How Gratitude Has Affected My Mental Health

Inspired by Cassie from Upcycled Adulting, I wanted to talk about something that has impacted my life. 

Gratitude, or more specifically, the practice of being grateful has shown positive effects in multiple scientific studies. The correlation is clear: being grateful is linked to increased happiness, overall better mental health, increased empathy, and better physical health.

You could play Devil’s Advocate and say, “well, there are other factors at play here. This doesn’t prove definitively that gratitude makes you happier and blah, blah blah.” And to that I would say, yeah, that’s true. You could say there are other factors that affect these results. But isn’t it just a big ole coincidence then that a bunch of case studies just happen to all include gratitude as a variable? So, I’ll err on the ever-so-cautious side that gratitude = good. 

So, how do you do it? Writing a letter of gratitude to someone, even if you don’t send it, or keeping a gratitude journal are two ways of flexing your gratitude muscle.

I know, barf, right?

When I first heard about the benefits of gratitude, I rolled my eyes and thought it was corny. It seemed contrived and insincere, like going around the table at Thanksgiving and saying what you’re grateful for. I can hear some cliche answer from divorced Aunt Julie, who believes in the healing power of crystals and strongly advises you to get your tarot reading, about being “thankful for my health” or “being here with my family”. It’s not that I don’t feel grateful for things; it’s that it feels phony to point them out or celebrate them. But if that’s easy, then it wouldn’t be any trouble to start practicing it, even if it meant nothing, right?

So I decided to just try it. I added a line in my self-made mood journal that’s for gratitude. I list at least one thing I’m grateful for. 

When I sat down to think about it each day, I realized just how easy it truly was, but not for the reasons I thought. Gratitude isn’t just a feeling. You don’t have to feel this humble sense of reverence and awe at how the fate of the universe cast this burden of good fortune on you, though you’re a wretched and undeserving soul. It can be approached logically and methodically.

I am in relatively good physical health. I don’t have a terminal illness. I have all my limbs. I have an awesome son, who is still here on this Earth with me. I still have both of my parents. Both of my siblings. I have a nice office job, after nearly 10 cumulative years in retail. I make decent money in a low-stress environment where I am afforded the opportunity to learn new things. I have a great boyfriend. I’m working toward things I love, which is so cool and exciting. 

These things vary in significance, but they are the same in that I am grateful for them. Oh, and this feels like a good time to say this: gratitude is not a substitute for negative feelings. No one gets to tell you, “hey, you have so much to be grateful for. Don’t be mad/sad/upset about this other thing.” It’s manipulative, and it trivializes your feelings. However, naming what you’re grateful for does help put things in perspective and allows you to see the forest for the trees, or the silver lining, or the bright side. Pick a trite saying. It doesn’t erase anything bad or negative in your life; it just reminds you of the positive and cultivates warm, fuzzy feelings in response.

Are you really better off this way? YES! Because you can then see through the fog and know you can survive. You may be in a bad place, but you have x, y, and z. Life is about balance (life is about a lot of things, but one of them is balance). Your depression won’t go away from writing down what you’re grateful for–but you can say, “at least I have this” and derive some sense of pleasure or joy from that. It’s a lighthouse in the storm, at least.

I added this single line to my daily journal, and after two weeks, I did see a difference. It could be my overall self-care/mental health routine. It could be I’m listening to what I need more than what I want. And it could be that being more grateful has added to my robust self-care agenda and increased positive feelings in my life. Being grateful for things is more than just not taking them for granted or making sure you know what you have before you lose it. It’s a harbinger of better things to come, of all the good that exists in your life.

I feel like I’m never satisfied. I am always looking at the green grass on the other side. I’m not doing enough. I just struggle to really feel good or satisfied about much in my life. Gratitude allows me to slow down and say, okay, but I do have this thing, and I’m glad about that. It does put things in perspective, so yes, I’d say it works. Plus, with other parts of my self-care/mental health routine, I’m able to feel more content with my life where I am now.

Try it out! Do it as a rote writing exercise. You don’t have to feel anything. You don’t have to focus on achieving a particular effect. Just do it for a week and see what happens. 

Life Lessons I Learned When I Worked in Retail

I used to be pretty promiscuous when it came to keeping a job. I’d jump from job to job, fed-up with the toxic environment, the terrible managers, or crappy pay/hours. Sometimes all three. I’ve been fired from a few, too, but that’s another story.

As a result, I’ve worked nearly 30 jobs in almost 15 years of employment. About 10 of those years have been in retail, where I genuinely had some awesome experiences with both co-workers, customers, and company. I also had some very difficult times, and overall, retail is an exhausting industry with unpredictable schedules, physically-demanding work, disgruntled customers, managers who often don’t care, and little sense of self-worth, much less anyone else seeing your worth.

I can look back now that I’m out and see what I’ve learned. The retail industry has taught me life lessons, both good and bad. Here are some of them:

1. Patience Is a Damn Virtue for a Reason

Only Saints are capable of having true patience–or is it retail workers? I wouldn’t know first-hand. I am not a super patient person. I can’t say that retail taught me to be patient, but it taught me to appreciate the art of patience. I recognize and admire anyone who can treat an insufferable or ridiculous situation with a poker face and a stone will. It’s not for the faint of heart out there. 

2. Good Service Should Be Appreciated

Nothing helps you appreciate those who work in the service industry or retail like having to do it day in and day out yourself for years. This is where my patience actually comes into play. I’m the first one to tell your manager how well you did. Hell, I’ll tell YOU what a great job you did. If something goes wrong, I’m understanding and kind about it. Even if you don’t have the best attitude at all times, I know you’re human and probably having a shitty day. I tip well. I fill out customer surveys. It’s basically made me the perfect customer. At least, I think…

3. You Can’t Change People

Oh, how many times did I have to learn this one. I learned it, but I didn’t like it. Coworker, customer, whatever. They’re all the same because they are P E O P L E. Might as well get used to it. Coworker calls out again and leaves you all alone at 6am until the next person comes in at 10? She doesn’t care! Customer can’t read the signs at customer service or on the back of his receipt and refuses to believe he can’t return his 2-year-old item? Oh, well, get that store credit ready. Another negative customer survey response because too many employees were standing around talking and not helping in busy areas? Tough cookies! They don’t give a flying fugly rat’s behind. And it will keep happening, probably. I have no faith that it will change. That’s retail, baby.

