Finding My Way Back On Track

If you were to only look at my site stats for November, you would see that I am having one of the best months ever…but I haven’t posted anything since the beginning of October. Most of my traffic is coming from recipe pins on Pinterest which makes sense since this is the type of weather where you just want to curl up with a bowl of soup or stew. In other words, it is Instant Pot weather and I have a lot of recipes for that. So why haven’t I posted anything? Well, it comes down to motivation and I have had a decided lack of it lately.

There were a couple of things that led to my lack of motivation. Work has been extremely busy because new hires finally started after being short staffed all summer, but that also meant they had to be trained. We also finally heard back from Social Security about my husband’s application for SSDI. He was denied, so we are appealing the decision. Honestly, that decision had me floored since everything I had read about the SSA Blue Book rulings led me to believe he would have been approved on the first shot. Then the killing blow happened at the end of the month when I got back the numbers on how many participants I had for my doctoral study. Out of a pool of over 400 people invited to participate, I only had 8 people participate in my survey. This was two years of work, taking at conferences to inform people about what I was researching, etc…and nothing. Colleagues, co-workers, even friends didn’t take 20 minutes out of their time to help me out. I hit a rut hard and am only now digging myself out.

Now, I teach about Happiness and Productivity. I know all about fueling your fire and flipping the script to be more positive. I also know that when you get in that rut it can be hard to dig yourself back out of it. So what can you do (and what did I do)?

Self-care is a big one. I stopped putting it off and I went to get my hair cut. It might not sound like much, but I was not happy with the way my hair looked, so that was only contributing to the problem. I got three inches cut off and bangs. With my hair looking better, I also felt better. I also prioritized me and my family. We spent the Thanksgiving holiday at home instead of traveling to visit anyone. We took our time making the meal; it was also a simple meal. We watched a lot of movies during the break. Having a stress free holiday was wonderful. I did all my holiday shopping online during the sales; so I can also say that I slept in instead of braving shopping madness. Of course, I also read books. I will have another update posted with the books I read this month. I also did some simple baking of muffins, Instant Pot experiments, and setting up some of our holiday decorations…all of which qualify as small “c” activities (everyday creativity), which can help reduce stress.

The other thing is to make a list of everything you have to do and sort that list into priority order. It is okay if not everything gets done right away, but bonus points if you do give yourself a deadline to accomplish the task. Writing the tasks down gives the task value and importance. When we give it a date or time that it needs to be finished, we are more likely to stick to completing that task. We hold ourselves more accountable. So I am back to making my lists. I use Amazon Alexa to keep a list of things I need to buy. I have multiple lists for things like groceries or things I need to buy or gifts I am tracking in the mail. I have a paper planner for my personal tasks and I use my task list in Outlook to keep track of my work-related tasks. It is important to have a system in place and to be consistent. Yes, I like post-its for reminders too, but too many can create clutter and that can just stress us out further. So I try to keep my post-its strictly for the quick notes that need additional information (like the phone number for a doctor’s appointment that I need to schedule) or the reminders about the Big Hairy Goals like focusing on graduating next year and taking a big family trip to celebrate. In other words, the reminders to celebrate and look forward to something. I also have a whiteboard setup to list my three daily gratitudes. I also decorate that whiteboard with little drawings. Currently, I have a Christmas candle with holly, but I did have a turkey on there last week. Once again, using creativity to help alleviate stress and feeling overwhelmed.

I plan to be fully back on track with everything in December. It is a new month and a new start. Let’s get this holiday season rolling!

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Let’s Talk About Self Care: a top 5 list

Face it, when you think about self care, you are probably thinking of spas and pedicures. Right? Full disclosure, I am writing this while waiting for a blue Dead Sea Minerals mask to dry. I’d take a picture, but I can’t smile since the mask is drying and honestly, I am not a selfie person. But that isn’t what self care is all about.

