Nourish and Forge Wellness

health and life coaching for those experiencing stress, transition, and overwhelm

Tag: health

Numbing Works

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I first learned how to numb when my mom became ill and was hospitalized when I was 13.

She went to the hospital and we went into survival mode—part of which involved numbing things to the “not-going-to-consume-me-with-raging-fire-of-the-miserable-unfairness-of-it-all” level.

So, while my mom was in the hospital, my dad, two siblings, and I watched TV. Like a lot of it. Anything to forget and distract and feel better. At least for an hour or two. We ate comfort food. All the comfort food. Ice cream, pizza, tacos, candy. When I wasn’t comfort eating or watching TV with my two siblings and dad, I was escaping into every book I could put my hands on. And let me tell you. Numbing worked.

Fast forward 23 years. A lot of shit has gone down—as it does. I have weathered soul-sucking jobs, heart-crushing breakups, leaving my entire life behind and rebuilding it overseas, my mom’s continued health issues, my dad’s more recent terminal cancer, the list goes on.

It’s both devastating and completely normal. We all weather horrible ordeals that eff up our lives; we all experience wonderful moments that make life worth living. The degree of these experiences varies from person to person, but the existence of them in each life does not.

I haven’t always navigated the hard times in healthy ways. It could be said I’ve become a master of numbing life’s pain. (I probably should make myself a certificate. Haha.) Throughout my teens, twenties, and now my thirties, numbing has been a constant companion in many hard ordeals. TV and food are still old anesthetizing friends, but I’ve added to my speed dial—alcohol, Internet, social media, and when I’m being a bit healthier, 1000 piece puzzles and podcasts (this offers literally hours of zoning out and forgeting about any crappy crap I’m trying to get through). They have always been there to distract me and take away the discomfort—at least for a little while. Numbing works.

Until…it doesn’t. Because at some point all that discomfort and yuck you’ve been avoiding is going to explode all over everywhere. It will demand your attention. It will leave voicemails and comment on your fb wall and show up at work. Because numbing works, but only in small doses and in the short term. 

When numbing is your one and only strategy to getting through discomfort and difficulty and devastation, you end up half-living. Numbing the bad feelings also numbs the good ones. It limits your ability to grow, learn, and connect with others. It leaves you feeling empty and alone.

I know this; I’ve lived it.

I’ve also come to learn that strictly cutting out my anesthetizing helpers isn’t realistic for me; there are times I need to check out for a little while. But I now know I must couple a great deal of awareness and mindfulness with any sort of numbing behaviors I take into my life. I have to do this during times of difficulty to be sure I’m not getting sucked into the “I’m-checking-out-for-a week/month/year-cuz-this-feels-awful” black hole. So, I force myself to notice when my moods and energy and healthy behaviors are decreasing and reevaluate my choices.

This has come into play during my repatriation to the US. I have had a great deal of time and a great deal of stress on my hands. Recently, I’ve noticed that my TV watching has increased as has my alcohol and shitty fake-food consumption. Not anything drastic, but enough for me to feel thoroughly like C-R-A-P. I know from experience that it’s a slippery slope, so in recent years, I’ve done my best to recognize and face those realities early on.

Here’s what I did: I decided to eliminate one thing. I stopped watching television; I know from experience that it is one of the most needy behaviors—always wanting to be paired up with a boozy bev or a crappy snack. After I stopped, I immediately found a decrease in my other unhealthy cravings. It’s also given me inertia to do other positive things for myself. I’ve spent more time outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve found a gym that I love and go regularly. I’ve meditated. It all started with that one change.

 

Let me break down what I’ve learned during my serious work in this area for the last seven years or so—first, decide that you want to be more present and be willing to sit in the discomfort, face it, and decide what to do with it. Then—know your triggers, bring awareness and honesty to your behaviors, pick ONE thing you want to eliminate, substitute or shift. Do it and then notice what happens. Reevaluate and revise as needed.

