walk signI need some. The motivation and the self-care, both. Life has become so busy, suddenly. I’ve allowed this to happen, and I am painfully aware it is a problem I would like to overcome–the constant overscheduling, the need to fill every pocket of downtime with something.

Spring is finally here, and if I don’t slow down, I’m going to miss it.

I haven’t written in weeks. I haven’t taken a walk in months. I haven’t finished a book in weeks, which for me is a tragedy. It even feels like it’s been too long since I simply got down on the floor and built Lego houses with Jax.

What the hell have I been doing lately? 

I have been shuttling myself, Jax, and our new kitten to appointments (to a wrist doctor, the dentist, and the vet, respectively). I’ve spent ample time in PetSmart for both the dog and the kitten. I wrapped up my 12-week balance skills/mindfulness group. I’ve gone to countless playdates and birthday parties with Jax. I’ve sorted through tax paperwork. I’ve made more phone calls than ever.

None of this feels meaningful. I don’t remember the last time anything I did felt meaningful. Or fun. I put my to do list before fun every single day.

How sad. And not what I want to role model for my son.

I’ve been avoiding putting myself first because it feels selfish when there is so much to do! But I know better. I know how dangerous that kind of thinking is.

With a loose plan in mind to increase my self-care, earlier this week I cashed in some recent blog earnings and treated myself to a FitBit Flex. Ta-da! A fun way to get myself to take more walks (one of my favorite forms of self-care)!

I am a goal-oriented person by nature, and I enjoy analyzing data. So it just makes sense for me to rely on a trendy gadget to motivate me to get moving, right on out of my slump. I’ve wanted a FitBit since last summer but I’ve been talking myself out of the splurge. But last weekend, I started to think about how much I miss walking during my daily lunch breaks now that I spend that time picking up Jax from school and dropping him off at daycare and then rushing right back to work. I felt depressed that I’ve given up my lunch break walks, even though I can’t tell you how much I truly love and appreciate seeing my son in the middle of the day. (That’s for another post.)

After 6+ months of not walking at lunch (and nearly 3 more still to go), I’m really feeling it now. The days are warmer and brighter after one of our cruelest, longest winters ever. It’s torture to not have time to get outside and enjoy it.

The FitBit is going to fix my life, right? My need to attain the daily goal of 10,000 steps is going to motivate me to stop scheduling my life away and get my pale self outside, walking in the sun–which, to me, sounds like the antidote to being stuck inside a gray cubicle all day long and then spending the evening crossing things off my never-ending to do list (ya know, like dinner, sorting through school papers, laundry, etc).

Yesterday, instead of standing outside my son’s school playing with my phone as I waited for him, I took a 5-minute walk because I wanted to increase my step count. It was invigorating and a much better use of my time than checking Twitter and Facebook for the tenth time that day. While I do love Twitter, it’s not exactly self-care.

My goal this week is to keep my weekend wide open and spend part of it outside. I’m sure I’ll be tempted to fill up the planner with playdates and tasks. But really I just want to play with my new toy, the FitBit! So that’s what I’m gonna do.

Have you struggled with pushing aside your to do list and making time for self-care? If so, what have you done to remedy the situation? 

photo by: rockmixer
My favorite pose so far.

My favorite pose so far.

The first time I tried yoga, I was in college, around age 19, and I had the completely wrong idea about it. My friend and I bought a 10-class pass for just under $100 (what was I thinking, and how did I afford this on a college kid’s budget?!) to a yoga studio just inconveniently located to my apartment. We bought yoga mats, and we showed up to our first class early. I remember an awful lot of chanting, which of course made us giggle nonstop. He farted a lot during class, which made us giggle more. We never ever went back.

I tried yoga DVDs at home, but I never felt like I knew what I was doing. I also thought yoga would help me get into shape and burn calories and be some super skinny bendy girl. I was looking at it all wrong.

