Confessions of the Over-utilized, Queen of the List-makers

I have a confession. I have a touch of the obsessive-compulsive traits. Most of the people who know me are now screaming out, “A touch?!?” Yes, a touch. I know that it is just a touch because I don’t break out in hives walking in my own very messy house. I can actually reside with the man I married who never seems to notice the clutter that to me looks like an audition for an episode of Hoarders. Also, as a psychologist, I know I don’t actually meet the criteria. I don’t have rigid rituals or counting or irrational unbidden thoughts of doom if I don’t complete those rituals.
So, I don’t have the full blown disorder, and while I am a control freak of the highest honor, I am not going to melt down if someone goes through the house making every picture crooked. No, that is not a challenge! However, in the last year or so, I have developed at least one ritual that intrigues and even concerns me a bit, if I’m completely honest with myself.

I’ve started making lists. I don’t mean the shopping list, or the going-to-the-store-don’t-want-to-forget-the-one-thing-I-actually-needed list. I mean lists for tasks, lists for packing, lists for work, for after work, for vacation, lists for the day, the week, the next trip, and the next six months. Yeah, I admit it. I’m a little worried. At one point, it was genuinely just a way for me to make sure I didn’t forget to do important things, especially during the health crisis of the last year. However… it has become something more.

It may be that my life has quite literally developed way more irons in the fire than any one person can technically manage. On any given day, I have too many tasks, too many things to worry about, and way too many places I’m supposed to be at any given time. I know this. And, it most definitely calls to mind other articles I’ve read and advice from other people about simplifying my life and learning to say “No,” but that might be a bit advanced for me at this point. The overall outcome to the plate spinning and balls in the air is that I’m always afraid that they are going to all come crashing to the ground in a gloriously, unholy mess. The result is that I get anxious, very anxious… occasionally finding myself holding my breath without realizing it. I do all the normal, healthy things for this. I use my belly breathing techniques that I use with trauma victims and clients with anxiety. I use the yoga and mindfulness techniques that I have learned from Mary NurrieStearns (awesome lady, by the way). I focus on my breathing and the sensation of my feet on the floor and my ass in my chair… and it works… for approximately 10 minutes. It isn’t that the techniques aren’t good. It is that my brain is ruminating and still processing all the things that I need to do, and it is in a muddle and swirling around, and very unlike the clouds passing (Another Mary technique), they buzz around in my head like a swarm of angry yellow jackets.

So, I succumb to what has become my most reliable coping mechanism. I start making lists. Like magic, the anxiety dissipates. Now, in this world of technology, smart phones, personal planners, smart watches, electronic assistants (Siri hates me), wearable technology, and every other means of keeping us on time for our very busy lives, you would probably think that I’ve got it all on my phone ready to notify me of every upcoming meeting and missed appointment. Nope. Not this time.

Our electronic babysitters are actually contributing factors in my occasionally overwhelming angst. My phone pings, my computer pings, my alarms go off… hell, the car even yells at me for seatbelts and fuel. The point being? I fluctuate between tuning out the pings, beeps, pongs, and boits… OR I jump out of my hide for every blessed one of them. Either way, it isn’t particularly helpful to my anxiety levels, stress, or me actually not forgetting any of my obligations. There is also something just amazingly therapeutic to writing out a list of things that have to be done and crossing them off… sometimes like Zoro with a rapier! It helps to write my tasks out where I can see them. It takes them out of the buzzing cloud in my head and makes them physically present in the world in front of me. I can actually look at them and assign different priorities or deadlines. When I actually do the task, I can cross it out, or I can erase it on a dry erase. (But I have to tell you, there is something much more satisfying about crossing it out.) My typical habit is to start out the week with a list of tasks. Some of them are actually tasks that I do every single week, and technically, I shouldn’t need to write them down to remember them. They are almost habit, but I put them on the list first thing on Monday morning anyway. Throughout the week I cross accomplished ones off, and others get added as fires crop up to be addressed in my work/life balance. When I get to the end of the week and there are a few tasks still there, they move to the top of the list for the next week and so it goes.

Maybe it isn’t so bad. So far, I haven’t gotten into the quagmire of ruminating and circling the same tasks that rotate from week to week without ever being crossed off. It works for me… so far. It helps me stave off the overwhelming urge to run away and join the circus… so far. It hasn’t let me forget anything really important… so far.

So far… so good. I guess I will go ahead and accept my coronation as Queen of the List-Makers.


Physical Fit: Surviving Vacation


Seems like an odd title, really. I mean, who doesn’t survive vacation? Ok, yes, I know there are accidents and extreme sport enthusiasts and of course those types with debatable intellect and common sense who think they are Grizzly Adams and decide to go walkabout with absolutely no actually survival skills. Other than that, though, for the majority of us who generally just take a few days or a week to not work and get away from the every day grind… that’s who I’m  talking about. Yeah… those of us who plan a break and go to a beach or other chosen location for the purposes of relaxation, typically, we don’t have to think about surviving the experience. We just enjoy it.

However, from the perspective of someone who is still struggling with the whole fitness and healthy living aspects, it is a different matter. Anxiety about losing ground in strength or endurance progress, gaining weight due to overindulgence, and other setbacks can prey on the mind and throw a wrench in anyone’s fitness routine.

This year, I decided to approach things a little differently. As a part of the anticipatory goodness of pre-vacation planning, I reached out to friends and fitness partners prior to my departure to ask them for their favorite tips, tricks, and advice for staying on track while still enjoying vacation. Here are the common themes:

  • Incorporate physical activity in the fun (walk, hike, canoe, swim, etc.)
  • Choose healthy food snacks.
  • Stick with normal eating routines.
  • Do not eliminate favorite vacation meals (restaurants, favorite foods, etc.), just be reasonable and balance workouts with expected caloric increase.
  • Work out early in the day.
  • Eat clean, especially breakfast, and incorporate protein and shakes or smoothies.
  • For hotel living, try to choose someplace with kitchenette (more control over what you eat and cheaper).
  • Keep the indulgence in adult beverage moderate.
  • Drink water. Stay hydrated.

