Self-Care Guide for Health Professionals

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I know it’s year 2020 and all, but health care professionals have always had a tough job. Hence, the idea to write a post about caring for the self for health professionals. While I don’t represent all workers in the medical field, I also know many of them can relate to the routine exhaustion one feels in the physical, mental and emotional sense. Not only is dentistry back-breaking work (think hunch-back- of-Notre-Dame), it also requires mental concentration (we are making tenths-of-millimeters-micromovements inside a tiny cavity) and emotional stamina (the minute the patient’s chair leans back, their everyday lives come spewing out). Sometimes I wear the hat of clinician, while other times, I simply play the role of listener. I have to help anxious patients through to the other side of treatment, as well as psychologically support depressed patients through to the other side of life. It’s a fulfilling job, but also a taxing one.

Many times, I come home with no one to fully understand the tolls of my work. Mike wonderfully understands that having dinner ready and giving me space to decompress with yoga is very important. He understands that on some days, I simply don’t want to talk. But he doesn’t really know the why. Sometimes, I feel guilt over acting selfishly, but as clinicians, we need to start removing that word from our vocabulary. You aren’t selfish because you need me-time after giving everyone else their me-time.

This past weekend, I took four days off to vacation with family on the coast of Southern California. My sister-in-law joined us Friday afternoon after her four clients. She also works in health care as a psych therapist. She joined us after a hectic day, and still had a few clinical notes to write. I noted that she looked a bit tired and she mentioned that some of her clients are especially draining, not in the physical sense, but in the mental and emotional sense. She even has one client currently on suicide watch who constantly occupies her mind. We talked of the tiresome nature of healthcare and agreed on the importance of taking care of ourselves first. We also noted that while we are excellent care-takers of others, we usually fail to save room for us.

This is a reminder to all health-care professionals that self-care is key to success. And sometimes, the only person who would be able to give you that space is yourself. If you are a reader who knows of a health-care professional, make sure to check in on them during this time. You might be surprised at their sadness, tiredness, weakness, or loneliness. Below, I wrote a simple guide to taking care.

Self-Care Guide

+ Practice deep breathing in between seeing patients. Deep breathing is something I first picked up from yoga class ten years ago. Yoga itself is a practice focused on returning to the breath, which has been called our “life-force”. Returning to the breath is the last thing on a clinician’s mind. The immediacy of our work and the need that our patients have far exceed our willingness to turn inward and work on ourselves. However, I implore all clinicians to consider deep breathing. This practice was first recommended to me by a wellness coach, Michaela Puterbaugh of Starting from Within and it has been a real game-changer! I would highly advise getting a wellness coach like Michaela (you can book a consultation here), but if that is not your vibe, then deep-breathing is the one thing I learned to do that helped me most with my career. It’s simple. Before running to your next patient, stop by an office or a break-room or a quiet corner and breathe in for five seconds, hold at the top for five seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds. Repeat five times, then you’re good to go. I guarantee that your patients will notice and feel the difference in you. (PS: It helps to close your eyes.)

+ Stretch throughout the day. Many dentists end their careers earlier than they would like due to body aches and pains. Hospital workers also suffer from the same. Nurses and physical therapists have to carry and assist disabled bodies and the elderly. To be honest, physical tolls extend past the medical field and also applies to hospitality workers who stand on their feet all day and desk workers hunched in static postures in front of LED screens (blue light blockers for the win!). Stretching simply makes sense; for everybody. I picked up stretching advice from a continuing education course on ergonomics. There are certain stretches especially helpful to dentists, so I would seek professional advice regarding specific careers. For dentists, the upper back and shoulder muscles, as well as the core muscles, will help alleviate lower back pain and that hunched-back-look. Just like deep-breathing, this can be done in between patients or during any break. After work, I make it a point to roll out my Manduka mat and join a CorePower LIVE session to create movement in my body. I even took my mat on vacation with us this past weekend! That’s how important stretching is to me. Not getting on my mat is like a surfer not getting out on the water. Speaking of water…

+ Drink plenty of water. We are constantly moving from room to room and it’s very easy to forget about the water bottle we have sitting next to our desks. But wherever you choose to do stretches or deep breathing, keep a bottle of water close at hand. It also helps to have a habit built around staying hydrated. I drink two glasses right when I wake up and an entire glass before my shift. Between the start of my workday and lunch time, I make sure to finish at least another bottle. The same standard applies between lunch and the end of my shift. Then when I get off work, I drink two glasses straight away. My water bottle from Kinto_USA is quite portable and the tab at the top of the lid makes it easy to take with me wherever I go. If water is not your favorite drink, why don’t you try tossing pomegranate slices into your bottle or dress it up with ice? Check out my thoughts on staying hydrated!

