Update from Self-Quarantine —lost count what day…

Today, despite suffering from a flare of my TMJ due to concentrating too much this week (I grit my teeth when I am focused on a task), I am in a good mood. The summer term is over for my university teaching and my grading is done. I also received feedback on my dissertation draft and it is not as bad as I thought it would be. I still have to add some information to make it more cohesive, but four out of the five chapters are good. I seem to have gotten out of my slump when it came to being productive (don’t look at the laundry baskets waiting to be folded in the kitchen!).

So when my son asked if I wanted to make something in the kitchen, I thought why not? We experimented with baking a pie with filling from scratch. Sorry no recipe because we used two frozen deep dish pie crusts from Walmart and followed the directions for cook time from that. Everything else was a little of this and a little of that. We used the apples from my Misfits Market order…we had a lot of apples this time. The pie came out actually looking like a pie which I think is a first for us when it is not a Sara Lee frozen pie.

 



My house smells like Fall because of the pie and it has me thinking a lot about what the next couple of months will be like. It is way too humid out right now to enjoy the porch or the deck, so I am looking forward to cooler weather with the leaves changing. It is looking like we will still be social distancing. School will continue to be virtual, but my son will be a freshman…he will actually be driving in a couple of months. Scary!

While I would like to return to a semblance of normal, I don’t think we will ever return to the way things were before. Supermarkets gave me anxiety before the pandemic and now it is even worse. So I am thankful for Instacart and Walmart Grocery pickup. I have even setup some of non perishable things I routinely buy to automatically reorder every month from Amazon Prime.

As you know from reading previous posts, I love the concept of Hygge which is appreciating the joy that comes from life’s moments. I take more naps now, cook more at home, listen to music, play with the dogs, and spend time with my family. This is a time of reset and I appreciate that. Now I am going to grab a slice of pie!

Fight Feeling Like a Fraud!

I have been teleworking from home since March 16, 2020 due to COVID quarantines. It has been a bumpy process because at the same time, my son was also virtual learning. As you know from earlier posts, my husband also was going through the process of fighting for social security disability. He won his case, but we are still waiting on the backpay (we are at three months now and have been fighting for three years!). Oh, yeah, and there is the little matter of my dissertation too.

This is my mom’s list of who may enter (this is edited from someone else!). I’ll just take the puppies!

I have been battling internally for a couple months with the idea that I am not working hard enough. I am busier than ever, but I feel like I am getting nothing done. My days are filled with Zoom meetings, emails, and research on how I can turn my face to face workshops into virtual sessions. Oh, and there are also the committees and tasks forces I am a part of as well. And that is just my library job. I am also teaching, working on my dissertation, being a wife, parenting, keeping track of the household stuff, and so so much more. Yay, me!

Part of my struggle with my productivity is probably related to the feeling of Imposter Syndrome. I have had a couple of heart to hearts with my supervisor since March because my anxiety keeps telling me lies. The truth is that many of us feel like we don’t belong or have nothing interesting or worthwhile to share.

It is not the first time I have felt like that. On top of my regular office job, I teach a graduate level library science course about integrating STEM into libraries collections and programs. I am pretty sure by now you all know what STEM stands for, but just in case, it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A couple of terms ago, I had a student who had already received her PhD in Astrophysics. She was a Rocket Scientist! So here I was trying to teach a Rocket Scientist about STEM. Can you imagine? A librarian teaching a rocket scientist? What did I have to teach her that she didn’t already know? But that wasn’t the point of the course. I wasn’t there to teach STEM concepts, I was there really to teach about program planning, collection development, and, well, libraries. I was there to show the connection of how STEM fit into all of that. That is where I was the expert, so why did I feel like the biggest fraud there was?

A couple of weeks after the term was over, I received an email from another student in the course. He was thanking me for sharing my personal experiences and said that I had inspired him. That made me feel like all the other stuff didn’t matter. Here I had made an impact with at least one student and that was all I really needed. It was wonderful to hear back from this student that I had made a difference for him. But that feeling still lingered in my mind that I didn’t really deserve to be there teaching the course.

