simplifying · self-care

Death To My To-Do List

You know how some people are organized and efficient? They are planners. They’re the ones who check the movie times when they’re going to a movie with friends. They’re the ones that check ahead of time to make sure you don’t need a reservation at the restaurant for dinner.

Yeah – I am not one of those people. I never have been, and I doubt I ever will be.

My favorite way to go through life is as the willing, flexible, and laid-back participant in a group of people that includes a planner, such as the kind of person described above. I am a grateful and always-willing-to-help participant – but I’m not the best candidate to be in charge of the details of an event. First of all, I’m not great at managing said details, and secondly, I HATE IT SO MUCH.

Ugh. I really do!

But, as an adult, I find myself having to plan more and more. First of all, after years of living in group housing with fun friends all around me, I am now (and have been for several years) living in my own house, just me and Tamara and Edgar. In 2008, I lived in a big building in the middle of the woods with eight amazing, fun, and like-minded roommates. Every night was a party and it required no planning whatsoever, because everyone was just THERE.

Now, I have to make plans if I want to see friends. And it works…okay. I still miss the convenience of having friends right next door, where fun could be had spontaneously and with little to no planning.

In addition to the planning my social life requires, there’s just – ugh – so much adulting to be done. And that’s where my to-do list comes in.

I constantly feel overwhelmed by my to-do list. One of my Summer Sabbatical goals is to finish every single item on my list so that I can start fresh in the fall, with literally EVERYTHING in my life taken care of. I don’t know if I’ll meet this goal, and I am okay with that. I want to enjoy this time, and get writing done, and spend time with Edgar – those things are more important to me than a to-do list.

AND YET IT PLAGUES ME. I’ve been daydreaming lately about ways to kill my to-do list forever. My train of thought starts with a conversation I had with a co-worker a few years ago.

This particular co-worker always, always, always responded to every e-mail and request immediately. If I asked her to “when you have a second” check on a note for me, I’d get my answer back within twenty minutes. I always thanked her profusely, but also let her know that I usually don’t require that quick of a response time.

“Oh, it’s no problem. I just do things right away so I won’t forget to do it,” she explained.

I had probably heard people say something similar to this before. But at this moment in my life, I was brainstorming about ways to be more efficient, and this really hit home for me. I’m a great employee and I’m a reliable person, but I am constantly afraid that I am going to forget to do things. I realized that if I did what this girl did – if I did everything that was asked of me right away – then I wouldn’t have to worry at all about remembering. Everything would just be done. (Gretchen Rubin calls this the one-minute rule – if you can do it in a minute, then do it right now.)

It occurred to me that if I could do this – if I followed a policy of doing things right away – then it is possible that someday, I would never need a to-do list. Instead of writing an item on my to-do list, I would just take care of it. No list needed.

This was eye-opening for me. Was that why some people seemed less stressed than me? Were they not constantly carrying the weight of a to-do list a mile long? It also explained why some people get so aggravated when they have a task they can’t complete because they’re waiting on info from someone else. They’re not used to having uncompleted tasks – so that low buzz of anxiety my to-do list causes me starts screaming in their ears.

I’ve never been able to fully put this into practice, and I’m okay with that, especially when it comes to work. I am a therapist who works with kids; I’m never going to prioritize responding to an e-mail over a child’s need to talk about a problem. And at home, I want to prioritize writing time and family time over my to-do list. However, lately I am finding myself completing tasks quickly and immediately whenever I can, mainly because I don’t want to add another item to my to-do list. I want the list to get shorter, not longer. It feels amazing. Here’s hoping I can keep it up!

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balance · self-care

Three Cheers For Fresh Starts

I love fresh starts. This is a good thing – but it’s also something I have to be mindful about as I make decisions about my life.

I like fresh starts because I like being able to start with a blank slate. I like to use a fresh start as an opportunity to form new habits. I like fresh starts because I enjoy growth and novelty.  I like meeting new people, and I like the optimism and energy I feel when I’m getting ready to start something new.

HOWEVER.

Sometimes, I love fresh starts so much that I would rather start something brand-new than make adjustments to my current situation.  Sometimes, I love fresh starts so much that I want to throw away something that really only needs some repairs so that I can buy something new.  Sometimes, I want a fresh start because I want everything to be perfect, because I believe that perfection is attainable and I think that if I have a new opportunity to start fresh, then I will be able to make everything perfect.