4. Stupid Can’t Be Reasoned With–I’ve Tried it Too Many Times

It damn sure can’t. Maybe I’m the stupid one for continuing to try.

Sure, lady, you bought your Valspar paint here at The Home Depot, not at Lowe’s, where it is their exclusive brand of paint. Yeah, I must be wrong, despite my basic ability to understand simple concepts. Oh, yes, sir, we definitely just stopped carrying this item you swore you saw here two months ago. I must be new or misinformed, but no, not you, oh retail consumer. You must have a photographic memory and not get things confused ever. Ah, of course, ma’am, I am an idiot who can’t do my job because you fail to read signs, abide by company policies, and throw a shit-fit every time something doesn’t go remotely your way. And you’re right, the manager will placate you by giving you everything you want. Damn, I really am the stupid one, aren’t I?

5. The Most Interesting People I’ve Met Work in Retail

I say that in all sincerity, too. It could be my bias since that’s where the majority of my jobs have been, but it’s true. They come from all over the world. They’re of all backgrounds, cultures, personalities, and proclivities. Some you’ll love, some you’ll hate, some you’ll forget, and some you’ll wish you could forget. It opens your eyes to people from all walks of life, which is an enriching, rewarding experience.

Someone post-military trying to get used to civilian life again; someone in their retirement years, looking for something to do with their extra time; someone who used to work in various industries or trades and is just trying to find something stable; someone who’s an artist in their spare time, or an advocate, or a novelist, or a business owner. Or maybe just some swine who can’t clean up after himself, and you wonder how could be so disrespectful of others and so nasty, but you just have to accept that because you can’t change people (see above). 

Overall though, I like the types of people who work retail. There are a lot of rebels, a lot of “get-shit-done” folks, a lot of “play by my own rulebook” kind of people. People who have neat interests and cool stories to tell. People who know how to work hard and play harder. Those who can’t sit still and won’t shut up. They’re good to joke with, confide in, and go to when you’re in a bind. That’s my kind of people.

6. Corporate Sees the Number, Not the Person

I worked at a famous retailer once that wanted our receiving department to cut its hours in half, but still do the same amount of work. The department head asked the District Manager, “how exactly am I supposed to do that?” He looked at him sternly, bordering on indignant that he would be asked such a question. “You increase your productivity,” he said. As if it were obvious. 

That story sums up what it’s like to work under a corporate office that is out of touch with what the job is and how to do it. I’ve seen it in every, single job I’ve worked in retail. Planograms that are not humanly possible to execute with Earth’s current understanding of physics; ridiculous demands for customer reward/credit card signups (and the subsequent threats that come if you don’t meet them); shoving the concept of upselling down our throats and “talking to” those of us who couldn’t meet a certain dollar per transaction amount; writing up people who don’t meet sales goals; cutting labor during peak shopping hours and expecting us to just call for backup (if we’re ALL busy, how can anyone help?).  The insanity goes on and on.

Corporations will always see us as a product, a result that they can achieve. They talk to you in orientation like you’re some valuable asset, but you’re the most dispensable commodity under their reign. I was always at some level of peace with that and kept it in the back of my mind. It was the true reason I could never quite conform enough to be in a real leadership position. I can’t kiss ass. I can’t push policies I don’t believe in. I can’t be a mouthpiece of The Man. I mean, I’ll let him sign my paychecks. But I’m going to stay off the radar and out of the way as much as possible.

I’m Out of Retail Now and Never Going Back…Or Am I?

Misery loves company, and I certainly commiserated with the best of them. Retail had a lot of low points. Exhausted mentally and physically, sometimes I’d stare at the ceiling at night and wonder if I could do it again the next day. I’ve cried at work. More than once. I’ve won conversations in my head with dumb customers or incompetent coworkers that I couldn’t say to their face. Basically, it sucked. Every morning I had to battle with myself to go in–even for the best of companies that I had an overall positive experience with.

It’s certainly a more active and engaging job though. I do miss that. You meet all kinds of people, too, which I mentioned is a perk of the job. Even the bad times came with some great friends and good memories. I have fond memories of many customers, too. It IS possible! It wasn’t all bad. 

I don’t regret my time in retail. It’s hell, sure, but it’s a special kind of hell. I certainly find it fun to laugh about now. And who knows? Maybe I will make a reappearance as a part-timer someday, if I ever needed the extra money.

What are some of your stories from retail or service industry life? Did you learn anything? Or was your only lesson that you’re glad you got out (or wish you could)?

12 Wins in 12 Months: A 2019 Retrospective

Inspired by Lauren’s post at Bournemouth Girl, 8 Things I Have Achieved in 8 Months, I decided to do a little list of my own to say goodbye to 2019 I want to share my accomplishments for myself, to prove that I can conquer my fears and silence inner critics to get what I want out of life. I want to inspire my future self to believe that I can do anything–and here’s proof! I also want to inspire YOU. What have you achieved so far this year? Have you faced any fears? Tried anything new? Crossed something off your bucket list?

I’m not really much into New Years’ Resolutions. I think any day is as good as any to start resolutions and make goals. I understand the appeal of a “fresh” start in a new calendar, but it’s hard to stay motivated on just the seduction of the earth having gone around the sun one more time. It’s a setup designed to fail, and most people do.

Instead, I’m about looking back on the positives of the year and reflecting on what I enjoyed and what I’m proud of as we move into 2020. It’s worth it to re-evaluate your goals, priorities, and progress throughout the year, not just at the end. I do think it’s useful to reminisce, celebrate, and re-calibrate.

So let’s do it.