What causes us to have these feelings like we don’t belong?

We are living in a culture where we are told to be humble, that we shouldn’t talk about our accomplishments because it will come off as bragging or egotistical. So we downplay our accomplishments and it shocks us when other people point out them out and perhaps even makes us a little uncomfortable. I first heard the term Imposter Syndrome in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Apparently, this happens to a lot of people where we feel like we don’t deserve a seat at the table. This feeling of being an imposter chips away at our confidence. We feel anxious, stressed, and experience moments of self-doubt. Just like in my experience teaching my course, we feel like we have nothing of value to impart. Heck, even the COO of Facebook feels this way sometimes.

I like to joke that every time I create my monthly report at work, I am reminded of all the things that kept me busy that month. Let’s just say that it was eight pages long last month! But that monthly report is only a small snapshot of everything I do. Keeping a record like that can actually be pretty helpful when it comes to battling Imposter Syndrome.

A few months ago, I had to update my curriculum vita, which is basically an academics version of a resume. In case my boss is reading, don’t worry, I was not applying for a new job. I needed it as part of an application process for a research project related to my dissertation. It had been two years since I had last updated it. I’m a librarian, so one of the things I do when I have a task is to research it. As I looked up things to include in my CV, I realized I needed to add some sections. Things like committees and statewide projects I served on. Awards or grants I had received. As I added these things to my CV, I started to think to myself, why did I feel like a fraud? Right here on paper was a list of everything I had accomplished in my career. And I have to say it was a lot of stuff. Great stuff. Interesting stuff. Inspiring stuff. Publications and committees. International conferences. I had pages stating right there in black and white of all that I had accomplished. There was my reminder that I have value in my career and I deserved to be where I am.

This process of writing down a list of your accomplishments is actually a form of writing therapy that is used for people who might be suffering from forms of Imposter Syndrome. It is easy to dismiss our accomplishments, but much harder to do so when we have a written record showing that they exist in reality. I am sure that many of you have these same feelings like you don’t belong or that you are a fraud. In fact almost 70% of people worldwide suffer from these feelings.

We can wait for those moments when someone will say thank you or job well done. But while we are waiting, that feeling of being an imposter will continue to chip away at us. We need to tell ourselves that we are interesting. That we deserve to be where we are. That we deserve to strive towards our best potential. So I challenge you, create that list. It doesn’t have to be something as formal as a resume or a CV. Just simply take some time to list out everything you do. Then look at that list any time you feel like you don’t belong. You might be surprised at what you find.

Oh, yeah, I finished my completed draft of my dissertation this week. I am still waiting for the feedback from my supervising professor before the final draft and the defense, but I am feeling a little less like an imposter now. Here is to Dr. Jen in 2020!

Do Nothing Day

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” – Christopher Robin

Today is Saturday, but it is a different Saturday. Today is a Do Nothing Day…leave the teleworking and the homeschooling behind. Okay, so technically January 16th is Nothing Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it today. Don’t plan on being productive today. Just plan on being…you may find that by slowing down and doing nothing that you actually discover something. Of course, doing nothing doesn’t mean just sitting in silence like a mystical monk on top of the mountain somewhere. But it also doesn’t mean that what you are doing has to be for purposes of anything other than you enjoy it and can relax.

According to a study conducted in 2014 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 77% of the people surveyed reported regularly feeling stressed. An almost equal percentage of 73% reported experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress. Half of those responding reported experiencing a negative impact to their personal and professional lives. The cost to employers for stress related health care or missed work is over $300 billion (American Institute of Stress, 2016). Stress is an epidemic plaguing many Americans. It can affect their relationships, their work, and their health. However, through making small “c” type creative endeavors part of their daily routine, an individual can see a positive return on their emotional well-being that can lead not only to a lessening of stress levels, but also prevention.