It takes bravery and vulnerability and perseverance to sit in discomfort instead of distract, to face hardships instead of avoid, to have moments all over life’s spectrum, fully feeling both joy and sorrow, instead of staying only in the middle and chopping off the ends with numbing agents. It’s hard work, but worthy work. Let numbing be a tool used sparingly and notice what happens.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have times you’d like to navigate stress or pain better? Are you not fully feeling the joy and the sorrow in your life?  If you said yes to any of these, give this idea a shot and let me know how it goes!

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Do less. Be more.

Last Friday, I made a decision to do something new. Something risky. Something audacious.

I’ve always loved being outdoors and have backpacked many times in my life. But on that weekend, I decided to go solo for the very first time. After a quick search on the internet and a visit to my local REI, I was ready to go. (Side note: I’d always wanted to do this, but have never quite had the gumption or the courage to go for it.)

In the course of those three days in the wilderness, I felt expansive—stretched beyond my comfort zone and learning how to deal with conflict alone as it arose. I also felt peaceful—my tornado-brain calmed in a way that only nature and solitude will. But that’s not what I want to write about. Here’s a big in-your-face realization that came to me on day three as I was crunch-crunch-crunching my way down a gravelly trail in the Rawah Wilderness.

I need to do less on a regular basis. And you do too.

In the space I gifted myself, here’s what I did NOT do for three whole days.

  • Go on the Internet or social media
  • Work
  • Check off to-do lists
  • Make to-do lists
  • Feel guilty about ignoring my to-do lists
  • Check my phone
  • Talk to anyone (exception: myself, baby deer, massive moose that scared the crap outta me, tiny chipmunk corpse on the trail)
  • Analyze past interactions
  • Plan future interactions
  • Think about my future, my finances, or health insurance
  • Watch tv
  • Worry about anything except what was in the present moment (Is a bear going to attack me? Will my tent blow over? eff-bomb, I’m a little lost…where am I?)
  • Read for self-improvement or learning
  • Listen to podcasts (this was a temptation…but I stayed in the present, listening instead to the creatures and life around me)
  • Listen to music

You know what? This created a whole lot of space that I didn’t even realize I needed. The surprising part was what happened in that space. I began to notice these inner nudgings that I wouldn’t have ever noticed had I filled up that space with noise or distraction or even productive work.

Nudgings is the best way I can describe the stirrings or whispers inside of me that I began to pay attention to. What I found on that last day was that I was so much more in tune with what I wanted to do in every given moment.

That may sound strange. We all know what we want, right?

I don’t think so. The demands and details that fill our daily lives leave very little room for the nudgings that lead us to the simple and ordinary pleasures of our existence. 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about pleasure and how we deny, deprive, indulge, and overindulge ourselves in the various pleasurable human experiences. Much of this thought is inspired by the incredible Maddie Berky, who writes about pleasure in an engaging and thought-provoking way. (Seriously like brain-crack. Check her out here.)

As I was trekking down the mountain, I realized I had invited awareness around these simple pleasures by simply creating space for them. How? I did less. For just a couple days.

Let me tell you about a few of these moments.

I noticed when I saw a spot on the mountain that begged me to sit and rest—a pair of rocks working together to create nature’s recliner—and watch a blue jay fly back and forth, pecking at pinecones at the tops of nearby trees. As I sat, I felt my shirts clinging to me and decided I wanted to be free of them for a while, to feel the sun warming my skin and the breeze cooling me. I took my shirts off and hung then on tree branches. My feet felt hot, so I took of my shoes and socks and stretched in bare feet, feeling rough rock and sharp twigs under my toes.

I noticed these nudgings towards small pleasures and I followed them. I was rewarded. With each choice, no matter how seemingly insignificant, I felt deep satisfaction. I smiled at the birds. I closed my eyes, becoming fully aware of the sensations on my skin. I relished the spaciousness of that moment.

Do less. Be more present. 

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I rested until I felt the urge to begin walking again. I slowly regarbed and donned my pack, resuming my trek downward. I walked until I found another divine place that was pulling me. This time it was curiosity that led me—a cairn lay by the trail and I wanted to know what it was marking. I was rewarded by a valley exploding with yellow aspens and green pines.