2019 Accomplishments (in no order)

  1. I moved to another state to support my partner’s quest to finish his degree. It was a giant step to leave my family and friends behind, but this sacrifice will be worth it for both of us.
  2. After being in a total rut, to put it mildly, I moved out of my ex’s apartment, where I was living on the couch, and found a place of my own. This new place was not a great improvement in many ways, but I had a space of my own and that was glorious.
  3. I landed a nice office job, far away from the perils of retail, that suits my skillset and has me working with a good group of people in a laidback atmosphere. Retail served me well for awhile, but it was exhausting, both emotionally and physically. I was poised to make my return there after a month of unemployment following a temp assignment, but got the call just in time. It’s something I’m still grateful for nearly two months later.
  4. I made a commitment to write more this year and learn about the more successful tactics of blogging (thanks largely to Britt at Unapologetically You). Though it’s been difficult for me to maintain, I’ve put forth a lot more effort in at least learning what I can do for my blog and have written far more this year than I ever have.
  5. I learned Excel at an intermediate level in time to ace an assessment for a temp agency. At my current position, I continue to hone my skills in Excel and Word for resume purposes. I’m also building new skills by writing and updating company training manuals.
  6. I’m teaching myself math through Khan Academy. I was never great at math as a kid. Being homeschooled, it was difficult to get the same education that my friends did. I always thought I was bad at math, but I asked myself a few years ago, “Why can’t I learn it?”
  7. I’ve developed a regular yoga practice where I follow online yoga videos. The mental and physical benefits have been awesome. I’m not tracking weight loss or anything like that. I track my physical strength, how flexible I am, how much better I can do a pose. It’s much easier to see and celebrate progress this way!
  8. I’ve handled conflicts better than I ever have in my personal and professional life, leading to better resolutions and less self-guilt afterward. Particularly with my former roommates and co-workers.
  9. I have tackled a low-carb diet to manage my PCOS symptoms better. This has required me to drastically alter my diet and mourn the loss of all my favorite carbs. I’ve also had to implement meal planning and prep, two things I’ve never had the mental or physical energy to do.
  10. I’ve tackled self-care and mental health in a whole new way. It’s an ever-evolving practice with me, and this year, I’ve tried to take it to yet another new level. I’ve treated self-care as something that’s good FOR me, not just something that feels good. I’ve embraced self-esteem work in an effort to capture and denote all the good, positive things in my life worth celebrating. I utilized an online talk therapy option to confront anger issues and insecurities. And I’ve faced a lot of problems in my relationship by just talking about them. Honestly and openly just being real about my feelings, however irrational or crazy they might seem. Revolutionary, I know. Plus, I continue to use mindfulness, since it’s the absolute easiest coping skill to use.
  11. I secured a babysitting job for extra income. Significant because it required me to reach out to a stranger on Facebook in my new town and develop this relationship and sort of “sell myself” for the position. Not only did I pass with flying colors (despite massive nervousness and fears), but the kid in question seems to adore me. It will take up two of my evenings after work, affording me virtually no free time, but I’m proud of myself, and I know the experience will be worth it for my wallet and my overall well-being.
  12. I decided to mend some fences with people in my life. Some of those fences I tore down myself. Others I just perceived to be torn. I’m realizing how easy it is to turn on someone, not knowing their true intentions or understanding why they might not be giving 100%. Not everyone is toxic and shitty. Sometimes it’s you for writing them off too quickly. That’s just my lesson learned.

What does 2020 hold?

I re-evaluate my goals and accomplishments every few months, re-calibrating as necessary. On the whole, I think I had a lot of things to be grateful for and proud of in 2019. But there’s still room for more good things in 2020.

  • I want to get back into volunteer and stay in it (I briefly did a stint at an animal shelter in early 2019). I’m discussing a really special opportunity with an organization that I’m really excited about! Volunteering has so many good benefits; it’s a great way to enrich your life and someone else’s. In my case, I’m going to use it as a way to strengthen skills and get experience in a field I’ve been missing out on. Fingers crossed!
  • I’m narrowing down my passion focuses. All my interests and hobbies can fill a page or two, but I’ve found that by focusing on everything, I have not accomplished anything. I’ve done things here and there, as the mood strikes me. But I have nothing to show for that. I’m going to buckle down and focus on one or two things at a time before moving onto the next thing.
  • I’m going to get out there more. I want to do things that push me to the edge of my comfort zone. I want to make new friends, do cool things, and just enjoy life. Attending a real-life yoga class has been on my mind since I’ve moved, so I think that’s my first stop. I’d also like to go on more outdoor adventures and maybe even join a special interests group for writing or photography.
  • Continued focus on mental health and self-improvement. This is super general, but everything is affected by mental health and a complacent attitude. I want to keep my mental health in a good spot. It’s not a one-time fix. You have to keep devoting time and attention to it. Same with self-improvement. If I’m going to stay disciplined and productive, I’m going to need the appropriate skills.

Let’s go, 2020! What accomplishments are you proud of from 2019? What are you eyeing in 2020?

Tips for Borderline Personality Disorder That You Can Use Right Now

Borderline Personality Disorder can be a nightmare, if you have it. If you love someone who has it, you might be baffled at the way they see the world and experience emotions. We don’t even have a sleeve on which to wear our emotions–we’re that emotionally thin-skinned. To put it bluntly, it sucks. The smallest offense can hurt us. A perceived threat will send us into a meltdown. We have volatile relationships. Intense friendships. Skewed perspectives of the world.

At the same time, we love deeply. We are passionate people. We are empathetic, by nature, and compassionate to a fault. We will go to the ends of the earth for you. We are not unfeeling monsters–it’s quite the opposite. We feel too much. We feel everything.

BPD is believed to be borne out of childhood trauma or neglect, though there is a hereditary component as well. Though it isn’t our fault that we see the world this way and have strong reactions to it, it is our responsibility to try to find better coping mechanisms and create a safe world for ourselves. But how do we do that?

As a long-time sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder, I’ve searched for answers and treatments that work, especially for those of us who are financially indisposed or maybe need extra help outside of therapy. These quick-start tips are what’s been proven to help. I have science on my side for these techniques.

Here’s a quick and dirty guide of 10 things you can do right now to help with BPD.

Recognize Cognitive Distortions (AKa Thinking Traps)

Thinking traps are unbalanced, skewed, or fallacious ways in which we see the world. They’re so pervasive and ingrained in our thought process that they’ve become automatic. They can be tricky to identify, much less fix. But the first step is to notice them. This excellent PDF shows some of the most common thinking traps. Familiarize yourself with them and see if you can identify examples from your life where you fall into thinking traps.

Learn Basic Mindfulness SKILLS

DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) was originally developed for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s considered the most comprehensive and overall most effective treatment for BPD. It can be intensive and lengthy though and is best done with a therapist. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on your own.

