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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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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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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Increasing Daylight as Winter Wains

As we near the end of the cold season, I discuss our ever-lengthening daylight and the subsequent reduction of my SAD symptoms.

This weekend will see another of my favorite days of the year…the first day of the new year that the sun will stay up till 5 pm at our house!  The daylight is screaming back now! 😎 (The Black Hills sit between the Trekkers’ house and the western horizon, so we have to wait a little further into the year for this to actually happen.)

Improved SAD symptoms

I’ve mentioned previously that I struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in the winter months.  This year, my SAD symptoms haven’t been quite as severe as I’ve experienced in the past.  This could be due to several factors:

–until this week, when we’ll be lucky if we see a high of 10 🥶, we’ve had a warmer-than-normal winter.  We’ve also had A LOT of sunny days (so Puppers and I have been able to spend a good deal of time outside, soaking up that natural Vitamin D3!)

–one positive benefit of COVID is that Mr. Trekker has been working from home a lot more.  It really helps to have him here in the early evening, after the sun sets but when it’s still too early to make dinner, to help keep me company.

–due to COVID (and some other factors) I went on an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) antidepressant for the first time this year.  I’ve thought about trying them in the past but was hesitant to take the plunge.  I was really struggling early last spring with the onset of COVID and some other life events that were getting me down and my doctor suggested I try this low-dose option.  My body has handled it well.  Things are improving so I’m hoping to wean off of it as the days continue to get longer.  I plan to keep it in my arsenal though, as an option for next fall when the days grow short yet again.

–Working as a Freelancer seems to help my mood as well…most of the time 😇 .  January was always the worst month of the year for me at my former job.  That stress, combined with my struggle with the lack of daylight, caused a two-pronged attack on my spirits.

For the record, a freelancer’s life does come with its own stressors (contrary to popular belief, we don’t just sit on the couch eating Bon Bon’s all day! 😝)  There is the worry caused by always working on short-term projects, which results in little job security.  This, obviously, means you always need to seek out new work.   And it turns out, you have to work harder when you literally don’t get paid unless you’re performing work-related tasks.  You realize how easy it is to slack off at a “normal” job when you receive a paycheck regardless of how long you spend talking to your friend, or how much time you frit away surreptitiously checking Facebook when the boss isn’t looking. 😇)

I think the biggest advantage of working from home is that it allows me the opportunity to see daylight so regularly.  Whether it’s sitting inside with the sun streaming in the windows; watching the snowflakes float down on a cold day; or sitting outside on the back patio as the sun bathes me on a warm day; I’m at least able to experience it now.  This seems to make all the difference to help ease the symptoms of anxiety and winter depression that I have experienced in the past, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.  

More daylight improves mood!

It’s amazing to me how just knowing the days are getting longer raises my spirits.  While we have gained almost an hour of daylight in the last 6 weeks since the Winter Solstice, it is still mostly dark by 5:30 at night.  There is something about the fact, though, that when I’m standing in the kitchen, preparing dinner, instead of there being complete blackness outside the window, there is–at least a small hint–of light.  That really improves my outlook on things!  

I still feel the suffocating frustration at how little daylight we have, but since I KNOW it’s going to continue staying lighter, longer, each and every day, and I KNOW that the beginning of spring is now only a few weeks away, this irritation slackens.  It also helps that I know our daylight will continue lengthening for the next 6 months!  That’s enough to ease the ache considerably!  

As our long, dark days wane, I hope anyone else who wrestles with this exasperating condition is finding their struggle is easing, as well.  As our sun comes back and our daylight continues to increase in both duration and frequency, let’s all take a lesson from the Beatles, and get out there and make it a good day, sunshine! 😎

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Our days are gradually geting longer and we are gaining sunlight in earnest now. Read on as I discuss my joy at our increasing daylight!

 

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A Trekker’s Manifesto

In this post I discuss my motivations for writing this blog.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”        

― John Muir

Some may wonder why I write this blog…

One of my favorite songs is “Noise”, by Kenny Chesney.  For me, it’s a rallying cry, of sorts, as it well expresses my growing disillusionment with the rat race that is the modern lifestyle.  I firmly believe one of the central problems with modern society is that we are constantly overstimulated with busy lives, busy minds and busy spirits.  The song demonstrates how this “noise” that continuously engulfs us makes us miserable.  It is unescapable and unending.  My personal belief is this overstimulation contributes to the anxiety so many feel.  I know, for myself, the anxious symptoms I experience peak when my life feels the most hectic. 

