Recycling brings a sigh of relief

A some of you may know, April 22 is Earth Day, and many communities  plan events for environmental awareness. In my town, today was a big recycling project. People brought electronics, scrap metal, clothing, textiles, housewares,  books and paper documents to the park where their items would then be sorted and taken to a recycling facility.

This year, in addition to several years worth of old bills and stacks of paper we no longer needed to save, I was able to finally let go of something that brought a great sigh of relief…

A week ago, my youngest made his decision on where he is going to college this fall! It seems like this process of searching colleges, visiting campuses, writing applications and the waiting…. oh the agonizing waiting for responses… has been going on forever. In actuality, it started just 6 years ago- which kind of is forever in a parent’s mind. My eldest spent hours reading about schools and sending away for brochures. She also worked hard at her preparation for college and took SATs and ACTs multiple times. There was a stack of practice test books on the shelf — more than a foot wide. Then there were the AP exam books- World History, Biology, Calculus- and the SAT II Subject practice tests- Math II and English. Again, all of these added up to at least another foot of space on the shelf.     IMG_3179

 

 

Lastly, there were the books ranking colleges, advising how to write a college essay and hundreds of pamphlets, brochures and other promotional material that both of my children had accumulated either in the mail or during campus visits. I probably should have taken a photo of the massive amount of paper these items took up, but, truthfully, I was so eager and ready to get rid of it. I never considered I would want to see it again. These collective items only symbolized the ongoing process of getting ready for college and the enormous amounts of stress that were heaped upon all members of the family.

Anyway, my husband and I loaded up our car and drove to the park this afternoon. The man who directed us to the paper recycling location was a friend. When I told him what we were bringing, he agreed that we must be very relieved to have this process -of prepping our kids for college and actually getting them both into a school of their choice- behind us.

As I carried the huge armload of practice test books to the table, a volunteer followed me with the heavy bag of brochures. I placed the pile on the table for the other students to deal with and watched as the one carrying the bag dumped its contents into the giant recycling dumpster. I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked back to my car. I looked at my husband and smiled, “Isn’t it great to have this behind us!” He smiled as we drove away. “Happy Earth Day!”

 

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Balancing “Me” Time and Mommy Guilt

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  Yesterday morning I indulged myself with a visit to a day spa. I had received a gift certificate during the holiday season. I kept putting off scheduling an appointment because of kid’s illnesses, school vacations, tennis tournaments… you name it, my kids took priority.

So I finally found a day that worked for me when my kids did not need me. For the value of my gift certificate I was able to receive an herbal bath followed by a sixty minute massage. Ahh… the life of a SAHM. Isn’t that what we all do? At least when we are not watching daytime tv…

[http://spa-topia.com]

The bath should have been a relaxing soak, letting the jets loosen up my muscles while breathing in the aromatic herbal therapies my masseur threw into the bubbling water. Instead I kept wondering how much time had passed and whether I would make it home in time to bring a cooler of drinks to my son’s final “fun” practice.

Then the masseur transferred me to a quiet room with zen music and low lighting. I laid face down on the soft sheets while he worked his magic on all my tight spots. It was just what I needed to erase my stress and release my tension; but somehow I found it hard to focus on the moment.

[http://zantesalonspa.com]

I found my mind drifting into thoughts about how much my daughter would like this- how it would release the anxiety of her upcoming final exams. I tried to analyze the techniques my masseur was using so I could replicate them on her at home. I also contemplated the possibility of giving her a gift certificate to use as a birthday present. After all, I thought, doesn’t she deserve such luxurious treatment too?

I finally had to yell at myself (in my head, of course) and say: “What about Me time? This is supposed to be about Me! Can’t I stop thinking about my kids- either how much this would help them or if I will make it to their practice on time- for a mere 90 minutes?”

I don’t know if the fact that I am not working this year has put me on Mommy High Alert, or if I was always like this and didn’t realize it. Somehow I have to work out a more even balance between “Me” time and “Mommy” time.