The number one best skill to learn from DBT is mindfulness. It’s arguably the easiest to practice and integrate into everyday life! It’s essentially the practice of being in the moment. It’s not meditation. Mindfulness can be practiced while you wash dishes or fold clothes or take a shower. It teaches you to be present, so when difficult situations arise, you can feel and acknowledge your emotions without judgment.

This is a great start-up guide for practicing mindfulness.

Practice thinking about the worst case scenario *

This one is purely anecdotal, but it’s based in exposure therapy. People with Borderline Personality Disorder often face intrusive thoughts and massive anxiety about perceived threats of abandonment or not being good enough. These thoughts manifest as the absolute worst-case scenario and are rarely based in any fact. Distraction is generally the first step, but when it doesn’t work? I say to just embrace the chaos. Why not? Exposing your mind to all the negative possibilities, instead of pushing them away, can help you realize that your thoughts and feelings will not kill you. They may be very uncomfortable, unpleasant, or overwhelming, but feelings are not forever. They cannot hurt you on their own.

Think about the worst case scenario. Let yourself picture it all, every terrible possibility. Use the mindfulness skills you’ve learned to guide you to acknowledge the feelings that are coming up. How is your body responding? React internally. Feel the feelings that you’d feel if it really happened. You can experience the negative scenario without any repercussions this way. I’ve found that these scenarios are never based in any sort of reality, and “feeling” the worst case scenario seems to re-calibrate my brain. I’m able to acknowledge it in this way and can let it go much easier.

*If you’re in danger of lashing out against someone or yourself, I would not advise using this practice.

Practice describing your emotions and Identifying how your body responds to them

The first step in regulating your emotions with BPD is to recognize what you’re feeling. After all, when we have a blow up, or lash out, hurting someone else or ourselves, we do it for a reason. The reason may not be obvious to us, but it’s there. We do it because of intense emotions that we do not know how to cope with properly.

Identify what you’re feeling and notice how it makes your body feel. Tense? Knot in your stomach? Clenched jaw? Racing heart? Those are some examples of what to look for. Use your mindfulness skills to observe your body’s reactions. Don’t make any judgments (“I shouldn’t feel this way”) or take any action. Just observe. Try to find the root of your emotion and what’s causing it. Name it. Don’t avoid it, or tell yourself that you should be happy or that it’s not a big deal. You’re feeling it and it’s manifesting viscerally, so it’s a big deal.

Here is a great page for tips and exercises on describing emotions.
Here is an awesome beginner’s guide to a Body Scan Meditation, which can help you identify how your body is responding.

Make a list of things that comfort you and things that give you pleasure

Comfort and pleasure may overlap in some ways, but they’re fundamentally different. One is to soothe and calm, the way a warm blanket or a warm cup of coffee can. Things that give you pleasure or joy may be more stimulating or actively enjoyable, like playing video games or working on a new skill you’re learning. Of course, there is that overlap I mentioned. Reading a book might fall into both categories, for example. A list like this is handy when you need to distract or soothe yourself from intense emotions or difficult situations. If you make this list in a neutral state of mind, it will be much easier than trying to figure out what to do when you’re paralyzed by a Borderline episode.

The Road ahead for borderline personality disorder

These five tips have been integral to my success in coping with my BPD symptoms. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve done workbooks, and I know I have several root issues, like low self-esteem and lack of self-compassion, that I am also addressing. These techniques have been lifesavers though. They’re the core to my every day BPD treatment, along with journaling and workbooking.

Do you have a quick and easy tip for emotional regulation?

Exercising When Have a Mental Illness

For the past month and a half, I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for the first time in years. I’m talking at least 4 times a week, sometimes up to 6 times. I haven’t done yoga with any regularity since 2013 or 2014, so you can see why this is huge for me.

It’s also a big deal because of my struggles with mental illness. When things are bad, they affect all areas of my life. Certain symptoms really factor into my lack of exercising–depression, low energy, feeling burnt out, obsessing over perfectionism, low self-esteem, lacking mental clarity, or feeling numb. It’s hard to want to do anything when you feel like this, much less a physically strenuous activity.

It feels like fighting a mental illness is a workout of its own.

Exercise has so many benefits, physically and mentally. That’s why I wanted to find a loophole for my bad mental health days (or years) and find a way to get back into it. Don’t do it because it’s a substitute for medication though; do it because it’s a supplement to an overall treatment plan.

Here are my tips for getting into exercise–and making it stick–despite your mental illness:

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your muscles won’t be either

In other words: take it one day at a time. Don’t worry about any other workout except the one you’re about to do today.

In the past few years, I’ve self-destructed quite majorly when starting an exercise routine. One of the biggest obstacles was thinking of the end goal too much. It psyched me out. I would think of how many days I needed to go to see results. I obsessed over my progress and if I was doing too little, or if I needed to push myself more.

I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a huge mountain that I couldn’t see the top of. All I could think of was how painful and tedious the journey would be. I didn’t stop to think about how beautiful each step could be.

It’s ironic how we want so badly to be this ideal version of ourselves, but we don’t want to put in the work to get there.

I’ve been back into yoga for the past 6 weeks or so. It isn’t much in the grand scheme of things–but it’s more than zero. One day will feel so small if you compare it to a year. So don’t compare it to year. Let your goal be this: doing more than zero days. And do that every day.

Except…

Don’t Self-Destruct if You Miss a Day

I’m guilty of this. If I screw something up, I want to quit. I think it’s pointless to continue with exercise or healthy eating if I have one or two bad days. But it’s going to happen! You’ll get sick, you’ll have something big come up that takes up your free time, you’ll be tired and skip a day just because.

And that’s okay!

Skipping a few days of workouts won’t undo your progress. Forgive yourself. Show yourself kindness. Think of how you’d treat someone else who felt bad about missing a few days in a row. Guilt eats us up and destroys the good things we’ve built. Don’t give it the satisfaction.

It’s Substance Over Style, Not the Other Way Around

I don’t have a yoga mat, or those fancy yoga blocks. I wear pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, sometimes an old tank top. I don’t look the part of the glamorous yoga teachers that I follow online. Typically, I’d let something like that set me back. I don’t have the proper equipment, gear, setup, or workout space.

