Enjoy the Holidays Mindfully

Why does our society always rush us from one holiday to the next? In this post, I discuss how detrimental I think this is and how Mindfulness practices can help us keep our sanity, especially during the Holiday Season.

Gird yourself for the Holidays folks, ready or not…they are coming! 😮  

Here we go again…so I walked into my friendly, neighborhood, home improvement store the other day, excited to see Halloween decorations on the shelves.  It made perfect sense as we’re nearing the start of October…and they were available…right across the aisle from the GIANT, CHRISTMAS tree, and decorations display! 🙄  EVERY year this happens and EVERY year it makes me irritated. 😝

One of my biggest pet peeves is the overt rush to the Holiday Season, which seems to start in September. 😋  Why the rush?  It completely goes against all principles of Mindfulness and being Present, or living in the moment.

I will acknowledge during our COVID days, the pretty lights do help to lighten the mood a little…but there are plenty of Halloween/Fall-related decorations we could be focusing on right now! 😛

Christmas…in Fall?!

It seems like a week or two before Halloween each year, the seasonal sections of stores are already alight with Christmas decor.  Not one or two things, here or there, mind you.  No, there are rows upon rows of Christmas lights, outdoor and indoor decorations, and fake Christmas trees already filling the shelves.

This isn’t that big of a deal.  It happens every year, so I know I should be prepared for it and should just ignore it.  At the very least, it is NOT important enough to be wasting my precious, mental energy on.  Yet every year it irks me more.  I just get irritated that while I’m busy thinking about goblins and ghouls, Christmas decorations are shining at me from the shelves. 😝

The stores have Halloween candy out in August!  Seriously, if you buy the candy then, it would be gross come the actual holiday.  And let’s be honest, who could keep it in their house that long without eating it?  Maybe that’s the plan of the stores and candy companies, get it out early so we start enjoying it…so then we have to buy more by the time the actual holiday comes. 🤔  They’re making us fat while simultaneously slimming our wallets! 😡  They probably partner with the weight-loss companies…we’re on to the conspiracy now though! 😉  (Ok, time to take off the tin-foil hat.) 😇  

Have we always rushed the Holidays?

I wonder if this rush to the Holidays is really a new thing?  Maybe it has always been this way?  The over-commercialization of Christmas is even mentioned in The Charlie Brown Christmas movie from the 1960s.  Perhaps our rush to the next event we are anticipating is just a weakness of human nature?  I wonder if people who participate in less, mainstream holidays experience this, as well?  Are those who celebrate Diwali, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa allowed to enjoy these holidays in their proper season?

I think one reason this yearly phenomenon bothers me so much is that it makes me feel rushed.  I feel like it adds an additional level of stress to the everyday pressure I already struggle with.  It’s no wonder we have so much ADHD and anxiety in our world today, we’re constantly being rushed from one commercialized holiday to the next and never given the opportunity to rest and enjoy a given event in its moment.

Stop Rushing the Holidays!

You barely finish your hot dog and watch the 4th of July fireworks…and “Back to School” is being rammed down your throat…then, a month before Halloween even occurs…and THREE FULL MONTHS before the Christmas holiday…I’m supposed to start getting excited about Santa and his reindeer…?

It seems like we skip right over Thanksgiving, which is so sad.  That is the holiday where no gifts are expected, we can just enjoy the moments spent with family and friends.  It’s the one time where we are actually supposed to reflect on our many blessings and how thankful we are for them.  It’s one of the most mindful holidays of them all!

…then with the Christmas holidays barely past, we’re already seeing chocolate hearts for Valentines Day…then green clovers start appearing for St. Patrick’s Day…and shortly after, candied bunnies and chicks, for Easter, will be on the horizon…then the red, white and blue, patriotic decorations start flying for the summer festivities…and before we know it we’ve returned to Back-to-School and Halloween again.  And I swear we JUST took our Christmas tree down a few weeks ago! 😅

No wonder the years seem to fly by, we’re all living three months in the future at all times!  It reminds me of a scene from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Upon learning that another holiday is just around the corner, Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, states, “I haven’t even finished eating all of my Halloween candy yet!”  I remember having this same thought as a child. (Regular readers will note I reference Charlie Brown rather frequently.  The Trekkers like Charlie Brown ok, those stories taught me good lessons during my childhood, I’m not sorry! 😉) 

I just don’t understand the constant need to always be reaching for the next thing.  Do we ever take the time to just enjoy the current moment?  Are we even able to anymore?  On one hand, it seems silly to be concerned about this.  But on the other, I think this is just another example of our over-stimulated, modern culture where we need to be constantly hyped up about something at all times.

Enjoy the Holidays Mindfully

Mindfulness principles can be really useful here.  By focusing on and appreciating the individual moment, event, day (or at the very least, holiday) that we are CURRENTLY experiencing, we can help keep the stress and pressure of the Holiday Season at bay.  We will feel less stress when we aren’t always preparing for something that won’t occur for several more months.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE everything about Christmas, I just REFUSE to participate in holidays until their appointed season.  For the Trekkers, this means no Fall decorations until the first of October is ‘nigh, and I 100% refrain from engaging in anything related to Christmas until Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Then it’s Merry Freakin’ Christmas all day, every day! 🙃 

To Conclude

I think this rush to the Holidays is detrimental to us, and I’m not alone in those concerns.  It increases the pressure of the already-stressful Holiday Season for many people.  There are so many things that always occur at once:  parties, religious and school activities, and family gatherings (or, during COVID, the lack of any of these enjoyable things. 😝)  All of these can cause us angst.

This time of year can also be very expensive for many people, with all the gifts, and the–sometimes lengthy–travel involved to see family and friends.  On the other hand, not everyone has a loving family, so this time of year can be very lonely for them.  I think it’s pretty obvious that we would all benefit from putting a little less focus on the commercialized Holidays, and a little more on making our world a better place.

I know that after 18-months we’re still in the midst of COVID chaos and it shows no signs of ending any time soon. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer.  Anything that helps make our crappy situation more bearable we should embrace, I just think we need to do so mindfully is all. 😇  

Do you find that the coming Season is over-hyped?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Ever feel like we're constantly hurried from one holiday to the next? Read on for how important being mindful is when enjoying holidays.

 

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IBS: an Invisible Illness

This week I discuss my ongoing struggle with a chronic condition called IBS.

It starts with a characteristic *grumble–grumble* in the tummy, like you might feel when you’re getting hungry…but not quite.  It progresses to sharp pains and paralyzing cramps that can spread from your abdomen to your feet…then there’s the nausea, the cold sweats, the chills, and sometimes what feels like hours doubled over with stomach pains…and then…as quickly as it comes on, the attack is relieved…you may even feel hungry…

You just had an IBS attack!

I’ve mentioned in numerous posts that I struggle with this chronic condition, otherwise known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  This is a unique problem.  It isn’t considered a disease, per se, but more of a disorder.  Basically, when people suffer with IBS, it means their bowels don’t work correctly, and it isn’t understood why.  Doctors usually give you this diagnosis when they can’t find anything else wrong after other tests are completed.

