Tag Archive: self-care

May’s intention: “Be Open” during my upcoming travels

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.
Adventuring at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat

Adventuring at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat

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 was challenged to change and grow through meditation at Shoshoni

I was challenged to change and grow through meditation at Shoshoni

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!
Doing something out of my comfort zone - Ridding on dirt roads

Doing something out of my comfort zone - Ridding on dirt roads

Anxiety Series Part Two: Coping Skills

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.  
Having a cozy cup of tea with breakfast.

Having a cozy cup of tea with breakfast.

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.
An awesome brain break is getting out in nature (neat-ure).

An awesome brain break is getting out in nature (neat-ure).

  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

Anxiety Series Part One: Getting off the Drugs

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.
Getting the giggles with my best friend after recently stopping SSRI's

Getting the giggles with my best friend after recently stopping SSRI's

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.
Finding new ways to manage my anxiety while hiking in New Zealand

Finding new ways to manage my anxiety while hiking in New Zealand

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

What’s up with adult coloring books??

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.
My morning oatmeal, coffee and coloring

My morning oatmeal, coffee and coloring

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. qgsaykg3cf22v3agzewv 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.
I hope you all have a beautiful week, Robin

Developing a healthy relationship with exercise

Racing elite women in the tour of southland
  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.
Final Sprint to win the U19 NZ Criterium Championships

Final Sprint to win the U19 NZ Criterium Championships

  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.
U13 Track Champs racing with the boys - Regan Gough next to me is now world champion!

U13 Track Champs racing with the boys - Regan Gough next to me is now World Champion!

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.
New Zealand U19 Girls Team

New Zealand U19 Girls Team

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.
Mindful Exercise - Paddle-boarding with Sam

Mindful Exercise - Paddle-boarding with Sam

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.
Mindful exercise - Hiking in Zion

Mindful Exercise - Hiking in Zion

So there you have it, my personal experience with an unhealthy relationship with exercise and some steps that helped me be able to mindfully enjoy getting my blow flowing again. Keep in mind that this is only my personal experience and that although these techniques worked for me, they may not be as effective for everyone. The goal of this article, was to start a conversation about the possibility that too much intense exercise can actually be harmful and that working out shouldn’t be a dreaded, stress-inducing activity. As with everything in life, they key to success is moderation. If you have any opinions or questions please leave a comment down below and let me know what you think!   Much love, Robin