I let the pursuit of perfection destroy me, but not this time. I decided I wasn’t going to let lame excuses like not having the right leggings derail me. The main reason I keep going back to yoga, besides the fact that it’s kind to my joints and is a versatile workout, is that it requires nothing! Yeah, they all have mats and a real yoga class will have mats, but you don’t actually need one to follow along.

Don’t let lack of gym membership, weights, or “proper clothing” stop you. There’s a workout for whatever you have (or don’t)!

Focus on a Being Stronger or More Flexible, NOT Losing Weight

Another discouraging thing that’s kept me away from regular exercise for the past four years is how damn hard it is to lose weight. I was usually into the idea of exercise because I didn’t like the way I looked and I wanted to lose weight.

This discourages me because of what I mentioned in the first entry about how far I have to go and how long it takes to see progress.

This time around, I take it one day at a time, but I also stopped making weight loss my goal. I told myself I wanted to be stronger, maybe more toned, and more flexible. I wanted other benefits of working out, like the rush of endorphins, better heart health, and better sleep. I wanted an improved mental health and an overall healthier body, inside and out.

Once I took the focus off weight loss, measuring progress became easier because I wasn’t comparing numbers on a scale or my waist line.

I notice when I’m in a particular yoga flow if I feel a little more fluid in my movements, or if I can hold a pose for longer, or if I can balance myself better. You can measure your improvements in a more precise way than if you were to monitor weight loss. It happens so much faster, too! I seriously saw results like this in a week of yoga routines. It’s super empowering, and encourages me to keep going.

More on the mental health side of things

You’re going to have your bad days. Mental cloudiness, feeling a heaviness in your spirit, or just straight up depressed. It’ll feel like it won’t matter to do exercise. It’ll feel like nothing matters. You’ll need to just get by with the bare minimum of surviving and start over tomorrow.

Take those days, or weeks, when you need them. You’re not going to overpower the actual chemicals in your brain because you do an excellent Warrior II now.

Self-care is such a buzzword at this point that it’s practically meaningless, but it means to take care of yourself. If you need to not work out to take care of yourself, do it.

I encourage you not to give up though. What I’ve learned about my feelings and when I don’t want to do something is that I can’t always be trusted! Feelings aren’t facts. They’re valid, and they can tell us important things, but they don’t last forever and it doesn’t always signal the end of the world. I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t always know what’s best for me. I trust the science and the benefits behind working out though. I know I feel better when I do it. So if it’s just a regular, crappy day where I want to wallow in negativity or just laze around, yeah, I push myself to do yoga! And I feel better because of it, at least physically.

There’s a balance here. Life is about balance. Yoga, in part, is about balance.

I’m not going to push myself on a super bad mental health day just because I think yoga will cure me. At some point, it will become counter-productive and there will be better things you can do to take care of your mental health.

I’ve learned how to tell the difference, and thus, how to know when to push myself and when to surrender.

Learn to listen to yourself enough to know when you need to ignore yourself.

The Best Way to Handle Anxiety Is by Doing

I moved to Indiana from Tennessee earlier this month. My boyfriend wants to finish the college degree he started many years ago, and I am in full support. It’s forced me to confront many things though, like leaving my family and friends, starting over in a completely unfamiliar environment, getting a new job in a place where I don’t know the job market, and having to rebuild my entire social network.

This move has inspired me to be more courageous. I am going to try new things, face my fears, get out of my comfort zone, and be fierce! I’m no stranger to facing fears. I made a point to highlight my proud moments before, and I’d like to continue that trend–to prove I can do it!

I want to show you that you can do it, too. If terrified, awkward, anxious mess that is me can do it, so can you.

It’s not easy because I struggle with massive anxiety. I overthink the smallest things. I fear what people think, how they’ll judge me, if I’m going to do something wrong, if I’m going to do something stupid. I fear it all. Crowds make me anxious. Making phone calls makes me anxious. Doing new things makes me anxious, even if that new thing means just doing laundry at the laundry facility in my new apartment.

It’s hard to succinctly describe how profoundly anxiety affects me, and how much it’s held me back because I was afraid of the outcome or afraid I’d do something wrong or look stupid.

I’ve walked away from opportunities because I didn’t want to ask questions or I didn’t want to make myself deal with those nervous jitters that we all get. Fear has made me avoidant. Too avoidant.

The best medicine for mild to moderate anxiety is to face it head-on. While I believe in a multifaceted approach to overcoming anxiety, standing up to anxiety like it’s a bully has proven quite helpful for me. More than just helping my symptoms, it’s empowered me and made me feel more confident.

So far, in 4 weeks in a new state, I had planned on a lot more daring adventures, more social activities. But baby steps, my friends. I’m here to celebrate all victories. When it comes to facing anxiety, no victory is too small.

Hoping to inspire you, I’m sharing what I’ve accomplished since I’ve decided to become a fiercer version of myself and stop letting anxiety dictate every action.

  • Made important phone calls to a) gather information about vehicle registration and a drivers license; and b) cancel a subscription.
  • Navigated my way home without GPS.
  • Survived a drive through Purdue’s massive campus on the first day of classes, while nearly having a panic attack because of the sheer number of students (I felt like I was constantly going to careen into someone, despite only going 15 mph).
  • Learned Excel at an intermediate level at a time when I’ve felt my learning capacity has been really low.
  • Aced four skill assessments at a temp agency after contacting them about a two jobs I really wanted. They told me I had some of the highest test scores they had seen in awhile!
  • Landed a temp job at a cool company doing easy desk work as a nice change to the fast-paced, demanding environment of retail.
  • Have consistently been practicing yoga for the first time in years.
  • Going on nearly nightly walks with my boyfriend.
  • Researching nutrition and cooking recipes so that I can be healthier and more hands-on with my food intake.
  • Visited the Bureau of Motor Vehicles 3 times so far (a fourth one will be coming), procured all information I needed.
  • Continued to work through the difficult emotions and mood swings in a healthy manner, despite sticky situations popping up frequently.
  • Shopped in multiple crowded stores without backing down or making myself smaller to those around me.
  • Handled move-in day and the subsequent process well, despite leasing office being less than useful. Also, on our second day, I stood my ground on not having maintenance come and put down new flooring in our apartment at 6pm, when they should have had it done before we moved in.
  • Turned down a low-paying job and handled things professionally, even when the store manager did not.
  • Found a social club to join.
  • Reignited my interest in learning Spanish.
  • Further developed my interest in photography and photo editing.