+ Find someone to talk to. I know that Mike doesn’t fully understand everything that happens at the dental office, but it’s nice to have someone to talk to when I come home. It also helps that he is a great listener. My daily recaps help release any negative energy that I take home. But don’t get me wrong – dentistry isn’t ALL bad. Talking to someone is also a great time to celebrate the daily wins and highlights, a time to practice gratitude for a rewarding job. Of course, the person you choose does not have to be the same person every day. It can be different people, too. As long as you schedule a few moments to connect with someone outside of work, you’ll find less tension and stress when you unwind for the evening. (Sage tip: Don’t dwell on your workday alone. There are other things to address in life.)

+ Eat healthy. It’s hard to follow our own mantras of consuming healthy foods when we return home stressed and over-worked. I’d be the first to admit that fruits and veggies are not on my mind after a long day and if it weren’t for my husband making nutritious meals for us every day, I would probably be quick to order to-go foods a few nights a week. However, we must follow what we preach. I try to consume only one cup of black coffee a day (otherwise I’d live from coffee to the grave), and balance it with a cup of ceremonial-grade matcha green tea in the evening. I try to choose dark chocolate (88% cocoa or more) for dessert, and fresh fruits from the farmer’s market for snacks. I use a budget to monitor how often we dine out and we still try to follow our zero plastic diet religiously. Skip the temptation by choosing not to buy those bags of chips – or whatever else that has a gravitational pull during your weakest moments. Shop in such a way that sets you up for success.

+ Wind down the mind. In the evenings, I make it a point to wind down my mind. I try to do yoga after work to enter a calm state of energy. Afterwards, I shower and make myself a cup of tea and spend the evening writing or reading. This is the time I also connect with the people I live with. I check on my plants and move them around frequently, and I follow a skincare routine. I recently discovered The Nue Co.’s supplemental spray called Magnesium Ease, which I massage into my skin to help alleviate muscle tension and to improve my sleep. (Fun fact: 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium!).

+ Get full night’s sleep. Lastly, but most importantly, is sleep. I value sleep more than I value coffee – which is saying something! I make it a point to get at least eight hours of sleep (nine hours is my optimal sleep-time). On weekends, I can sleep as long as 12 hours although luckily, I value my mornings too much to oversleep often. In our home, we sleep around ten in the evening and wake up when Theo meowls for food at six in the morning. I know that many clinicians tend to be night owls due to the nature of our work (late shifts and night shifts are common), but may I suggest abiding by your circadian rhythm? I cherish sleep knowing that I am more helpful to others when I sleep well. For those who have trouble sleeping, you may find these sleep drops helpful!

If you are in the medical field and have somehow come across this self-care guide, I hope it finds you well. For those who need a helping hand with mental wellness, do reach out to a professional. My sister-in-law is practicing in Southern California and is offering video services. I would also like to recommend Michaela Puterbaugh for overall health and wellness coaching as she has helped me balance life earlier this year.

For those curious about the supplements that I recommended, they are from The Nue Co., a company making supplements that you can feel working! Receive 15% off your first order with code NUE15 (affiliate links above). I am really excited about what this company is producing and have ordered the sleep drops for my mom and the magnesium ease for myself. They provide many other supplements that aid with sleep, stress, gut health, and immunity. I would definitely check them out!

How to Fall In Love with a Kitchen

When we first moved in, I used to hate our kitchen. I never said it out loud because I didn’t want it to be true. I took feeling this way to be a sign of failure. Oh goodness, I chose a home with a kitchen I didn’t love. Woe is me. It was as if the kitchen negated all the other good decisions we made about buying a home. For months, I couldn’t separate myself from the idea of wanting to replace everything in that space. “One day”, I kept telling myself.

If you told me to make a list of all the things I disliked about the kitchen, I’d tell you “Easy.”

  • The kitchen faced the alleyway where the garages went, an alleyway leading up to a community trash bin followed by a weekend club called La Santa, from whence loud music always came.
  • The location of the kitchen was tucked away from direct sunlight during most of the day, with a small glimmer of hope shining through a lone window in the wee hours of the morning. If you happened to miss waking up early enough to catch it, then all you get for the day is indirect sun.
  • The counter-tops were of the v. cheap variety (with a capital V.). You know the kind, made of chipboard material covered by a plastic stickered surface in this dark gray speckled color. I disliked it’s darkness, plus the undeniable evidences where the counters have gotten wet (especially around the sink area). Pieces of soaked chipboard are, well, chipping away.
  • The cheap, peeling (also stickered) cabinet fronts with their secondary handles. The previous handles had different screw hole locations, which are accentuated by the white plaster material that the previous owners tried to hide them with.
  • The leak underneath the sink every time we ran the dishwasher, which caused flooding in our cabinets creating soaked cabinets floors. My constant worry over mold growth and wood rot. Oh the joy when we finally solved the issue, after having three handimen look at it.
  • The appliances which are black and silver in color. They looked bulky, outdated, and old. The stove and oven were of the cheaper variety, and the fridge jutted past the counter’s edge.
  • Lastly, the previous owner left a kitchen island that was obviously from Ikea, along with two Ikea stools.