Over the next decade and a half, I tried it at home a few more times, never liking it well enough to practice regularly or attempt another class. It felt like a waste of my precious, scarce time. I couldn’t settle my mind enough to relax during yoga. And surely, I erroneously thought, if I wasn’t breaking a sweat, it couldn’t be that good for my body! I fell in love with pilates and walking instead.

Recently, I started taking a class that focuses on balance skills (I’ve mentioned it here and here and here), which kicked off with 4 weeks on mindfulness–something I’d been dabbling in for a little while already. And then I felt opened up to trying yoga again, when a new studio sprung up a block and a half from my house.

I thought, I’m 36, stressed out, and in desperate need of something to challenge and excite me. Why not yoga? It had been at least 5 years since I last tried it, and let’s face it, it’s been a rough 5 years (parenthood, while the best gift of my entire life, has had its challenges, to put it vaguely).

After my first beginner’s class, I felt a twinge, the slightest spark, of “Hey, I actually feel kind of relaxed, and like maybe I’ll go back. Interesting….”

I did go back, but mostly because I instantly felt a connection with the owner/teacher. She made me laugh, which is something I didn’t think was “allowed” during yoga. And she reinforced some of the concepts I was learning in my balance skills class, such as breath work/breathing. (I used to also hate to focus on my breathing, about as much as I hated yoga.)

Last night, I took my seventh class, and I started to cry during Savasana while the teacher read a beautiful quote about loving the child within. I know this might sound cheesy, but I felt like I released some of the pent-up negative emotion that had been eating away at my insides for so long. Let’s not get carried away–there’s still plenty of that left, I know! But I suspect yoga is the thing I needed to help me find a release for it.

On the walk to my car, I texted a friend who has practiced yoga for years: “Serious and embarrassing question: Is it ‘normal’ to feel on the verge of crying during yoga?” Her response began with “Um, YEAH!” and then explained a little bit about the emotional and physiologic effects of yoga. Another friend shared this Yoga Journal article, Emotions in Motion, with me.

When I read that, I wished I’d seen it sooner, because it gave advice about what to do to help you cope should you experience a breakthrough on the mat. Here’s what I did: Panic! Open my eyes, scan the room to see who might have noticed the tear rolling down my cheek. Nobody? Whew! Wipe the tear away and get back to what I was doing. Thoughts racing. Make them stop! I cannot cry in front of these strangers! Stop, stop, stop or I can never come back again!

And then I remembered all the different breathing exercises I’ve learned in the balance skills class and in yoga, and I began to focus on my breath again.

The strangest thing happened on the drive home from class last night–I felt happy. Not the kind of happy I was when I began the day with a cupcake for breakfast, either. I felt happiness in my heart. I haven’t felt that light in a very long time. I cried and laughed and sang in the car.

It’s because of yoga, isn’t it? I wonder what the 19-year-old me would think of the 36-year-old me.

 

photo by: kaibara87

In yesterday’s post, Easing Seasonal Depression: Part One, I told you about two kinds of light therapy that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (aka, seasonal depression). Did you know that light therapy can also help with anxiety, PMS, and sleep disorders?

Why I Love the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

Now that I’ve tried light therapy via both a traditional lamp and a headset with earbuds, I realize I am a devoted convert to the Valkee 2 headset for several reasons:

  • Portability. The headset is small, around the size of an iPod nano, and therefore it is easily transported–sometimes I place it in my back pocket while I’m wearing it. And while I’m using it, I’m not tethered to my desk.
    Quickness. The Valkee 2 requires only 12 minutes of daily use, which is easy to fit into my busy days. After 12 minutes, the device shuts itself off automatically.
    Discretion. It is far more discreet than the traditional SAD lamp. When the earbuds are placed in my ears, nobody can tell light therapy is being used; anyone passing by thinks I’m listening to music. No more co-workers giggling about my Bat Signal. And no more sore eyes (like I would sometimes get with a SAD lamp).
    Charging Time. I’ve been using it for a month now, and I’ve had to charge it only one time. Charging is simple and fast, done via a USB cord plugged into my computer.
These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

