Finding the power within yourself.
As you may or may not know, I have been lucky enough to spend my summer studying Traditional Chinese Medicine and Community Health in Southern China. I have learned countless lessons about medicine, health care, longevity and mental health as well as more practical things such as how to eat soup with chopsticks. This post will merely skim the surface of what I have learned so far in china but I hope that it will make you think about health and life a little bit differently. We traveled west to the border between Tibet and China and got to speak with many spiritual, holistic health masters along the way including a Taoist Taoshi, Buddhist Lama and a Dongba Shaman. Here is what I learned.. The Taoist Taoshi – Taoism is a philosophy and a religion that is said to be the foundation of Chinese culture. Most importantly Taoists practice unity of man with nature, the theory of yin-yang and the idea that we are all small parts of the great whole. Taoists believe that humans are just like all of the other plants and animals; they do not have superiority and there is no hierarchy. Taoshi’s are Taoist men, similar to Buddhist monks, which have dedicated their life to practicing Taoism. The Taoshi we met was 70 years old and still in great health. He lived in a temple, practiced taiji daily, ate food that he grew himself and played the wood flute. He started our lesson by playing the wood flute in order to awaken qi (life force) within each of us. He then proceeded to explain fundamental rules that he lives by to have a happy and fulfilled life: - Thinking to hard is far more detrimental than not thinking at all. Westerners try too hard to be healthy which disrupts the balance. - Eat simple, in-season, consistent food that your body craves. - “Leave enough space for your mind so you always have space to improve yourself” - You can be part of the circle of life and observe the flow but do not try to change it. - “Feel don’t think, taste don’t measure”What I took away from this was the idea that you cannot use logic to achieve internal peace or enlightenment. Dwelling on something or thinking too hard about being perfect will only be detrimental in the long run. The Taoshi said he eats whatever is put in front of him or whatever vegetables are ripe that day – he doesn’t worry about the nutritional value as this will actually harm his health more than eating poor quality food. He also mentioned that in Taoism meditation is not a sitting practice. He does mediation all day long when doing simple tasks. I really like this idea, as I have never been a fan of sitting still in a cross-legged position! I want to incorporate meditative chores into my daily routine. He also only eats two big meals a day – I don’t think this will be a habit I try to adopt! The Buddhist Lama – We were lucky enough to meet with a Tibetan Buddhist Lama, a Lama is a monk that is a spiritual leader that has achieved the highest level of enlightenment. His smile was intriguing. He giggled a lot as he readjusted his robe and gave off the delighted energy of a young child. He had some important wisdom to share… - The physical body is not our real body, it is a man-made illusion. The physical body doesn’t stay with us when we die; therefore it is only a temporary state and should not receive such high importance. - Abandon the illusion of external happiness. Ask what you can give, not what you can receive. True happiness can only come from within. - The root of true happiness is finding sympathy for your enemies and sharing compassion with all living things. - Before you can be a good doctor and heal others you have to find your own internal medicine. - Compassion is a choice, not an action. - We asked the lama if he could change one thing about the world what would it be. He said, “I would change myself” because that is the only thing we have the power to change. If we all work on developing our own internal happiness the world will be a better place. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout this conversation. I felt like the lama was really speaking to my soul and allowing me to find a path to my own internal medicine. At first when he said that the only way to achieve true happiness is through compassion to others I thought that this was somewhat false because I know that some activities such as eating a piece of chocolate cake make me really happy. But he explained that these external things that you think are making you happy are not sustainable. If I ate chocolate cake every meal of the day, within a week the happiness would fade. The only sustainable form of happiness is found in compassion to others. We also asked how we should become more selfless and compassionate. He replied by saying that compassion is a choice, not an action. This means that we cant set out to “do something compassionate today” because this is not sustainable. Instead we must make every choice we are faced with through out the day in the name of compassion. What is the next most compassionate choice you can make today? The Dongba Shamen - Dongba is a 3000-year-old religion and culture of the Naxi minority group in the foothills of the Himalayas. In the Dongba religion nature and man are considered to be half brothers, meaning that the traditions are strongly connected to the earth. It is an Animist religion meaning that all things including plants and inanimate objects have spirits. It is believed that any of these spirits can cause illness when there is an imbalance. Diagnosis of disease is based on fortune telling – an art practiced by the Shamen. We were lucky enough to