I could have rattled this list out in seconds. But sometime between then and now, I have come to love this kitchen. I love it so much that when my friend offered to have her dad renovate the counter-tops that I “hated” for us this week, I started to fear losing them. Which got me to thinking, when did that transition happen? And I realized that sometime between then and now, I simply stopped focusing on all the bad things and started letting the kitchen be what it was meant to be.

After all, I operated an entire bakery in that kitchen. It was where I spent my days for an entire year. I woke up early every morning to mix bread and that’s when I learned of that precious morning light. I put away dishes from a dishwasher that finally worked and as the dough soaked up the water, I made myself a cup of coffee every day. If I set up the pour over to the right of the sink, the light hits the coffee just right to make it look ruby red. I slaved away over that oven, even in the summer’s heat, trusting it to always make my bread rise. I stood around the island, where I shaped thousands of loaves of dough. I settled into those Ikea stools waiting for the next bread turn, sipping hot coffee and writing on this blog. The kitchen and I became best friends, and now I could spew a list of all the things I love, such as:

  • The little corner specifically for our espresso machine, coffee pour over options, mugs, and coffee grinder. Essentially, a shrine for my coffee making rituals.
  • The way the light enters through that lone window and hits the fronts of the cabinets, giving them a soft dayglow.
  • The reliability of our oven and the largeness of our fridge, both of which have helped me to host gatherings for twelve or more people throughout the year.
  • The cement floors and their coolness on the feet, plus the ease with which I can clean them.
  • The island, which we all use as a common space to meal prep together. And the fact that it’s mobile and contains plenty of storage space.
  • The stove, with enough burners to allow three of us roomies to cook in the kitchen space at the same time.
  • The corner for toasting our sourdough, and the corner for milling our grain.
  • The sink made of steel, which has saved me from shattering my porcelain wares many times over.
  • The fact that the kitchen now exudes Japanese style elements, as well as vintage vibes. Seems silly to put those two in the same sentence, but from some angles, it looks like it’s made from all bamboo wood. And from other angles, it reminds me of a 1950’s progressive Eichler.
  • The fact that the gloominess in the space actually lends a romantic mood all year long. I just want to make coffee or tea and write all day in a sweater.
  • Lastly, the open layout which makes the kitchen center-stage in our home.

With small spaces, I mean, yeah, there are shortcomings. It’s part of the territory. But if we focus on only the bad parts of our lives and homes, then we tend to miss all the good things that, when considered, could lead to love. Because now, I love the kitchen dearly. It is my favorite part of my home.

Finding joy in small spaces requires embracing what you have to work with. Actively searching for beauty in what you already have is more promising than passively pining for what you don’t have. Where will the latter lead you? Most likely, excess consumption of things that give you brief moments of happiness and eventually leave you back at square one.

Once I realized that the kitchen was “good enough”, I stopped saying to myself, “One day.” I started looking forward to saying “Today”. I started to finally live my life.

Today we decided to buy Mike’s dream espresso machine. Since he got rid of his daily work commute, he sold his motorcycle and de-cluttered a few things in order to make up 85% of the machine’s costs. We hadn’t pulled the trigger prior because we kept saying, “Well, if we are getting an espresso machine then we need nicer counter-tops and if we’re getting new counter-tops we might as well address the cabinets and if we’re sizing cabinets then why don’t we make sure we get appliances that lie flush with the new measurements?” After learning to love the kitchen for all its imperfections (wabi sabi and all that), we were able to move on. We’ll just put the espresso machine in our existing coffee corner. It fits just so with the current counter top actually, even though the white will contrast with the gray. I know we will love it either way.

Intentional Living: Night-time Skin Care Rituals with True Botanicals

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

There are routines, and then there are rituals. One is a basic repetition of activity, the other carries a more sacred underpinning. There IS a difference. That old adage of “It’s not so much what you do, but how” applies here. I believe that the former helps facilitate fast-living, whereas the latter defines slow. And while my planner is chock full of routines to get me by, my heart lives for the tiny rituals that ease me into and out of my most trying times. I have a list of morning rituals that prepare me for a brand new day, and a set of winding-down evening rituals that release the stresses I’ve managed to corral under my skin.

