives. We need to stop the cycle and believe in change for ourselves. I am sincerely hoping that we all examine our own actions and the repercussions. It’s important to realize that all our actions have consequences, and that we all have a choice in how we respond. I know that there are things that happen in this world over which we have zero control, but we always have a choice in how we respond (physically, mentally, emotionally). I want this coming year to be one in which we choose our responses wisely. I would like to see all of us respond rather than react and take a moment to  consider the longer term impact of action.

This year, it has been difficult for me to see over the top of this incredibly large amount of @#$% that has accumulated. That being said, I’m still here… I’m still breathing… I’m still employed and serving in to the best of my abilities (minimal as they may be). These are all things for which I am grateful.

We face a new year. A clean slate to make a new difference. I ask that all of us let go of the negative. I hope that we all can focus forward and stop trying to drive without facing forward but merely staying focused on the rear view. In fact, there is a pretty decent article that can give you some good ideas for how to do just that, focus on positives, on Greatist.com. I hope for the New Year that we can grieve our losses, let go our disappointments, and that we move into 2017 with a focus on building our progress towards a better year. Happy New Year! Goodbye 2016.

Bah Humbug… sorta

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For whatever reason, this year has been more difficult than ever for me to generate what might be considered by some as even minimal holiday spirit. Despite even my conscious efforts to find a spidgen of peace on Earth and goodwill to men, it has been an insurmountable chore. While the street lights and stop lights brink bright red and green, I sincerely want to rush home and hide under an accommodating blanket or possibly a piece of furniture until spring.

What is wrong with me?!? It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I heard them say so. Why don’t I get a glow and feel something akin to cheer? Have I actually turned into the archetype of workaholic miser with a cynical eye to every observed merriment? And what is a humbug anyway?

Well, that one, I actually know. The phrase so glibly thrown about now as a reflection on Dicken’s miserly antihero was apparently a common euphemism of the Victorian era. It meant something silly and not real, something told or used to fool the children and the credulous. It is a con, a hoax, or someone who participates in the same… wait, I think I recognize this…

You know, perhaps I have turned into Ebeneezer as more of my holidays have been filled with thoughts of what I no longer have in place of anticipation of what is to come. Is that why my heart has shrunk three sizes?

As much as I might resist, I have to admit that my thoughts have been a bit more grim this season. I’ve been drawn into ruminations and dread about finances. I want to kick the advertisers who convince the unsuspecting public to spend more than they can afford just to ensure that their loved ones continue to love them. When did we become so focused on spending instead of just giving? When did giving become entirely about your bank account instead of your heart?

In my efforts to get in a more festive mood, I actually thought that watching some of the offered entertainment options might inspire. I found myself becoming more and more disgruntled with the options. As much as I can appreciate the points behind the stories, it still seemed to me that the miracles, changes of heart, and general epiphanies towards goodness involved materialistic concerns. All the stories seemed to revolve around money and buying things or giving things back. It was still about THINGS and the stuff you use to buy THINGS. I get it. Honestly. Most of these tales are trying to show that being a miserly old @#$% leads to bitterness and unhappiness and the season of giving lightens burdens and brightens spirits… and really? It still sounded like you have to either spend money or get money to have all that joy stuff they exhibit accompanied by an orchestra.

I really don’t mean to be a sour puss. I just wanted someone, somewhere to show me that being happy and enjoying the season doesn’t require emptying my bank account or melting my credit cards.

Then I remembered one movie. It was always a favorite of mine: White Christmas. At least in that movie, the gift wasn’t about material goods. It was about getting people together who shared important times in their lives. It was about friends and family having a good time and showing respect for each other. It was about remembering good people and being there for them when they felt they had lost their purpose and usefulness. It was cheesy and sappy and it wasn’t about the most expensive gift. The emphasis was about spending time with the people who matter, not spending money on the stuff that doesn’t. So much of what the holidays bring to me in recent years is memory of people who are no longer here. It seems that as the years go by the gatherings of loved ones dwindle and the responsibilities, obligations, and things pile up.