meet a blind Shamen who told us predictions about our future using the Chinese zodiac, shells, stones and chanting. Although I am still skeptical about this practice it was very interesting to be in the presence of the Shamen and I left feeling very open minded. A few things I took away from the experience were… - “Must believe; must learn science”. He explained that both spiritual practice and science have a place in healing. - Humans are not the only things that need medication - herbs should be given to animals, plants and spirits as well. - All things cannot be explained – just because an idea such as animism seems so far fetched to me I am not in the position to judge or disprove it. When I asked the Shamen about my future he told me that I needed a strong mentor in my life to help me achieve what I hope to. He mentioned that it should be a spiritual mentor or someone in my career path that can help guide me. He also said I would be an anxious person until I turn 40, and then I will have a huge turning point. I am choosing to ignore this part because I do not believe our future is already decided. I am committed to managing my anxiety and do not feel that I will have to wait until I am 40 in order to have a break through. I guess we will have to wait and see on this one! Overall, meeting these three incredible men was an inspiring experience. It left me with so many things to think about! I am starting to see that my spiritual values are very in lined with Daoism and Buddhism, which is very exciting. I can’t wait to explore these religions further. What are your thoughts on spirituality? Do you agree with the things these spiritual leaders said? How do you incorporate spirituality into your life? Let me know! Id love to talk about it ☺ Until next time, Robin
I am sitting in the Chiang Mai International airport waiting to board my plane to Kunming China to start my study abroad! My stomach began growling so I searched the airport for a cheap vegan snack. I bought some dried mango and seaweed crackers and began to think about the question I am often asked “How do you eat vegan whilst traveling?”. So I thought that I would reflect on my time in Nicaragua, and provide you guys a helpful resource for eating vegan in Central America! I have found that eating vegan can be difficult at times whilst traveling, but the hardest part it seems is actually at the airport! As most airport food is pre packaged I have struggled to find fresh salads or sandwiches that do not contain meat or cheese. Because of this I try to bring my own food to the airport, and I always bring A LOT because traveling makes me super hungry. My flight to Nicaragua was in the morning so I made banana apple overnight oats the night before to eat on the plane. They were soaked in almond milk with chia seeds and coconut and made a delicious breakfast waiting at the gate. I also packed two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, pretzels and carrot sticks for the day of travel. I was also able to find a great fresh fruit smoothie at the Houston Airport. Upon arrival in Nicaragua I realized that the food was very simple and had little amounts of spice or flavor. Because the country is relatively poor, meat is also a delicacy and luckily is not served with every dish. Restaurant employees did not seem to understand the term vegetarian so instead I said “sin carne, sin leche, sin huevos por favor”. I also had a guide that was very helpful in making sure my dishes were all vegan. Throughout my time I learned a lot of common dishes that are traditional and vegan that I will share with you! Unique foods and flavors in Nicaragua Plantains – taste like a cross between traditional bananas and potato. They are a great carbohydrate source and actually contain more fiber and potassium than traditional bananas. They are usually eaten steamed (looks like a cooked banana) or twice fried (looks like a smashed yellow potato fritter). Twice fried dipped in hot sauce is my favorite! Taro – is a root vegetable that is white/purple in color and tastes a like an over cooked potato to me. We ate a lot of boiled potato, which was great because it was very high in carbohydrates and low in fat. They can taste a little bland so I liked mixing them with beans and hot sauce. Chayote - is a watery vegetable that tastes a lot like a zucchini or summer squash. It is the most commonly grown vegetable in Nicaragua as it is native to the area and can thrive without a lot of water. It is the main vegetable in the diet of many poorer people living in rural villages. We often had it cooked in a tomato broth or steamed with other vegetables. Breakfast: Fresh fruit, rice, beans, baked/fried/steamed plantains, corn tortillas, avocado, corn flakes and soya milk.Lunch: Rice, beans, plantains, taro, potato, sweet potato, salads, cooked chayote, carrots beets etc, fruit, fruit juice, peanuts and french fries. Dinner: Rice, beans, plantains, eggplant ratatouille, lentils or chickpeas cooked in a tomato sauce, twice fried plantains and salad. Snacks: Taro/plantain/banana/potato/vegetable chips (non-queso flavored), fruit, “tea” cookies, oreos, wafer cookies, dark chocolate, peanut butter and lots of interesting fruits. Overall, it was very doable and being vegan did not hold me back at all! The food in Nicaragua was simple but delicious and I appreciated the fact that they didn’t use excessive amounts of oil in their cooking. I enjoyed talking to people about being plant based as it came up a lot as eating in big groups is a large part of traveling. If any of you have any questions about veganism or traveling please reach out!