[http://mamanyc.net]

I don’t know how she does it. Doesn’t she look calm and in control? Relaxation was the purpose of my spa visit. It seems ironic that it didn’t turn out that way.

Miss Kim is my BFF

Miss Kim has arrived for a short stay at my house. She has a very welcoming personality, showing off her true colors and filling the air with her presence. The only reason she has any competition for attention is her timing. Right now the attractive Bearded Iris are flowering and calling their own followers. Their dark purple heads emitting powdery scents are a tough match for Miss Kim, but she prevails with her overpowering aromas and abundant florets.

Just breathing the air when Miss Kim is present can put me into a swoon. If I am having a stressful afternoon, holding a branch up to my face and inhaling her sweet perfume puts me in a happy mood.

She greeted me with a 20 foot long display of light purple lilacs and made my arduous task of repainting every spindle on my deck railing pleasurable. Even though I spent 3 hours coating every surface with new stain, Miss Kim kept me company.

Later I brought a huge bouquet, overflowing with Iris and Lilacs, into the house. The fragrant scent spread through the kitchen and family room and seemed to make everyone calm and happy.

At the end of the day, I clipped a single branch and placed Miss Kim in a tiny vase by my bedside. As I settled down under my covers, I enjoyed her sensual aromas fanned by the cool night air and the sound of crickets chirping. It was truly a night of bliss. I awoke this morning feeling relaxed and happy because Miss Kim is still here for a few more days.

Using Sport Psychology for Real Life Situations

Smiley head happy

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My son loves to play tennis. He is trying out for the JV team at his school. He played sixth singles last year and is hoping to move up the ladder. Obviously he is nervous about this challenge. When he worries about his game, he doesn’t play as well- losing focus on each point. By thinking he will lose, he is more likely to make that happen. With the goal of helping him, my husband read “The Best Tennis of Your Life” by sport psychologist and former tennis player Jeff Greenwald. Last night he reviewed some of the suggested mental strategies with our son. As I listened to him, I realized these strategies are not limited to sports but could be applicable to every day life.

One strategy is to use the feeling of gratitude. Greenwald says, ” It’s difficult to be worrying about the future…when you become aware of the bigger picture. ….Being grateful requires you to expand your perspective.”  (excerpt from Play with Gratitude)  I looked at the things I have been stressing over, planning our next vacation or losing a few pounds before I hit the beach, and realized how trivial these are in the big scheme of things. I took a deep breath and instead reflected how lucky I am to be able to afford a fun vacation. I am grateful that I am healthy enough to travel and participate in the exciting water or land sports we will do there-  snorkelling, swimming, tennis and hiking. I already feel calmer and more appreciative.

Obviously there are people with much more troubling worries than mine. People with real health concerns or financial difficulties may find it harder to find gratitude in their lives. In their cases, it is important to focus on the moment and not the woes of yesterday or tomorrow. If they can find something to be grateful for right now, even if it is only happiness that the sun is shining, it may help them to calm their minds and relieve some of their worries.

Another of Greenwald’s suggestions  was to recognize the difference between “productive worry” and “unproductive worry”. The first type involves something you can try to change. If you are worried you will miss a deadline at work, you can put in extra time or shift your priorities to meet it. If you can develop a strategy to combat your worry, you have handled it productively. Finding a way to cope with our problems, even in little baby steps, can give us more happiness and less worry.

The second type of worry is “about things that are outside your control”. Whether this is over travel plans or a long-term illness, there are some things over which we have no control. We can get ourselves to the airport early, but we can not decide when the plane takes off. We can follow our doctor’s protocol and look up information online, but every illness must run its course. Maybe there are some things we can improve, like packing snacks and a book if we get stuck or finding a remedy which relieves our symptoms temporarily, but that is where our control ends. The sooner we recognize our limits, the easier it will be to cast our worries aside.