See? There’s some benefit, but there’s also a lot I need to be aware of. Because I don’t want to pull the trigger and engage in a fresh start when it’s not the right thing to do.

I had to wrestle with this a lot over the course of the past year while I was looking for a new job. I was pretty desperate to find a job that was a better fit, and I also really wanted a chance for a blank slate somewhere new. I had to seek out opportunities but remain patient until the right opportunity presented itself. That was really difficult.

Now that I have my fresh start, I’m excited to have the blank slate I was hoping for – a chance to form new habits and to set some work-related intentions.

These are the intentions I’d like to set for my new job:

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  1. Work hard. When I feel engaged and committed, I am an extremely hard worker. I am hoping that my new position will line up well with my strengths so that I can work hard and well.
  2. Be Kerriann. It can be really hard to remember this at work. There are so many expectations placed on me – placed on all of us, I imagine! I am often expected to know the answers, to be an ‘expert.’ But my field is mental health – a field that is full of nuance and ambiguity. Every single situation is different. I’d like to start out at this new job being honest and real – I’d like to be me rather than trying to be the perfect and all-knowing mental health professional.
  3. Be honest. It’s not that I lie at work – but I do get caught up in people-pleasing and chit-chat in ways that don’t feel authentic and honest. I want to be honest about who I am, what I know, what I do, and how I live.
  4. Don’t carry what is not yours to carry. This is something I do. If someone else is upset, I get upset. If someone is stressed, I get stressed. I don’t do this with clients, but I definitely do it with co-workers and with the parents of clients. And I’d like to use this fresh start as a time to change this habit. The only things I need to carry on my shoulders are my own worries and Edgar’s worries;everything else is for others to carry themselves.

Cheers to new jobs and fresh starts!

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mindfulness · self-care

Math Woes

When I’m not happy with my life, I start doing math.

This is not a coping skill; it’s a sign that things are not going well.

For example – years ago, I lived in Staten Island, NY, and I commuted to the Lower East Side in Manhattan every day for work. It was the longest commute I’ve ever had. First I walked to the Staten Island Railroad. Then I rode the train to the ferry. I rode the ferry to Manhattan, got off, and then hopped on a bus, which took me to the Lowest East Side. I then walked 15 minutes to get to my office.

OH. MY. GOSH.

It was terrible.

It honestly didn’t feel weird at the time. Many people who live in New York are used to that kind of commute. But I absolutely hated it, and I think that had more to do with my overall state of mind at the time than the commute itself.

That was a really rough year for me. My dad had died about a year earlier, and I had come home from living abroad to live with my mother and work in New York. I quickly got depressed in the cold New York winter. I started daydreaming about finding a job as a college professor so that I could teach in Hawaii during the school year and spend my summers with family in New York. My job was okay, but it was indoors and not exciting. I missed AmeriCorps, doing projects outside surrounded by other young people. I was stressed and struggling.

And I did math obsessively, every single day. I would count up all the hours I spent commuting, and I’d make myself sick thinking about what else I could be doing with that time. I’d add the commuting hours together with the actual work day hours, and the math would get even more depressing. I believe it added up to about 80 hours of work/commute in a 168-hour week -practically half my time. Then 56 hours for sleep, leaving about 32 hours for actual Kerriann time.

SO TERRIBLE.

But, the thing is – the math was terrible because I was unhappy about my life. If I had loved my job and felt great about my life status, then that commute would have been a dream – time to read books, time to talk on the phone with friends, time to write in my journal. I think about that ferry boat ride, and it sounds delightful – I was out on the New York Harbor, sailing by the Statue of Liberty, twice a day, five days a week. That’s amazing! A lot of people would love that.

But, I was unhappy. So I didn’t practice gratitude. I didn’t look for the good. Instead, I did math, and then got depressed when the numbers added up all wrong.

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Ever since my son was born, I have noticed this tendency of mine – doing life-related math when I am stressed and unhappy – more clearly. It was difficult returning to work after maternity leave, and I found myself adding up the hours I was spending away from Edgar – the hours that belonged to my job, not to me. While looking for a new job, I found myself calculating commute and daily work hours and feeling physically weighted down as I considered different opportunities. “If I take this job, I will get two hours per week day to be with Edgar while he is awake.” (The math of a working parent can be really tough!)