This May I decided to set an intention for myself: to “Be Open”. It seems rather fitting, as this month is the beginning of my summer travels, taking me to many places around the globe. I have just finished my final college exams of my Junior year and can now officially call myself a Senior in college! To start off the summer, my boyfriend Jackson and I went to Shoshoni Yoga retreat, which was a lovely way to relax and unwind. Immediately following this I boarded the airplane to San Francisco to attend Crystal’s, my second cousin one-removed, beautiful wedding. One day later, here I am heading to Nicaragua on a 10 day public health brigade with fellow CU Boulder college students. In Nicaragua we will be involved in building sanitation units and water supply systems to service extremely rural villages. Upon my arrival back to Colorado I will spend 4 days packing up my room before I head to Asia for 10 weeks. I will spend 2 weeks in Thailand, hiking around Chiang Mai and exploring with Jackson and his brother. I then fly to Kunming, China and spend 6 weeks taking classes in community health and traditional Chinese medicine! After this I have three more weeks in Asia, I am not yet sure where I will travel, but would love any suggestions! WOW, all that traveling was a big mouthful, and kind of intimidating to be honest.One of the things that scares me most about traveling for three months is the lack of control around my daily schedule. I am definitely a creature of habit; I like being on a set routine, in control of my daily activities and patterns. It has become increasingly evident to me that it is close to impossible to keep to a set schedule while traveling, especially when you are in large groups of people, changing time zones and trying to find your way around unfamiliar cities. Because of this, my intention to “Be Open” is very fitting for this month, and probably for the whole summer. By “Be Open” I mean many things. I mean be open to new experiences - say yes to things I would usually avoid because you never know until you try. I mean be open to other people’s ideas and suggestions - I don’t always have to be involved in choosing the restaurant or planning the day’s activities. I mean be open to new forms of exercise -I want to let go of my rigorous running and cycling schedule and realize that waking up at 6am to run on the hotel treadmill is not the reason I have come to Thailand. I mean be open to trying new foods and not eating on a planned schedule as I usually find myself doing at home. I mean be open to CHANGING and GROWING. I often find that the root of my worries around keeping a tight schedule is that I am afraid that if I do not stick to it, bad change will occur. For example I worry that if I say yes to a spontaneous concert or late night extravaganza, I will either suddenly turn into an alcoholic because I am having an unplanned beer, or that I will be so hung over in the morning and forget to call my mother, becoming a horrible daughter. I worry that if I skip my morning run and instead go walking around the city all day, that I will all of a sudden realize that I never want to run again and all of my hard work to get the fitness I have today will be wasted as I become a life-long couch potato. I extrapolate single decisions and turn them into huge permanent changes. I am not quite sure why my brain does this, because I realize rationally that skipping one run or having a beer will not permanently change anything about who I am. I think that it is the perfectionist/anxious/eating disorder/control-freak voice in my head that wants me to stay on track and never sway from the plan. Now that I have noticed this about myself I have decided to fight it. I don’t want to be the girl who is afraid of change. Because not all changes are bad! I’m so concerned with maintaining things like my intelligence, weight and fitness level that I forget to actually appreciate these things in the moment! So my intention for while I am traveling is to be open to new things and not resist change. Change can be beneficial and I know that it will help me grow as a person in many ways! Specific goals to help me towards my “Be Open” intention. 1 – Try to pay less attention to the time: I am going to wake up naturally without an alarm (unless I need to catch a flight obviously). This way I will let my body get the rest it needs every night without forcing an early morning work out. Traveling takes up a lot of energy and I think I can often underestimate the toll it puts on my body. I am going to try to listen to my body’s hunger cues, rather than my watch to tell me when to eat. This is going to be especially important when I change time zones, as my whole system will be out-of-whack for a few days. My body is much smarter than my mind about meal times and will let me know what it needs; I just need to be open to listening to these cues. 2 – Say yes: Every time I feel myself wanting to say “no” to an invitation that isn’t in my plan for the day, I am going to think seriously about why I am saying no. If I am saying no because my plan would need to be rearranged, not because the idea doesn’t sound fun, I am going to try to say yes and figure out how to fit everything in later on. I don’t want to miss out on anything, just because it wasn’t in my frame of mind for the day! 3 – Do something everyday that scares me: I know its cliché, but I think this is a great way to have new experiences and put myself out of my comfort zone. As the old saying goes, change only happens outside of your comfort zone. I am going to strive to do one of these things everyday, and in order to keep myself accountable, I am going to write down what my scary thing was everyday and with you all at the end!