The third strategy I would like to compare is the use of body language. Greenwald points out the difference on players’ stances, walks and facial expressions when they are winning versus losing. The same holds true in real life situations. When we are confident, we hold our heads up; when we are nervous, we slouch or avert our eyes. He suggests making a note of how you feel when things are going well and try to imitate that behaviour when they are not. By forcing yourself to act happy or calm, you can trick yourself into feeling that way too. Kind of like a body over mind power struggle. I know if I smile and make eye contact with a stranger when I am out walking, I feel a little happier. Even if I was deep in thought, diverting my attention to someone else, helps me to not dwell on my concerns too much.

I am not sure which of these tips my son will put into use on the courts. If he could appreciate that he loves this game and that worrying whether he wins or loses is unproductive, remember to focus on the individual points and not the outcome, and to smile and look at his opponent with confidence, then he will have incorporated the most important strategies which will benefit him throughout his life.

A smiley cup on a yellow ball.. =)

Note: All quotes are taken from “The Best Tennis of Your Life:50 Mental Strategies for Fearless Performance” by Jeff Greewald, Kindle edition ISBN 1558708448, Jan.1,2012.

Pain Management

My daughter awoke early this morning with excruciating neck pain. After checking for any other symptoms, we determined she had slept poorly and all the tossing and turning had strained her neck muscles. She was too sore to go to school and so is home resting today. This got me thinking about pain and how humans deal with it.

If I watch my dogs closely, I can tell when they are in pain. If one of them steps on something sharp, I hear a yelp. If the walk we took was too strenuous, I will see a limp. Unless the injury is provoked, my dogs will generally curl up on the couch and indicate they don’t wish to be disturbed. Other than keeping an eye on them for worsening symptoms, there is not much else I can do. Humans, on the other hand, deal with pain in much more complex ways.

First, there are many kinds of pain. Some are good, like when you have had a hard workout and your muscles are crying to stop. Then there is the bad kind, when you know you have overdone it and need to take a day off of your workout routine. There is long-term or chronic pain felt every day, such as sciatica; and there is sudden, acute pain which may require emergency care. Some people are better at tolerating pain than others. There are those who shriek in agony at a paper cut, and those who grit their teeth while cutting off their own trapped body part. Women experience childbirth with or without drugs, but the emotional rewards that come afterwards usually dull the memory of the pain, enabling them to justify wanting more children.

Soldiers return from war with emotional, as well as physical pain. Witnessing the horrors of war, famine or disease can release feelings similar to the experience itself. Emotional pain should never be discounted as unreal. The human brain works in ways that create physical symptoms during times of emotional stress. The hypothalamus releases hormones that trigger these reactions over which the rational mind has little control.

Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with...

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Treating pain can be done through physical or mental therapy, but the most common course is with medication. I am all for taking Aleve or ibuprofen when I have a bad day. It is what enables me to carry on with all the demands I have to fulfill. I tried to give my daughter some, but she had so much trouble sitting up that she couldn’t swallow the pills. I resorted to heat pads and a massage. I don’t think either relieved her pain that much, but it made me feel like I was helping her relax. As a parent watching your child suffer, whether with a headache, broken bones or emotional stress, all you want to do is make it better.

My brother-in-law suffered the physical and emotional pain of a brain tumor for 10 years. He underwent several rounds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and radiation. All the while we tried to have a positive outlook. The emotional pain of seeing him struggle, especially towards the end, finally convinced his family that the only thing left to do was keep him pain-free. In the last week, he was taken to hospice where the compassionate staff did everything to keep him comfortable, without prolonging his disease. It was a hard decision, but one that relieved pain in may ways. His physical pain was gone, emotionally he seemed at peace. The pains of guilt and helplessness the family felt vanished as we resolved that this was the end.

Why does pain have to be so complicated? Wouldn’t it be better if humans could handle it as calmly as dogs? But then what would happen to our moral values- whether we believe in humanitarian rights for all or an eye for an eye- which often seem linked to how much pain and suffering is acceptable in society? Perhaps the experience of pain is a condition of being human. We each have to learn how to deal with it in our own way.

As I go back upstairs to see how my daughter is handling her pain,  I will leave you with two quotes to reflect on:

“Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.”- William Faulkner

“We can not learn without pain.”- Aristotle