People had great ideas for specifics in following these common threads, too. I thought about it all and realized that the enjoyment factor is especially important for any fitness regimen. It’s all well and good to lose weight, firm up, get stronger, feel better, but if you are miserable because you have denied yourself everything you love all the time, it will never become a lifestyle. That’s how yo-yo diets and weight gain-loss issues are born. Resenting or feeling like you missed out on something will eventually betray you and so the program falls by the wayside.

As it happens, I’m one of those people who have struggled with weight loss-gain pendulums and it has probably damaged my metabolism beyond repair at my age. So, I try to set goals of a different sort for myself than the typical “lose weight” or “fit in to size X, Y, or Z by the holidays.” It just isn’t feasible for me at this point(without surgery anyhow). However, I can have personal goals, such as improving my time per mile and endurance. I can become stronger. And if it just so happens that my pants fit a little looser (or just fit… wouldn’t that be nice?) and my arms stop waving when I do, all the better!

I’m a vacation anomaly in a lot of ways, though. For all that I love sitting on a beach with a beverage and a book and doing absolutely nothing else, I usually lose weight on vacation. Yep, you read that correctly. I generally shed a few unwanted pounds of adipose while I am sitting on my ass doing nothing. Sometimes, this is not necessarily a good thing.

Years ago, when I would make my pilgrimage to the ocean to gaze upon the waves and commune with the creatures thereof, I spent the majority of my time sleeping, reading, eating, drinking, and occasionally dipping in the ocean to cool off. This doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a week. However, I didn’t really have a lot of activity. Also, while I did eat, I would usually skip breakfast and lunch and then overindulge with dinner. Alarmed at my increasing girth at one point, I changed tactics and restricted my food intake, meaning I limited my caloric intake on dinner and continued to blithely indulge in copious tropical drinks. I actually lost quite a bit of weight, but I had all of the muscle tone of a jellyfish.

Needless to say, my horrible habits of calorie watching and restricting led to about a decade and a half of bouncing all over the scale and never being able to maintain healthy weight loss. However, regardless of my average weight shifting about everywhere, I had always lost a couple of pounds during my sojourn at the seaside. The prodigal pounds generally returned and brought friends later, and having the muscle tone of an invertebrate doesn’t actually fulfill the criteria of health even at my lowest actual weigh-in (what my friend calls “skinny-fat”).

Last year, I changed gears entirely, choosing to incorporate a more active approach to my vacation lifestyle. At the time, I had a goal to run one mile on the beach. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it was sort of a “bucket list” item, and running was nothing I ever thought I would do with any frequency or endurance. Well, run I did. It worked out pretty well, actually.

This year, the pattern continued with some improvements (partially based upon my kind contributors’ tips and advice). Every morning, I get up and run on the beach. I’ve stopped clocking the miles as much, but I just tried to stick to my most recent time goals of 40 minutes. Now, for those of you who have experienced running in loose or slightly packed sand, you understand that this is not going to give me the fastest mile. It does, however, identify muscles I never consciously experienced before, and it cuts my distance approximately in half. True story. Doing my run first thing in the morning did about three things: It got me moving and my workout done early; it allowed me to exercise without positively roasting in the sun and dying of heat prostration, and it gave me the opportunity to see a lot of cool things (like baby turtles struggling to the sea and sunrises each day).

We’ve always had a kitchen in our place where we stay every year. It’s small, and by no means the most modern or professional set up, but it suffices. I actually enjoy cooking when I am not also trying to work a 40-80 hour work week. This year, I planned a full week menu. It wasn’t bad, if I say so myself. It included things like feta-brined chicken with spinach Florentine and braised carrots; Andouille sausage with melon and potato gnocchi; sirloin with balsamic glaze and peaches with harvest mushroom and zucchini rice…  Are y’all hungry yet? Planning my menu was not only fun, but it allowed me to try and create new things that I might actually repeat at home. Obviously, dinner is only one meal of the day.

After my run, there is (as always) coffee, but I also included poached eggs. I’m working on my macronutrients (maybe a post later about that… when I wrap my head around it better), and I was not getting nearly enough protein in my diet. So, poached eggs helped make sure I was getting in some protein first thing. I will say that my habits are not changed nearly enough to go inside for lunch once I’m out on the beach, but this year I took my Herbalife shake or beverage drink to give me some protein during the day, too, instead of skipping and being starved at night leading me to overeat.

Sleep is something that is overlooked as a vacation staple. And I can hear what you are saying, “Why do you need to worry about sleep on vacation? Isn’t that what everyone does on vacation?!?” Well… no. Without the dread of the alarm clock jarring me into wakefulness on a daily basis, I tend to stay up way to late reading, playing games on my phone, watching Sharknado (no… scratch that, I will never watch that movie again or any of the sequels). I made a concerted effort this year to keep a decent sleep schedule (sans background TV). It made the early morning waking more natural and reset my circadian rhythm to something approaching healthy.

So… All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how I managed myself on vacation this year. I do not believe I fell off track, or if I did, it wasn’t so far that I’m struggling to get back. I expect that there will be a little bit of transition to go back to running with hard pavement or elliptical pedals beneath my feet instead of sand and a bit of recovery on my strength training since I didn’t do a lot of weight lifting while on holiday. All in all, though, I am hoping that I’ve not lost a lot of ground. Am I ready to go back to the grind? Oh, hell no. But that is an entirely different matter.