Do less. Be more curious.

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On my last bit of trail before the parking lot, I walked along a mountain stream. It called to me, I could hear it—come, cool off, play! I almost ignored it, my mind rushing ahead to the things I needed to do before the day was done (drive home, laundry, cook dinner for the fam, get some work done). But somehow, the previous two days of slowing down and doing less, prevailed.

I stopped, dropped my pack, unsnapped and stripped out of my long sleeve shirt, rolled up my black pants, and took off my hot, gritty trail shoes and green, wool socks. I stepped down into the river, gasping with utter delight as the icy water touched my skin and the rocks and pebbles at the river’s bottom massaged my aching feet.

I laughed out loud. Reaching down with cupped hands, I splashed the deliciously cold water repeatedly on my face, my neck, my hair. I scrubbed three days of dirt off my calves and feet and arms. I raised my face to the sun and threw my arms wide, taking this moment in. It was full of joy and pleasure.

Climbing out, I did not want to put those hot, dirty shoes back on…I felt a playful inner nudging that whispered, walk the rest of the way barefoot. And so I did. And it was beautiful.

Do less. Be more joyful.

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I don’t expect to always have the freedom to escape the daily grind for three days alone in the stunning Colorado wilderness.

But, I do expect to carry this lesson forward into my life: do less, be more.

Even if it’s for an hour a week, let’s do less. Let’s turn off our devices, ignore our distractions, and postpone our duties. Let’s create the space to be more.

More present.

More curious.

More joyful.

You might be surprised at how alive you feel.

 

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Lessons from My Expat Life: Say No

It’s ok to be a party-pooper.

For reals. After several months of saying yes to, legit, everything in my first expat experience in Seoul, I had to learn the next big lesson: saying no. (A lesson I continue to work on refining in my life four years later.)

Upon arriving in a new country and home, it’s of the utmost importance to start making connections, exploring, trying new foods, places, and experiences. And the way you do that is by saying yes. Yes, yes, YES! It’s a totally normal and super-fun part of the process. The downside is that at some point, saying yes to every opportunity (going out, traveling, socializing, joining a committee/book club/sports team, etc.), becomes utterly exhausting.

Our social (not to mention financial) gas tanks are finite; eventually, they require more discernment. 

The surprising part for me was how difficult it was to start saying no.

The biggest reason? FOMO. The struggle is real. Secondly, my behaviors up to that point had built expectations—expectations that would be consistently challenged as I began to be more picky with my yesses.

fomoLet’s have a real moment here.

I didn’t choose this lesson; it was forced upon me. I loved saying yes to everything, but at a certain point I found myself so depleted that I had to change what I was doing. That’s when I had to start thinking about which relationships were important to me to build, which activities fed me in some way—I had to select my yesses and learn to say no to everything else.

Let me tell you, that sh*% is tough. People hate hearing no. And eventually, when you say no enough times, you stop getting the invites, and your insides squeeze a little each time you hear about things you used to be a part of. Ugh.

But, here’s the thing: the relationships you put more time and energy into deepen; the activities you focus on become more meaningful; your bank account, social gas tank, and zen quotient grow.

Four years in, I go out infrequently (and still experience FOMO often). I usually go to bed early and get up with the sun (grandma status and proud). I spend time reading and writing and walking outside. I have dinners with dear friends. I drink when it’s special. I workout a LOT. I rarely get stressed about teaching because I have time and energy to stay caught up and balanced. I sometimes teach fitness classes. I build a lot of puzzles. I take weekend trips, but not too many. I am more aware of myself and my limits than I’ve ever been.

I say yes as often as I can (because I love my community here).

But, I still must frequently say no because I am keenly aware of my energy gas tank, and I know that driving that thing past ‘E’ takes about three times as long for me to recover from. I try to be clear and honest and gracious when I say no.

Saying no is definitely not as sparkly and joyful as saying yes. But it’s just as important.

As an expat, I’ve become practiced at and grateful for this lesson. Saying no ain’t for sissies.