Self care is taking a moment to do something for your mental health. The benefit of visiting a spa is that you can disconnect. But really, how many of us can afford that? Monday was my birthday and I thought about going to get a pedicure, but instead I did my feet myself at home because spending money gives me anxiety. So dropping a chunk of cash in the long run really wouldn’t make me feel any better mentally.

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know my husband is having health issues. We are currently waiting to see if he has been approved for disability. It is a tough reality, but we have accepted it. So that means that we have to find ways to save rather than spend since he is not working. Things have also been tough at work too because two people in my department resigned. So overwhelmed is not even strong enough of a word right now.

So here is a list of my top five low-cost/no-cost self care things that you can do for your mental health:

1. Staycation

To celebrate my birthday and the fact that I had just returned from a week long conference trip, I took the two days off before July 4th. That gave me five days to unwind since my office is closed on the weekends. It would have been nice to have taken a real vacation somewhere, but not this year. Instead, I spent $18 on a cheap vinyl kiddie pool that my son and I setup in the back yard. We have learned that you can’t put a pool in our yard gracefully because of the slop of the yard. In the end, we sat in the pool fully clothed while it was filling with water just to keep the sides up long enough to self stabilize. It was a heat index of 105 degrees, so the pool was really needed if we wanted to be outside. The rest of the time was spent reading and watching movies with the family. Family time is very important for your mental health because the connection with people is something you need even if you are an introvert. Remember that experiences also trump things when it comes to happiness. So an $18 pool wins out over a $1800 vacation because of the experience it gave me and my son. Though he would probably have argued that a trip to Universal Studios would have been better. Honestly though, what will he remember. The only times I remember our family trip to Disney when I was a kid is when I see photos. Instead, my memories are filled with seeing fireworks at the local community college or barbecues in the backyard. Those are the memories that have stuck with me.

2. Budget

I know what you are saying…money gives you anxiety, so how is this self care? There is a piece of mind when you know that it is okay to spend on something like that kiddie pool. Also, even though money is tight, I know that we will be okay. Budgeting helps take out that ambiguity factor. According to Maslow, our happiness is at the top of the pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs. However, we can’t reach that level if we are constantly worried about food or even a roof over our head. Which leads me to the next item…

3. Safety Net Fund

This could probably be lopped in there with the budget section, but a safety net fund is something everyone should have. For a long time, my husband and I put this on the back burner for when we would get our debt paid down. Then he got sick…when I took over the bills last year, it was one of the first things I did. The idea is that you want to start with $1000 set aside for when those big ticket emergencies pop up. So I set up a free savings account with Capital One because even though they were not exactly the best interest rate (though 1% is not too shabby compared with other banks), the ease of use for their system is really nice as I also have credit cards and my car loan with them. So it is all one interface that I log into. I started out small with $25 deposited ever paycheck. When money was a little better, I adjusted that to $50 and then back down to $25 when things started getting tighter again. When I got a little extra money, that also went into the account. I also opened an account with Long Game which is a gamified savings account app from a bank in Virginia. You receive tokens for depositing money into your account. Those token are used to play games of chance like scratch offs, match games, races with friends, and lotto drawings. You can win coins to play more games or even cash. The games don’t cost you anything, it is all based on how much you deposit. The more you deposit, the more you can play. It is FDIC insured and has a really low interest rate of .1%, but the draw is that some of the games give you a chance to win money. So far I have won about $3. I know, not much, but it is more than my son’s savings account has gained in almost six years with the same amount of money in it. Between Long Game and Capital One, I have reach that $1000 goal,for my safety net fund.