Some lyrics from the song state:

“…Yeah we scream, yeah we shout ’til we don’t have a voice.  In the streets, in the crowds, it ain’t nothing but noise…”

We’re constantly pulled in multiple directions at once:  relationships, chores, work and school, hobbies, attempting-to-find-some-time-to-just-relax! 

“Twenty-four hour television, gets so loud that no one listens…”

In addition, we’re persistently bombarded by 24-hour news cycles, streaming music, and video, our sources of stimulation continue on ad-nauseum…. I can feel my blood pressure rising just THINKING about all of this! 🤯  

Articles are written about the burnout people feel.  How they are striving to “unplug”, to have a better work-life balance, to take back control of their lives.  But then, they’re told to “lean in” and live “well-rounded” lives…

 “There really ain’t no conversation, ain’t nothing left to the imagination…”

From an early age, we’re exposed to so much technology that our creativity is squashed.  Children used to spend hours playing outside, now their days are filled with activities structured by others and devices that tell them what a game is and how to play it.  We don’t think for ourselves anymore or take a step back and critically examine situations.  Instead, we allow ourselves to be influenced and pressured by what our friends are “liking” on social media, or what our trusted news source is telling us is a fact. 

“…trapped in our phones and we can’t make it stop…”

We’re all adrenaline junkies running around constantly stimulated by the technology that continuously surrounds us.  This stimulation is so persistent that when we have to go more than 30 minutes without the dopamine hits it provides we get anxious and think we’re bored—even though that’s what life is supposed to normally feel like—we just aren’t used to it.  Our phones chirp mercilessly, constantly giving us the recognition we’ve come to crave as it means that someone “liked” our post or tweet, or is trying to contact us so we don’t feel so small and alone…

*This may seem contradictory for a blogger; whose job is dependent on the use of technology.  To be clear, I’m not anti-technology, I’m pro the purposeful and controlled use of it.  It’s a tool that should be used deliberately and within limits, without allowing it to control our lives.*


I write for my love of the outdoors…

“Sometimes I wonder, how did we get here?  …we didn’t turn it on, but we can’t turn it off…

IMG_2472(1)

We’re constantly surrounded by all this “noise” but we haven’t yet evolved to handle it, and I don’t think we are meant to.  We weren’t designed for the modern-day lifestyle.  Evolution didn’t prepare us for this craziness, because it isn’t a natural thing.  We’re meant to be surrounded by the peace and tranquility that nature brings: the perfectly formed snowflake; the sound of chirping birds and the whistling wind; the silent clamor of snow falling in the woods; the pitter-patter of rain against the window and the “CRASH!” of thunder outside.  We’re meant to feel the sun warm our skin as the wind caresses our face and to smell the fresh, earthy aroma of wet dirt that a fresh rain brings. 

I’m an avid Nature Girl.  I enjoy pretty much any activity that gives me an excuse to be outside.  I’m also high energy (in case that isn’t obvious). 😉  I like the outdoors, active hobbies and I find walls induce claustrophobia.  I grew up as a country-girl, playing in the dirt and fresh air, so, outdoor recreation is a perfect hobby for me. 

This love of nature brings me peace by enjoying the beauty and simplicity of the environment that surrounds us.  Many people find comfort in these things and I think there’s a reason for that, it’s our intended habitat.  It’s where we’re supposed to be, so, we connect with it on a basic, transcendent level.  The most instinctual part of our being longs for it.  I feel my spirit is renewed by nature, so I want to use this blog to encourage others to enjoy this incredible experience, as well.  

For me, this peace is also spiritual, in a sense.  Not everyone agrees with this, and that’s ok, religion is a very personal journey, and everyone has to choose what’s best for them.  I feel my life is richer and I find hope in despairing situations when I embrace the spiritual side of life.  Experiencing nature aids my spiritual journey as it helps me to form a tangible connection to the Creator, by communing with the extraordinary creation.