And it’s ok to be a party-pooper.

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3 Reasons to STOP Setting Goals Today

Let’s get real for a quick minute. Teaching is hard. Being an expat is hard. These are worlds that challenge who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Teachers and expats are extraordinary people doing inspiring things. They are brave. They are smart. They are resourceful. They are high-achievers. They are goal-setters.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of teaching and expat-ing: setting goals can actually set you back, especially as a teacher or an expat.

There’s a better way. Setting intentions instead of goals has changed my mindset, attitude, and ultimately my level of satisfaction and joy both at work and in my personal life.

Here are three reasons I urge you to start setting intentions instead of goals.

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When you set a goal like losing 15 pounds, you are immersing yourself in the “what”. Intentions necessitate a plunge into the “why” — they ask you to dig deeper. Why is that 15 pounds so important? Why do those 15 pounds matter?

Do they represent the first years of teaching as all your energy and time got channeled into your classroom and your health fell to a last priority? (Yes, I’ll cop to that one.)

Or is it the expat weight you gained as you dealt with the discomfort of transition and loneliness with food and alcohol and TV? (Yep, I’ll cop to that one too. Annnnd I’ll tack on another 10, if we’re being real.)

The goal of losing the 15 pounds skips over the fact that this is really about prioritizing your own health and well being again. It’s about changing your habits to be better to yourself, which in turn allows you to be better to those around you.

Converting a weight loss goal to an intention might look like:

  • move every day
  • prioritize connection over screen time
  • eat mostly foods that energize me
  • sleep 8 hours a night

Sure, the “why” is important, but goals have helped me achieve stuff before. Will intentions do that too?

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I’ve had so many conversations with people who set goals for themselves to eat clean all week. It feels great on Monday. Tuesday, too.

But, let’s say on Wednesday, there’s a mound of chocolate on the tables during an after-school meeting. I’m tired, we think, I deserve a piece of chocolate to get me through this meeting.

So we eat a piece lot of chocolate. Berate ourselves in our heads. Think, well, I already messed up. I may as well pick up a frozen pizza and some wine on the way home. Wednesday’s missteps lead to more on Thursday, during which we decide to restart on Monday. Oh yeah. We’ve all been there: the Monday-Trap.

Goals lead to an unending cycle of Monday restarts after weeks that are 50% clean and 50% crap. Not ideal. Those goals don’t get met. And, they are mentally and emotionally stressful — yet one more reason we are not measuring up.

Ok, ok. Yes that happens. But there are times when we meet goals, too. What’s so wrong with that?

Anyone who has ever met a goal can relate to the high that goes along with achieving it. They will probably also admit (maybe just to themselves), the emptiness of a “now, what?” feeling and, almost always, a binge of some sort on whatever was being restricted or controlled.

I remember doing (and winning) an 8 week nutrition challenge. It was so hard, but I did it and was pretty damn near perfect the whole time. I won the challenge, felt great about my fat loss and energy, and then felt OVERWHELMING FEAR about how to maintain after the challenge and accountability ended. The challenge was a great way for me to experience how drastically food changes my daily moods and energy. It was a great way to experiment with new ways of being. But it was not sustainable. 

When you set an intention to “move every day”, you get to choose in what way you meet this. Some days you might want to take a long walk before school with your dogs. Other days, five minutes of stretching at lunch in your classroom might be it. And some days, you’ll effing kill it at the gym and feel like superwoman.

When you are simply doing your best to align your actions with your intentions, that are deeply grounded in a meaningful “why”, this breeds momentum. It is the epitome of sustainability.

Yeah, yeah…that sounds great and all. But what happens when you mess up?

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Goals are tough. They imply perfection (or damn near close) in order to achieve them, often as quickly as possible.

The first year I felt successful as a teacher was my 7th year in the classroom. MY SEVENTH YEAR.

Why? I could quote the difficulties of teaching in the U.S. school systems, or the drain on time and energy, or the unreasonable expectations of districts and admin, but really, my discontent stemmed from my inability to ever meet the goals I set for myself. I defined “success” as getting all my students at or above grade level, being planned and prepped every day, never messing up and saying something that impacted a child in a negative way.