4. Gardening

Gardening is one of those activities that has a two-fold benefit. It can be a mindfulness based activity because of the tranquility feeling it can give us to putter in the dirt or trim leaves, but it can also be a nice benefit for our pocketbooks. I tried for several years to have a traditional garden and every year I failed. So I started small with a patio container garden using pots and herbs. With container gardens, you have many options for what you can grow things in. I have containers from the dollar store that I drilled holes in and added gravel for drainage below the dirt. That same year, my son tried to grow a cucumber plant in a pot. We had basil, mint, and cucumbers all summer. This year I expanded the pot garden. We have cucumbers, peppermint, basil, oregano, rosemary, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, lavender, cucumbers, butternut squash, and zucchini. Most of these were purchased as seedlings from the garden section of the hardware store, but some we also started from seeds. We didn’t think most of the seeds would sprout, but now I have roughly fifteen zucchini plants. My son hates zucchini. I am going to have to get creative when it is time to harvest. So factor in the price of purchasing these fresh at the grocery store and you have your money back and then some in the output. I use a dehydrator for all the herbs that we can’t eat fresh. Honestly, I am Italian but even this is too much fresh basil for me. During the summer I constantly drink ice water with lemon and mint. A health alternative to sugary or caffeinated drinks. It is also nice to sit on the deck in the morning with my coffee and smell the herbs. Very soothing!

Garden Tower Project

Here is a picture. It is a bit overgrown at the moment, I need to harvest some of those herbs.

5. Clean

I know, this is another one that has you shaking your head. But the truth is that clutter and mess is overwhelming to our senses. When our house/apartment is a mess, we feel like we are a mess. It also becomes another thing on our to-do list. You can start small, with just fifteen minutes a day (or broken down into fifteen minutes sections with lots of breaks between sections like my son likes to do). Purging the stuff you don’t need can also be very satisfying. You can donate or have a yard sale. There are also free sites you can post your stuff on if you still want money, but a yard sale isn’t an option. I have been holding on to a lot of clothes since moving to Maryland. They don’t fit, but I always had in the back of my mind that one day I would lose the weight and be able to wear them again. That is something else that can sabotage your mental health. Holding on to those items is just a reminder that there is something wrong with you. But hey, I am healthy and I can always buy new clothes if I do start to lose the weight. So I have been bagging up all those too small clothes and sending them off to thredUP…and using the money gained to buy cute shoes.

There are a lot of other self care things you can do to benefit your mental health. These are just my top five recommendations. Other than a spa trip, what would be some of the things that you would put on your Self Care list?

Do you have a “fiddler” in the family?

My family is filled with “fiddlers”…in other words, they are always spinning, flicking, or in some way manipulating something in their hands. My son has to be constantly told to stop touching things when we are in stores. We have in fact had experiences with the break it, you buy it policies. In addition to fiddling, we have a lot of anxiety. So the popularity of fidget devices has interested us for a while.

According to a July article from Psychology Today, there have been no studies on fidget spinners to show that they benefit mental health and as a mom, I admit that I can’t stand them. My son, unfortunately, got one this summer on the boardwalk when visiting his grandmother. It has since disappeared and honestly I had no part in it, but I am thankful that it did. I have seen many posts on social media that declare how much spinners have helped autistic and hyperactive children, but they are very distracting to everyone else. So the alternative devices that are less obtrusive are much more appealing. My son and my husband both have fidget cubes that they keep in their pockets. If you get the right one, then there is no sound. Though do read comments and check where they are coming from. These are small enough that they would fail the choke test. (Even the spinners fail that as the ball bearings can come loose). So it is probably not a good idea to give either of these devices to someone prone to putting things in their mouth.

As a trainer, manipulatives are something that I try to have out during my trainers. We primarily use pipe cleaners and tangles but have also recently started using adult coloring sheets and doodle pads. There are a lot of researchers interested in the thought that doing something with your hands, can help you concentrate.  Here is a list of some of the products I currently have my eyes on that I find less intrusive than the fidget spinners:


 Antsy Labs Fidget Cube 

*Warning* The Fidget Cubes are small and not recommended for small children as they will fail the choke test!


Tangle 


Adult Coloring Books 


Fidget Pens 


Stress Balls 

Do you have any favorites that you would add to this list? Comment below and let us know about them!