The opposite of this stress-induced Life Math is what I think of as Vacation Time Zone – that feeling when you’re on  vacation like time matters SO LITTLE. We spent a few days at the beach this summer, and I got to experience that special vacation feeling – a) you have no idea what time it is, b) you’ve been having so much fun on the beach that you don’t know whether you’ve been there for one hour or three, and c) time DOES NOT MATTER because you’re on vacation and have little to no responsibilities in the moment. I love Vacation Time Zone. I wish I could live in it always.

Now that I am enjoying my Summer Sabbatical, I am enjoying an in-between state. There’s a lot on my to-do list, but my life has a very open-ended vacation-y feel to it.

HOWEVER.

I can tell I am feeling some stress when the Life Math starts to creep back in.  When I start counting the weeks before my new job starts, for example – that’s a really good sign that I’m feeling some kind of distress, and that I am not embracing the present moment.

One of my wise and gentle friends advises me that when I feel like time is running away from me, I can come back to where my feet are and just be in THIS moment. That’s my goal. It eludes me, often – but that’s my goal.

self-care

The Mental Health Benefits Of Getting Away

There is something so therapeutic about a vacation getaway.

We don’t get away a lot, especially as a whole family, but this summer Tamara, Edgar and I got to spend a few days at a beach house in Oak Island, NC, with family.

One of my favorite parts of being on vacation is the possibility of losing track of time. When you’re relaxing or playing or lounging or doing what you do, and you have no idea what time of day it is, because you don’t NEED to know, because you’re on vacation. That’s magical.

We take days off from farming/writing/working from time to time, but there’s something particularly beneficial about having time off while we are physically away from our home. This is especially true for people like Tamara, who work at home. When she sits down to relax, all the stuff she needs to do for her job isn’t out of sight in an office building twenty minutes away – it’s right in front of her. Everything on her to-do list could be done at any moment, even if the purpose of that moment is supposed to be relaxing.

It applies to everyone else, too, even if they don’t work at home. When you’re in your home, there are always so many things that need to be done. The to-do list is staring you right in the face when you’re trying to kick back and relax. But when you’re on a vacation getaway, you can’t tackle the items on your to do list. (Not all of them, at least.) And if you can’t get them done, it’s silly to be worrying about them at all. The work, the errands – they’ll get done, eventually, when we’re back to real life.

I also enjoy vacations as a reset of sorts. This vacation, in particular, felt like a great reset with regard to food and exercise. Each morning, I ran on the beach – my favorite kind of running. And swimming is one of my favorite kind of exercises. And diet-wise – I’ve been feeling confused about my diet recently; I don’t know what to eat and when to eat it. I sometimes realize at noon that I haven’t eaten anything all day, and then I’ll eat something random or unhealthy that isn’t particularly satisfying. But this vacation week was full of delicious home-cooked meals and healthy snacks. I know a lot of people use vacations as times to indulge, to treat themselves – but I actually find them a great time to reintroduce good habits that I want to foster. Particularly when it comes to food, I make better choices when I am away from home than I do when I’m in my regular routine.

This particular vacation was far away from home, but I often see the same benefits with just a day trip or an overnight camping excursion. When we get OUT of our regular routine, away from our regular environment, we can escape the stresses of everyday life, and we all need that – even homebodies like me.

I strive to remember how much a getaway can energize me, even when I am burnt out or stressed from everyday life.

balance · self-care

Humor

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of messages from the universe about humor.

I love to laugh, and I am someone who laughs relatively easily during certain periods of my life. In fact, how much I am laughing is probably a good indicator of my level of stress. When I’m overwhelmed, NOTHING IS FUNNY; when I’m feeling good, almost everything can be a source of laughter.

There’s a little meditation book that sits on my bedside table, and one of the readings for this month was about humor.  This was one of my favorite parts: “…when we raise our sights, look at the world with lightness in our hearts, expecting to enjoy the day, the people, the activity, we’ll succeed.”

Sigh. That is beautiful. I agree that when I have expectations that things will be awesome, they usually end up being pretty great. And even when they don’t – it’s better for me to be optimistic than to worry. Worrying about the future does nothing except make me miserable in the present.

I am taking these little messages from the universe about humor seriously. Lately I find myself physically, mentally, and emotionally stressed about the state of the world. I’ve been seeking out laughter, fun, and comedy because I need it badly. Primarily, I’ve been finding laughter in stand-up comedy; Ali Wong’s new Netflix special and Michelle Wolf’s new weekly show on Netflix are making me really happy. (As is borrowing my sister’s Netflix account.)