One of my nightly rituals is skincare, a relatively new focus of healthcare for me. I began 2020 on a journey to find out why a year-long battle with a skin rash has been untreatable by my dermatologist. Tired of getting nowhere and purchasing a million chemical formulae stuffed into plastic tubes, I reached out to a wellness coach instead. Turns out, the best solution I’ve found is reducing stress. Also avoiding chemicals and eating fruits and veggies. I ditched those plastic tubes and switched to amber glass bottles.

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I am a big lover of natural concoctions packaged in glass. I know that the appearance of a product might prove vain but that’s the thing with rituals. Beauty matters because it helps to pull at the heart strings. Rituals are one of those things that require sentiment. I also feel happier knowing that my products do not contribute to plastic oceans.

Glass bottles, however, are more than just beautiful. They promote purposeful movement. I am more careful with breakable containers. I take my time setting them down, never rushing through my skincare regimen. As for the “natural” part of the equation, I am more at peace knowing that what I am absorbing through my pores is nothing more than certified non-toxic ingredients.

Mind you, I am not talking about Aesop.

A previous Aesop devotee, I am here to announce that there is a new amber glass bottle in town.

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True Botanicals has swept me away with their collection of skin products. Carrying conscious ingredients of the natural and organic variety, they’ve got your well-being in mind. They are equally as focused on spreading their skin intel via their blog “Rituals“, providing know-how to their avid subscribers, as they are sharing their products. I think talking about skin is just as important as treating it.

I have switched my night-time ritual to be 100% True Botanicals-based. I start with the RENEW Nourishing Cleanser, which has very gentle and milky on my extremely dry skin. I only use this cleanser in the evening because I find that cleansing twice a day leads to even drier skin. In the mornings, I simply wash my face with water so that I can keep a little natural oil on me. Oh and this thing smells amazing! Scents of grapefruit, lavender, jasmine, and vetiver put me right into that relaxing evening mood.

I follow up the nourishing cleanser with a gentle pat-dry. I take the Nutrient Mist and spritz, patting around my face and waiting a few moments for it to absorb. This Nutrient Mist has been my best friend all summer. It is a must-have at the beach as well as on the plane. I carry it around with me whenever I leave the house. It’s small size is perfect to carry.

Lastly, I use the RENEW Repair Serum after moisturizing. With a dose of free-radical fighting ingredients fighting for me in my corner, I have nothing to fear. This serum has been said to equate if not beat La Mer. I can personally feel plumper, tighter skin. More importantly, it feels hydrate without feeling grease-stained. They’re calling it a miracle in a bottle. I can get on board with that.

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Other rituals reserved for the evening:

  • Drinking matcha tea for a little detox.
  • Limiting phone use after 9 pm to reduce blue screen exposure.
  • Unwinding with a book before bed.
  • Lighting candles, sometimes.
  • Turning on the Humidifier with Vitruvi’s Sleep Essential Oil Blend.

Intentional Living: Headspace

In a world where misinformation disguises as truth, it is hard for me to know what to believe anymore. There are, however, a few things I know to be true.

A lot of people are in pain, suffering, frustrated, and afraid.
Many feel isolated or alone.
Information is overwhelmingly readily available and largely unchecked.
What we see, hear, and learn is largely influenced by another party with ulterior motives.
There are, however, still a few things in our control.

We can still act, react, and live according to our individual values.
We can think for ourselves rather than follow trends or what other people are doing.
Instead of spreading other people’s posts and ideas, we can create original content.
We can choose to ignore all forms of social media propaganda so that we can process information as we experience it ourselves.
We can prepare our best self for tomorrow by focusing on self-care and our own internal health.
We can trust that our daily work is the change we need – that mundane tasks such as caring for patients, helping neighbors, and checking up on loved ones make the world a much better place.

I was disappointed with Instagram yesterday. I woke up to a feed full of blacked out squares. There was not a single piece of original content. The entire world was silenced under the ruse that we are allowing other people who have something to say speak.

I saw nobody who had something to say.

Which makes me wonder – who spread this idea of muting people for a week “a thing”? Could it be possible that someone who ultimately did not want people to speak up created this trend under the pretence that more will be heard? Whose voices will we really hear? Why are people reposting the same few stories and posts? Have we all just become lemmings? Why is there an us and they? Are we not one human race?

So I did the only thing that was in my control.

I deleted Instagram. I decided to retreat to my own space here, where I am not serving anyone else’s agenda but my own. I suggest others do the same.

If you haven’t already, Headspace is offering their meditation app for FREE until the end of 2020 for all of LACounty, the unemployed, and other groups of people. The first month is free for the public at large.