I’ve enjoyed being out in nature since I was a kid, I especially love the mountains.  I still remember the instant I fell in love with them.  Mr. Trekker and I were enjoying our first road trip together, in 2005, shortly after we both graduated college.  We were at Mesa Verde National Park, standing at one of the lookouts on top of the mesa, with the whole of Colorado stretching before us (maybe THAT’s why I love the state so much?!) 😉  I remember thinking, “I could live here”, and feeling a connection to the mountains, on a visceral level.  At the time, the Trekkers were preparing to move to North Carolina.  Until then, I had only ever lived in Indiana, this was my first time experiencing the Rockies.  I had visited the Appalachians throughout Pennsylvania and New England on numerous family vacations and had always enjoyed the mountain scenery, but this time, something struck a chord within me… 

It would be six years before we returned to the mountain west, this time to stay.  We’d had enough of the big city, and after numerous adventures in the mountains of western North Carolina, we were hooked on our outdoor activities.  The Black Hills aren’t quite the Rockies, but the smaller towns and simpler way of life—not to mention the frequently beautiful weather—suit me just fine.


I write to describe my struggle with anxiety and (hopefully) to help others who are struggling…

When we moved to South Dakota, I started experiencing frequent symptoms of anxiety.  To make matters worse, I also began noticing depressive symptoms due to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), thanks to the minimal hours of sunlight–and the resulting Vitamin D deficiency—present in the Northern Plains during the winter.  I set out on a mission to learn methods to alleviate the symptoms I was experiencing, so I began working with a therapist. 

For some, anti-anxiety medications work wonders.  For myself, I hated the woozy, detached feeling I experienced as a side-effect, so I sought out natural and behavior-based methods as an alternative. I have found that by taking a step back from the continuous “noise” of our modern lifestyle, through pursuing outdoor adventures, and by employing intentional methods such as mindfulness, I am able to effectively manage the condition. 

Besides the obvious benefit of a flood of endorphins brought on by physical exercise, I think experiencing nature helps to decrease anxiety symptoms because it has a tendency to test our resolve.  It’s an incredibly humbling–and somewhat frightening—experience when you find yourself at a different location on the trail than you originally thought, and you realize how far you still have to go as the sun sinks ever lower towards the horizon.  Your concern is heightened as the cold wind intensifies, and dark clouds close in.  You come to the very sobering realization that you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and her elements. 

This is a moment where anxiety is truly warranted!  But, it’s also an incredibly empowering moment.  You realize that you’re reliant on your own devices, that your ability to get home rests squarely on your own shoulders…and you CAN do this!  It’s liberating when you do, eventually, make it home safely.  The feat raises your confidence level as you now know that you are capable, and you can handle the challenges life throws at your feet.  It helps you to realize how powerful your inner strength really is!  

I think we often forget that anxiety can be a useful tool.  It’s a natural, beneficial response to an element in our environment that’s posing a risk to us.  But it should be reserved for situations where our safety is actually at risk. Unfortunately, these aren’t the situations that often cause anxiety in modern times.  Oftentimes, “modern” stress stems from situations that are, frequently, not threatening at all.  As I had a therapist once explain it, “your body doesn’t know the difference between being called into a meeting in your boss’ office and being chased by a saber-toothed tiger!  It responds the same.”  “Good” stress situations (such as finding yourself lost on a trail) help to keep anxious feelings in perspective.  They help us to realize that some circumstances unnecessarily induce anxiety within us.

Beyond personal empowerment, basking in the awesome power of nature helps to remind us that we aren’t the center of the universe. It’s humbling (and relieving) to experience that power overshadow many of our worries, and it helps us to realize that many of them aren’t as unique or catastrophic as we think they are. What is an impending root canal in comparison to the immense “ROAR!” created as millions of gallons of water pour over a waterfall every day?  Or when you observe the natural forces required to create locations such as the Grand Canyon?


I write for my quest for a more tranquil lifestyle…

“Every room, every house, every shade of noise.  All the floors, all the walls, they all shake with noise.  We can’t sleep, we can’t think, can’t escape the noise, we can’t take the noise so we just make noise!”  

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We were all dropped into this technological soup that we aren’t equipped to handle.  To mitigate the stress brought on by our modern lifestyles, we seek out more stimulation (or noise), when what we really need is rest!  We get worked up from the constant information and news, we worry about our friends and family, about the state of the world. Then, due to all this, we struggle to sleep at night which just leads to exhaustion, more stress, more anxiety and depression…WE NEED A BREAK!  We need to be able to take time to just STOP!…relax…take a breath…and enjoy the natural beauty and peace that constantly surround us.