I sincerely don’t believe that we need things in our lives to be happy or feel loved. I know that there are people out there in the world who don’t have even the bare necessities of living, and that doesn’t only occur once per year. My wish for this holiday season is that maybe, somehow all of us can recapture some of what we’ve have lost over the years. Maybe there can be peace and goodwill to all with enjoyment of what we have rather than a focus on what we want but don’t need. And take that generosity and goodwill with you through the whole year, not just a season. Giving should be something we do all year round, and it shouldn’t be limited to money. Give your time. Give your talent. Take a moment to enjoy those who share your life. Memories last longer than things…

While you were sleeping…

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I get a ridiculous amount of crap done while everyone is in bed. No brag, just fact. I am not by nature what one might call a “morning person.” In fact, I am unlikely to be able to respond in a civil tone or in human language before I’ve had at least two cups of coffee and the sun has passed the yard arm. I will communicate when I must, but I prefer to avoid all interaction that might require civility.

That being said, I am usually awake and conscious at what might be considered a very early hour. I usually wake up before my alarm (which is set for 6:00AM on work days). My eyes will generally fly open around 5:00AM or 5:30AM. While a part of me is significantly resentful of my internal clock that insists upon robbing me of 30 minutes to a full hour of time that I might otherwise have spent slumbering away before being dragged from somnolence by the blaring klaxon of my alarm (yes, it actually does sound like that), I’ve gotten used to it. Instead of resentment or anger, I have chosen to approach this particular facet of my biology with resignation and use the time accordingly.

So, up I am at the butt-crack of dawn. If I am feeling more tired or irritable, I may use the additional moments before the alarm to meditate (either on my own or using my guided meditation app). More frequently as of late, I have chosen to go ahead and remove myself from the bed clothes and get kitted out for my gym time and run. I take some additional moments to drink a cup of coffee and boot up the computer. Then, I go ahead and get in the workout. Returning home, I shower, get more coffee and maybe something to eat, and I dive into my day.

For weekdays, this involves going through email (reading and responding), reading up on various reports, news stories, and starting to run the productivity and affordability reports for which I am responsible. On weekends, the routine is similar but often includes writing projects, bill paying, and any correspondence not involved with job #1. Some days during the weekend, there may be clients, and some weekends, there are other activities like camping. However, between the hours of approximately 7:00AM and 10:30 or 11:00AM are the most productive of even my very long days.

I usually feel very accomplished during these early morning hours. The rest of my day whether during the week or the weekend, I feel as though I spin my wheels but find absolutely no purchase. Why?

Well, it seems that I have something that many parents have found to be true. The only time to get anything done is when the rest of the world is asleep. From the moment that others in my life become conscious and aware of my own presence (this includes the demonic feline that shares my living space), I am besieged with questions, comments, pleas, and requests. I spend the majority of the time putting out seemingly unending numbers of metaphorical fires (although there have been some actual ones as well) with the equivalent of a tiny kitchen extinguisher. I run hither and thither virtually or actually trying to patch and stitch the many levels of my responsibilities together, and by the end of the day, any projects or things that needed doing that did not get done before someone noticed I was there… well, there they sit at the end of the day waiting for me to have the quiet and repose to address the myriad of tasks.

I cannot blame it entirely upon the pings, rings, and meetings. I have to take some responsibility for the productivity variants myself. I am a victim of the “But First…” disorder as well. So, despite my best efforts, I do get distracted by the shiny squirrels dancing in my workspace and sometimes find it incredibly difficult to finish a sentence, let alone an actual task or project. You would think that the shiny squirrels would not necessarily be constrained by the time schedules of my daily routine, but for some reason, it seems they are not early risers. So, from the real and the imaginary distractions, I am free to pursue my list of things that must be done without distracting escapades so long as I do so while I am alone and in the early hours of the day.

Why wouldn’t this be the same with perhaps the hours after people go to sleep? I honestly do not know. It is possible that I could be as productive post bedtime routine as I am in the pre-dawn glow of day. I know that for many parents of toddlers and even older children, this is true. However, it does not work that way for me. The late night is not as productive as the early morning because my brain wants to shut down. After a full day of corralling the shiny squirrels and putting out the metaphorical (or literal) fires of the day, my brain often decides that it has had enough of the productivity and deserts me entirely. Thus, trying to stay up late (as I once did during my higher education days) to accomplish tasks that were pushed off during the day generally results in poor progress towards my productivity goals.