I think we all need to return to our own head space, instead of be blinded by the media and social media. I was disappointed with the platform, but I recognize now that the disappointment lies mostly in me and my subscription to Instagram. This is where I live now.

I will not be muted or silenced or blacked out.

It is the media that I will choose to mute.

Restorative Quarantine

Despite being of the general stance that gym memberships are far from a frugal person’s prerogative, I have had BlackTag Membership at CorePower Yoga a few times in the past, typically when my schedule was most full and I needed the external stimuli to help dedicate to myself some form of self-love. Out of all the classes CorePower offered, my favorite was a class called Restorative Yoga, which was essentially nap-time yoga. The class was only offered once or twice a week per studio, but I made sure to attend those classes religiously. Instead of the more popular classes with weights or high-temperature yoga sessions, the restorative classes were always held at night, in the dark, at room temp and on our backs (well, mostly). The teacher guided students through a series of poses, sometimes in candlelight, all of which were held in stillness for five minutes at a time.

For beginners, this could feel like eons. Some postures were more painful than others, depending on how your body best contorts, but in that darkness and quiet, with your mat facing away from the other students and towards the wall, you must sit through that discomfort and pain in solitude. There always comes a point where you think you can’t hold the posture any longer and you have no option but to relax into it and let yourself go, and in that letting go, one may find themselves suddenly waking up after having slept through the rest of class or sprawled out, off the mat, in complete relaxation. The classes were generally never full, and there was always space to stretch out, which is unfortunate, because as a fellow yogi exiting a restorative class once expressed, “this is the best class this studio has to offer. It’s a shame not more people go.” A sentiment with which I concur wholeheartedly.

This is the class the world can use more of.

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Now, I would wager that there is a group of people in this space wishing to do a bit of restorative work themselves during this stay-at-home movement. So careening towards the other side of the spectrum from productivity, I decided to focus today on ways to make quarantine time productive in generally socially less accepted ways.

While life pre-COVID had us running around with shoes to fill and duties to perform, the current state-of-affairs presents the world with a rare gift of a lack of responsibility – a state which many of us haven’t experienced since childhood. This lack of responsibility frees up much needed time for introversion.

I would liken a majority of the population to living as if sleepwalking, unknowingly performing tasks that are pre-determined by a social upbringing, without any form of individual choice on the matter. This may offend some, but all truths have the potential to cause pain to the unknowing. However! If you’ve been suspicious of this for some time but haven’t had the head space to figure it all out yourself, maybe what you seek during this period of slow isn’t productivity at all, but rather, an awakening.

Socially unaccepted forms of productivity are my personal favorite, not only because I have always had a soft spot for going against the grain, but also because I find them to be ironically more successful in living a meaningful life. By socially unaccepted forms of productivity, I am referring to a slew of activities that are thought to be a general “waste of time” by modern standards, but actually have many life benefits that we have under-valued, for parts of ourselves too-long ignored.

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If restorative quarantine is what you seek, then here are some easy activities that will help you tune in to your true self, perhaps the same self that you lost along with your childhood, as adulting became the center of your being and you forgot who you were to begin with… Isolation is the perfect setting for self-discovery.

  •  Sleep – My most favorite activity since birth. My parents can bore you to death with an endless array of stories that begin or end with me falling asleep. Every aunt and uncle can only seem to recall one unifying memory about my childhood – that I would fall asleep at every gathering, at restaurant tables, on neighbor’s couches, through any noise, commotion, or movement. Even my husband will comment, “Boy, you sleep a lot”, after a ten hour night of rest. As I grew older, my sleeping became less and less as my energetic self started accumulating roles, titles and projects. But when work suddenly became non-existent (was it really only one week ago?!), I reverted back to my restful state, sleeping by ten P.M. and waking around eight in the morning. Sleep is the most under-rated restorative practice and is arguably the most helpful activity to our well-being. Sleep is the state where you process all of your daily observances into something with meaning, as it pertains to you. Sleep is closely tied with memory formation, which essentially forms our entire reality. We constantly live in the past or future, the past which is no longer existent except for in memory, and the future which is based on past experiences but which also is not in existence. This is what Deepak Chopra talks of when he says that humans live in a continually dream state. Our reality is dependent on sleep and until we can create that reality will we be able to start separating ourselves from the past and the future, and start living in the “vivid now”.