A lot of people, myself included, throw around the word “stress” whenever they feel that they have a lot on their plate. It almost seems like being stressed, or saying you’re stressed, is the cool thing to do in college and in life in general. I have found myself in numerous conversations with people competing about who has gotten less sleep or who has more midterms. “I stayed up till 3am studying” gets a “wow you’re so committed” rather than a “wow, your time management skills must suck”. Since when was denying your brain and body sleep something to be praised? In my opinion, we need to save the word “stress” for when it is really warranted and try to reframe our daily chaotic lives as “busy-ness”.I recently listened to multiple TED Talks about stress and learned some pretty amazing things. Researchers have shown that the way you think about stress actually effects what stress does to your body. People who think stress is harmful and something that should be avoided are a lot more likely to have stress-induced heart attacks, binge eating and violent outburst. This completely shocked me. I didn’t understand how just thinking something was bad for you could make it bad for you. I had to get to the bottom of it. Turns out its all about how you frame stress in your mind. For example, I had two midterms, one paper, 15 hours of paid work, 10 hours of job shadowing, 15 hours of class, two homework assignments and a dog to take care of all in one week. Now I could be completely stressed from all of this, or I could just be busy. Being stressed associates negative connotations with all of the activities I have planned for that week. I might start to loathe the fact that I have so much schoolwork and forget how lucky I am to be getting an amazing education in a town I love. I might let myself get grumpy and not reply to my friend’s messages because “I’m just so stressed”. Framed as stressful, I probably won’t enjoy my week at all as the weekend is the bright stress-free light at the end of the tunnel pulling me through. On top of this, my health will deteriorate at a much faster rate than if I were simply busy. Instead, if I chose to see all of my activities as the fragments of my life that help keep me busy, productive and entertained, I might have a better week. Framing tests as a way to challenge my brain (a little bit like a bike race from my memory) and job shadowing as an opportunity to explore my future career choices, makes my week sound exciting rather than stressful. I might be busy, but busy is good. I remind myself that I like being busy, thrive off of doing as many things in my day as I can, and always get sad when I’m bored. Even though I am doing the same things, by not being “stressed” I am able to have a more enjoyable week and my health is improved! My challenge to you this week: See how you can reframe your “stress” as “busy-ness” and tell someone about it! For example, tell someone how you are so excited about all the things you will accomplish this week rather than complaining to them about all of the things you have to do. Don’t join in with the lack of sleep competition but relish your sleep as you know it makes you so much more productive the next day!
In my last entry I shared my journey going off of SSRI’s. Today I want to talk about what I do instead, given that anxiety and its management are an ongoing part of who I am. Some of my tips for managing daily anxiety: Phone a friend – When my anxiety is bad I feel like my head is spinning with too many inner thoughts and voices. It helps during these times to talk to someone else as it is harder for your inner dialogue to be as crazy when you are actually communicating with another living being. Sometimes I’ll talk to the person about my anxiety and think of ways to overcome it but other times chatting about a non-related topic helps. For example, sometimes while doing my homework at night with the door closed my anxiety builds up. During these moments it helps to knock on my roommate’s door, sit on her floor and talk about our days, watch ironic Donald Trump videos and eat chips and salsa. Being in the moment helps to curb the anxious tendencies and calms my mind. Give up caffeine - One of the huge things that made a big difference in my baseline anxiety levels has been giving up caffeine. I feel that my energy is much more stable throughout the day and that I have an easier time keeping my mind on track and being present in the moment. I was a pretty big coffee and black tea drinker in the past so it was hard for me to give up the warming drink. Luckily I have really been enjoying Dandy coffee alternative, which is a 100% natural plant based powder that tastes like coffee but is caffeine free. 15 minute brain breaks – At the beginning of each day, or the night before, I try to schedule three 15 minute blocks in the day where I can stop whatever productive activity I am doing and just be present. Usually I have one in the morning, one around lunch or between two classes and one after dinner. I like to use these times to sit on a bench and people watch, listen to Justin Beiber extremely loudly and have a dance party or even pull out my coloring book and have a little drawing session. I find that when I forget to take these breaks I can feel my anxiety building up throughout the day and I am getting ready to explode at night. Sunday night preparation – I started to notice a pattern that if my Sunday afternoon/night was hectic, I would feel stressed on Monday morning, which would set me up to have a bad week. On Sunday night I like to take a few hours by myself to get mentally ready for the week ahead of me. This involves getting out my class syllabi and copying any due dates into my planner, as well as any other important meetings or appointments during the week. I also like to do laundry, clean my room, send any emails I have been putting off etc etc. I think Sunday night is a perfect time to have some “me” time too as most people are tired from the weekend and you’re unlikely to be missing out on anything super fun. So there you have it; a few things that have worked well for me in the past couple of months since going of SSRI’s. Overall I feel extremely empowered to have made the transition off of medication but I think a better way to frame it is that I changed the way I coped with my anxiety, rather than just quitting one way of coping. I think it is very important to use other tools in our lives such as support systems, self-care and mindfulness to manage our emotions so that we are free to live a more authentic reality. A Challenge for you this week: Be vulnerable with someone. It could be simply being honest that you dislike your new haircut, or opening up to a friend about struggling with anxiety. Letting my guard down and being vulnerable about my anxiety in ways such as "phoning a friend" has helped me learn to be less judgmental about parts of myself. Vulnerability allows us to make deeper connections as we expose more of ourselves. It may be tough but it is empowering. If you have any questions about anxiety or would like to talk about your journey, please reach out to me! Sending love, Robin