Some people don’t consider IBS to be a “real” ailment at all.  I’ve heard several claim it’s the “diagnosis of doctors who are too lazy to figure out what’s really wrong with you”.  Symptoms and severity differ for each person (and what each individual suffers can vary over the course of time).  IBS is complicated. 😛

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

IBS comes in three categories:  “Predominantly C”, “Predominantly D”, or an unpredictable, varying mixture of the two.  I won’t get into the dirty details, but since this syndrome focuses on the bowels, I’m sure you can figure out what the C and D stand for. 😝  I also won’t TMI you with which one I deal with, as it isn’t really relevant, and people who suffer with the disorder can switch between the types throughout their life…I did.  

I think part of the reason I struggled so much with the restrictive, low-carb diet is that my IBS already limits what I can eat, so the diet just exacerbated that even more.  In addition, some “Paleo/Keto-friendly” foods aren’t well tolerated by my testy tummy (like dark chocolate, or certain types of super-fibrous veggies).  To contrast, many “naughty” foods, such as white bread, my body loves. 😝 (Fortunately, my stomach will also tolerate whole-grain breads, so I can compromise with those). 😀

What IBS is NOT?

As I mentioned before, IBS isn’t considered to be a disease…exactly.  It isn’t as acute as Celiac, Crohn’s or Inflammatory Bowl Disease, though the symptoms can be severe (I consider myself blessed that mine rarely are).  They don’t actually know what, exactly it is.  It isn’t an auto-immune issue, it isn’t gluten intolerance (I’ve mentioned before that my body loves whole-grain carbs, for the most part).  It isn’t caused by an allergic reaction either.  Some people with IBS can be gluten or lactose-intolerant, but those are separate issues–I am not.  For the most part, these foods don’t bother me at all, though there are one or two in these categories that I’ve learned to stay away from.

IBS Trigger Foods

This disorder makes food choices complicated.  Symptoms, severity and food sensitivity differs from person to person, though some foods are considered “trigger foods” as they, generally, “trigger” negative responses.  These include onions and celery, though I can eat these foods if they’re dried, or well-cooked (the process must change the makeup of the foods so they are easier to digest).  I recently learned that both almond milk and apples are frequently considered to be “trigger foods”.  Nobody tell that to my stomach, as I’ve been eating both for years with no problems! 😛  Did I mention symptoms vary?   

One of my “triggers” is spices.  Not spicy food, per se, but herbs.  Because of this, I tend to eat and cook my food pretty blandly.  A perk of this, I have noticed, is that it enables me to enjoy the actual flavor of the food I’m eating, rather than whatever spice/essence has been added to it.   

Another example of how complicated IBS can be, I can drink milk and eat cheese without stomach problems (though it affects my sinuses).  But if I eat or drink things with a lot of heavy cream in them, my stomach may protest. 😛  I also have to be careful with honey.  I can eat it, but only in small amounts. 

How to treat IBS

I have seen a reduction in my symptoms in recent years.  Some of this is due to learning what my trigger foods are, and avoiding them.  I believe a lot of it is also due to reducing stress.  An example of this stress reduction reducing one of my food sensitivities is that since decreasing my stress level I can now drink orange juice.  One glass used to do me in.  Now, I happily enjoy it every morning!  I have also started a daily regimen of probiotics, which has been shown to help reduce IBS symptoms.   

I find treatments such as stress reduction and healthy bacteria to be so interesting because, clearly, this is not JUST a physiological ailment.  If my symptoms were purely based on an allergic or immune response, I should react to the same foods all the time.  Because my response to them can vary based on the presence of other stimuli, other factors must be at play. 

More and more, effective medications are being found to treat this disorder.  For now, I’ve chosen to not use them.  I’ve stated before that I’ve become disillusioned with modern society’s over-reliance on “magic pills” to fix everything.  I don’t shun modern medicine, but this is one arena where mindfulness and behavior changes can bring positive improvement, sometimes without the use of drugs at all–though the need for medication varies by person as well. (To be clear, I don’t consider a probiotic to be a “magic pill”.  Namely, because it is righting the actual issue that experts believe is playing a part in causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to begin with, that of inaccurate bacteria growth within the gut.)  

Gut health and IBS

The gut is known to be a common place we all hold stress.  When I’m under pressure, I regularly notice stomach cramps as I unconsciously hold tension in my abdominal muscles.  This can trigger an IBS attack.  If my body is reacting to a food I’ve eaten, there isn’t much I can do.  However, if my symptoms are due to tension (and I have learned to feel the difference) I have literally stopped an IBS episode using nothing but relaxation and deep-breathing techniques.  How empowering is it when we can see real, positive changes in our health just by changing factors that we have control over?    

A connection between IBS and anxiety?

There is a known correlation between IBS and anxiety, though it isn’t fully understood. (I hear my Research Methods prof in the back of my head right now saying, “correlation is not causation!”)  This is true, but it is not unusual for people who suffer from IBS to also struggle with an anxiety disorder or vice versa.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I wrestle with both.  Researchers don’t know why this occurs, but they have some ideas: 

      • It may be that the body is lacking nutrients as IBS can cause the gut to not absorb them from food well.  More and more, problems in the gut (and subsequent nutritional deficiencies) are being linked to numerous physical and mental health issues, even if they once appeared seemingly unrelated. 
      • It could also be that the stress brought about by anxiety causes changes in the gut flora, mini-muscle contractions, or a more acidic gut environment, all of which can then lead to the IBS symptoms.

Invisible illness is a real illness

IBS is different for every person who suffers from it.  It’s complicated and it’s hard to explain.  The bottom line, this condition is a very real part of the lives of millions of people around the world, and it can hinder life greatly.  I hope, one day, they find a cure for this life-altering and chronic condition, but until they do, I hope to continue employing the methods mentioned above to decrease the severity and frequency of my symptoms.

Do you struggle with an invisible illness like IBS?  Tell me about it in the comments!

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Read on for a first-person discussion on what it's like to live with the invisible illness, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS.

 

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Weeding as a Mindfulness Exercise

In this post, I discuss the peace that I take from the practice of grounding, which can be practiced by simply engaging in outdoor chores, like weeding.

This may sound odd, but I find weeding and gardening to be a mindfulness exercise (nobody tell Mr. Trekker that! 🤫)  Some people find things like folding laundry, cleaning the house or doing dishes to be meditative.  While I can see their point, those chores just don’t do it for me. 🙃  For whatever reason, weeding and flower gardening are some of the only activities (aside from outdoor recreation) that I find actually calm my racing thoughts.  Though I may get tired when completing these tasks, I don’t get bored.  Time doesn’t drag by.  I find I’m often, satisfyingly surprised at how much I can get done in a short amount of time.

I read an article about people who have gained a substantial following on Pinterest showing off their techniques for keeping their houses so clean.  While the writer agreed completing these tasks can be satisfying, she also worried seeing the level of cleanliness that others are able to maintain could add stress for some people, as they may not feel they can live up to those standards.  I can understand either perspective.  I don’t intend to make anyone feel bad if they don’t always find time to keep up with their yard work.  I can only speak to my personal experience.  I am just regularly amazed how my mind, that constantly swims with numerous thoughts on various subjects, can be completely calmed just by working in the dirt a bit.  Maybe this is why I’m a Nature Girl! 😉

These activities also give me the opportunity to think through–and sometimes resolve–issues I’ve been struggling with.  In distressing, stressful times, I find comfort in “playing in the dirt”.  When I can get my hands busy with tangible tasks, I’m able to focus on just one idea at any given moment.  On other occasions, my mind is actually able to completely relax and let go.