Because of all these attributes of the Valkee 2, I find it incredibly easy to use. It has become part of my morning routine. I typically use it when I get to work around 8:00 am, while I’m checking email. I place the earbuds into my ears, turn the device on (it has only one button), and forget all about it for 12 minutes until it beeps to indicate it’s shutting off. The Valkee 2 has a circle on the front, which lights up when you turn it on. As each minute passes, part of the circle grows dim, so you can tell how much time has elapsed of the 12-minute cycle. For example, when 6 minutes have passed, only half of the circle remains lit. When people stop by to talk to me while I’m using the Valkee 2, I don’t have to remove the earbuds, as they are not noise-reducing earbuds and no sound is emitted during use.

How Do I Feel?

When I showed the Valkee 2 to my physician the other day while I was having my sprained wrist examined, he asked me if I think it’s working. My snarky but truthful response was, “Well, I’m not here asking you for an antidepressant, am I?”

It’s been a month since I started using the Valkee 2, and I feel really good! As I’ve said before, January is typically the month when I feel seasonal depression the most. It’s been a brutal winter here on the East Coast, with so many cold, gray January and February days. But I haven’t felt down, like I usually do in the winter. Of course it’s hard to say whether that’s contributed to the Valkee 2 or other factors (I am also taking a 12-week mindfulness course and I’m giving yoga another shot), but I like to think at least part of it is. I’m considering the Valkee 2 a crucial part of my winter survival plan.

Valkee 2 Giveaway

At the time of this writing, the device, from Finland, retails for approximately US $269 (199 euros). Valkee has generously offered to give one James & Jax reader a Valkee 2 of your own. On Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, one winner will be randomly selected to win a Valkee 2. You can enter this random drawing in several ways:

  1. Leave a comment below indicating what appeals to you about the Valkee 2. What makes you want to try it?
  2. Like Valkee on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  3. Like James & Jax on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  4. Tweet about this giveaway and comment here with the link to your tweet.

Each of the above is good for 1 entry, so you can enter a maximum of 4 times. Please be sure to leave a comment for each entry. The winner will be notified via email no later than 6:00 pm (ET) on February 14.

Disclosure: I received one Valkee 2 headset, courtesy of Valkee. All opinions expressed herein are a truthful representation of my experience using the Valkee 2 for one month. 

 

Back in November when I was bracing for the approaching winter (like I do every autumn), my therapist asked if I’d started to use my light therapy lamp yet. I had started in October, but only sporadically for a few reasons.

The Problem with Traditional Light Therapy

SAD lamp

My traditional “SAD lamp” (on the right)

First, I rarely sit still long enough to use it for the recommended length of time each morning (I believe it’s 30 minutes, at least to start). I’m a bit frantic in the mornings, packing lunches, checking Jackson’s school bag, and helping him dress and eat while getting myself ready before I race out the door to work. I don’t have the time–EVER–to stop what I’m doing and sit in front of my lamp. I’ve tried using it while I apply my makeup, but I’m sure you can guess how that turns out (I’ll spare you the terrifying clown photo).

Second, and this is directly related to the first reason, I keep my lamp on my desk at work. The only time I sit still for 30-minute increments is at my desk, so it seemed like the perfect place to sit in front of my lamp. However, the lamp is too bulky and fragile to lug home on the weekends, so I don’t use it on Saturdays and Sundays at all. Also, there are some mornings when sitting directly in front of the lamp isn’t feasible. Maybe I have to work on the computer, or maybe I have a meeting. Most importantly, it’s kind of embarrassing to use the lamp at work. I’ve had several co-workers stop by, curious about the light beam being projected from my cubicle to the ceiling. They’ve started calling it the Bat Signal.

Of course even with all those limitations, if something helps to relieve my seasonal depression symptoms, I’ll deal with the downside and just do it–when I can, anyway.