Getting off antidepressants and learning to manage anxiety on my own: A little over three months ago, after being fed up with numerous side effects and realizing that I wanted to see what my natural state of mind was, I decided to stop taking SSRI’s. SSRI’s are pharmaceutical drugs, prescribed to alleviate depression and anxiety by blocking receptors in your brain that usually absorb serotonin. This leaves serotonin, otherwise known as the happiness chemical, floating around in your brain, hopefully resulting in a more pleasant, less anxious day-to-day life experience. By no means am I against SSRI’s or antidepressants. I believe that there are many situations in which people can benefit from these drugs, and that overall they have definitely aided in my recovery. But, I do believe there is a time where your metal health is stable enough that reliance on a drug that alters your reality may not be necessary. After 4 years of being on SSRI’s I believed that I had reached this point and wanted to challenge myself to see if I could manage my mental state in other ways. I began talking to my physiatrist and we made a plan to reduce my dose slowly and taper off my SSRI. First of all, I am extremely thankful that I went through this process under the supervision of a trained professional and do not believe I would have had such a successful experience if I had tried on my own or had stopped taking pills cold “tofurkey”. That being said, it was a difficult process and I am still coming out the other side. I hope my story will help any of you going through similar processes. I find it helpful to remember that things often get a little worse or harder before they get better. Weeks 1 – 4 At this stage I reduced from 100mg – 12.5mg dropping the dose each week. I really didn’t notice any big changes in my mood or outlook on life. I didn’t feel more anxious, stressed or sad and my night sweats stopped! This was a huge bonus for me as night sweats due to SSRI’s had prevented me from having a good night sleep for the past 4 years. I also found that I could feel my emotions more. On numerous occasions that month I laughed so hard I cried, which was something that hadn’t happened in a while.Weeks 4-6 These were the first two weeks I was off SSRI’s all together. The drugs were probably still in my system at a low dose but definitely much lower than before. I was fine for the most part during this time. A little sad for no reason, and restless, but overall content and proud that I was officially off medication. I practiced taking it easy on myself over these weeks and trying to see the bigger picture rather than dwelling on the feelings of sadness. It helped to remind myself that everyone feels sad sometimes. Weeks 6 – 10 This is when it hit me. The feelings of anxiety crept up and engulfed me in a huge way. I would lie awake at night with constant random words and picture running through my head. Nothing made sense. I was foggy in school and felt like I was watching myself live my life rather than living it. This feeling of dissociating really scared me as I felt like I had no control over my mind and body. I had feelings of wanting to rip off my skin, as I felt so uncomfortable in my own body. I had forgotten how bad my anxiety was, as the SSRI’s really had been masking it all these years. I called my mom in tears on numerous occasions due to the fear of having a panic attack or the realization that maybe I want ready for this and that maybe I still needed the SSRI’s to keep my brain stable. I then had a very motivating talk with my therapist who explained what I was experiencing to me in the best way. She said that the SSRI’s I had been taking were equivalent to meditating for 3 hours a day for my anxiety levels and that I couldn’t possibly take away this drug and not replace it with another form of treatment. This shocked me as I had assumed that I would be able to stop the medication and move on with my life free from anxiety. But through this conversation I realized that this is going to be something I will have to deal with my whole life and that I just need to find different ways to manage my anxiety now that I do not have the help of the drugs. Weeks 10 and onward After week 10 I had developed numerous ways to cope with my anxiety while being a busy junior in college, balancing school, work, friends, family and other hobbies. I have developed numerous strategies (stay tuned for the next post- in which I will share my favorites!) to help maintain calm and manage my daily stress. I have not had a serious incidence of anxiety since week 10 and am able to assess my levels throughout the day in order to adjust my schedule and minimize my anxiety. I honestly never thought I would get to this point, during weeks 7 and 8 I was even considering getting back on the medication and putting this whole thing into the too-hard box. But now, looking back on it, I am glad that I pushed through. I think I was ready to see what my mind was like without being altered and I was in such a good place in my recovery that I could finally use all of the tools I have learned to actually manage my anxiety on my own. Being off SSRI’s is empowering as I now feel like I am in control and capable of anything. A Challenge for you this week We all have some coping strategies that we know in our hearts are not the best thing for us. For example drinking at night in order to relax after a hard day, or working out obsessively to reduce stress. This is also how I view the SSRI medication I was on. I challenge you this week to try a new, more authentic, coping strategy instead of relying on a quick fix that is habitual to you. Instead of using a beer to relax, try reading a book or going for an after dinner walk. The options are endless and I know you will feel better in the long run. Have an amazing week!! Robin
This week in my global public health class, a shocking statistic was presented to me. Since 2014, the leading cause of death in female’s aged 15-19 worldwide is suicide (WHO, 2014). Just let that sink it. Young adult women are more likely to take their own life than die from HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, road-accidents, and complications with childbirth or any other things we might think of. This says a lot about the huge worldwide improvement in basic public health resources such as sanitation and safe sex practices. But also highlights the huge “elephant in the room” that is mental health and care facilities. Many organizations such as suicide hotlines, free counseling and mental health services have been put in place over the past 20 years. But we are still behind in impactful treatment of mental health disorders, especially in less medically advanced countries. Millions of sufferers are not able to access the mental health treatment they need which results in the rates of suicide climbing. The severity of mental illness is extremely minimized in many cultures and I believe that one way we can start to mitigate this by talking about our struggles more openly. I also think it is very important that people are