I think some of this is due to the fact that it’s incredibly satisfying to complete a physical task and see that something looks “better” after you’ve finished with it.  I feel a lot of satisfaction when I look out the kitchen window and see flower beds that are well-maintained, where, just a few, short hours ago, they were shaggy with weeds and grass.  I think in our modern world, where so much of the work we complete is often either on a computer or even web-based, you can spend an entire day putting large amounts of energy into work–and can potentially accomplish quite a lot–but it isn’t as satisfying.  There is nothing you can hold in your hand (or a desk free of piles of work) that allows you to feel like, “I made that happen”.  There is something very real in the physicality required to complete tangible tasks.

There is some scientific basis to these feelings.  “Grounding”, or “earthing” is a concept based on the idea that modern life keeps us separated from direct contact with our natural environment, much to our disadvantage.  The theory is that the earth maintains a slightly negative electrical charge, while our bodies build up an excess positive charge, an effect of inflammation over time.  So, coming into contact with the earth helps to bring us back into equilibrium.  You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these ideas are a bit controversial. 😮 

Another blog I like, The Wellness Mama, offers a more in-depth explanation of these practices.  While some studies are ongoing, nothing substantial has been proven regarding these theories…yet.   The National Center for Biotechnology Information offers two of the more serious, scientific studies that have been completed on the topic, one of which discusses the health benefits of gardening.  They can be found here and here

Something special just seems to occur when our bodies come into direct contact with nature.  I’ve spoken before about the peace I (and many others) feel in a connection with the natural world.  The idea of forest bathing comes from this same connection.  Humans spent eons living as a part of nature, that’s how we evolved.  Is it really so far-fetched to believe there may be true health benefits found in a literal connection with that world?  In our modern existence of artificial lighting, artificial air and artificial substances, is it any wonder that a lack of that connection may have detrimental effects on us?

Some of this starts to get into the outer limits of what science can currently prove, so I can understand if people may be a little skeptical.  I’m not trying to suggest that playing in the dirt is the magic cure for all that ails us.  But, I do feel better when I engage in a little gardening, so aside from a few dirty fingernails, what can be the harm?

Just because my Iris’ are GORGEOUS right now! 🙂

Do you find there are meditative qualities in simple, hand’s-on tasks?  Tell me about them in the comments!

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Are you looking for a simple mindfulness exercise ? Try "grounding", which can be accomplished with simple outdoor chores, like weeding.

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Ode to an Old Friend

The Trekkers had to say “goodbye” to a member of their pack this week…

After 12 wonderful years, we finally had to say goodbye to our family dog.  We aren’t sure exactly how old she was.  We adopted her as a young adult in 2007 so…she was at least 13, and could have been closer to 15, just based on the information we were given at the time of adoption.  This sweet, spoiled canine lead a good, long life!

Allow yourself to feel grief

Sometimes “adulting” is hard.  I’ve spoken before about how we don’t like to experience any pain in the modern world if we can avoid it (and frequently we can).  There’s usually a pill that will at least help to dull the ache.  Pain is never completely avoidable in life, though.  One of those unavoidable heartaches is the loss of close friends (be they human or animal).  Grief sucks…and it HURTS!

We must keep in mind though, that this feeling of loss we are forced to experience from time to time is actually a sign of a good life.  That pain means you had something to love, something that added joy to your life, to begin with.  We should consider ourselves blessed if we have things in our lives that hurt so much to lose.

The Trekkers have been preparing for this eventuality for quite a while.  For the last several years, we’ve watched our dear friend, slow, lose her hearing, and the ability to fully enjoy many activities she used to delight in.  The dog who once–with enthusiasm–drug our butts all the way up and down the 6,683 foot Mt. Mitchell, in North Carolina, became a greying friend who could barely make it around the block. 

Our furry friend led an enjoyable life.  Since 2007 she’s accompanied us on countless hiking and camping adventures, traveled with us to both Indiana and New England to spend holidays with our families and relocated more than 1700 miles across the country with us when we moved from North Carolina to the Black Hills of South Dakota. (She glared at me from the back seat of my Civic through every mile of that trip 😂!  This is a dog who used to get carsick after less than 15 minutes in a car, which made things interesting those first few years. 😛)

We adopted her from the Wake County Humane Society in Raleigh, North Carolina.  For anyone living in the area, this is an amazing place.  They provide an incredibly comprehensive survey to help match you with your ideal pet, and they provide support services after adoption (such as behavior counseling) if needed.

Happier memories of times past:
She LOVED to sleep on the back of that couch (it did not survive her)! 😂
Dragging Mommy down the trail…
Dragging Daddy through the snow…
She loved getting outdoors!

In case it isn’t obvious from the pictures, this pup was spoiled rotten.  😉

We received her terminal diagnosis several months before she died, so we were very blessed to get to spend so much extra time with her.  She ended up outliving the vet’s prognosis by several months!  We were so happy that she hung on long enough to be able to enjoy laying in the sun and rolling in the soft, green grass of spring again.

I have to say a huge, “thank you!” to the staff at Dakota Hills Veterinary Clinic as well.  They took such good care of our friend for the last eight years, she actually enjoyed going there.  Her last day on earth, she happily walked in the front doors, excited to see the friends she had made there.  The staff made a difficult and painful experience as easy as possible to bear. 

We were fortunate to have more than 12 long years with our friend, and I like to think she was pretty happy with her human pack members as well.   

We should all strive to live life like a hound dog:

Goodbye old friend, you are missed but you will never be forgotten…

 

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Reduce Stress by Embracing Mindful Minimalism

In this post I provide a list of mindfulness and minimalism practices I use to keep my sanity when I’m stressed.

I hate that feeling when your mind seems to be racing out of control.  When you’re so hyped up, your whole body feels like it’s trembling.  It’s like you’ve ingested too much caffeine…you feel like life and your brain is careening out of control and you just can’t seem to relax.  The more you try to focus on something the more it seems to slip through your mental fingers.

Yet you notice, perplexedly, when you take a breath and are able to relax, that thoughts come easier.  You can remember and focus when, just a few hours ago, you couldn’t hang onto a thought for more than a few seconds…read on for tips on how to lessen stress using Mindful Minimalism.

Signs Your Body is Stressed

Tight stomach muscles…taught shoulders…you feel the dull ache of a tension headache at the back of your neck…then your eyelid or cheek starts to twitch…your lower back and shoulder blades are tense…there’s the occasional, weird twinge in your chest or abdomen…sometimes a lightheadedness kicks in, complete with difficulty focusing and a dazed sense of, what could almost be described as, disorientation…you may have trouble sleeping, or experience sleep disturbances or strange dreams…

These are all signs that our body is telling us, “YOU ARE STRESSED AND NEED A BREAK!”  You know the stress is building when you notice these signs.  My understanding is some of the stranger symptoms, such as the lightheadedness and disorientation, occur because we have a tendency to unconsciously hold our breath– or at least breathe shallowly–when we are tense and stressed.  This leads to lower oxygen levels and the disconnected, lightheaded feeling (it doesn’t help that I have chronic sinus and inner-ear problems that mess with my equilibrium 😋).

How to Use Mindfulness and Minimalism Practices to Reduce Stress

I’ve learned to take heed when these symptoms show themselves.  At the first sign of them, I immediately try to kick my mindfulness, simplicity and minimalism practices into high gear.  I focus on meditation, physical exercise and taking slow, deep breaths.  I also try to focus on only one task at a time while keeping the distractions as minimal as possible.

