Permission Granted

“Help me decide,” I said.

I don’t often ask for help. Very, VERY rarely do I outsource decision-making. I can’t actually remember the last time I asked someone to help me decide anything. These are not things I’m particularly proud of but are actually things I’m working on, so for me to ask for help deciding something is pretty monumental.

I’ve spent the past 3 months in complete overdrive. My decision to make a change in one area of my life has had a domino-like effect on the rest and not positively. You know the saying that goes sometimes things get worse before they get better? That’s the pickle I put myself in. And sure enough, pretty immediately my body started pumping out cortisol at the perceived threat.

Stress is the catalyst for my PCOS. The second my cortisol levels start to rise, I start to have symptoms again. The simplified explanation for this is:

Cortisol and Insulin are the two BIG hormones in the body. The production of both must be balanced and when one goes off kilter, so does the other. And these two master hormones have a cascading effect on all the other hormones in the body. This is so regardless of gender.

This is why people say stress kills. Ultimately, it does.

So when a very positive experience occurred last week, one that I believe will ultimately put me where I want to be, I started wondering if maybe I could slow down. Except that I could come up with a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t, even though my body was begging me to. I knew I was going to over-think this and make myself feel even worse. So I asked for help.

“I think you need a break,” he said. That was followed by a gentle plea to not make myself sick (interesting that this is something I hear often from people who love me: don’t make yourself sick, which is code for I love you, please slow down).

The decision made, I suddenly felt 50 lbs lighter. I might just be taking a break. I might have to start all over again in a month or so. But for now, I can breathe and allow my body to go back into homeostasis.

For now, I have time.

Things I’m Pondering

I’ve been MIA here of late and I apologize. My priorities are being pulled in multiple directions at the moment and stopping to write hasn’t been something I’ve been able to do.
While I usually come to you with fully formed ideas and solutions, today I’m going to share with you things I’m cogitating on.
I’ve recently subscribed to The Daily Stoic. A few days ago this quote landed in my inbox:
“He heard the warning of Marcus Aurelius; cease to be whirled about; and of Baudelaire: ‘Pleasure consumes us, work strengthens us. Let us choose.’”
It’s from Budd Schulberg’s novel about his time with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I keep coming back to it a couple times a day, turning it over and over in my mind. The rebel in me immediately said “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” but I KNOW that the point of the warning contained in that quote isn’t to abstain from pleasure, it’s to not be LED by it.
Time has been a serious pain point for me of late. Without going into too much detail, I’m in a spot where I need to stop doing some things so that I have time to do other things, except that I cannot stop doing said things because I don’t have what doing the things I want to do would bring me. Time has become something so elusive and precious. The reality is that it is THE only non-renewable resource we have. And when we don’t have enough of it, we suffer. One of the things I’ve finally realized though is that instead of reinforcing that I don’t have time, I’m reminding myself that I DO have time. I have enough time.
I have enough of everything I need. And so do you. We always do and always will.

Rewards, Habits and the “I Deserve It” Trap

Over the past several weeks, the subject of “rewards” has come up multiple times. Each instance was within the context of reinforcing a behavior, not an outcome. And each instance brought out varying degrees of resistance from me, so much so I exercised my “phone a friend” option to get some help unpacking what was going on.

I’m at the tail end of the last generation before everyone started receiving participation awards. Every single award I received, I earned, whether it be first place ribbons for music competitions (I played trumpet from the time I was 9 until I was 19), prize money for a poem I wrote about trash in the 6th grade or placing in the top three during a Speech competition.

But it goes further than being a generational thing: I was reared on outcome based rewarding. If I wanted my driver’s license, I had to give my parents straight A’s. 3 YEARS IN A ROW. And then I had to KEEP my grades where they were in order to keep driving. That’s actually the only example I can give because otherwise, all reinforcement was negative i.e. so I didn’t get yelled at.

So rewarding myself because I DID something I said I would feels very “participation award” to me. But as I dig deeper into the research I’m starting to understand something key: rewarding the behavior is like focusing on progress as opposed to the goal. You’re reinforcing pleasantly something you want to keep doing so that you eventually reach the goal. The goal is a reward in and of itself. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Eventually, in this conversation with my friend, I agreed to try rewarding myself though I didn’t do exactly what we talked about. By the end of the week, I knew I’d reached an obvious reward point: I completed the first week of a new strength training program. I want to reinforce this behavior because I want to complete the program, something I’ve never actually done. But the second I started thinking about how I could reward myself, I came up with my daily movement goal as a trump card.

I try to get some type of movement in every single day, whether it be a walk with my dog, yoga, or even 25 kettlebell swings. Because I missed a single day of movement due to my work schedule last week, I wanted to negate the fact that I’d completed the strength training program as prescribed – 4 days, each day with a different focus. I even managed to get in a mobility day and a walk. And yet, I didn’t want that to be enough.

Eventually, I saw reason and decided that I had done what I said I would. So I chose to paint my fingernails, something I rarely take the time to do anymore.