educated about the issues. Parents often worry about their children drinking alcohol, driving in cars, taking risks and sharing water bottles when they should spend more time ensuring their child’s mental health is intact. Teenage girls are twice as likely to die from suicide than from a drug overdose, yet we have drug education in high school but no mental health programs. Now for a little bit of story time: I am thankful everyday that I am lucky enough to be an American Citizen and have insurance that covers the health care I need, and resources put in place so that I can access the best care possible. I really realized how privileged I was during recovery from my eating disorder. The US has many areas for improvement but I believe they are the leaders in the treatment of severe mental health disorders. When it became evident that I would need inpatient 24-hour structured physical and mental care in order to recover I had many treatment facility’s to choose from. Luckily, I had great insurance that covered the $1000’s a day treatment costs. Sadly many Americas do not have sufficient medical insurance, and are not able to afford the extreme costs out-of-pocket, meaning that they do not receive adequate mental health care. Even in New Zealand, a developed country, this is not the case. In New Zealand you will be admitted to hospital and re-fed until you are physically stable and then released with very little assistance in fixing the root of the problem within the brain. Its like they almost forget that anorexia is a mental disorder and just treat the physical symptoms which is like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. There are a few privet facilities’, but they only take a small amount of patients and are extremely expensive. I have a few friends back home that are still struggling and I would do anything to give them access to the recovery program that I had.What we can do about this problem: Talk more: I am a firm believer that personal problems weighing you down feel much lighter when they are shared. I want to encourage all people to speak more openly about mental health issues, as I think the real killer is silence. Mental illness is a lot more prominent than you probably realize. 18% of the adult population is currently diagnosed with anxiety or depression disorders, while many more struggle without clinical diagnoses (NIMH, 2015). I bet that if you start opening up to the people around you, you will find that many of your peers have experienced some sort of mental health episode. The more you talk about it now, the more likely a friend will be to reach out to you if they are feeling low. Take a break: Depression is also the leading cause of disability in adults ages 18-54, meaning that more productive work years are lost due to depression than any other illness (NIMH, 2015) Due to this, it needs to be more socially accepted in the work place to take “mental health days”. I’ve experienced a bad flu and a bad bout of mental health; both make it equally impossible to get out of bed. I encourage parents to let their kids take days off in order to improve their mental health. I also think its extremely important to let the weekends be relaxing, do some self care and restore mental health for the week ahead. I urge you and those you love to spend a little time this week thinking about mental health. How are you feeling? Are you taking actions to increase the quality of your daily life? Send a thoughtful message to someone you haven’t seen in a while or make time to get coffee with a friend. Be aware of subtle indications that people around you are struggling and send out a helping hand. We are all on this crazy ride of life together; sometimes we just need to have a big group hug. Thanks for reading 🙂 Robin National Institute of Mental Health, Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2015 Jun;62(6):593-602. World Health Organisation. "Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative." WHO (2014): n. pag. Preventing Suicide. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.
As some of you may have noticed, numerous, shiny black and white coloring books for adults have been popping up in bookstores around the world. I can’t even tell you how many of my friends received one of these trendy, self-help books for Christmas, myself included. Are they a gimmick, and what are they even supposed to ‘do’ to you? The main idea behind the coloring book is learning to engage in mindfulness. Basically, by letting your mind focus on keeping your brightly colored pencil within the lines, you are less likely let your mind drift to topics that may be worrisome or cause stress. The therapeutic properties of art have also been realized as often emotions can be expressed through art that cannot be said aloud. Dr. Joel Pearson, a brain scientist at the University of New South Wales in Australia said, “Concentrating on coloring an image may facilitate the replacement of negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones”. During our hectic, crazy, wonderful lives it is increasingly important to have some relaxation time, or as I like to call it our RE-CREATION time. I often find myself rushing through the day from class, to meetings, to the gym without feeling like I have even had time to breathe. By taking time to sit down and focus on a menial task like coloring, I find that I can feel my physical and emotional batteries recharging – allowing for emotional space that enables me to recreate myself into the person I want to be.Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone but you can’t take in anything they are saying because your internal monologue is running haywire? I often suffer from this and feel horrible because I am not giving that person the attention they deserve. By focusing my mind through an activity like coloring or meditation I am able to take more control over my inner voice and allow it to be quiet while I am interacting with others. This all sounds well and good but stopping for 15 minutes during the day is hard. I always feel like I could, or should, be doing something more. But it helps me to remember that without a break, I will not be able to be fully present in the moment and that I will be so much more productive in the long run if I don’t run myself dry. Overall, I do believe that adults coloring books can have huge benefits toward our mental health and wellbeing but they are definitely not for everyone. They are expensive, a little bit heavy and awkward to carry around, and would make me feel like a 5-year-old if I were to whip one out in class. BUT, creating space for mental recreation during the day is hugely important and should be as essential a part of our daily lives as going to the bathroom. That being said, there are many different ways in which you can calm your mind. Here are a few with which I have been successful…
- Mindful walking – go for a 15 minute stroll and try to notice things stimulating all of your different senses. Do not check your cell phone or social media. You can try setting a timer too so that you can resist the urge to check your watch.