At first glance, you would think some of these items aren’t even linked to anxiety. Yet, much of my life in the past 5-6 years has been dictated by fear. Not just any fear, but crippling fear that made me run away, made me miss out, made me say no to so many things.

Anxiety makes easy things incredibly difficult. Doing the difficult things in spite of anxiety shows you how strong you are–and shows that the situation isn’t a threat. It shows you CAN do anything.

So while not everything on here seems as empowering as acing a few assessments or teaching myself a new skill, it’s incredibly empowering to face fears or to try something new.

I want to get out of my comfort zone. I want to be happier. I don’t want to be tethered by my anxiety. Constantly saying no, shutting myself down, and letting anxiety just run my life.

This is the new fiercer me! And she’s celebrating all her wins.

Have you conquered anxiety lately? There’s really no such thing as big or small. When it comes to anxiety, any victory is big.

How to Be More Empathetic (and why you should care)

I consider myself to be pretty empathetic. Until I’m not.

I’m the first one to shake my fist at you if you cut me off in traffic. I’m the first one to complain if a coworker isn’t doing their job the way I do mine. I’m the first one to roll my eyes when I see a mom or dad out in public with kids running wild and reckless.

If I were being more empathetic, would those things bother me?

I could write a laundry list of things I could be more empathetic about. What about you?

More importantly, why should we care?

What Is Empathy?

The dictionary definition is the ability to understand and feel what another person is feeling. However, if we’re going to dig deeper here (and we are), we can also break empathy down into two categories, according to the Greater Good Magazine by Berkley University.

“Affective Empathy” is the feelings and sensations we get in response to someone else’s emotions. It could be feeling sad when someone tells a sad story and seems really upset by it, or it could be feeling stressed out by your friend who is freaking out about an impending storm. You might not fear the storm, but her reaction to it may stress you out.

“Cognitive Empathy”, or “perspective taking”, is the ability to understand, or identify, another person’s emotions, without actually having to feel them or mirror them ourselves.

Why Should We Be Empathetic?

Empathy has been observed in animals, especially primates, and in our own primitive history. After all, it advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint that mothers be empathetic to the needs of their children, otherwise they might not survive.

It often goes hand-in-hand with compassion and is usually a strong component in altruism and charity. Helping others often comes from an emotional response to someone or something’s plight. You can understand why it’s bad/needs to change and you are moved to help.

So it seems we may be hard-wired to a certain degree to help others. Except for one thing.

Human survival, and evolution, is based on self-preservation. We have to look out for ourselves, and our immediate family, so that we may continue to prosper. Humans are egotistical by nature, and that’s not always a negative thing. We are naturally going to frame our entire world and lives around ourselves because we are the one experiencing our own self at any given time.

So why care about anyone else? Why be empathetic?

I could easily point to friends and family and make a case for showing better empathy to them. That’s the easy sell though because you can easily come to that conclusion yourself. So let’s cut straight to empathy towards strangers. Also known as the General Public. Also known as the hardest people to be freaking nice to and understand/be empathetic with.

I’ll be honest–my own opinion on empathy comes from a selfish place. I want to care about strangers because I want strangers to care about me. I think the human race functions better at its core, when we are all being kind to one another. Empathy is a starting point for kindness, but you don’t necessarily need to be kind to be empathetic.

Cognitive Empathy, as mentioned above, can be applied from understanding someone’s point of view, even if you don’t necessarily feel the same feelings they do. Does it take kindness to understand someone? I think it’s in the ballpark, but it’s not always necessary. Empathy does help us “do the right thing” though when taking care of others.

Empathy leads to caring, which leads to action. You’re more likely to help someone or give to a good cause when you understand where they’re coming from. You’re more likely to go easy on them. You’re more likely to be forgiving and kind.

A lot of hatred and anger could be erased with empathy.

A lot of the world’s problems could be helped with empathy.

While that’s a naive-sounding, reductive statement, it’s true that empathy can cure hatred and anger. How can you still feel so strongly against someone or something if you come to know it and understand it? Sure, empathy doesn’t always mean you will care or advocate for that person, thing, or cause, but a heart of empathy doesn’t have a lot of room to hate something.

So How Do I Become More Empathetic?

  1. Listen more, talk less. It’s easy to just wait your turn to talk or to jump in when you have something to add. A lot of conversations naturally flow that way. But someone telling a heartfelt story or having an emotional moment is not the time to butt in. It’s the time to try to listen.
  2. Try to identify specific feelings. Are they sad? Happy? Nervous? Scared? Think of how you’d feel in that situation. Everyone’s different, but the heart of empathy is trying to put yourself in their shoes.
  3. Follow up. Tell the person, “I would have felt so angry in that moment,” or “that must have been awful”. Or ask a question: “What did you do next?” “How did you feel in that moment?”
  4. Don’t try to one-up their story or give advice, unless they ask. This isn’t the time to say, “yeah, that happened to me, too,” and then go into all the details of your story or tell them what they should do. If someone is sharing a difficult story about a chronic illness they’re suffering from or venting, it’s best to just listen. If your story helps you empathize with them (“yeah, that happened to me, too, and I felt so hopeless. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.”), share it after they’re done. Otherwise, most of us appreciate the listening ear and non-judgmental platform.
  5. Talk to new people. Jodi Halpern, a psychiatrist and bioethics professor at Berkley, says, “the core of empathy is curiosity. It’s ‘what is another person’s life actually like in its particulars?’ ” Start conversations with strangers in the elevator or in a fast food line, or coworkers you don’t know well. Follow a variety of different people on social media with different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. Become curious and you will find things you didn’t know before–the basis of understanding.
  6. Participate in a group that shares your interests. While this feels opposite of the previous point, the goal of this would be to unite yourself with others who have the same common interest, goal, or hobby as you, and in doing so, you will meet lots of different people. Maybe even some you didn’t expect to find in this group. Apps like MeetUp or Bumble BFF can help you meet individuals or groups with common interests. You could also take a class at the local community center or join a recreational sports league. There’s a group or meeting for almost any interest or hobby out there.

What do you think about empathy? Is there a reason we should or shouldn’t be empathetic? What are some other ways to be empathetic? Let me know in the comments below or on social media!