In the age of our always-on, always-connected lives, many people are starting to feel that our brains are being overwhelmed, present company included. Below are some of the procedures I employ when I notice these symptoms and realize I need to take a little “me time”:

Digital Minimalism:

This may seem odd for a blogger, and full disclosure, I do use multiple social media platforms for the blog.  However, I try to focus on them ONLY for the blog.  I do use them to stay up-to-date on certain subjects, mostly travel-related, and to keep in touch with long-distance family and friends.  I also peruse the occasional political site to keep up with the news as well.  But I consider it a good sign when the platform is “nudging” me that I haven’t been posting much.

Prioritize Minimalism in All Areas of Your Life:
            • I try to minimize the distractions caused by music and television (unless I’m focusing on them as a means of relaxation).
            • I try to focus on other relaxation practices such as coloring or writing in a journal.
            • I’m big on simplicity.  I don’t wear much jewelry, and what I do wear tends to be small.  I find one of my biggest irritations in the morning is how much time I waste “getting ready” (and the fact that Mr. Trekker can do it in half the time it takes me 😋).  So, to counteract that, I keep that process as simple as possible.  I don’t mess with my hair much, most days I don’t even dry it.  I wear very little makeup, I don’t even own a bottle of hairspray anymore. 😋
            • I’ve never been a very showy person (says the woman with a nose ring and tattoo, but hey, they’re both small!   I suppose “showy” is in the eye of the beholder. 🙃)  My tattoo is simple, consisting of only one color and a little shading. Both can be hidden if I choose.  I prefer these methods of beautification because they are simple and constant.  They’re there but are blessedly low maintenance.  Often times I completely forget about them.  They allow me to show off my own personal flair but in a subtle and simple way.

(To be clear, this isn’t intended as any sort of judgment on people who do prioritize beautification more.  These methods are just part of the way I keep life simple.  I was also always way too lazy to take the time to learn how to do much regarding my hair or makeup anyway. 😛)

Make Lists (LOTS of Lists!):

I’ve always been a fan of list-making, but I find during times of higher stress it’s even more helpful.  It relieves stress because, when you write things down that you need to keep track of, you don’t have to “stress” 😉 about remembering them anymore.  This also helps with maintaining focus as you have fewer thoughts bouncing around in your head.  I always carry a pen and a small notebook with me so, at a moment’s notice, I can write things down I don’t want to forget.  You can also use the “notes” or “reminder” function on your phone, but I’m partial to the “old school” method.

Stress Makes Everyday Life Harder

High levels of everyday, mental stress make it more difficult to handle real problems when they actually occur.  As an example, a “low-tire” light on a car, while not usually more than a nuisance, can feel like an insurmountable obstacle that you don’t feel like you can handle when your mental energy supply is already depleted.

One of my biggest struggles is feeling like IhavetorushandgetmytodolistdoneasfastasIpossiblycan!!!  (That’s difficult to read, right?  Yeah, that’s just a glimmer into the everyday workings of my foul little mind. 🙃)  Inevitably I find I allow myself to get stressed about all the things I need to do throughout the day or week.  Sometimes they are legitimately urgent (in which case they go to the top of the Mental Energy Priority Pile).  But more often than not, they’re just everyday tasks that need to be completed.  Things like errands, groceries, chores around the house and various work tasks. These issues are by no means life and death, they’re just part of normal living.  Inevitably I find I ALWAYS manage to complete them (quite often, faster and more easily than I thought I would).  And if they take a little extra time to finish, guess what, the world somehow still continues on.  The sun still rises each morning and sets each night, the birds still sing in the trees…

The trouble with all that stress I bring on myself is that when I complete the task and realize all is well…I still have all that negative energy built up…and then I start stressing about how to relieve THAT! 😛🙄

To Conclude:

Ultimately, it’s not healthy for us to maintain all the strain that we hold on a daily basis.  The rates of anxiety and stress-related illnesses keep increasing in modern society.  The saddest part of this is, most of our lives aren’t even that difficult.  We are literally making ourselves sick with illnesses that harbor potentially lethal consequences…over “First World Problems”.  We all really need to CHILL OUT! 😉  More and more I’m finding that implementing mindful, minimalism practices helps with controlling my anxiety and stress-related symptoms.  I hope this list helps you (and I) work toward a more serene life.

How do you implement Mindfulness and Minimalism practices to help reduce everyday stress?  Let me know in the comments!

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Do you find that stress affects your everyday life? Read on for ways to use Mindfulness and Minimalism practices to help reduce this strain.

 

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Guest Post

This week I was given the opportunity to write a guest post on another blog. Please click through for the post!

This week’s post is a little different.  I am pleased that I was given the opportunity to write a guest post on a blog I follow, called “My Best Friend Adeline”, written by Joan Senio.  In the post, I discuss how we can live life more mindfully by taking a page out of the life of Man’s Best Friend! 😁  Click through for the post.  And thanks again, to Joan, for this opportunity!

Use Mental Energy Wisely

In this post I discuss ways we can be mindful with our limited supply of daily mental energy.

As I was sitting at one of our favorite overlooks last weekend, with a panoramic view of the gorgeous, Black Hills countryside (see the picture above), I couldn’t help thinking…our world is such a beautiful, amazing place, why aren’t people happier?  It seems that my social media feeds are full of people outraged over the scandal-of-the-hour; anxious about imminent dangers that could befall them and those they care about at any moment; or convinced that the overall state of our world is in steep decline.  But are these thoughts many of us carry around on a regular basis helpful? Most of us are just striving to be a productive employee, to keep the house from falling apart and to keep control of a hectic schedule. Are these things a wise and productive use of our mental energy?  Could the stress of these additional stimuli to our already overstimulated lives actually be detrimental to our overall health?

Be Careful with how you Use Mental Energy

Today’s post is about being purposeful and mindful with how we spend our emotional energy.  Sadly, it is true that there are bad things that happen in the world every day.  With the internet, multiple social media channels and 24-hour news coverage we can easily be made aware of each and every one of them.  But is this a good thing?  I think it’s good to be aware of problems in our world* as this makes us informed citizens. Being informed helps us to make better choices when we’re choosing our leaders.  It helps us to know what policies our legislators are looking to enact (or what rights they may be looking to rescind).  It’s also important to be informed of what problems our world is still facing in the modern age.   

*Each person has to decide for themselves what constitutes a “problem”.  Different issues are important to different people, as is the severity of any one issue in comparison to any other.  An issue one person finds to be incredibly important, another may think is minor. I’m not here to tell you what you should care about, but simply to discuss a more productive way to care.

I think it’s important to be aware of what is occurring around us, both in our local communities and the larger world.  However, I think this concern becomes detrimental when we allow ourselves to become hyped up regarding numerous issues that we are made aware of throughout the day, week, month and year.  It seems logical that if we are constantly worked up about given issues, both our mental and physical health will eventually suffer.  This constant angst isn’t healthy.  It can, understandably, cause depression as it leads to the impression that each day the world gets a little worse (as you will see later, this idea is NOT backed up by statistics).

Don’t take my word for it…

How is our current “information age” hurting us?

Anxiety in the West: Is it on the rise?

What is depression and why is it rising?

Why The World Is Getting Better And Why Hardly Anyone Knows It

Now for the good news!