This is where we get into the “I deserve it” trap. Sometimes people take things too far and decide that EVERY behavior is worth reinforcing, including the negative. I hear an awful lot of “I deserve it” when it comes to unhealthy rewards. This often looks like rewarding with food/drink or spending money, two behaviors that often generate guilt and can be (and often are) forms of self-sabotage. As a matter of fact, one of my rules is no rewarding with food/alcohol or by spending money (though a small expenditure can be warranted and/or necessary sometimes).

Here’s why: most people have health goals they want to reach or financial goals they are working towards. By rewarding your week of no missed workouts with a donut, because let’s face it, we don’t reward ourselves with healthy food, you’ve already undone any positive emotional progress. The same goes for buying yourself a new $300 handbag because you just paid off one credit card while you still have $20k in student loans. And what you’ll almost always hear when something like this happens is “I deserve it”.

The question you should always ask when rewarding yourself is what am I rewarding? Am I rewarding a behavior I want to reinforce? The follow-up question should be how do I reinforce this in a way that is positive and not in a way that might set me back?

Ultimately, I ended up painting my nails while I had my Sunday night bath. That might sound risky but I assure you everything worked out just fine. Multitasking is something I kind of have to do presently, so I ran with it. I have no idea what I’ll do when I complete this week, but I will reward myself when I complete all the workouts for the week.

What’s your relationship with rewarding? Are there any behaviors you want to reinforce that you think might benefit from rewards? I’d be really interested in your thoughts and experiences.

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What Does It Feel Like When Stress Takes Over?

Have you ever noticed what stress feels like?

Yesterday I sat in a recliner at my acupuncture provider’s (it’s community acupuncture so we’re all in one big room of healing) and responded to her usual “how are you” with “extremely stressed”. She assured me she could help and set to work placing needles.

As I closed my eyes, several things occurred to me: I was reminded that the brain and body cannot tell the difference between real (being chased by a lion) and imagined (ruminating on an altercation at work); I suddenly became aware of how stress FELT in my body; and I became acutely aware of exactly how it is that stress kills.

I sat there with my eyes closed and did a full body scan. I began to realize that I have several physical tells when it comes to stress: I grit my teeth to the point of making my jaw sore; I cave in on myself, rounding my shoulders and spine; I stop breathing fully, instead taking very shallow and short breaths; and the hardest to ignore is the stress migraines.

Can you imagine living with these symptoms long term? Many of us do, without even noticing.

I could get into the science but instead, I’m going to invite you to do some self-investigation. Do you know what your tells are, how your body tells you you have too much stress? If you don’t, here’s your opportunity to consider it. I want you to do this for one reason: if you KNOW, you can do something about it and sooner.

Information is power. You cannot address something when you don’t know it’s going on. Stress is unavoidable, but it IS within our power to mitigate its effects. Mitigating those effects can be the difference between a long and healthy life and one of chronic illness.

Ultimately, it is up to you to know your body and do something about it.

Have a lovely weekend!

Barbara

An Exercise in Patience

I am not, by nature, a patient person. Unless we’re talking about babies with colic or some other malady that has them crying incessantly (and is not mine), in which case I can sit with, rock, walk with and/or snuggle said babies for hours to give mom and/or dad a reprieve. Don’t believe me? Ask my mother, I did this often as a teenager. But I digress…
I was discussing different metrics measured via blood test this morning with a loved one and how the information obtained doesn’t always tell the whole story, that often those numbers are an indicator of symptomology, not root cause. For example, high LDL is actually a symptom of PCOS, which makes sense when looking at the root cause of PCOS, that being metabolic syndrome. My LDL has been high for my entire adulthood, regardless of diet, including my 18 months as a vegan. If diet had been the cause, surely a vegan diet would have corrected it, yes?
Nope. As a matter of fact, it got worse. Per the current dietary recommendations from our esteemed government organizations and various big pharma-backed “medical” associations, it should have though.
We’ve all heard it: Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it is still very hard to be patient when we just want to hurry up and be healed already. It is a serious exercise in patience to attack the root cause of an illness. We don’t get sick overnight. It often takes years for these things to develop to the point where we exhibit any kind of symptoms and then we’re lucky if we get an accurate diagnosis right away.
It’s unrealistic for me or anyone else to expect to be healed overnight. And yet…
Here’s the upside to things taking time: when we focus on the progress, not the outcome, we are creating habits that are transferable. Think of it in terms of employment: when you want to change career paths, you focus on transferable skills. When we focus on the daily behaviors necessary for us to create healing, we’ve inoculated ourselves against relapse because those habits will then, ideally, be with us for the rest of our lives.
This also teaches us a great deal about our respective innate resiliency. When I’m feeling like I’m failing (which, by the way, is NOT the end of the world), this resiliency is quick to remind me of where I started. It’s quick to show me where I’ve been successful in long term journeys (motherhood anyone?).
My greatest hope is that my patience will pay off in resilience dividends. What I’m trying to create is a resilient body and mind and life. Everything I do, for the most part, is a step in that direction. Progress may be slow, but as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’ll get there eventually.
If you choose to walk a similar path, so will you.