- Crocheting – I know it sounds like an activity for grandmothers but its very cheep and requires little attention so that your brain can rest.
- Slowly sipping a hot drink – I often take myself out for a cuppa during a busy day. Putting down all of the work in front of me and simply just enjoy the feeling of the hot liquid filling my belly is very satisfying.
- Reading a novel – there is something so magical about getting lost in a book. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good educational self-improvement book as well, but sometimes I think it is important to delve into a fantasy world for a few minutes.
- If you are interested in coloring but aren’t ready to invest in a book, here are some free images online you can print off and color in to try it out.
In this article I will share how my relationship with exercise has changed over the years and how I work to reduce the unhealthy aspects of exercise in my life and strengthen the positives. Scientists agree that getting regular exercise is a great thing for the mind and body. Regular exercise can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, aid in recovery from illness and even make your daily life more efficient. Most of us can also agree that the average person in western society could probably benefit from getting a little MORE exercise. Due to this we are bombarded with media telling us to work out more this season, get flat abs, and present fitness models as #goals. While this could potentially be good motivation for some, I believe many more people than we realize actually suffer from these messages, myself included. When skipping a gym session to get lunch with a friend makes you feel extremely guilty, or when you have to do exactly 60 sit-ups (or any other set number) in order to feel like you’ve had a good work out, you might want to think about your relationship with exercise.My relationship with exercise: Between the ages of 13 and 19 I was a competitive road cyclist. I competed internationally on the New Zealand Junior Team and earned 10 national titles along the way. During this time in my life my athletic training and performance loomed very large in my emotional psyche. So much of my energy was bound up in whether or not I was doing the right training, if I was going to peak for the important races or if the selectors could see my potential. A small cold during racing season would be a catastrophe and I would feel that all of my hard work would be wasted. My whole life was consumed by cycling, not only the time spent actually on the bike. I would eat well (for cycling), build my classes around my training schedule (for cycling), miss birthday parties (for cycling) and go to bed early (for cycling). At the time this strict rigidity around my lifestyle was important for my performance but once I stopped cycling this mindset stuck with me even though I wasn’t training for anything anymore. Working out was often a private thing for me after then. I went to the gym most days and went on runs alone so that I could push myself extremely hard. If a friend asked to go together I would get nervous that I wouldn’t get a “good enough” workout. This continued for about a year after I stopped cycling competitively. Then one day I went to the gym with a friend, and about halfway through my workout she walked over to me and said “Robin, what exactly are you training for?” I was on the spin bike doing intervals that I had previously done in order to prepare for Oceanic Time Trial Championships. I was dripping in sweat and was taking my workout extremely seriously. I snapped at her because she had interrupted my threshold interval but then began to realize that she actually did have a point. I think that having an elite athlete mindset from a young age can cause us to become very intense and competitive with our sporting endeavors. This may not necessarily be a bad thing but if exercise continues to take up as much emotional energy in your life as it used to when you were competing, but without giving any return in the form of results, it can be incredibly draining. Not to mention the added media influence also causes a lot of people to have a huge amount of unnecessary emotions surrounded with getting regular exercise. I was (and still probably still am) addicted to the endorphins that pushing your body extremely hard give you. But I needed to remember that killing myself in a morning workout, when I wasn’t even training for anything, did seem a bit silly. These workouts left me tired all day and not present during my classes. My workouts had become very rigid; I did the exact same amount of cardio with the machine set on the exact same level followed by the exact same number of strengthening exercises with no easy days and no change in intensity. I began dreading the thing that once gave me so much pleasure. I would feel empty and anxious if I didn’t exercise. Working out is supposed to help reduce stress but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your stress reduction tool-box. After doing some research and speaking with a sports psychologist I decided that I needed to change my behaviors around exercise to enjoy working out again in order to heal my body, not burn it to the ground. Steps I took towards mindful exercise:
- - I started referring to working out as “getting my blood flowing” or “moving my body” in order to remind myself that this was the ultimate goal of getting exercise. Also as an added bonus it sounds super new-age-hippy when you tell your friends your going to the Rec Center to “move your body” after class.