The world is not actually going to hell in a handbasket:

Extreme poverty around the world is decreasing

Around the US, rates of violent crime are down

Life expectancy is increasing around the world

The statistics show that the world, in general, is continuing to get better. People are living longer, healthier lives.  We live in a world that has greater access to opportunities and information (thanks to technology) than ever before in human history.  I’m not trying to suggest we should become lackadaisical with issues we care about.  Even if improvement has been seen in recent years, this doesn’t mean that further improvement isn’t called for.  But we can take a moment to step back and appreciate the gains we have achieved, and allow ourselves a little break.    

Mental Energy is Finite

Our daily reserve of emotional and mental energy is finite.  We only have so much available to us on any given day.  We have to be purposeful in choosing how we use it.  It’s like saying that every day you wake up with $25 in your pocket.  You can spend it on ANYTHING you want, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.  You don’t get any more until tomorrow and you can’t borrow from anyone else.  Once you’ve spent that $25 for the day, if anything else comes along that requires those funds, it just has to suffer and go without.

 This is important.  Because we only have a given amount of energy available to us each day, we need to be mindful with how we use it.  With our 24/7 access to events that are occurring throughout our world, we have to intentionally avoid being constantly stimulated by these.  Because there are so many things that could potentially sidetrack our energy, I think it’s important that we be purposeful with how we choose to expend that energy.  

We each have to decide for ourselves how much we want to let the problems of the world take over our lives.  I frequent multiple social media channels. On each I see some people (emphasis on SOME) who seem to be outraged, every single day (often multiple times per day) over various issues. While I believe their hearts are in the right place, I worry that thanks to modern media, we are constantly being exposed to events that we never used to be aware of.  While the issues may be completely factual and worthy of concern, do each one of us need to be concerned with every single event?  If you live in West Virginia, is it really a good use of your emotional energy to debate with a stranger on the internet about another stranger’s child who fell into an animal enclosure at a zoo in Arizona? 😝  While caring about these things makes us wonderful, compassionate people, at some point in time, we run out of emotional energy.  At that point I wonder, are we really able to do any good to any of the causes we find so important when our reserves are spread so thin?  Would it not be better to focus more on a specific issue?  

Each person will have a different tolerance for how much energy they have available to expend.  The reserves that each of us has within ourselves may even wax and wane as we work through the trials, tribulations (and joys) of everyday life.  I just think we need to be selective on how we choose to use our personal energy reserves.  

This may come off as selfish and that is not my intent.  I don’t think we should only care about things if they directly affect us and hinder our daily lives in some way.  We should be concerned when others are facing struggles.  But is every negative event that occurs throughout the world deserving of all of our personal, precious emotional energy?  Even if it doesn’t affect us or anyone we know personally; even if it has no effect on our local community or even our larger state/province/country?  Perhaps we can better use the precious resource that is this energy on problems that are closer to home.  Or, at least, maybe we should pick one or two issues to focus our attention on, rather than allowing ourselves to try to tackle every single one of the world’s problems.   

To Conclude:

Ultimately, regardless of what happens today, the sun WILL come up tomorrow. Birds are still tweeting in nearby trees; babies are still crying at their mothers’ breasts; the trash still needs to be taken out. 😉  I think there are numerous issues and situations in our world that are deserving of our concern as human beings.  But our personal, emotional energy is a precious gift.  It is also a limited resource.  I think we each, individually, need to be selective of where and how we use that resource.  This is a good way to reduce the stress in our lives.  We need to be mindful and purposeful with how we use our concern in a world full of things to be concerned about.  It is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t have the energy to put toward that today, I need to focus on my own mental health/family/community.”  

Do you have any suggestions on how to better prioritize mental and emotional energy?  If so, share them in the comments!

 

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We have a limited amount of mental energy available to us each day. Let's be mindful about how we use it.

 

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Solo Hiking is Risky

I give a personal account that highlights why, I firmly believe, it is a bad idea to venture out into the Wilds alone.

Author’s Note:  I’ve touched on this subject before, but I feel it is VERY important so I decided it deserved its own post.  My opinion is a little controversial, but I don’t care.  Multiple situations we’ve encountered on the trail have fortified this belief…

SOLO HIKING IS VERY RISKY!

I know some people don’t like to hear this but stick with me here.  Some of us have an independent streak that is so strong it can, unfortunately, outweigh our common sense at times. 😇  I’m not trying to tell people what to do, obviously, at the end of the day, we’re all adults and we have to make the final decision for ourselves on what is best for us.  Only we can determine what risks we’re willing to take regarding our own personal safety. I’m just trying to weave a cautionary tale.

Getting Stuck When Adventuring Alone

Several winters past we were snowshoeing in the Big Hill area on a warm, March day.  That portion of the Black Hills had received another foot of snow from a blizzard earlier in the week.  We were hiking a new portion of the Big Hill recreation area, where new fat bike and snowshoe trails had been added, that we weren’t very familiar with.  Unfortunately, due to its newness, the maps for these trails were a little unclear and not well signed (or if they were signed, the info was buried under several feet of snow). 😝

Accidents Can Happen FAST in the Wild…

We were maneuvering down a gulley, (which may or may not contain a creek bed in warmer months).  We thought we might be on-trail, but couldn’t really tell. (You are allowed to venture off-trail in these portions of the national forest, especially in the snow, and we knew our general location, so we were just having fun and exploring).  Mr. Trekker had taken the lead and was cutting trail, I was following almost exactly in his footsteps.  He took two steps, I took two steps…and my right leg immediately sunk into hip-deep snow.  

Normally, this isn’t too big of a deal.  It can be difficult to get out, but you just have to work at it.  This time, my leg was stuck fast.  I could move it around, but my ankle and foot refused to budge.  It was in the 40s and sunny that day, so the snow was heavy, wet, and easily packable. (This was one of those days where large ice-balls gather on the bottoms of your snowshoes as you walk.  I had sunk to almost knee-depth a short time earlier, and had a little trouble getting out as my snowshoe had created almost a vacuum in the snow.)  So, we weren’t too concerned.  We began digging…

…and digging…and digging…

We finally dug far enough to reach my knee (we learned something from this event…snowshoes make good shovels! 😳) and I kept trying to loosen my foot, but to no avail.  This was getting a little ridiculous!  Also, after several minutes half-buried in the cold stuff, any part of my body that was touching the snow was starting to get cold! 🥶 

We kept digging and about the time we reached my shin we hit something hard…very hard.  We couldn’t tell what it was, other than we wouldn’t be able to move it and my snowshoe was lodged UNDER it.  We couldn’t reach my foot–it was enclosed in my hiking boot which was firmly lashed to my snowshoe…and we couldn’t reach the bindings on the snowshoe to free the boot…at this point, my claustrophobia started to set in.  I DO NOT like being stuck.  It makes me feel like I’m suffocating.  I had images of sinking into this hole and being smothered by all the *&%$# snow! 😝 

I wasn’t too worried about being stuck forever because we knew what we needed to do, and I knew I wasn’t injured…but you start getting a little panicked when the adrenaline from the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, and that can easily override rational thought.  Fortunately, Mr. Trekker, with his IRRITATING AS HELL 😉😉 sense of calm was there to help keep my panic–mostly–at bay. 😝

You May Have to Wait a Long Time for an Outdoor Rescue

It was becoming clear that we’d have to tamp down the snow around where I was stuck to have any hope of getting me out, as every scoop we removed immediately filled in with more snow from other parts of the drift (it was almost like digging in sand).  So, Mr. Trekker set about using his snowshoes to make a base around me.  