20 Questions to Improve Your Self-Awareness

Darius Foroux, blogger and author, invented a list of 20 questions to improve your self-awareness. In my ever-expanding journey of self-improvement, I found it refreshing and inspiring. It’s also a fantastic chance for me to slap this thing in a blog post and share it for the world to see!

There’s no going back. My vulnerabilities and self-awareness (or lack thereof) are lying here, on the table, for your viewing pleasure:

  1. What am I good at?
    Writing. Making people laugh. Learning things quickly. Working hard. Loving fast and deeply. Criticizing myself. Eating Taco Bell and then whining about how I can’t lose wait.
  2. What am I so-so at?
    Writing. Playing video games. Knowing when it’s my turn to talk and not interrupt someone like a goblin. Being patient.
  3. What am I bad at?
    Writing. Math. Not talking during a movie or TV show. Being empathetic toward strangers.
  4. What makes me tired?
    Socializing all day. I’m an extroverted introvert, but my God, I have my limits. Also, pushing myself physically, mentally, or emotionally. I don’t seem to have an extra reserve somewhere like others do. When I’ve hit the wall, I’ve hit it. Buh-bye.
  5. What is the most important thing in my life?
    Of course, family, my boyfriend, those I care about. But beyond that, which I think is pretty universal, I’d say personal fulfillment and purpose. Through career or hobby or whatever, I need purpose.
  6. Who are the most important people in my life?
    My boyfriend, Colby; my son, Alex; my family; my closest of friends (all 3 of them).
  7. How much sleep do I need?
    Either less or more than I actually get. I rarely get the right amount. I’d say about 7 hours.
  8. What stresses me out?
    Just like, general existence. Okay, Jessica. Stop writing for the audience. You know this is a pretty thin excuse for a blog post anyway. Alright, so, the expectations I’ve self-imposed to write this blog and become a successful blogger really are stressful. So maybe I shouldn’t take it so seriously.
  9. What relaxes me?
    Nice-smelling candles. Writing in my journal with a nice pen. My 80s playlist. My 70s playlist. My Stranger Things playlist. Doing progressive relaxation meditations.
  10. What’s my definition of success?
    This unattainable standard of perfection that I’ve set for myself that’s almost guaranteed to end in failure because I’m entirely too critical and do not have the tools, resources, or energy to pursue at the level I’d need to in order to actually achieve my goal, nor do I give myself adequate time to succeed, instead, folding under the pressure and changing my goals to avoid said failure.
  11. What type of worker am I?
    Truly, being the kind of person who has good work ethic and will work hard and do things the right way is probably one of my greater qualities. Why do I do it? I don’t even know. I don’t get paid extra. I just care about the quality of work I put out there. If I have a task, I want to do that task right. It’s the one thing I wish I could send a sample of to employers. See? Look at me! I’m a diligent, ethical worker! Please love me.
  12. How do I want others to see me?
    Funny. Likable. Interesting. Intelligent. The better question is how do I make them see me that way? And how do they see me now?
  13. What makes me sad?
    Not living up to my full potential. Feeling like I’m wasting time/my life. Seeing others in pain and suffering. Third on the list, but it’s on the list!
  14. What makes me happy?
    Connections to those people who make me happy. People in my circle, of course, but I also like connecting with new people over shared interests and hobbies or careers. Doing things I love. New things, old things. Something that fills me with light.
  15. What makes me angry?
    Disrespect, whether real or perceived. Someone not living up to the standards I set for myself that they somehow must also arbitrarily follow. Illogical behaviors. Stupidity in general. Someone implying or explicitly telling me that I’m stupid or dumb. Someone laughing at me or mocking me.
  16. What type of person do I want to be?
    I want to be Princess Carolyn from Bojack Horseman. Tenacious, ambitious, confident, fearless. “Takes a lickin’, keeps on tickin’,” she says. I want to bounce back like her, and pursue my dreams and ambitions the way she would. She also knows how to put a good spin on things when she’s pitching shows or movies to executives or producers. Oh, she’s also a pink cat. Yeah, I should have mentioned that. It’s not why I want to be her, but I feel that would be a nice bonus.
  17. What type of friend do I want to be?
    The kind you can go to about anything. Someone who is nice, empathetic, and caring.
  18. What do I think about myself?
    Not the greatest, but trying her best.
  19. What things do I value in life?
    I value my time over everything else, at least when it comes to work and money. No dollar amount can give me my time back. You’re paying me for my time; therefore, it’s far more valuable than the dollar. I can’t get time back. I can make more money though.
  20. What makes me afraid?
    Pretty much everything. What people will think of me, how people will judge me, how I will judge me, saying something dumb or wrong or stupid, doing something dumb or wrong or stupid, missing an opportunity, messing up an opportunity, failure in general, being actually mentally dumb or stupid and realizing that I’m not capable of doing all the great, cool stuff I actually want to and think I can do, if only I had the mental energy and time (and hey, I’m working on it).
    But I’m sick of fear. I’m sick of anxiety. I’m sick of my own judgments and criticisms. I’m working on all my dreams, little by little, and I’m going to crush all my fears, one-by-one.

Now it’s your turn! I’ve bared my soul, now you give it a go. In the comments, in your own post, on social media. I don’t care. Just get to self-reflecting!

How My Cat Helps Me With My Mental Health

my dilute tortoiseshell cat sitting in a sink and looking off to the side
Carmella, my dilute tortoiseshell kitty.

I had a bunch of cats growing up. They were all outdoor cats and suffered short lives. It was tragic, but there was nothing I could do to provide or care for them as a kid. It broke my heart, but I loved having them. They were my favorite animal. I had all kinds of toys and stuffed animals that were cats. I was pretty easy to buy for as a kid.

When I became an adult, I always wanted to get a pet, but for various reasons I put it off and didn’t get one.

Until last year.

I got Carmella when she was about 12 weeks old.

my dilute tortoiseshell kitten Carmella when I first got her. She's sitting on my lap and looking right at me.

She challenged me a lot with her hyperactive behavior, vocal personality, and curiosity (which led to some destructive behavior both then and now). But she was also a lot of fun, and she made me happy.

I didn’t realize how much she helped my mental health though. Here’s how she helped me, and I think this could be said of any pets!