Things feel so much lighter today than they have recently. And I feel a big motivation to seek out laughter, especially at times when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed. I’ve heard it said that there’s always something to be grateful for. I think there’s probably always something we can laugh at, too, even in the bleakest of moments.

 

self-care · writing

On Writing About Self-Care

Why do we write about the things we write about?

I absolutely love writing about self-care. I love writing blog posts that talk about how I take care of myself and strategies for self-care that others can use.

The thing is – I suck at self-care. It’s not my strength. I am always setting new resolutions about practicing better self-care, and it’s because this is not something I do well naturally.

Now, this is interesting to me. I assumed that people would gravitate toward writing on topics about which they have some expertise. Maybe some writers do that.

Maybe other writers, like me, are drawn to writing about things that we’re trying to figure out. When I write, it helps me to figure out what I think and how I feel about a topic.

This lines up with something I’ve wondered about: the tendency for new parents to do a lot of writing/podcasting about parenting. Now that I’m a parent, I imagine that this instinct is often about new parents trying to figure out what they’re doing and wanting to explore this new (and veryveryvery important) frontier by writing and talking about it.

Recently, I went through all of my old blog posts (346 so far – yippee!), and I assigned each post to at least one ‘category.’ Many, many posts fell into the category of self-care.  It’s a subject that baffles me and inspires me.  It’s a topic I’ll continue to explore.

And, maybe, someday get better at it?

Sigh. We’ll see.

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self-care · simplifying

Digital Detox (Baby Steps)

I am considering breaking up with my phone.

Every so often, I do a little inventory, considering the impact technology and social media are having on my life. I am definitely not anti-technology; I can see so many benefits that modern technology has had on my life. I can keep in touch with old friends easily; I can research issues, become informed about topics, with little effort; I can be connected with my communities, local and global.

I also see the negative impact my phone has on my life. It’s a way that I check out of my day-to-day life. It’s a way that I cope with anxiety that doesn’t actually make me any less anxious. It’s a thing that keeps me from being fully present.

I haven’t tracked this at all, but I know I look at my phone a LOT. Sometimes it’s legit, like when I’m using Google maps – but sometimes, I look at my phone simply because I haven’t looked at it in a while, and that feels kind of gross.

I definitely use my phone way more when I’m anxious. If I’m feeling uncomfortable and not up for social interaction, I like knowing that my phone is in my pocket.

This is my inventory, and it makes me think that maybe my phone and I need some time apart.

It’s so HARD, though!  There’s a lot of great stuff I get from my phone. I listen to a ton of audiobooks and podcasts, and I am newly obsessed with the Netflix show The Break with Michelle Wolf. But I don’t really think of those things as interfering with my life and my happiness.

Image result for someecards social mediaI guess the biggest trouble spots for me are:

  1. Social media – mindlessly scrolling and comparing myself to others.
  2. Zoning out – looking at WHATEVER – texts, websites, my bank account, etc – rather than being present in my actual life.

This is what I’m planning to try:

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA DAY. I’ll only check my social media one day each week – I’m thinking about Thursdays – and when I check in, I will actually engage, rather than just scrolling and skimming and clicking ‘like.’ I’ll write comments or respond to others. I’ll actually READ articles. I’ll check in on links I’ve saved. For the time being, I’m not planning to limit the amount of time I can use social media on that day – so I could wake up Thursday morning and be on Facebook ALL DAY LONG if I want. (I don’t want.)
  2. Designate official Phone Time – meaning that all other time is NO PHONE TIME. This is so much harder to tackle, since I use my phone for so many things. (Even now, I’m listening to a podcast on my phone as I type this!) There might need to be many times in a day for Phone Time – typing a note to myself, adding an event to my calendar, responding to a text – but I really want to give myself permission to actually do ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME. The pressure to multitask is so strong. I often feel like I’m actually SUPPOSED to be doing many things at once – but I’m not. I am allowed to focus on just one thing at a time, and I’m better at everything when I operate this way.

I’m going to check in with myself about these two strategies – Social Media Day and Designated Phone Time – in my June All The Things post. Until then, I’m hoping I can take baby steps toward a more peaceful phone life.