If you have been following along this month, you know I only made it to the letter “I” in the alphabet for the A-Z challenge. The reason for this is that it began to feel more like a chore than something I was excited about. Plus the stats were the same as when I was not posting. So I felt a little adrift in figuring out where to go from there. That is of course not to say I have not been busy.
We officially heard on Monday that my husband has finally been acknowledged by the Social Security Administration as being disabled. Surprisingly, he was approved not for his Sjogren’s Syndrome (which is a blue book listing), but rather because of a combination of health problems not the least of which is migraines. I plan to have another post with full details because it has been a three year battle and I have found that not many people talk about what happens after…
I have a meeting with my dissertation chair tonight. I had joined a group on Facebook that was hosting a challenge to get the dissertation written, but nothing has happened in the two weeks since my last group meeting with my chair. Again, it is that feeling of being adrift. I know I need to get more motivated and I should feel like I have all this time now to work on the paper, but I feel like I am busier than ever while still being at the least productive I have ever been. Anyone else feel like that? I tried describing the feeling to my husband, but he wasn’t understanding what I was getting at.
I am an introvert at heart, so I am not bothered by the fact that a month and a half has gone by since we began self-quarantine. I enjoy my coffee on the deck in the mornings. I keep up with my emails, and I am still teleworking for my full time job which means lots of virtual meetings and conference calls. Plus, I am prepping for the Summer quarter of the online graduate course I teach to begin. My family is healthy (well, healthy-ish). I may not feel like I am getting much done, but I know that I really am. I just need to stop comparing myself to what others are doing.
If you also find yourself adrift in this time of uncertainty, it is okay. Don’t let those with their baking, their house cleaning, their craft projects, and their sheer productiveness get you down. Remember that social media is only showing us a glimpse of what is happening in the background and everyone handles stress differently (mine seems to be by buying bulk snacks via Amazon). We are not quite superhuman, no matter how much we may try to be. So hang in there!
“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?
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?
On Saturday, September 24th, 2005 at 11:22 am my son was born. However, far from being the best day of my life, it turned into one of the scariest. The delivery went pretty easy, just about ten hours. The scary part came when the doctors were doing their post-delivery tests. The APGAR was perfectly normal, but the doctors thought his breathing was in distress. They were going to have to take him away to run more tests. For one brief moment, I held my son before they whisked him away to the NICU.
Scared, tired, and worried, it would be hours before anyone would tell us anything. Two other babies had also been admitted to the NICU within minutes of my son. That information did little to calm our nerves. Finally, after many hours the staff pediatrician came to tell us the news. A tiny air bubble had burst in my son’s lung, most likely from the trauma of his birth. This was causing air to leak out. He would be on pure oxygen for the next 24 hours and then we would see. They told us the medical term was that my son had been born with a pneumothorax, also known better as a collapsed lung.
Since my son was in the NICU, I would have a room to myself. When they moved me from the delivery room to my hospital room I was confronted with baby balloons. However, they were not for me. The nurse assured me that the new proud parents would be leaving within the hour. Still slightly numb to everything I turned on the television to reports of Hurricane Rita and the damage it raged on the Gulf. That was nothing compared to the gurgling of a child not my own. The nurse had spoken the truth. My roommate was discharged with her bundle of joy. A few hours later, thanks to an error on the part of the nurses’ station, they started to prep the room for a new roommate. Thankfully, my husband intervened before anyone could be moved in.
Why are mothers of babies in the NICU not given roommates? Let me describe what happened the next night.
All the scans had come back good, but it appeared that my son was developing jaundice, possibly from being on nothing but oxygen for the past 24 hours. As long as the bilirubin levels stayed low, we would be allowed to leave in the morning. He could even stay in my room with me overnight. At the same time, they moved another NICU mom and her son into my room. Not a problem, I finally had him. I was happy. Happy until around 9pm that night when they tested my son’s bilirubin level again and decided it was too high and he would have to return to the NICU. The worst sound in the world is the cry of another woman’s child when your own son has just been taken away. It was a sound that lasted for most of the night.
That is why NICU moms have no roommates.
They discharged me that next morning. He stayed. The bilirubin levels were dropping, but slowly. After ten days of back and forth travel from home to the hospital, of constantly scrubbing and donning the sterile yellow smocks, the doctors let him come home. He was discharged with the caution to follow up with his pediatrician and have more blood work done. Thankfully, he did not have to return.
Today he is a happy, healthy teenager. It is hard to believe this was fourteen years ago. Though, the happiest day of my life is not the one when my son was born. The happiest day of my life is the day I got to take him home.
A lot of this blog is about finding balance. I focus a lot on how creativity and happiness can reduce stress levels, but sometimes you do need to seek professional help. With everything going on in my own life, my anxiety levels have been soaring. I talked to my doctor and we are trying the med route to see how it goes. It is not instant, magic, you are cured. It takes patience. I have been borderline anxiety attack mode at least three times this week, but managed to talk myself down from it. Since I am a researcher, I know that this can be a side effect during the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, too many people stop taking meds when the side effects kick in. This is never a good idea. It is important to talk to your doctor and never stop a med without medical advice.
So what has my anxiety flaring? Well, we are moving to a new rental in the next couple of weeks which is never fun. Our landlord has decided to sell the house rather than extend our lease. This is the second time this has happened to us in the past three years. Finding a rental in our price range that also lets us have the two dogs was a daunting prospect, but thankfully it all worked out for us. I am in the field research stage of my dissertation study and scheduling all the interviews that are needed will now probably not happen until after the move. We are also moving on to the hearing stage of the disability process for my husband. So of course money is tight on the one paycheck, thankfully I have side hustles to help supplement the income. Oh, and we have a teenager at home with all the mood swings that come with him. Yay!
So if you are feeling overwhelmed in life, know that you are not alone. Reach out to some to talk be it a friend, relative, or professional. When stress builds up, it can manifest in physical symptoms as well as mental ones. It is important to take care of your mental health just as you would your physical health.