I suppose the title of this rambling examination of my activity and attempts to be productive is a misnomer. I suspect that there are many other humans out there who are, in fact, not asleep during my more productive hours. They, like me, may also be less than happy to interact without sufficient time to caffeinate or participate in morning rituals. For whatever reason, I am remarkably grateful for the time (regardless the cause) when others appear to be still in hibernation so that I have opportunity to attack my mental and physical agendas for the day. If it were not for that window of opportunity each day, it is likely I would never get anything done.

The Mirror and the Scale

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Social media has gotten on a kick of traipsing down memory lane… whether you wanted to be reminded or not. However, just the other day, a friend posted a picture of herself from a few years ago on her social media page. It was not even that many years ago that the picture was taken, but her own comment was “I wish I felt that pretty again.” The post sparked a number of rebuttals from her friends and family to say she was still remarkably beautiful. I was one of the contributors, and it prompted a conversation between her and me about the self-image downswing that we were mutually experiencing.

Like it or not, the majority of individuals in western society are consistently comparing ourselves to an arbitrary image set forth as ideal beauty. Whether you are male or female, young or old, chances are that you have at some point in your life fallen prey to the superficial grading system imposed by public assumptions of what is attractive. It isn’t anything new. This stuff has been going on for decades, centuries, hell… probably millennia. I expect that if someone invents time travel, we can take a trip back to the stone age where we will watch as Og or Una looks at their gender rivals and thinks, “You know, I wish I had a heavy brow and back hair like Erm,” or “Wonder how she gets her hair to mat like that?” It is something to do with competition for resources and mates. We want to look our best and most attractive to make sure that we get more hubba-hubba from our chosen ones than the next individual of the species.

And no… I may be oversimplifying, but we don’t develop these ideas about our own appearance just because we want to stare at ourselves in a reflective surface… well, at least most of us don’t. Even our internal opinions of worth and attractiveness originate from some sort of external input and observation. While we may embrace the idea of looking good for ourselves, the ideas we have of what looks good are still sadly over influenced by the collective opinion of society. The good part about that is that it tends to evolve and change itself. The bad part is that society hasn’t always reflected health and wellness as beauty.

For instance, the ideal beauty image of 19th century fashion in Western Europe involved looking consumptive. I’m serious. There was a fashion and beauty trend of the time where women tried to appear as if they had tuberculosis. Not so much the coughing up blood bit, but they would exaggerate pallor and wasting physique and spots of color in the face… Yep, sure enough, what was thought to be lovely was actually symptomatic of pulmonary contagion. What fun! Let’s not stop there. To swing the entire opposite direction, we can visit the 20th century and the tan generations. People worked very hard and exposed themselves to extended quantities of UVA and UVB to achieve the golden and darkened skin tones found to be attractive from the 1950’s through 1980’s. We’ve all seen how that turned out for some of the rich, Corinthian leather types, at least those who managed to narrowly avoid melanoma. Finally around the 1990’s people started heeding the advice of dermatologists and respecting their natural skin tones enough to invest in sunblock and avoid over tanning.

No matter what the trend or the evolution of image ideal, we all risk that day when we look in the mirror and think “What the hell happened?” It is the natural consequence of living a full life. We age. We change. And yet, our society still wants to tell us that the only way to stay beautiful is to stay young. In truth, some of us are gifted in that department. Genetics and self-care can be seen on some people as a fountain of youth. They do not appear to be ravaged by time, while the rest of us note every line and crease and bulge and dimple that changes the surface and circumference of our physical form. For others, medical science has provided various options to attempt to turn back the clock.

I cannot tell you the number of times that I have looked up into the bathroom mirror to be startled by the middle-aged (or old) woman that looks back at me. Why am I startled? I know precisely how many times I’ve made the trip round the sun. I understand how time and biology (and gravity) work on the body to result in certain effects. I know precisely how much sleep I did not get the previous night. Knowing how it all works and knowing my own age has not changed the impact of seeing it reflected in the mirror on upon other measurement devices like my bathroom scale. In my mind, I’m still supposed to have the physique of that 25 year old (who, despite all evidence to the contrary, also felt herself to be ugly and falling far short of the “ideal” of the era). I see the extra bulge here, the dimpled skin there, the uneven complexion due to hormonal changes of pregnancy and age (and yes, too much sun), the lines on the face… and I’m appalled. Who is that? That isn’t the image I have of myself in my mind!