Goals fed my perfectionism and left me gasping for air, drowning in a sea “not enough”.

When I begin to explore the “why” of teaching, I discovered that, for me, it was about two things:

  1. connection
  2. inspiring joy and curiosity

The goals I had set had nothing to do with my “why”. So, I did an experiment. I wrote two intentions on a sticky note and put it on my computer so I would see it multiple times a day.

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So every day, my intentions were to:

  1. get beside kids — get to know them, coach them on their writing, make eye contact, smile, ask questions, be present, listen
  2. share myself — tell stories in my mini-lessons; share my own ideas, successes, and failures as a writer and human; bring in videos, articles, and pieces that inspired me to hopefully inspire them

Some days were better than others. But each day, I aligned my actions with my intentions the best that I could. At the end of the day, I would reflect for a moment to see how well aligned I was. And, finally, no matter how “good” or “bad” the day was, I would tell myself it was enough, pat myself on the back, and go home, knowing tomorrow was a fresh start. NOT MONDAY. Tomorrow.

Because that’s the thing about intentions — they are all about PRACTICE, not perfection.

It is not about balls-to-the-wall hustle till you get that goal.

Intentions are about the consistent, meaning-driven, sustainable improvement of how we exist in the world—how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, and how we contribute.

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Dear Alcohol, I Need Some Space…

To My (ex)Love,

How do I begin? I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been avoiding you for a few weeks. It’s true, I ignore you in social settings. I haven’t brought you home with me. I haven’t even touched you in days. The air between us has been wrought with tension, unfulfilled longing, unearthed wrongs, and unspoken broken promises. I know you deserve an explanation, and so I will do my best here and now to give it to you.

The time has come. I’m making it official: we are overmartinis

This may come as a shock since less than a month ago we were spending nearly every day together. We were side by side on top of mountains, in rivers and hot springs, at various restaurants and bars. You accompanied me to family gatherings, and you were definitely at my goodbye party before I flew back to Korea. You’ve been with me during the good times and the bad. If I was sad, angry, lonely, bored—you were there to put a bandaid on my discomfort. I understand you might be reeling from the news. So let me explain.

First off, you drain my bank account like a booby-licious gold-digger. Money I need for other things somehow gets spent on you. I’m the sailor and you’re the Siren—I am defenseless against your call. It stops now. I am not your sugar momma, and I refuse to keep spending money on you. Because you make me poor, we are over.

Something you may not realize is that no matter how good you make me feel when you’re around, as soon as you leave, I feel like crap. You take my energy and good moods with you like some sort of a good-vibes-debt-collector. Sure, we have fantastic times, occasionally. But the bottom line is — it’s not worth the price I pay. Because you make me lazy and “bleh”, we are over.

I know it’s common in relationships for habits to shift. You’re comfortable together; you enjoy eating delicious meals and yummy desserts; you watch a few more movies and exercise a bit less. However, your influence on my habits is over the line. Somehow you convince me to skip the gym, to watch a bit more tv, to order a pizza or buy another ice cream. Your presence is laced with salt/fat/sugar cravings. Around you, my self-discipline is depleted. More junk food and less lifting-heavy-stuff makes me bummed out, broken out, and chubbed out. Because you mess up my healthy routines, we are over.

We are over, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss you. I think about you a lot. Sometimes daily. When I’m out with friends, I’m longing to feel you in my hand, to taste you on my lips. If we weren’t broken up, I could almost guarantee you’d be getting drunk texts from me, asking you if you want to come over and “talk”.

But, here’s the thing. As time goes on, I’m thinking of you less and less. I’m realizing that life isn’t as hard without you as it seemed a few weeks ago. I’m sure I’ll still think about you and the good times we had. Even so, I know I’m better off without you, at least for now. Maybe in the future, if I’ve grown a little and you can be less needy, we could try this thing again. Until then, my boozy babe, be well.

Love From,

Tiffany

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