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  • Meditate – Meditation is a practice in staying in the present moment. When I first started doing yoga, I had a completely different expectation for meditation. Namely, I thought meditation was the ability to sit in complete zen, without thought or feeling or motion. I thought it meant complete nothingness, and required utter silence, empty rooms, devoid of any and all distraction. After much practice, I realized that meditation brings up a lot of observances that could act as distractions – noises you never noticed before like the ticking of a clock, the hum of a fridge, or the silence itself; and aromas that you never smelled before such as last night’s dinner lingering in the air, the age of a book’s page, the must of an old couch, the smell of a fresh breeze – distractions such as thoughts that stubbornly make their way into your mind’s eye, an elephant in the room. Meditation is not the separation from all these things but rather, the physical connection to their presence without any emotional or mental ties. In essence, its having a free-flow state of mind and physical surrounding without any sort of affect. You notice a thought and let it come and go, without any emotion after it. You hear a sound and think or feel nothing associated with it. This disconnection is what connects you to your present moment. It is when you unlock your being, separate it from past and future, from surrounding and your physical body, and you see yourself in complete clarity.
  • Dissociate Time – Time is a mental construct. Someone once decided for the rest of us to divvy the day into twenty four hours, each with 60 minutes, each with 60 seconds, et cetera. But how long does a second really last? In my opinion, it lasts as long as you perceive it does. You have external stimuli (such as a clock or a watch or a phone) telling you when one second is up, but what each person experiences in that one second can be completely different things. One person may experience a slew of emotions, another may experience nothing at all. One person may experience a life-changing event which registers in their mind as so impactful that they recall that second lasting what seems like forever. I have been recently obsessed with this idea of expanding time by controlling my consciousness’s perception of it. I came across this idea during a slow living experiment, when I realized that my slowest days felt much longer than days where I was busy with to-do-lists. Think about a day of work. When you are busy, work flies by, but when you are slow, work drags on. Everyone has experienced this. So I have been conscientiously taking note on how certain slow-living activities expands the time I have to experience, well, life. Yesterday in particular, I did an activity which I think is perfect for quarantined folks without work (or children, or worries, or distractions seeking your attention). I covered up every single indicator for time in my household. I took blue packing tape from the garage and covered every clock present, including the one on the bottom-right side of my laptop and the one underneath my camera on my I-phone. I wanted to know what it would feel like to experience a day in the life without any time restrictions or time indications. I wondered when I would wake, when I would get hungry, when I would feel like going to bed. I wondered what I would be interested in doing, and for how long. Let me be the first to tell you, yesterday felt like ages. I did everything I wanted to do and noticed the sun was still up. I ate whenever I felt like eating, and the only indication to sleep was my eyelids resisting the reading I was doing. I wondered to myself multiple times, what else shall I do? Which proved to myself that we can, in ways, expand time. Try it for a day. See what you learn about yourself.
  • Avoid Mirrors – Our self-perception is heavily altered by external markers. Self-confidence is tied to how we see others perceive us. Our self-worth comes from the titles and roles that we have been endowed or earned. When someone asks for a definition of self, most people answer first and foremost with their occupation or profession. It is these same external definitions of the self that prevent us from truly understanding who we are. So another personal experiment that I heard of previously in Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit that I highly recommend is to remove or avoid all mirrors. There have been many times where I am out and about (and have been for quite some time) and suddenly wondered, “What do I look like today?” Which in itself is a useless thought if you are trying to live a life of YOU-ness, but that’s how socially trained I am (and you are, and we are). Sometimes I’ll get through an entire day and then realize in the evening that I never once saw a mirror, never once brushed my hair, never once wore anything more than chapstick. It’s a really REALLY good feeling to have.

  • Live without modern conveniences – When Mike and I signed up for the Banks Peninsula hike in New Zealand one year ago, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into. There were no modern conveniences to speak of during one of the nights. Hardly any modern conveniences during the entire trip. It was a terrible time, mostly caused by dreadfully rainy weather. We both slid on slippery rocks and landed our behinds on sharp stones. We treaded fearfully past at least a hundred cows, which look innocent enough standing on the side of the road but which are extremely intimidating when in a horde at arms reach. I shed many tears and whined in disdain. We never finished the hike, because the storm eventually became so bad. There were seven of us travelers huddled in a hut, all seven debating on calling a ride back to town rather than hiking through the third and final day. We were on farmland with nary a sign of civilization nor electricity. The shower was outdoors underneath a spider’s web inside the trunk of an old tree. We lit our rooms with candlesticks. We huddled around a furnace fed with acorns. We cooked meals over a gas stove lit by matches and sat together on a rickety wooden dining table, telling stories although we came from all over the world speaking different languages. There was a tub heated by a furnace fed by wood that needed chopping. You had to sit on a plank to avoid burning your stone-poked-bottom on the porcelain. It was where a family of three took a nice bath underneath the rain that fell from the sky. I wielded an axe for the first time, was scared of the storm not for the first time, hated spiders and bugs more than normal, loved fire more than normal, slept like a baby through the dreadful night. Your deepest demons and fears come out to play, and after it was said and done, your biggest strengths carried you through. (I did mention that sleep was my strength!) All of this to say that in retrospect, it was the most romantic moment of my life. They were the deepest connections I had ever formed, with strangers no less. It was a different universe and time altogether, separate from this one. And I learned a lot about myself. Now I know that the current COVID recommendations do not include running off to a cabin in the woods, but ways in which we can spare ourselves of modern conveniences include spending a day without lightbulbs, forgoing a shower, or avoiding the microwave and using a stovetop to reheat left-overs. For people who always dine out, it could mean prepping your own meals, and for those who drive down the street, it could mean taking a walk and lugging groceries back. Spend a day trying to live without modern conveniences, and see what rises up.