The Valkee 2: A New, More Convenient Light Therapy

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

So back to that November day in my therapist’s office… She asked if I’d heard about a Finnish product called the Valkee Bright Light Headset, which is essentially light therapy via earbuds. Intrigued but skeptical, I said I had not but I would look into this.

I found the company’s website and I started to read up on what seemed to me like a completely crazy idea–how could projecting light beams into my ear canals help my seasonal depression?! Because of my day job as an editor of several health care publications, I often read peer-reviewed studies and am familiar with and respect the peer review process. I appreciated that the company seems to have gone to great lengths to provide links to so many such studies, indicating promising results about “transcranial brain-targeted bright light treatment“–talk about a mouthful, right? I clicked through and read some of the abstracts to these studies, published in some very reputable journals.

My curiosity mounted. So what would any blogger do at this point? Find them on Twitter & mention them, of course! With astonishing speed, the company replied to my tweet, inviting me to contact them about perhaps receiving a Valkee of my own. It felt like Christmas to this girl who has suffered from seasonal depression for years!

Not only was I impressed with the idea of a new, portable, convenient way to use light therapy, but I also was impressed by the company’s responsiveness on social media. What’s even better is that the Valkee CEO himself responded to my emails, often within minutes. We talked about the product, and I grew more and more excited to try it myself.

In part two, I’ll tell you how it’s going, now that I’ve been using the Valkee 2 for exactly one month, and tell you how you can win one! 

 

I’m trying something new. I’m writing through my anxiety as it’s happening and I’m planning to publish it, this stream-of-consciousness-while-anxious blather. Maybe it will help someone, maybe it will help me! I’ve never tried writing while anxious before, which is kind of shocking.

It’s raining some wintry mix at the moment. The drive to work, including the walk to the car, was treacherous because everything was covered in a sheet of ice. I’ve had caffeine, which is something I know better than to do but often can’t resist, so I made myself more prone to anxiety. And for no good reason, given that I can’t taste the difference between decaf and regular coffee!

A text alert from the credit monitoring service I signed up for when I received two different notices from two different companies that I was at risk for identity theft alerted me to a change in my credit report this morning. The alert, combined with the worry on the drive to work, has my heart thumping.

And there is a stack of articles on my desk, all of which will require hours of entering corrections and making PDFs to email to authors. I can’t go home until this is done. After this, there are still four items on today’s to do list. It’s overwhelming how much there is to do lately!

I’m going to put on some music. Sometimes talk radio is better when I feel like this, but it’s harder to convince myself to put that on. Why is it that when I’m already anxious, it’s hard for me to do the things I know will make me feel better?

I’m remembering items from my list of things that make my anxiety retreat–music, distraction (hmm, maybe I should focus on all the work instead of writing about the anxiety itself?), lavender (I keep a lavender essential oil spray in my cubicle), Rescue Remedy (a tin of the pastilles sits on top of my desk), breathing (I learned a new breathing technique this week, so I should practice that)…. The list is pretty long. I’m going to get started, one thing at a time.

But first, my friend just emailed me about Martha Stewart’s skin care regimen. I think reading about that will get me out of my own head a minute! She’s 72 years old and her face looks amazing.

Huh, she uses oil. I do that, too. Someone should tell her that coconut oil is way better than Johnson’s baby oil.

I need to spend more time working out. And get a facialist. And eat more veggies. Use some masks–I bet I could get some great ones from Lush. Those are the one type of Lush product I actually haven’t tried yet!

My skin felt really great after I washed it last night and then used a sample of Angels on Bare Skin (a Lush product). Then I followed up with coconut oil with one drop of tea tree oil mixed into it. I stunk (tea tree oil doesn’t smell good, in my opinion), but my skin felt great.

Hey, whaddya know, I distracted myself out of feeling anxious in about 5 minutes. I sense it slipping away. Good music, daydreaming about skin care products… who knew that would do the trick!

I’m such a spaz. But hopefully a spaz with glowing skin in the future. Not that my skin is bad now.

I’m getting back to work. This is getting kind of ridiculous, but it did the trick. Hmm, dare I hit publish?