I write this blog because I want to help people find their break.  Through my struggle with anxiety, I’ve found that one of the best ways to control the condition is to actively seek out activities and lengthy amounts of time where I remove the craziness of the modern world from my life and get back to what matters most.  The Bible says, “no man can serve two masters”, and that’s true in life as well.  We seem to know that we need to take control of our lives, but we don’t know how to do so.  This blog is about my search for a more tranquil lifestyle.  I write to help others with a similar desire. 

I find I’m able to mitigate my anxiety symptoms by employing a more tranquil existence.  I strive to maintain a purposeful mindset where I utilize deliberate techniques to control my symptoms, such as mindfulness, meditation and journaling.  Mindfulness helps us to focus on the present, not an upcoming meeting with the boss or an argument we had with our spouse that morning.  It also helps us to fully enjoy whatever we’re engaging in at that current moment and to make the most of it.  Journaling allows me to relieve the thoughts that are bouncing around in my head in a productive way.  It helps me to view my concerns objectively, and either devise solutions to them or realize they aren’t as concerning as I first thought.   

A peaceful lifestyle helps to lessen anxiety.  This is because the more stressed we become, the lower our tolerance is to handle stressful situations, which increases the likelihood that we’ll feel anxiety regarding them.  In contrast, the calmer we feel, the higher our tolerance to handle stressful situations, and the better adept we’ll be at using coping methods to alleviate any anxiety that results from them.

For myself, tranquility means not constantly feeling hyped up, not constantly dwelling about things to come or constantly replaying previous conversations in my head.  It means focusing solely on aspects of my life and the world at large that I actually have control over (such as how I respond to circumstances).  For elements of life that we can’t control, worrying about them doesn’t help anyway, so why bother? (To be clear, this is easy to say, but NEVER easy to accomplish in practice.  This is one of those skills I toil with on a daily basis.)

 These practices have lead me to a more fulfilling life, a decrease in symptoms of anxiety, and greater control over the disorder.  Writing this blog also helps me return my focus to nature and on the things I enjoy.  It helps me focus on positive things and reminds me of the empowering effect of the activities we pursue; how they stretch the bounds of my comfort zone and show me how capable I really am.  I hope by sharing these experiences with others it can be a vehicle to help lead them to a more tranquil, thoughtful, less anxious experience, as well.


I writ
e the blog as a guidebook of sorts…

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I also write this blog as a type of guidebook, to share the adventures we’ve had and to assist others who may want to follow in our footsteps (so to speak).  I truly enjoy traveling, the sites we see, the random hodgepodge of people we meet. 

Since we live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, my posts primarily focus on activities in that area.  However, Mr. Trekker and I are also avid travelers, so I also outline the various journeys we embark on around the country.  The Trekkers engage in an eclectic mix of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, canoeing, exploring 4-wheel-drive roads, car camping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and road trips, among others.  

I want to encourage others to try activities that are outside their comfort zone, while at the same time give them practical, useful tips to help make that experience as painless as possible. I want to spark their interest for new activities, but also give them an awareness of what hurdles may lie in their path so that they can embark on their adventures well prepared.  For those who may be unable to partake of some of these sites, I hope to bring the experience to them, in a sense, through my writing.


To Conclude:

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The techniques listed above have empowered me to take more control of my anxiety.  I don’t put my issues out there to garner pity from others.  Rather, I seek to relate my personal struggles with the disorder, as well as the methods I’ve learned to help control it.  I want this blog to be a place where others can come to acquire these tools for themselves.  I’ve accepted the fact that my anxiety is a part of me, that it’s something I will, likely, live with the rest of my life.  But, that doesn’t mean I have to allow it control over my life.  I strive, every day, to reign in those worrisome thoughts and emotions and use them to improve myself.  There will be some tough days.  Sometimes, the anxiety will win.  But that’s just one day.   Life is a marathon, not a sprint!  The sun WILL rise again tomorrow!  So, when we have a bad day, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and press on!

Part of what I love about the outdoors is that nature cuts out the BS.  It takes away our technology and gets us back to basics.  It humbles us as it forces us to acknowledge there are some things in life we can’t control.  Along with that, though, it helps us to understand that some of the things that cause us anxiety aren’t really as threatening as we might first think.  Nature gets us back to our intrinsic roots.  I find that one of the rare times I can truly put my mind and spirit at peace is when I’m engaging with and appreciating the natural world, in all its glory.  I want to share that with others. 