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  • Read Fiction and Poetry – When I was a child and teen, I only read fiction and poetry. When I became an adult, I preferred to grab non-fiction, in order to “improve” myself. I started to view fiction and poetry as unnecessary, nonsensical blathering that was not worth an ounce of my precious energy. Recently, I’ve decided against my original decision. Fiction and poetry is necessary for the soul. It is the reason I have been able to shape the world around me into what it is. It was my best friend in my youth, and it reveals to me what we already know but forget. I say, read fiction and poetry, even if you don’t have the time.
  • Listen to Music – If someone asked me today what I like to listen to, I would most likely reply with, “I don’t listen to music.” Which is true. And extremely peculiar coming from a girl who sang in the church choir for a good 17 years and who took voice lessons until she was 27 years old, who locked herself in her room with a microphone and who showered with the radio on. But three (-ish) years ago, I stopped listening to music. At all. In the car, in the shower. I preferred silence. I valued my thoughts more than my feelings. I wanted my mind to focus on tasks, not sounds. When you make decisions like that, a part of you dies. But with the advent of the quarantine, I decided to put music back on my radar. I still haven’t picked up a guitar and am thinking of donating my recording studio to a friend. But on my to-do list, I added “listen to music” in the morning somehow. This one is a personal restorative activity. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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Living Slow: Season of Becoming

This post is in partnership with East Fork Pottery,  a company slinging hand-thrown, timeless pottery in Oregon using regionally-sourced stoneware clay. Their beautiful food-safe glazes are made in house and lend their pieces character, but in an unfussy and classic manner. The collection is, truly, a treasure trove.

It’s been a bit quiet here for the past week, which should be indicative of the fact that I’ve been restless in real life, struggling with a personal decision that’s difficult to make. Usually that’s how it is. Cyber silence equates to a madness that requires its own space and time. But I wanted to put thought to digital paper for a moment, as an observance of this period of growth.

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Last week, I was presented with an alternative job opportunity that, when on paper, holds better weight than my current position. However, there are some non-practical reasons why I want to keep my current position. Ultimately, it came down to production limited by the number of days, or production limited by fees. I had to consider adding a 1.5 hr  round-trip daily commute to my currently non-existent one in exchange for much easier work. I had to decide whether having newer and better materials that made my job easier was more important than sweeter and easier patients who made my job easier. I was pulled between something new and something familiar. It was a week full of angst, emotion, and pressure to make a decision. I sat by the window sill staring into space, deep in thought, reflection, and sometimes just straight up brooding. Tears were involved.

If I took the easier job that is farther away which has more difficult patients but newer materials, I would only work 2.5-3 days a week, and still make the same amount of production at 4 days a week. But when you add the hours of commute and subtract the amount of money spent on gas, those 3 days really equate to 3.6 days, and is that difference worth it. The physical work will be easier due to newer materials, but demanding patients increase the mental and emotional energy required to work. The gratitude will be centered around the ease of work, rather than meaningful work. Both cups are half-full. Which would you choose?

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The paradox of choice is real. Both options are starkly different, but both are also good. My husband pointed out that I couldn’t go wrong either way. It’s a fantastic position to be in. But the fear of choosing wrong is what cripples. If the opportunity didn’t present itself, it wouldn’t be hard for me to continue what I was doing. There would be a distant nagging of the things I could improve if the practice were my own, but I wouldn’t be restless like I am now. When there is an alternative, it is much harder to ignore what could be.

Equally crippling is the feeling that a choice needs to be made. If I am going to leave  the first office, it would be best to tell them as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the office of opportunity is waiting on the sideline, seeing if I would take their job offer. I think it’s hard to be in-between. The pressure prevents any real growth.

In my life, I‘ve tried to reduce choice in order to increase bliss. In general, it has worked very well. While I don’t like choicelessness, I like having reduced options. But I know making choices is the hard part of growth. So choices need to be made.