By now I was starting to get uncomfortable.  I was getting covered in snow that was blowing back on me from what we were scooping out of the hole.  Also, the cold from the snow I was leaning on was conducting through my thin, hiking pants.  Fortunately, we had supplies. (Another safety rule, ALWAYS bring extra supplies, even on nice days when you’re venturing onto trails and areas you’re familiar with.  You NEVER KNOW when you will need them!)  

I had the windbreaker/top-layer of my winter coat with me (which is waterproof).  I put that on to shield me from the snow blowback. We also always carry a small, 20-year-old rainfly from the first, $30 Walmart tent we ever purchased. (We usually use it as a base to sit on for lunch).  Today, it provided a much-needed, extra layer between the cold snow and my tush so I could sit–fairly comfortably–while Mr. Trekker worked to free me.    

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The picture doesn’t show the depth of the hole well, but it was close to six feet deep and maybe 10 feet in diameter!  The dark spot at the bottom is the log my foot was stuck under.  Snow had partially filled in the hole, already, by the time I got free.

FINALLY, my superhero-on-snowshoes was able to tamp down a base of snow around me to work from and then we set about digging further.  At some point, we figured out my foot was lodged under a large, fallen tree, and its entirety was buried under FEET of heavy, wet snow.  It wasn’t going to move, so I had to.  Finally, after about 30 minutes, Mr. Trekker was able to reach the lashings on my snowshoe and unhook them, and I was then able to remove my foot. I was free!!! (We were then easily able to twist the snowshoe around and lift it out.)  

To be clear, we never saw the ground.  There was snow under the fallen tree, as well, which means that portion of it wasn’t sitting on the ground. (We think there was probably an air pocket around the fallen tree and that’s what I fell into.)  So, we don’t know exactly how deep the drift was, but by the end, the snow piled up around me was at least shoulder-height from where I had sunk into the drift.  So, it was easily six feet deep at a minimum!

Solo Hiking can be Dangerous

Stuff happens fast out in the Wilds folks.  My “event” happened over the course of one step and about two seconds…and it took two, able-bodied adults more than 30 minutes to get me free.  I don’t necessarily think I would have died if I had been out there alone.  I wasn’t injured (fortunately) and I had full use of my arms and my other leg (as much as I could twist it around).  However, it would have been CONSIDERABLY more difficult, and taken considerably more time, to dig out if I’d had to rely on my own devices.  This increases the risk factor exponentially for two reasons:

      1. With the exception of my hiking boot and the gator covering my calf, the only protection between the entire rest of my leg and large amounts of cold snow was a thin layer of hiking pants (it was a warm day).  It was also breezy, so every time we tried to throw snow out of the hole, half of it would blow back in my face and cover me (adding to my wetness).  If I had been stuck out there long enough, frostbite could have become a real threat to the areas of my skin that were touching the snow.
      2. Hypothermia was the other concern.  Because it was warm and sunny, if I was able to stay above the snow, I stayed reasonably warm.  However, digging out meant getting covered in snow and getting wet.  It also meant leaning/sitting on cold snow at least somewhat.  If it had been 20 degrees–or more–colder, like it usually is when we venture out “shoeing”, the risk would have been even greater. I could have called for help, but that portion of the trails wasn’t heavily used (hence why we had to cut trail).  There were also a lot of snowmobilers in the area that day and their noise may have drowned out my cries.  

To conclude

So this brings us to my point.  Unless you are trekking a heavily used trail at a busy time, (and remember, even popular trails can be isolated at certain times of the day, the week, or the year) solo hiking (or solo-adventuring in any manner) is risky!  I know this position is strongly debated, I don’t care, I stand by my conviction.  Illness, injury, equipment breakdown, animal attack, losing your way, all these things can happen VERY quickly and easily.  Cell service is lost just as quickly, and GPS shouldn’t be trusted either.  All it takes is one, nasty rolled ankle, or a fall, to put you in a precarious situation that you can’t get out of on your own, or to leave you stuck somewhere you can’t call for help. 

Your furry friend is a great companion, but unless they can search for a cell signal, then dial 9-1-1, and THEN give a good explanation of your location—unlikely—they DON’T count as a trekking buddy. 😜 (A furry friend may have been able to help dig me out in this situation IF you could make them understand what was needed, and then IF you could get them to help correctly–maybe your dog is more well-behaved than ours). 😝  

This was one of those unique situations that don’t seem that bad on the surface.  I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t sick and we weren’t lost.  I just had my leg and foot trapped under a log and several feet of heavy, wet snow (as it was, we ended up “shoeing” around a good bit after Mr. Trekker “recovered” me.)  But in other conditions, or if I had been alone, this could have gone bad very quickly.  

I’m a firm believer in learning from the mistakes of others (or at least the situations others find themselves in).  So please, take my experience as a warning.  In my case, we avoided disaster.  But had I been alone, and had it been colder (or if I had been injured, God forbid), this could have very easily ended up as a rescue scenario and then only once I was able to raise help.

There was no cell service where I was, and I was stuck so I couldn’t crawl to where there was service.  I should also point out, we were less than a mile from a regularly-used road, so we weren’t really out in the wilderness–this wouldn’t have helped my situation either, had I been alone.  Likely no one on the road would have heard my cries for help (I was in a gully, they would have been driving by at 50 mph and their windows would have been closed).      

Obviously, I can’t force anyone to follow my advice.  There is no Adventure Police manning the trails ticketing people who venture into the wilderness alone.  But I think we can all logically acknowledge that it IS riskier to solo hike.  Bad things can happen SO quickly and SO easily when we’re enjoying nature.  Even on fairly easy trails and/or on good-weather days.  A perfectly wonderful day can turn dangerous (or at least problematic) in an instant.  I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but I feel very strongly about this.  For that reason, I can never endorse someone adventuring alone, anywhere off the beaten path.

I know some people really enjoy going out alone, so you need to make the decision for yourself if it is worth the risk.  Also, sometimes, people don’t really have any acquaintances that enjoy these types of activities.  This problem is much easier to fix.  If you don’t have a trekking buddy, this is a great opportunity to make new friends!  Look for groups online or join a meetup group (or start one yourself!)  

So my final word on the subject is this:  I implore you, please, think twice before going on a solo hike!  

And also, sometimes, superheroes wear snowshoes! 😉😘😍

 

What are your thoughts about the risks of solo hiking?  Tell me in the comments!

 

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Solo hiking is very risky. I know this is a controversial opinion, but please read on for my reasoning based on personal experience.

 

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Anxiety: The Devil Inside

I discuss two songs that I feel well explain my struggle with anxiety.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”  –Hans Christian Anderson

Music has long been known to stimulate the brain and emotions.  An entire field of therapy has evolved around this theory.  Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I struggle with anxiety and some depression.  I’ve mentioned previously how certain songs speak to me.  Today I am going to discuss two songs I’ve always found draw a perfect picture of what it feels like to live with these disorders. (This may apply to other mental health diagnoses as well, but these are the ones I have personal experience with and can speak to.)  The songs are “Monster” by Skillet and “Jekyll and Hyde”, by 5 Finger Death Punch…

“Monster” (by Skillet)

I love, love, LOVE this song!  It is, by far, one of my top 10 favorite songs.  It’s just so pertinent.  It’s one of those tunes you can’t help but get revved up by.  My understanding is, the band’s intent with this song was to use the “monster” as a metaphor for sin, or a person being fake and not showing their true selves to the world.