So, some may ask, “why do I write this blog and spend so much time outside?”  To that I answer, “to escape the noise!”

*Ya’ll, I’m telling you, this song is awesome.  If you aren’t familiar with it, I BEG you, go listen to it.  This is three-and-a-half minutes that IS worth your time (the video is pretty cool, too).  For your convenience, I’ve linked to it here.  Pay careful attention to the last couple of shots near the end, see if you notice a common theme…*

I HATE Seasonal Depression!

I attempt to shed a “sunny” light on the dark days the winter season brings…

We’re currently mired in the midst of dark, winter days here in the northern portions of the northern hemisphere.  Days with little daylight are rough.  I’ve written previously about my annual struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  It starts hurting somewhere in mid-September, though it really ramps up after the time change in early November.  Specifically, from the time change through the next three weeks or so until Thanksgiving.  Then, the Holidays are in full swing and I’m excited about Christmas so the ache eases a bit.

I was SO THANKFUL, several years ago, when they changed the date clocks fall back to the first Sunday in November instead of the last in October (yes, that week MATTERS).  It meant staving off the worst of the SAD ache for a few more weeks.  

Then, after the Holidays, I start struggling again.  The weather is crappy, the sun is still setting well before 5:00 pm, and most of the sparkling, Christmas lights are gone from neighborhood windows, so they no longer offer their break from the seemingly, endless darkness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) hurts!

Individual people experience varying degrees of severity and symptoms with this disorder.  For me, they’re mostly classified by irritability, emotional sensitivity (I burst into tears easily), the desire to lash out at those around me for daring to engage in the most ghastly of behaviors (such as chewing or swallowing loudly) 🤯 or…loud breathing (must people do it CONSTANTLY?! 😉)

For me it isn’t so much a sense of hopelessness or of impending doom, it feels more like incessant PMS (this descriptor won’t be much help to the members of my audience with a Y chromosome). 😂  I just don’t feel good!  I want to curl up in sweatpants, in the dark, and eat a pound of Doritos with a two-pound bar of Hershey’s, Special Edition, Dark Chocolate as a chaser…and wash it all down with a Big Gulp of Cherry Coke!  

I’m a midwestern girl so, naturally, I think all emotional pain should be solved with food, preferably something of the casserole variety (with main ingredients of cheese, potatoes, or cream of mushroom soup)! 🤤

*I don’t mean to make light of this–admittedly difficult–condition.  I just try not to take myself too seriously.  A little good-natured jesting helps me to keep things in perspective.  Plus they claim it takes more muscles to frown than to smile, and I’m lazy so…😉*

Embrace the dark of winter

In the other post I wrote, regarding my disorder, I discuss ways I try to mitigate the “ouch factor” by embracing the darkness.  In that post, I encourage people to seek out the peace and tranquility present in sizable amounts of dark hours, such as the peace that settles over the chilly nights when stars speckle across the dark blanket of sky that drapes across you.  

The Trekkers are fortunate to live in an area of (fairly minimal) light pollution–we can actually see the Milky Way from our backyard on clear nights!  This is even more true if we head out of town to the true darkness the Black Hills proffers.  

You never know what you’ll observe when enjoying the quiet peace of the dark evening.  Owls hooting in the distance, a shooting star, the lost Dominos driver cruising past your house multiple times searching for the correct address…😂  Also, I’ve learned, Mother Nature provides natural refrigeration for your wine if you are outside on those colds nights! 😁   

Rushing the holidays increases stress

During the fall months, when my SAD is usually at its worst, I find the rush to Christmas also increases my stress.  

Now, don’t get me wrong folks, I’m no Grinch, I LOVE Christmas.  There are no “bah humbugs!” coming from the Trekker household! Mr. Trekker’s ears are usually bleeding from the excess of Christmas music by January 1st. 😂  I LOVE the sparkling decorations; the music and movies (here’s looking at you Clark Griswald!); the food, the parties, and the time spent with family.  I even LOVE the snow (if you’re actually lucky enough to have a white Christmas these days! 😝) 

I just think there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Since when does Christmas start in October?  There is a whole other holiday between that month and “the Jolly Old Elf” people! 😜  November is still Fall!  Leaves are still falling, the deer haven’t finished gorging on the pumpkins on our front stoop yet.  As Sally from Charlie Brown would say, “I haven’t even finished all my Halloween candy!”  Then there’s all the stress and commercialization of the Holidays…  

Why are we always in such a hurry to rush through life?  Why can’t we learn to take each day, week, month (and holiday!) as it comes?  There is a lot of busyness and stress that comes with the Holiday Season.  Can we have a little time to ramp up to it?  And seriously ya’ll, do we really want to rush to the dull, dark days of January?!  REALLY?!  