Fight as I might against the idea of succumbing to social pressure, I have still absorbed all the unnatural expectations that say I must be thin, athletic with perfect skin and hair, looking like the models I see in clothing, lingerie, and fitness adverts whether it bears any resemblance to my own genetics or not. Anything else falls short of that ideal and must mean that I am no longer even passably tolerable to look upon… and I want to run and hide.

Usually with a little bit of effort and sufficient time away from the offending reflective surface, common sense and humor return. I look my age. I should be pleased to do so. It marks me as a victor at least in some aspect of the war with time and element. I’m still here. I’m also in decent shape (decent meaning that I’m still motivating under my own steam and without an entire pharmacy to keep me so). I could possibly take better care of myself. Who couldn’t these days?!? I could pay more attention to my diet, my fitness routine, my sleep schedule… So, why haven’t I done so? Was it because I gave so little value to that 25 year old that she deteriorated from neglect? Maybe. Perhaps if I had seen then what I now appreciate I would have retained some part of her to be visible now?

Again, that is just silliness on my part. Each of us can be happy with who we are by accepting that it is all part of normal growth and evolution. Does it help to make healthy choices and occasionally pamper ourselves? Sure it does. One of the most beautiful ladies I ever met was about 98 years old when I was called in to see her in the emergency room. She was genuinely the loveliest woman I had seen. Her hair was perfect, silvery white and still very thick. Her skin was not without lines, but was clear and a beautiful cream. Her eyes were bright hazel like light on water with very mischievous twinkles, and she had also had her nails done that day in a shocking pink tone that most nonagenarians would never have chosen. I won’t go into the reasons I was there to see her. I just recall being stunned by her beauty and thinking to myself that I would never be so lucky to arrive at those year with that much stunning loveliness. In my reverie, I heard her say, “You know, gal, you are very pretty.” My immediate response was to think, No I’m not. I masked it quickly, but the lady was too quick. She said, “You were about to contradict me. Don’t you do it. I don’t say things that aren’t true. So, don’t pull some sort of false modesty bullshit with me. Stand up and accept it.” Whereupon I realized that the twinkle in her eye was no lie, and I laughed. I had to. She had called me out on my southern upbringing and lack of self-esteem. So, against all that self-defacing programming, I thanked her and proceeded with her exam. I still didn’t believe her, but that was ok.

That lady had made me think. I wondered if she recognized her own beauty or if when she looked in the mirror she merely compared herself to what was likely the stunner she was as a young woman. I hope she saw the truth at every age. I hope she recognized the image in the mirror for the loveliness it was, and I hope that at some point I can look at the reflection in my own glass and appreciate what is there without weighing the present image in the scale against a past that is gone.

 

Physical Fit: Surviving the Holidays without Losing My Mind or All My Willpower

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It is that time again… Well, it is that time for me again. Starting in the first days of air getting crisper, sweaters and hoodies making their appearances all over, and the epidemic of pumpkin everything, I start to feel that budding anxious feeling of pounds creeping back onto my body. My email is full of “The 7 Ways to avoid Holiday Weight Gain…” and “Follow these 17 Simple Rules to Avoid All Happiness this Season but at Least You Won’t Gain 50 Pounds Before New Year’s…” I can feel the panic and guilt sliding into my mind.

It’s true. Many a willpower has fallen before an overflowing display of favorite holiday treats and fountains of celebratory beverage. Even when I am being my most cautious and careful, I’m pretty sure that the increased caloric volume of the actual air is working against me. Every year, I promise myself that I can and will resist the holidays and their overabundance of tasty goodness. I will resist the urge to snuggle up before fire instead of getting out for my run and workout routine. Yet, I hear the fallen angel on my shoulder whispering softly things like, “It’s just once a year…” or “It’s the holidays. That negates calories and fat…” Um… yeah, get thee behind me betrayer! And so goes my struggle, much as the rest of the world. So, at least I know I am not alone. How do I know?