When we are stressed, the body goes into protection mode. Our blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, and our senses become more alert. According to Abbott (1998), “our hormones can also rise the levels of fat, sugar, and cholesterol in the bloodstream” (para. 5). When we are stressed, it can affect our mood and interactions with other people such as being short-tempered and irritable. It can also lead to sleep disturbances, constant colds, and in some extreme cases: death. Overall, being in a constant state of stress is unhealthy for us physically as well as emotionally.

According to Runco (2014), “[c]reativity can help the individual maintain both psychological and physical health” (pg. 110). While many creatives face a stigma of the “mad genius” where the creative is believed to be so immersed in creative work to the point that they let their mental and physical health suffer, that example has more to do with manic type states and does not actually categorize every creative. Actually, creativity can help to alleviate stress and build a more positive mood. Nicol and Long found that music hobbyists with low levels of stress were among the group that had the highest amount of creativity (Runco, 2014). Creative endeavors are one way to cope with the buildup of emotions that need to be let loose.

Maslow (1971) also describes a need for creativity as being part of his Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity is part of the highest tier of the pyramid because creativity is part of what is needed for the individual to reach that stage of Self-Actualization. Artist and author, Julia Cameron (2002) refers to this as “discovering a sense of perspective”. She recounts the story of a woman named Sarah who was described by many to be high-strung, crazy, and nervous. This woman went from therapist to therapist, treatment to treatment. It wasn’t until she began to use creativity tools as part of her daily routine that she began to find balance in her life.

A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who do small creative projects report feeling happier and more relaxed (Lewis, 2016). According to the study, “[i]ntervention designs are still relatively rare in creative research […], but research suggests that art-making interventions can reduce stress and anxiety” (Conner, DeYoung, & Silvia, 2016, pg. 2). In fact, the study found that the effects of small creative endeavors, small “c” tasks, could induce states of “flourishing”, as described by CsikszenItmihalyi theory of flow states. These states were recorded as lasting longer, up to a day longer, than the time the participant invested into the activity. If emotions can have an effect on levels of creativity (Runco, 2014), then it makes sense that the inverse is also true where engaging in creative endeavors can have a similar effect on emotions resulting in a more positive mood and therefore reducing stress levels.

Stress Reduction Strategies

One suggestion on how to beat stress is to play music; however, music alone is not enough to beat stress. Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine found that when played in conjunction with stress-reduction techniques, stress levels dropped for the participants in their study. They found that upbeat music was also the best selection to play during the activity (Harrar, 1999). A study of the relation of knitting towards stress reduction stated that many people choose hobbies as a way to reduce stress because these types of activities can provide a distraction from the stressor and also provide the individual with a feeling of control in the situation (Utsch, 2007). While avoiding a problem is not healthy, immersing the self into an activity like knitting can induce a feeling of concentration that allows for a more mindful and present sense of being. There may also be connections to Csikszentmilhalyi’s concept of flow and Torrance’s studies of Japanese satori (Runco, 2014). Similarly to knitting, baking is another small creative activity that can provide focus and control (Lewis, 2016). 

Journaling and creative writing are another method for relieving stress and contributing to positive mood building. Building on the work of Maslow’s self-actualization, researchers have found that if an individual participated in positive-writing, this was followed by an increase in mood and well-being. The study also found that writing created an outlet for solving problems and working through difficult experiences. In addition to affecting mood, there was also a documented increase in immune function as well (Lowe, 2006). As was mentioned in the work of Lowe (2007), positive-writing can increase mood and well-being. However, it is also important to record moments of triumph or success. Dr. Stacy Shaw Welch, Director of the Anxiety and Stress Reduction Center of Seattle recommends keeping a folder of past successes and referring to that folder when struggling or feeling anxious about a current project. By doing this, it can lay waste to the internal squelchers that distract us from believing that we are capable of accomplishing our goals (Weiner, 2007). According to Runco (2014), it is important to not only stimulate a good mood, but also to know why one is in a good mood. Therefore, it is important to keep notes or some type of journaling for reflection purposes as well as being able to analyze what task or routine was being completed that lead to the good mood.