STOP RUSHING ME!!! 😜 (Straight No Chaser does a GREAT song about this, by the way! 😂) 

Days with little daylight

I don’t know about where the rest of you live, but in western South Dakota, it’s DARK dark by 5:30 for three months of the year, and during the darkest times the sun is down by 4:30. 😜 (If anyone is reading this post in even more extreme latitudes, you have my MOST SINCERE sympathy).  BUT, at least for some of that time, it is starting to get light by 6 am.  That makes dragging my sorry butt out of bed a little easier!  

The good news is, once you reach the time change in early November, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  While those short days SUCK!, it means the countdown has started.  Just a few, short weeks later–not till the day AFTER Thanksgiving!–the sparkling lights and festive music of the Christmas Season arrive in earnest to raise spirits. 

Then, once the Holiday Season is over, January’s dark days come (though they are getting a little shorter!)  Then finally it’s on to February and the sun starts staying up past 5! (My mood usually starts to improve again when we return to more normal daylight lengths.)  So, until then, get outside as much as you can (or at least sit by a window and enjoy some sun and daylight whenever possible) and don’t forget the Vitamin D3!  

I’m also a fan of fun movies, this is when you pull out the good stuff.  My personal favorites are those with car chases or anything that makes me laugh (they say it’s the best medicine!)  There is absolutely nothing wrong with 12-hour Star Wars or Netflix marathons on cold, dreary days (just open the curtains so you get some daylight!) 🌞

I’ll just be hunkering down here the next few weeks with my temporary best friends, dreaming of bright sunshine!  A little “woosah!” doesn’t hurt either (and if you haven’t seen Bad Boys 2, I strongly recommend it for a little distraction during these dark days!)  

Heads up ya’ll, the countdown to daylight has begun!

How do you cope during the darkest days of the year?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Do you struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) during the dark days of winter? Read on for my personal experience with this condition.

 

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Therapy Lamp and Calm App Reviews

I review a light, therapy lamp and an app I use to decrease symptoms of anxiety and seasonal depression.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I struggle with general anxiety as well as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), and that I prefer behavioral treatment methods over psychotropic medications.  Below are two, non-medication, products that I use regularly and that I find help greatly, a therapy lamp and the Calm app:

Light Therapy Lamp

During the fall and winter, as the daylight wanes, this tool is a must for me (these have been documented to help decrease the symptoms of SAD.)  There are several versions of this device, but this is the specific, light therapy lamp I use several months out of the year.  You have to be careful which ones you buy as they need to provide at least 10,000 lux of light, the minimum wavelength required to stimulate your brain correctly.  Unfortunately, the good ones aren’t cheap.  The old adage is true, however, you get what you pay for.  When you’re experiencing several dark, cloudy days in a row, I find this helps, significantly, so it’s worth the cost.  

This is not a perfect replacement for true sunlight, and it offers no source of Vitamin D3 (I mentioned previously that I enhance my levels with supplements in the winter months).   But, when you’re struggling in the midst of a string of several gray days–and especially when you’re driving both to work and home in the dark 😝–this device helps to brighten up your world a little bit.  

A word of warning, because of the way it stimulates your brain, it can cause sleep disturbances if it’s used too closely to bedtime.  I use it in the morning and evenings, in the kitchen, when I’m preparing meals or doing dishes.  Those are the times I notice the lack of daylight the most and these timeframes don’t affect my sleep habits.  You’re supposed to sit within a certain distance of the lamp, though I find just having it in the same room I’m in and being able to see the light provides relief.