(For those who may not know, Skillet is a Christian rock band.  I can proudly say I liked them back in high school.  We don’t need to talk about how long ago THAT was, 😝 but let’s just say it was well before everyone else thought they were cool. 😉) 

Anxiety as an invisible demon

“The secret side of me, I never let you see
I keep it caged but I can’t control it…”

Every time I hear these lyrics I think of my struggle with anxiety. They refer to a monster (the diagnosis) that is caged (invisible).  This is especially relevant as one thing those of us who struggle with mental health disorders are often quite adept at is, concealing them.  Sometimes, people suffer so silently they aren’t even aware they have a disorder at all, as they’ve never talked with a professional and been diagnosed.  They may think they’re “just a worrier” or that they’re just “different” from other people.  

It’s not uncommon for those who struggle with anxiety to actually be incredibly outgoing, driven, and as a result, quite successful.  This means outsiders may be surprised to hear of their internal struggle, as it isn’t obvious.  The thing about this monster is though, while I can keep it “hidden away” and subdued in its “cage”, I can’t control how it may scream or violently shake its enclosure (i.e. me 😝)…

“…the beast is ugly…”

The beast (the disorder) is nasty.  Dealing with it is exhausting and a constant chore…

“My secret side of me I keep hid under lock and key…”

“…Cause if I let him out he’ll tear me up, break me down…”

I worry that if I slip and allow “the monster” to show its ugly face, that it’ll get out of its cage and I’ll lose control of it–and as a result–lose control of myself.

“It’s hiding in the dark, its teeth are razor sharp
There’s no escape for me…”

“…No one can hear me scream…”

This speaks to the fact that “the monster” causes emotional pain.  It’s difficult to explain to others what it’s like dealing with a mental health diagnosis, so you feel like they can’t understand you.  It makes you feel isolated…

Anxiety constantly plagues you

“It’s scratching on the walls, in the closet, in the halls
It comes awake and I can’t control it
Hiding under the bed, in my body, in my head…”

“…I feel it deep within, it’s just beneath the skin…”

Imagine the frustration of something continuously scratching on the walls around you, constantly picking at you.  You know it can’t physically hurt you, but you also know nothing you do can make it go away, either.  It accompanies you everywhere.  It’s your everpresent, unwanted companion.  You feel it in your chest, it churns in your gut, it makes thoughts bounce around in your head.  It hides just under your skin, where no one else can see it, but you know it’s there.  You worry that it’s obvious to others though, oftentimes, it’s invisible…  

There is no magic pill for anxiety

“The nightmare’s just begun…”

To me, this phrase speaks to the fact that this disorder is something I’ll, likely, have to deal with for the rest of my life.  There’s no magic pill that will cure me tomorrow.  It’s something I have to accept and deal with.

“Jekyll and Hyde” (by Five Finger Death Punch)

This song, obviously, references the pop culture icon where two souls, one evil, one an upstanding doctor, share the same body.  

Anxiety is a constant anchor around your neck

“There’s just so much..weight on my shoulders
All I’m trying to do is live my…life
Supposed to be happy, but I’m only getting colder
Wear a smile on my face, but there’s a demon inside…”

just like Jekyll and Hyde…”

“…I feel like Jekyll and Hyde…”

This song also reflects the idea of a demon (the anxiety) living in you that you can’t quite control.  It constantly wears on you and drags you down.  You’re continuously dealing with this weight on your shoulders while putting on a brave face for the outside world.  It even speaks to the feeling of guilt that is often present for bothering others with this struggle because you know that others are struggling far worse than you are.

“I just wanna be Jekyll, but I’m always fighting Hyde…”

“…Everyone I know, they’ve got a demon inside…”

This also alludes to the notion that everyone struggles with problems.  These could revolve around mental or physical health, finances, relationships, a job, or other outside circumstances beyond our control.  Everyone is dealing with something.

In both of these songs, I see “the demon”, “Hyde” or “the monster” as a metaphor for my anxiety symptoms.  They’re always there, waiting to rear their ugly head.  I can usually control them, but sometimes, it’s a struggle.

Battling the “Demons” of Mental Health Disorders

A “demon” or a “monster” is a good way for me to describe my personal experience of the sensation of dealing with mental health diagnoses. Whenever I try to imagine my anxiety in a physical sense, it’s always in the form of a black shadow, with large claws, reaching out to grab me.  Other times, I imagine a beast with its talons already embedded deep within my shoulder–like something out of one of Frank Peretti’s books from the ’80s. 😉  The “demon” is something I can control.  I own it, not the other way around. However, what I can’t control is the fact that it is consistently present within me.  I may be able to keep it from “breaking out” into the larger world, but it’s still something I have to deal with.  

Are there “perks” to anxiety?

I don’t mean for this post to be a downer.  I actually find both of these songs to be energizing.  Who doesn’t enjoy some hardcore dance moves with a little headbanging thrown in for good measure? 😳😉  I’ve actually come to appreciate, to a degree, some of the insights into life that my anxiety has brought me.  The disorder allows you to better empathize with the hidden struggles others face because you’ve experienced difficulties, personally, as well.  

I also find my anxiety helps me to appreciate life more (in a sense).  When you’re constantly stressing that something may go wrong, it helps you to fully appreciate, even the small things, that turn out right!  The disorder also helps you keep in mind that regardless of how happy and “put together” someone may look on the outside, you have no idea what they may be dealing with privately.  NO ONE has a perfect life, or has it “easy”.  That’s a common bond we all share.  I am thankful that I have learned how to use this struggle as a tool, to deepen my lived experience.  

I don’t expect anyone to pity me for having to deal with this struggle.  This is just the one God,  the Universe, Fate–or Whoever/Whatever-you-believe-moves-the-pieces-around-on-this-giant-chessboard-we-call life–dealt for me.  Everyone has challenges placed in their lives, this is mine.  I just hope this allows you a clearer understanding of what life is like when dealing with an invisible illness or unknown, difficult situation.  Maybe we can all use this knowledge to give each other a little break since we’re all dealing with something.

**Below are links to both songs.  For those who aren’t aware, 5 Finger Death Punch has an affinity for explicit word use.  I love their music, but in the interest of keeping this blog’s PG rating, I left those words out of the lyrics.  This is a GREAT song though (and its got an awesome guitar riff near the end) so I encourage you to click here for the UNEDITED, full version. 😁 (But if you’re offended by strong swear words, you’ve been warned. 😉)

You can view the video for “Monster” here. (Anyone who’s heard the song knows one of the best parts is the final chorus line when an electronic demon sound screams “I FEEL LIKE A MONSTER!!!”) 😉

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Anxiety is difficult to describe. Read on as I detail two rock songs that help to explain my opinion that the disorder feels like a "monster" or a "demon".

 

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Cross Country Skiing is Hard! Be Persistent!

This post is a glimpse into the ongoing process of the Tranquil Trekker learning to cross-country ski…

Most articles I’ve read about cross-country skiing call it the “easy” winter sport.  You never hear about people having terrible accidents on cross-country skis.  “It’s something even a beginner can do!” they say…these are LIES I tell you, filthy, dirty LIES! 😮😉

Cross-country skiing is HARD!!!