Well, as it happens, I read. A lot. Sometimes I even read for pure enjoyment without any graphs or statistics or comparison studies… Unfortunately, I read a lot of incredibly dry (at least to some opinions) scientific journal type articles and medical journals. Thanks to my (incredibly) pedantic reading choices, I actually came across an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that clearly defined exactly how much of a detriment that the Eat-All-The-Things season is to our health, wellbeing, and bathing suits.

Turns out, instead of setting our resolutions for better fitness and health with the clock restarting at December 31st, we should be thinking about bettering our habits starting at the end of September (Helander, Wnsink, & Chieh, 2016). According to the scientists who made a study of weight gain during the holiday season in three countries in the northern hemisphere, people are at their lowest weight during early October. Starting sometime before All Hallow’s Eve, the weight starts to increase and the average does not appear to get back to the pre-TrickorTreat days until sometime in April. The highest weigh-in on average was New Year’s Day. So, it seems that people above the equator start packing on the pounds (as much as 5 additional pounds on average) when the bulk candy starts hitting the aisles and doesn’t start depleting until Gym-crowding Month (or Gym-tending Season).

Makes you wonder… Is it just the availability of the sugary sweets and sugar plums dancing? Maybe not. There are a number of contributing factors that seem to be in play. Aside from the candy, cookies, and pies, there are multiple opportunities for celebration that surround gorge-fest food extravaganzas. It isn’t just the sweet-teeth out there that are in danger. Turkey and dressing with all the accompanying starchy sides make Thanksgiving a quagmire of dietary ruin. The unending calendar of holiday gatherings with all the favored seasonal treats beckons. Every time you turn around, people are getting together to celebrate the season, and it usually involves munchies… and drinks. Yep, that’s a definite part of the equation, specifically the equation that keeps adding numbers to the scale. Alcohol consumption definitely adds to the caloric intake. Egg nog, holiday punch, mulled wines and meads, and celebratory champagne toasts are everywhere you turn.

Then, there is the weather. It is dark later and gets dark earlier (remember, we are talking about the northern hemisphere). It’s harder to get out in the dark and cold for that early morning workout, and the cool and dark of the evenings make working out at the gym or a run less appealing than being home in front of a fire with snuggly clothes, a book, and some warm mug of your choice. And speaking of temperatures, the fashion options aren’t helping matters. Big fluffy hoodies and slouchy sweaters hide a plethora of inconvenient waistline issues. The beach-ready body that was shown off with form fitting styles and skin-baring swimwear is now safely camouflaged by woolen knits and multiple layers. “I’m not fat… I’m big sweatered.” I’m not body-shaming anyone, and some of those cooler weather styles are just legitimately adorable. However, it does make it that much easier to lose sight of our health goals as well as those waistline goals we’ve been working towards so diligently when they were more visible. (It does make me wonder if a follow up study could be done to see what the trend is for the folks Downunder.)

And now for the feels… Who are my emotional eaters out there? I can sense my people. I know that you are waving at me across the ether… or else hiding under your keyboards with your hoard of stashed Reese’s Cups saying “Nothing to see here! Move along!” The point is, I totally get it. My emotional eating isn’t depression or sadness, it is boredom and stress. Unlike some who soothe the wounds with pints… quarts… ok, gallons of Ben & Jerry’s, I am more likely to go reaching in the larder and fridge for the cure to the stress monkey hanging on my back. I’ve talked about my boredom eating previously, but I shall now propose a different scenario. The hordes of holiday visitors have landed upon the shores of the abode. Is the house ready? Is the food prepared? Is it the right food? Are there sufficient items for all, including the allergies and medical restrictions? Are you preparing that dish that is a family heirloom quite the way the ancestors prescribed…? You get the idea. All the thoughts are currently perking, bubbling, boiling, and smoking inside my cranium making the peace and good cheer… well, not so much. Rampaging around the kitchen and house trying to address all the imagined fires popping up, my hand sneaks out to grab a crisp or a spoonful of some concoction or possibly a chocolate whatnot. I mean, I have to taste it to make sure it is all right… right? Well, the occasional bite and crisp becomes mindless hand to mouth exercise that increases my food intake by an unknown amount because it was precisely that… mindless. I didn’t actually pay attention. Heck, I probably didn’t even taste it. And while we are in the kitchen trying to prepare the feast often with unsolicited advice or critique from helpful others, it might not be so unusual to find a shot, a glass… a second bottle of various liquid remedy being imbibed. It’s the holidays. Just trying to keep the peace here! The point being, aside from the added calories, stress doesn’t help when we are trying to keep the figure and fitness we achieved pre-Labor Day. On top of which, the addition of the happy sauce sometimes clouds us to the amount of food we are washing down with the cocktail(s).

