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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

My decision making process: as represented by an engraving by Giovanni Battista Scultori, Italian, 1538.*

“You know, Hannah,” my friend David said to me once, “this may just be part of who you are.” David was referring to my tendency to fall into complete turmoil every time I am confronted with a major decision. I had just moved to my Somerville apartment after weeks of agonizing (Concord or Somerville? Central Square or Porter?) and I was disappointed that the decision had been so hard to make. I wanted my decisions to fall into numerical place, as if it really was just a matter of weighing pros and cons. Some people are capable of that. But, as David pointed out, it’s just not how my mind works.

My flight to Italy departs tomorrow night and this past week has been a plague of decision-making. There are tickets to buy, rooms to reserve, itineraries to arrange and re-arrange. Since I haven’t been working (I left Idea Platforms a week ago!), I have been faced with plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements. For better or worse. The truth is, I’ve been feeling a little bit crazy.

I’ve tried to keep David’s words in mind as I prepare to leave. My decision making process is ugly, but torturing myself over it just makes it worse. I’ve been trying, instead, to accept the chaos as part of the process. And to remember that as difficult as it seems now, it’s going to be worth it just as soon as I step on the plane. After all, the next time I post, I will be in Rome!

Weather: Chilly. Fifties and cloudy with a chance of rain.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 1o on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Actually I’m feeling a little too overwhelmed to quantify.
Anna: 6.5.

*art from the met!

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This is an exercise in mindfulness.

Bring your awareness to your mouth. Take pleasure in the sensation of rubbing your tongue against your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Swallow. This should feel good.

Now, take a clean glass. Spit into it. Now, drink your own spit.

Repulsive, isn’t it?

This exercise comes from Ellen Langer’s seminal book Mindfulness, one of the first to bring the concept of mindfulness into Western medical lexicon. I love it because no matter how many times I try, I can’t help but be totally grossed out. I know that rationally, there is no reason to dislike saliva. But I cannot break my constructed hatred of spit. It’s disgusting.

Langer’s point is that every day, we take thousands of actions that are not rational. Some of them, like not drinking our own spit, are fairly innocent. Others are more troubling: the ones that impact the way we act around disabled people, for example, or the elderly. (One of Langer’s  most laudable impacts has been in teaching nurses and families to recognize the difference between physical disability and mental disability.)

Mindfulness can also be helpful in improving the way we treat ourselves, especially at times when we are feeling particularly out of control. Anna is lucky in that she has totally overcome all of her Thanksgiving anxieties. But for the rest of us, this time of year is overloaded with emotional, cultural, and environmental stressors. There are childhood memories. Family expectations. Cultural pressures. The smell of snow on the wind.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed on Thanksgiving. It’s also easy to act on all of those anxieties without knowing why. To get angry at the turkey. To break down over the cranberry sauce. To lash out at an innocent great aunt or overly energetic toddler. All of which means, less time to enjoy a delicious dinner in the company of the people we love most.

Which is what Thanksgiving, at its best, can be about.

This holiday season, I’m going to try to be a little more mindful about where my emotions are coming from. And I’m going to hope that increased awareness will improve my ability to act, instead of just reacting.

But I’m still not drinking spit from a glass.

Wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, with love from DTU.

Weather: 36 degrees, a bit overcast, and beautiful

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10. Excited to go running this afternoon.

Anna: 7.5, and thrilled to have a few days to relax.

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The other day, my roommate made an apple crisp. Eva was celebrating an overabundant apple harvest and my mouth was just starting to water in olfactory anticipation when she walked into the living room.

“Ummmm,” she said, “the stove won’t turn off.”

Cue: a week-long battle with the stove and the gas company. So when I walked into the house one cold evening and smelled burning fuel, I expected the worst. Maybe the oven had finally imploded.

Instead, it turned out that my roommates had decided to make the leap and turn on the heat for the first time this year.

Turning on the heat is a big step. There’s an environmental aspect, of course, and a financial one too: heat is expensive in more ways than one. But for me, the most difficult part is the commitment to winter. Turning on the heat says: there will be no more surprise seventy degree days. Summer’s long over, and Indian Summer is too. Once the heat is on, there’s no denying that – oh god – the cold is here to stay.

(Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Indian Summer can last until mid-November. So maybe there is hope, after all.)

The other thing about turning on the heat is that it tends to bring a bizarre side effect. Every year when the heat goes on, I start to get these intense and realistic dreams. The dreams can linger as long as a month, and I always wake up feeling distraught. In one dream this week, my mother told me to abandon my career in favor of an (imaginary) job in public policy. In another nightmarish sequence, I spent what felt like hours pursuing the perfect pair of gloves in a labyrinthine box store.

Just like in real life, I never did find what I was looking for. And the stove? Sitting, unplugged, in the middle of our kitchen.

Weather: Sunny and just past the foliage peak. 45 degrees.

Mood:
Hannah – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “Jumping for Joy” scale. Really tired of eating microwavable dinners.

Anna – 5 out of 10 for general life stress. Ask her about her erg.

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When Anna and I decided to call this blog “ditch the umbrella,” we both agreed that the title might need some explanation. So I’ll tell you a story.

This past summer, I got really into cycling.

I’ve had a bike for years. As a student, I rode a fixie around campus, which was neat because I could pedal both forwards and backwards. When I lived in Jerusalem, I would commute to work by bike, an often dangerous feat among the Israeli drivers.

But this summer, I took the biking thing to a whole new level. I started biking over seventy-five miles a week – way more than I’ve ever done before. I got a pretty new road bike with real gears and ultra-thin tires. We had an absolutely, stunningly perfect summer, and so I figure I spent at least ten hours a week on my bike in the sunshine. Definitely a good thing for my vitamin D!

In her first blog post, Anna wrote about how as the fall sets in, she’s been feeling anxious. Anna’s anxiety comes from wanting to get up and move in autumn, which is funny because I usually think of fall as a time to settle down and prepare for hibernation.

But this year, I’ve been feeling anxious too. Because I know that my days on my bike are numbered. Pretty soon, this lovely New England fall is going to turn into a lovely, but hideously cold New England winter. The roads will ice over. And my bike will go into storage.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this fall, I’ve been trying to get as many hours of bike time in as possible. And so I’ve been riding in all sorts of crazy weather: heavy winds, torrential downpours, even the occasional flood alert.

Riding a bike through a tropical storm is certainly “ditching the umbrella.” But the point of this blog is not, literally, that we should spend more time in the rain. The point is that by “ditching the umbrella” I’ve become incredibly aware of changes in the weather, and the complex ways that they impact my life.

Which all means very little for me. Winter’s coming and I still feel anxious. So for me, this blog is about understanding the greater patterns in my emotional calendar, and about learning what to do with this new knowledge. When I say I want to “ditch the umbrella,” I mean that I want to achieve a greater level of seasonal embrace – both physically, and emotionally.

My great discovery so far: rainy days may make us feel under the weather. But riding a bike through a storm? That’s exhilarating.

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