The Trekkers have been cross-country skiing for several years, though we usually only get out a few times each winter. (This is especially true in winters like this one when we hardly had any snow until February. 😝)  This could explain why I’ve struggled so much to grasp the techniques of the sport.  I read somewhere that you have to ski 10,000 kilometers to become skilled at cross-country skiing–it was a Canadian talking, for those of us living south of the border, that’s over 6000 miles.  We’ve probably skied less than 100 miles so far, so we’ve got a little ways to go. 😝

We’ve pretty much done all the stuff you’re supposed to do to learn to ski.  We’ve watched various videos on Youtube, we’ve talked to the “experts” at several sports shops and equipment rental places. (To be fair, we haven’t taken an actual class, I can’t quite bring myself to do that.  I don’t need five-year-olds skiing circles around me to humble my skiing ego.  The bruises and sore muscles I acquire every time we go out take care of that just fine, thank you. 😝)  

An example of what frustrates me so much.  All these experts make skiing sound so EASY!  “The snowplow technique is an easy and effective way to stop yourself that even beginners can employ.” Will someone please tell me how I’m supposed to do this with six inches to a foot of snow on top of my ski?  Or at the very least, with a six-inch lip of packed, icy snow surrounding the lane my skis are in?!  They don’t tell you THAT in the videos! 😝  

The trainers also say things like, “if you fall, just get your skis under you and roll back up!”  Uh-huh, again, how do I do that when I can’t even see where my skis are under all that snow?  And when I can’t get any leverage, because every time I try to push myself up my arm sinks into the powder up to my shoulder? (I’m just saying, my lack of skill may not be ENTIRELY my fault, 90% my fault, tops. 😉) 

I think a lot of these “experts” and trainers are used to cross-country ski resorts, where the trails are groomed and the terrain is fairly flat.  They aren’t guiding people in the backcountry, through the secluded (albeit GORGEOUS) national forest, where hills can be steep, turns tight, and you may have to break your own trail.

Cross-country skiing is easy! (NOT!)

This sport is, supposedly, easy to master.  People don’t usually even wear helmets when engaging in it.  They aren’t needed, you aren’t going that fast.  You hear people say, “if you can walk, you can ski.”  This may be true for some people, but, on a normal day, my feet don’t–usually–slide out from under me due to their waxed or fish-scaled bottoms. 😝  I do believe that saying is true regarding snowshoeing, I just think skiing takes a bit more finesse.  

Let’s just be blunt here, I pretty much suck at skiing.  Yes, that flailing spider monkey you see SLOWLY making their way down the hill, the one you pray doesn’t hit you, or the one you just want to avoid entirely…yeah, that’d be me. 😇  I’m the one who, when on skis, falls over…WHILE STANDING STILL…on flat ground!…because I had the audacity to turn my head to look in another direction. 🙄

For those who aren’t familiar with the Eagle Cliff area where we usually ski, it has some groomed trails. (The area is run by volunteers so sometimes you have to be patient for them to finish with the grooming and plowing at the trailheads.)  To be clear though, it isn’t unusual for us to have to break trail when we go skiing.  Or, if we don’t have to actually cut a trail, oftentimes there is just a two-track ski path available to follow, that was recently cut by someone else.  If it was only just created, it may not be packed much yet.  Due to this, we may not have the struggle of breaking through six inches (or more) of fresh powder, but we can still sink with every glide we make as the process of packing the trail is still occurring (it almost feels like walking in sand).  I only stress this to make people aware, we often aren’t dealing with perfectly groomed ski trails here.

Cross-country skiing IS fun! (No really!)

Regardless of the frequent humiliation, when I am able to remain vertical, I really enjoy skiing.  I like the exercise.  I like the way I can glide along, almost soundlessly, through the beauty of the snow-shrouded forest, with just the *wisp-wisp* of the skis slipping through the powdery snow as an accompaniment.   I LOVE seeing the adorable, little, rodent paths crisscrossing the snow as they make their way from snowbank…to fallen log…to tree…

I do feel bad, though, for the rodent whose path suddenly ends in the middle of a large area of wing-swept snow, where it’s obvious that something both much bigger than himself (and with talons) scooped him from his daily business, never to be seen or heard from again. 😳  At least it was a good day for the bird, I guess. 🤭  

I enjoy watching the deer spring effortlessly through the snowpack at our approach.  I always find it fascinating, “reading” the stories the forest “tells”.  In the Black Hills, this often includes the large, padded tracks left in the snow by a giant feline’s paws.  You can picture it stalking the unsuspecting deer herd in the meadow below, from its vantage point on a ledge high above.

Learning to cross-country ski

After several years of trying, I have finally learned to use my knees while skiing! (This technique may seem like a no-brainer, but it was a huge game-changer for me, so bear with me. 😉)  

I’ve always known a bent-knee stance should help with control, flexibility, and looseness.  Apparently, I’ve just never bent my knees enough.  It’s amazing how well things work when you do them correctly. 😝  All of a sudden I felt like I hit this sweet spot.  I could finally use the angle of my knees and the weight of my body to turn–a little!  I could finally attempt the “snowplow” maneuver used for stopping–slightly!  But, for the first time, I actually felt like I had a little control (“little” being the crucial word). 

I also found, the lower I kept my center of gravity, the easier it was to keel over into a fall if I felt like I was losing control.  I FINALLY conquered my fear of plastering myself into the nearest tree!  Now, if I feel like I’m heading towards a tree and can’t seem to turn the skis from their stubborn track, I can lean to my side and slide to a safe stop–with legs that flail a bit less.  Getting rid of the fear changes everything! (Remember I have anxiety! 😉)  

The best method when cross-country skiing actually reminds me of the best method when mountain biking…stay loose!  When you’re fearful or worried, you’re tense; you’re tight; your body can’t flow with the normal rises and falls of the surface you are gliding over.  And if you do fall or hit a bump badly, you’re more likely to injure yourself due to your, already tight, muscles.  So, this newfound ease of mine is a game changer!   

I also need to learn that I’m not really moving all that quickly.  It just “feels” like I’m careening down the hill at unimaginable speeds.  In the real world, I’m actually just coasting along. 😝

Be persistent when learning a new skill

For me, this has been one of the most frustrating activities we have attempted, but I FINALLY feel like I’m starting to make some progress!  I think there’s a take-home lesson in this.  That is, never give up.  If there is something you enjoy doing, something you have your heart set on, something you want to accomplish, keep working at it, keep persevering.  You may fail several times, but each time is another opportunity to learn a new technique that you can implement on your next attempt.  Each time you try, you get a little better, a little stronger, a little faster.  

I read that the word “F.A.I.L.” can be a positive acronym for:
First
Action
In
Learning 

I like that, it’s empowering.  It helps us to recognize that sometimes failing to do something the first few times–or the first few hundred times–we try it doesn’t have to be a negative experience.  It pushes us beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone.  We can use it to make ourselves better.  Oftentimes, I find failing at something, and thereby having to work hard and be resourceful to achieve it, actually benefits me more in the end than if I had just, easily, succeeded on the first try.  Those difficult experiences are how we learn!

 Regarding skiing, I just have A LOT of learning to do!  😉

What experiences do you have with cross-country skiing?  Tell me about them in the comments!

 

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Have you ever wanted to try cross-country skiing? Read on for my experience with this sport that is harder to learn than some suggest!

 

Like what you read here today?  Please feel free to leave a comment, like, or share this post!  Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published.  By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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