Runco (2014) also suggests as creative tools the idea of shifting the perspective of a problem so you can see it from another angle or turning it upside down. The benefits of looking at something from a new angle is that it can inspire renewed interest in the problem which can generate new ideas and it also can change the perspective enough that new ideas will be generated because things will no longer be looked at as obstacles. A major way of changing your perspective may be leaving the problem entirely, taking a break and trying something new or even traveling. Runco (2014) states that traveling produces excitement as it can be stimulating. This change in mood can facilitate creativity as well as help people to be more grounded. They may even produce those aha moments because the individual is no longer so focused on the thing that was stressing them that they are finally able to think clearly.

So how will you spend your day? Will you pack it full of to-do lists? Or will you take a moment to savor the opportunity to find balance and center your being?

References

Abbott, I. O. (1998). Practical strategies for reducing stress. Practical Lawyer, 44(8), 63-74. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/274310495?accountid=10559 .

American Institute of Stress. (2016). Daily life. Retrieved from www.stress,org/daily-life .

Conner, T.S., DeYoung, C.G., & Silvia, P.J. (2016). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing. In The Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049

Cameron, J. (2002). Walking in this world: the practical art of creativity. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.

Harrar, S. (1999). Got pain? Got the blues? Try the music cure. Prevention, 51, 100-105+. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212668450?accountid=10559 .

Lewis, D. (2016 November 29). Feeling Down? Scientists say cooking and baking could help you feel better. In Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/feeling-down-scientists-say-cooking-andbaking-may-help-you-feel-better-180961223/ .

Lowe, G. (2006). Health-related effects of creative and expressive writing. Health Education, 106(1), 60-70. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214706253?accountid=10559 .

Maslow, A.H. (1971). The further reaches of human nature. New York, NY: Penguin Compass.

Runco, M.A. (2014). Creativity. Theories and themes: research, development, and practice (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Utsch, H. (2007). Knitting and stress reduction (Order No. 3250730). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304742173). Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304742173?accountid=10559

Weiner, L. (2007). Yes, you’re stressed…but what are you doing about it? Shape, 26, 138-146. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/195288526?accountid=10559 .

Anxiety is my Superpower!

Welcome to the A-Z Blogging Challenge, Day 1! When I decided to participate, I plotted out what I would post each day. There were a couple of reasons for that…if I have a game plan then I am more likely to follow through and it also takes some of the pressure off to write. Today’s post is about anxiety.

When I plotted out my daily blog schedule, I was originally planning on writing about agile project management. It is a topic that we have been focusing on at work as part of our professional development. In fact, today was supposed to be the third and final session of our face to face workshops on the topic. I will probably touch on the topic again later this month in some way or another, but this morning I changed my mind on what I am going to talk about. Hey, isn’t being agile all about flexibility?

Last week, my husband had his Social Security Disability Hearing. This means he was in the third stage of the approval process after being denied twice through the other two stages. His lawyer shared his SSA records with me and honestly, I am not surprised that he was denied because his medical records suck. Basically, SSA was going off of nothing more than six months of records from the very beginnings of when he got sick which was back in 2017. The records were not detailed and a lot of it was still waiting on diagnostic tests. In this last round, we submitted over 600 pages of medical records for consideration. We are caustically optimistic, but still waiting.

So what does that have to do with my anxiety? Well, I have been worrying over nothing but this process for the past couple of years and now we are at a stage where we can do nothing but wait again. So all my anxiety has been focused on getting to this point and making sure we have everything we need and the right questions are being asked. Such as, can a person reasonably be expected to retain competitive employment when they have over ten appointments on average a month? The answer here is no, so fingers crossed.

Well, now that I don’t have to worry for the moment about that process, my mind has switched over to the topic that is on pretty much everyone’s mind these days— COVID-19. I actually had a mini breakdown with tears in the kitchen last night while making dinner. But that is okay! There is nothing wrong with having these moments. Give yourself permission to cry every now and then. We all feel overwhelmed sometimes. It is important to know that it is a temporary state and that too shall pass.