The Calm App

Another tool I LOVE (and use throughout the year) is the Calm app, available for Android and IOS.  Several versions of the app exist, including a free, limited version–this is the one I use.  The app showcases multiple relaxing sounds (including heavy rain, a thunderstorm, waves, a sunny lake), and white noise options (such as floating clouds or deep space).  These are complemented by animated scenes that are incredibly beautiful to watch.  The paid versions also offer spoken meditation podcasts and sleep stories.  You can visit the app’s website here or search for it on the App Store.  I cannot recommend this product enough (I’ve gotten Mr. Trekker using it as well!). 😁

If you find yourself struggling with the ever-increasing darkness of the winter season, or just need help calming your mind, check out these products!

Have you ever used these tools?  Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

Did you enjoy reading this post?  Pin it!

In this post I review a light, therapy lamp and a meditation app I use to decrease symptoms of anxiety and seasonal depression.

 

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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†As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

 

Forest Bathing As Therapy

I discuss an article that examines nature as a therapeutic tool.

I’m going to try something new with this post.  I’m going to wax philosophical.  😛  (You have been warned!) 😉

I read an article recently called, “Suffering From Nature Deficit Disorder? Try Forest Bathing”.  It spoke to the whole reason I enjoy being out in Nature and why I write this blog, so I thought I’d expound on my thoughts on it (if you’re interested in reading the article, you can do so here.)

The majority of people live in cities

The article cites a recent UN report that states the population of our planet is trending towards urban areas. (As someone who lives in one of the least populated states in the country, this is fine by me.  It means the secluded places we frequent will remain quiet!) 😉  The reasons the article gives for this trend are that urban areas have more jobs, more cultural opportunities, more choices for activities and more services in general.

The study also found that due to this trend, the average American spends close to 90% of their lives indoors (which sounds absolutely horrid to me, but I digress).  As many buildings are climate controlled, this means we’re ingesting a large amount of stale, processed air. (No wonder I gave up cubicle life!)  

The practice of Forest Bathing

The article goes on to describe an ancient tradition for reducing depression and anxiety in Japan called “Forest Bathing”.  This basically means immersing oneself in trees and other greenery for extended periods of time which allows us to get back in touch with our evolutionary roots.

I practice this “natural therapy” regularly.  I suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called Winter Depression).  This means I get depression caused by the lack of sunlight and, consequently, Vitamin D3 deprivation, brought about by the short, winter days that are part of life in the Northern Plains.  The disorder began to manifest itself for me when we moved to the Black Hills.   Here, the need for daylight during that season is at a premium.  The only thing that eases this strain for me, during those dark, winter months, is Vitamin D3 supplements and enjoying Nature (and the sun) as much as possible.  Fortunately, we do not suffer a shortage of sunny days here in western South Dakota.  Leaving an office job behind helped with this as well!

I’ve mentioned before that I also struggle with anxiety.  I am amazed at how my symptoms are relieved just by going for a walk in the woods–the musky smell of damp earth; the “crunch” of fallen leaves under my feet with every step I take; the warmth of the sun on my skin; the breeze that caresses my face; the quiet roar of snowflakes slowly cascading down around me–all assist in relaxing muscles I hadn’t even realized were tense to begin with!  It doesn’t hurt that therapy provided by Nature also happens to be completely free!

Forest bathing helps us connect with Nature on a spiritual level

These physical sensations allow us to connect with Nature on an instinctual, almost primal level.  It’s as though our very Beings crave this connection with our most basic beginnings.  This makes perfect sense.  Humans lived as a part of Nature for millennia; our current fabricated surroundings only being present for a very recent part of our past.  Evolution hasn’t quite caught up to the norms of Modern Civilization yet (personally, I hope it never does).  

For me, this therapy-through-Nature has a spiritual element, figuratively speaking.  It is something that can be experienced by both people of faith and those without, and both can benefit from it.  Personally, I am spiritual but I am also a very kinesthetic person, so I learn by experiencing things.  This experience, this communion with Nature brought about by physically interacting with it, allows me to appreciate the Creation, and through that to form a lasting bond with and respect for the Creator.

I write this blog because I want to help others find the same peace in Nature that I have discovered.  So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the stress and fatigue of everyday life, perhaps a walk in the woods would benefit you!

Your mission for the week (if you should choose to accept it 😉) is to get out and enjoy nature a little bit.  See if the experience is therapeutic for you too!

Did you enjoy reading this post?  Pin it!

In this post I discuss an article that examines "Forest Bathing", a practice that uses nature as a tool for therapy, and my experience with it.

 

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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