- I made a list of different workouts I could do and put them in a jar so that I could pull one out whenever I wanted to exercise in order to mix up my super rigid routine. I included some of my old workouts but also added some such as a 90 min hike with a friend or simply taking my dog for a jog around the neighborhood. Believe me, the first time I pulled out one of these ‘not so serious’ workouts it was extremely hard for me to not race to the gym to do intervals but over time I learned that I didn’t lose any physical progress and that I actually really enjoyed these fun workouts.
- I also altered small things about my workouts in order to move away from the rigidity. For example, instead of running for 45 minutes at level 6, I had to get off at 43 minutes and walk away. This was impossibly hard the first time. In my mind I just kept saying “its ok, ill just run home to make up for it”, but that’s not what I did. I pushed through the uncomfortable feeling of changing my routine and after doing this a few times I learned that nothing catastrophic happened.
- I put a piece of paper over the cardio machine screens in the gym so that I could practice listening to my body rather than the numbers.
Many people think of New Years resolutions as being superficial, hard to stick too, goals about weight loss and self-improvement. And, that if you actually want to see change in your life you can do it at anytime. It’s true that there is no magical power in the date of “January 1st” and that you can successfully start new habits anytime, but I also believe that a new fresh year could be just the thing you need to boost your personal journey in living the life you want to live. Here’s why… 1 – A New Planner: I always look forward to the start of a new year when I can turn in the old rumpled diary full of old dates and occasions, pick out a new one, and start fresh. The pages are crisp and clean and the future days are just waiting to be filled with fun activities. So much hope and promise are set out in those pages. I use my planner to remind myself of projects, due dates, appointment and work hours but also to plan the fun things too. I make sure to schedule time for self-care activities (highlighted in pink), lunch dates with friends, skyping with my dad back home and going to the gym. I find that being able to see my week laid out ahead of me allows me to make sure that I am finding balance in my day-to-day life and have a mixture of work and play. 2 – New special offers at local attractions: The start of the year is a great time to get involved in a new activity in your town such as a gym, yoga studios, arts centers or dance lessons. These establishments often have specials at the beginning of the year in order to get new people on board. Yoga studios often have a free week of classes, gyms offer special deals and 8-week night classes (such as swing dancing or pottery) usually start up a new sequence in January. I don’t know about you, but if I’ve never tried something before and am a little bit apprehensive, the fact that it’s free could be the winning deal. Another great thing about starting up a new hobby at the beginning of the year is that you wont be the only new person! It’s much easier to try something new when your not the only one whose never done yoga in a class full of tie-dyed people standing on their heads. 3 – New Class Material: I love looking at a fresh syllabus. This might seem weird and overwhelming to some but I try to look at it as a blank slate with so much new knowledge to absorb. It’s easier to make a change in your academic attitude at the beginning of a semester and start new good habits. Have you ever found yourself stuck at the back of a lecture for the entire semester because that is your unofficial assigned seat that you gave yourself the fist day of class? Now’s the chance to make a change! You can always move back later on, but trust me; if you don’t start at the front of the class those eager beavers will definitely mark their territory. 4 – Holiday hassles are over: Time to get back into your routine! It is very common for our schedules to be disrupted over the holiday season. Family, friends, travel and celebrations can often leave me feeling exhausted towards the beginning of January. It’s like an overseas vacation – you’re so excited to be there at the time, but equally as happy when you get home to your own bed. Pretend January is that bed. Time to do your laundry, have a shower, go to the gym and reflect on the fun times you had over the holidays. If you weren’t able to stick to your diet or lifestyle “goals” over the break, don’t be discouraged. It’s great for your body and mind to have a break, because now your mind will be full of new experiences and feel refreshed. 5 – It’s a nice chance to assess progress: Okay this one is a biggie for me. For some reason my memories around Christmas and New Years are always very vivid. I can remember exactly what I was doing, feeling and thinking at this time over the past few years. This gives me a great opportunity to look back, reflect and really realize how far I have come. I remember last Christmas very clearly. I didn’t eat Christmas dinner with my family because I wasn’t ready to stray away from my carefully calculated meal plan made by my treatment team. At this time in my life it was important for me to hold onto the rigidity of the meal plan in order to minimize Eating Disorder voices. My glorious “safe food” Christmas dinner consisted of a grilled cheese, apple and yoghurt – But at least I was eating a complete meal and was able to enjoy Christmas, even though I did feel a little isolated. This year however, I made many delicious vegan dishes (goodbye grilled cheese) to share with the family, didn’t measure any of my food, went back for seconds and was not overwhelmed by the whole experience in any way. I’m honestly amazed when I see these two Christmases juxtaposed. Its amazing how much can change in a year. I know this is cliché but I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings; I surly hope it includes a vegan feast for Christmas. I hope you all had a beautiful New Years and are ready to embrace 2016!! Much Love, Robin