As I said in a previous post, we are sheltering at home here in Maryland per the governor’s orders. We have been very good at this. I call myself a Hobbit on a good day, let alone when we have to social distance. When I had my last day of work, we did our food shopping, but we are starting to dwindle our supply. My husband is high-risk, I did not want to venture to the store if I did not have to. Walmart is something that gives me anxiety on a normal day, which is why I am so happy that they have curbside pickup. Unfortunately, the hours have been so limited that at first we thought they had discontinued the program temporarily. This is where my anxiety comes in handy…

When my anxiety is flaring, I have trouble sleeping. So I will usually try to distract myself. Last night, I was up past midnight and decided to check out the Walmart Grocery website…Success! They had pick up slots available for Thursday. Now I have a grocery order scheduled for pickup and I can still follow social distancing while getting almost everything I need…still no TP anywhere. So if you are in need of groceries, try checking websites late at night.

When my anxiety is flaring, I can get hyper focused. Right now that focus is on finding ways to practice positivity and self-care. I was registered for a web session with Nataly Kogan, author of Happier Now, but I am tired since I was up so late last night. I almost skipped, but decided not to and I am glad I watched the session. The session was on using anchors or rituals as part of your daily self-care routine as a way to center yourself and not be so overwhelmed. Some of the suggestions are similar to the ones I gave a couple of days ago: take a walk, bake, talk to friends or family online, read, knit. Find something each day that will give you something to not only look forward to, but also give you something that is simple to accomplish. My son has been making his bed each morning. He saw that viral video from the admiral about if you want to make a change in the world, start by making your bed. My daily ritual will be to write these posts chronicling my thoughts during this time of uncertainty…finding a way to focus on the positive.

When my anxiety is flaring, I become a planner. Right now there is a list on my fridge of things I would like to accomplish while we are social distancing. Some of it has already been marked off, like catching up on laundry and planting my deck garden. Others are still pending, like spending some family time around the fire pit. There is no schedule for getting any of this done. There should be no obligations, but still something to look forward to. Normally, you would include dates to turn this into SMART Goals, but the point is the enjoyment not the productivity. Last night, the family played parcheesi…I lost, but we had fun and we were together. This wasn’t on my list, but it was on my son’s list. So that made it important to me.

I have chosen to reframe my anxiety by looking at it as an advantage. Reframing how I look at it is one way that I am coping right now. What is something that you are reframing to put a more positive spin on it?

Hello there!

It has been months since I posted, but I needed to step back for a while. My dissertation is in the analyzing stage which means I am writing up all my research into the final drafts. We also just had my husband’s social security disability hearing. After three long years, we are hopeful for some good news in the next month. My leadership class jokes that I don’t sleep and I have to admit they are pretty close to the truth.

How are you hanging is there? Since we are in Maryland, we are currently sheltering in place. I am teleworking which is interesting. I teach virtually, so it is not much of a shift for me. However, with so many others also teleworking, the internet has been pretty unstable. My son is also just starting virtual schooling. We are still waiting to see what that will look like. It just started today and so far none of his teachers are fully ready. It looks like we are not going to have to worry about sticking to someone else’s schedule though. Thankfully, the days are nice, so even though we can’t go anywhere, it is comfortable to just be home. Today we had dinner on the deck and even spent time in the Swim Spa (it’s heated, so perfect all year long!).

There is no normal right now and if you try to fake that everything is normal, you are probably just going to add more stress. Take a moment to just sit and relax. Play music when cooking. Watch movies together with your family. Play a board game. Go for a walk with the dog. Set up a tent in your backyard…or even in the middle of your living room. You do you!

How are you going to remember these days? You can stress about them or you can use it to your advantage. Only you can say what will fuel your fire. If life is burning you out, then give yourself permission to take a break.

Just a happy boi enjoying the sun