My friend Brandy, at Live Mentally Well, also posted about how pets can improve your mental health. Check out her post, too!

Pets provide companionship

The obvious reason to get a pet is that you want a buddy! My cat has definitely made bad days better, and helped put a smile on my face when I hadn’t smiled all day. It’s great to have someone there to greet you every day, happy to see you, and ready to curl up with you at any moment. Her purrs of contentment when I’m giving her affection or holding her make my heart soar, and it can melt even the hardest of hearts. When I’m having bad days or even slipping back into depression, she’s there to pick up my spirits just a little and remind me I’m not alone.

Pets give you a sense of responsibility

Having to take care of something or someone else forces you to rise to the occasion. It’s not for your sake that you do it, but for theirs.

Having this responsibility is good for your mental health because it helps you from falling into a rut or withdrawing completely from civilization. I know when I’m feeling like isolating from everyone or I’m starting to feel bad about myself or my life, I will neglect household chores, I will ignore everyone, I will let it all go to hell. But having Carmella breaks me out of that cycle.

A pet gives you a purpose when you feel you don’t have one. I might be feeling hopeless or lost when it comes to my career or life’s direction, but I know for sure Carmella needs to be fed and given plenty of attention and routine checkups. I know I can’t leave her alone for too long because she’s a living creature who needs care! Responsibility is something that gives me a sense of duty and helps me keep going on days I don’t want to keep going.

Pets provide you with a routine

Routine is essential for mental health care. Your own personal treatment and self-care are important, but general routines for your day and your home are equally important. I find that having a routine with my chores and household tasks also helps me stave off depression, restless and empty feelings, or just general ickiness and muck that I tend to fall into sometimes.

With a pet, not only do you have a sense of responsibility in caring for this creature, but you create a routine with them. I feed Carmella at specific times of the day. I play with her at various points in the evening, especially right before bed. I make sure to give her plenty of attention. I take her out to the porch frequently. We do this on the weekend, too. It like having the stability of this routine throughout the week.

I’d love to see pictures of your pets! Do you think they help with your mental health?

The Sunshine Blogger Awards

sunshine-blogger-award

I feel honored to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by someone I admire in the blogging world, Gemma Newbery. She’s the writer and founder of the blog Help Me, I’m Adulting. It’s a fantastic and fun blog, definitely check her out. My favorite post (so far!) is 4 Easy Ways of Finding Forgotten Money.

Gemma Newbery’s Help Me, I’m Adulting! A blog about getting your shit together.

The Sunshine Blogging Award is an opportunity for bloggers to nominate fellow bloggers for their work. It’s also a fun way to spread positivity (and each others’ blogs)!

Rules For The Sunshine Blogger Award

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  • List the sunshine blogger award rules and display its logo on your site 
  • Answer the sunshine blogger award questions given by the other person who nominated you. 
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions
  • Notify the nominees about their nominations 

1. How long have you been blogging for?

I started my first blog probably in 2012, though I did it as a complete amateur. Silly, satirical things, like “how to get a date”, but it was the dumbest, most goofy things because I thought those types of articles were stupid. I started the Unplug Initiative in 2014. Just a few months ago, I decided to buckle down and buy a domain name, and now have been considering how to gain more traffic. I’m excited for what’s to come 🙂

2. What or who inspires your writing?

The desire to help people. Yes, it’s fun to write. Yes, I’m glad to share it with my social media friends. But it’s not just a way to say “look at me, I’m writing!”. I genuinely want to help people with their mental health, with their productivity, with their feelings of being lost or in a rut. I know about all these things, and I don’t claim to be some guru. I just want to help inspire and encourage along the way, using my own experience, compassion, and resources.

3. If you could recommend a book to everyone, what would it be?

A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan. It’s a psychological and philosophical thriller. A pretty interesting and unique book that will make you think long after you’ve finished it.

4. Do you have any hobbies?

Besides writing, I enjoy video games, music, and reading. That’s super generic, but it’s true! Writing takes up a lot of my time though.

5. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

6. If you could visit anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?

Italy!

7. If you could spend the day in any decade, which one would you choose and why?

The 70s. I feel like a lot of great music happened that decade. It would be a fun time to be alive and witness that music live. Plus all the fun experimentation, under the guise of peace and love and happiness, when they were just all really high. :P8

8. Have you ever met someone famous?

A bunch of country singers. It’s not like I hung out with them or introduced myself. I “met” them all while working in retail. I checked them out at the register or made them a coffee. I’ve also worked security at a store where I saw Liam Hemsworth shopping. I didn’t interact with him whatsoever, but I was in the same area as him for awhile haha.

9. What TV shows are you into at the moment?

I finished Bojack Horseman a few weeks ago. I can’t recommend that enough. It’s such a raw, honest, shocking real and touching account of depression and addiction. It’s witty and clever, but it will break your heart and make you cry.

10. Favourite food?

Fettuccine Alfredo, macaroni and cheese, spinach and mushroom alfredo pizza

11. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

Oh, wow. I think the horse-sized duck. As terrifying as that sounds, at least they don’t have as powerful of legs as a horse does. I feel like a bunch of smaller horses would still be horrible because they’d be pretty strong. Plus 100 of anything doesn’t sound like a fair fight. I’ll take my chances against one giant duck!

Questions for my nominees:

  1. Who is a personal hero to you?
  2. If you could be one animal for a day, what would you choose?
  3. What’s your favorite blog post that you’ve written?
  4. Why did you choose your blog name?
  5. If you and I were to hang out for a day, what would you want to do?
  6. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  7. What is an underrated song or artist that you want to call more people’s attention to?
  8. If you had to pick a favorite song, what would it be? If you can’t, what are a few that come to mind?
  9. Do you write for a living? If so, do you just make money off your blog, or do you do other writing? If not your blog, how else does writing earn you an income?
  10. How long have you wanted to be a writer?
  11. Do you play any instruments? If not, what would you love to learn how to play?

My wonderful nominees:

Britt K for Unapologetically You
Living Mentally Well
Time to Talk
Christa Leigh
Kate on Thin Ice
Elissa Renee
Brit for The Happiness Agreement
Gifted, Not Broken
Shreya Shanker for Working on That
Sunny Larue
Ruth in Revolt