So, those are the struggles. What are the fixes? I’ve read a lot on that as well. Summarizing some of the most helpful tips would be one word: Mindfulness. Mainly, be aware of what you are doing and be present in the moment. That will help a lot of the automatic feeding. Most of the experts say to indulge (not overindulge) in your favorites, but leave off on the holiday dishes that generally are a “Meh” for you. It isn’t necessary to eat everything. One of the no-brainers that I know I am guilty of myself is the “saving myself for” syndrome. Knowing I have a party, get-together, or buffet of treats on the horizon, I find myself skipping meals to save the calories for the goodies. The problem with that would be that I’m so ravenous by the time I get to the feast that I eat way more of everything than I would have otherwise. Better to maintain a nice balanced and healthy feeding schedule.

Watch the cocktails. Seriously, there are way more calories consumed in our celebration shots than we give credit. Remembering to rotate non-alcoholic beverages, water, or seltzer for a happy fizz will help decrease the amount of booze calories without pooping on the party.

The stress eating and drinking… this is my big one, and I have a couple of big allies to help on this one. First of all, keeping a decent sleep schedule despite the parties is a big one. With packed schedules and various obligations hitting at the end of the year, it is sometimes more difficult than usual to catch the Zzzz’s, but I know that I am trying to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and follow the good sleep hygiene habits I’ve worked on this year. I am hopeful that will help me keep on track. And, of course, my physical fit… While my workout routines and running have been fueled by a desire to be less horrifying when naked, I have found that the physical activity (specifically the aerobic portion) also keeps me sane and less at risk of dissolving into a fanged she-beast ready to bite the heads off unsuspecting family and friends. I know, there are those of you out there saying “If I had to run a mile, something better be about to bite me…” but I promise there is science behind my madness. It turns out that several studies have been done showing that aerobic exercise increases brain activity, specifically of the alpha wave variety (Bergland, 2015; Crabbe & Dischman, 2004; Gutmann, et al., 2015). In fact, during and immediately after aerobic exercise (the kind where you breathe harder and your heart rate goes up) alpha wave activity significantly increases, much like meditation. So what? It turns out that this particular type of brain activity is what happens when we are in idle, drifting, daydreaming, or meditating. The impact on creativity has been shown in studies as well as the use of this type of thought pattern in treating anxiety and depression. Voila! I brought it back to the point without flying off planet. Keeping up with your exercise routine with some aerobic activity involved can help with holiday blues or seasonal angst. Meditation is all well and good, but when you have the house full of people, running (quite literally) away might be more effective than trying to find alone time to get in some “Ohms.”

delicious-how-grinch-stole-christmasI think I have a game plan, now. At least I have a fair assortment of options and strategies to help me get through the season. Actually, if I rope in a few teammates and coaches to remind me when I start wandering off the path, I should get through fairly unscathed. Enjoy your holidays!

 

Bergland, C. (2015). Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

Crabbe, J., & Dischman, R. (2004). Brain electrocortical activity during and after exercise: A quantitative synthesis. Psychophysiology, 41(4), 563-574. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8986.2004.00176.x

Gutmann, B., Mierau, A., Hülsdünker, T., Hildebrand, C., Przyklenk, A., Hollmann, W., & Strüder, H. K. (2015). Effects of Physical Exercise on Individual Resting State EEG Alpha Peak Frequency. Neural Plasticity, 2015, 717312. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/717312

Helander, E., Wansink, B., & Chieh, A. (2016). Weight gain over the holidays in three countries. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(12). Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc1602012

A blog about a few thing I picked up along the way… Hey driver, where are we going?!?