I have an evasive tactic that I turn to when faced with difficult decisions. I just pick one -the one that intuitively seems most appealing – and then I move on with my life. I do that because I know I can always pivot. I do that because I know that there are worse things to choose from, and that outcomes in general are not bad  in the grand scheme of things. But I also know that I do it to alleviate the guilt, stress, and responsibility of that choice. I am only ever choosing one real thing – to run a way from my own discomfort.

This has led me to even deeper consideration for things beyond the job itself. The job, it’s just a stage in my life. In the end, neither choice is perfect, but neither is also wrong. Both are transient, not one being the end point. But I’ve thought about my tendency to run when things get difficult. My wish to reduce, in order to ease. My need to asphyxiate in hopes of control. My obsession with doing, instead of just being.

I can say I’ve been much better the past two years. Slow living has been a great mentor in that. But this is one of those moments where I need to tell myself, “Wait“. Instead of searching for clarity, wait for the fog of emotions to roll out and clear. Instead of wishing to tell people about it, wait for them to ask you of your thoughts. Instead of trying to get every answer imaginable, wait for that inner knowing to surface from within. Stay to see what happens, instead of going to see where the river runs.

I came across this quote  from @trustandtravel’s Instagram, and it spoke.

“Do not fast-forward into something you are not ready for, or allow  yourself to shrink back into what’s comfortable. Growth lives in the uneasiness. The in-between. The unfinished sentence. You are a season of becoming.”

-Danielle Doby

Becoming is a hard thing. But it’s also necessary. So much of the time, we do, and therefore we are. But we never just “be”. How do we ever expect to become?

The espresso cups in soapstone are perfect for tiny hands, mid-afternoon espresso shots, as well as after dinner green tea. For the bold, sake shots and other libations fit well within this tiny vessel. We are very much in love with this cups and can only speak highly of the quality and the beauty of these products. They are not placed in cabinets with the other dinnerware but are on display on open shelving. Today only, East Fork will be having a Seconds Sale. A discount of 30% will be applied to a handful of clay goods that did not quite make the cut. Although with slight blemishes, these pieces are still functional and beautiful. I urge people who have been hankering for dinnerware to consider salvaging these pieces and including them in your home. I appreciate East Fork for their zero waste attempt. Seconds sale begins at 12pm EST, and pieces will go fast (or so I hope). This post contains affiliate links and TheDebtist may receive a commission if  you so choose to purchase.

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Prepping for a Mindful Holiday Season

It’s mid-November and I’m left wondering where the first half of the month went, let alone the majority of the year. It seems that as we age, our perception of time quickens,  as if a reminder that the time we have left dwindles. Perhaps this is why mindfulness becomes more relevant as we get older. Perhaps it’s why senility exists, as a pungent way to signal the world that we are focusing on the things that don’t really matter. I wonder if this blog brings that same sort of light, without the heartbreaking undertones of senescence. Hopefully, it has brought you something.

Today, I want to take the time, before holiday rush, to instill mindfulness in the home before good cheer takes away all thought in our fervent search for comfort and joy. Let us welcome the holiday season in all the right ways. We will be wishing and receiving all season long, which isn’t wrong per say, but I think it would behoove us to approach it with some serious thought so as to avoid the need to de-clutter and figure ourselves out all over again amidst the noise in 2020.

A few suggestions, nothing unheard of especially in this space, if I may.

  • Take stock. Make a mental note of everything you already own. Figure out ways in which they can do double duty in function. Find what is enough in your life, with an intention to add less.
  • Declutter. Always declutter. It seems my advice runs redundant but it signifies the habitual act of. Get rid of the noise distracting from the important parts of the holiday season. Hone in on what brings you true joy. Strengthen the ability to know what holds value and what does not. This will also help with the selection of which social obligations you commit to, lest you run amok trying to please everybody and not enjoying the season at all.
  • Write your wish list early. And then publish it late. In the meanwhile, edit, edit, edit. Treat your wish list like a draft. It’s similar to pausing prior to purchasing things. Sometimes, it’s even more important to do because of the ease with which we can ask for things. Sleep on it. Search the house for dopplegangers of stuff (are you asking for things you already own?). Prioritize, putting needs at the top and considering making do without the wants. Perhaps you’d like to request consumable giftsFor ideas, a simple holiday gift guide.
  • Focus on the non-material. Not just in gift-giving and wish-making, but also in the doing. Forego the stresses of perfect Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings. Rather, revel in the gathering. Spend less time thinking about what to wear in to the holiday party and more time focusing on the conversations you wish to have. Et cetera. If you need a reminder, create an advent calendar for a slow holiday season. If you’d like to take it a step further, write a no-gifting letter or say no to Secret Santa.
  • Simplify. Instead of asking for ten things from one person, ask for one or two thereby lightening their need to make even more decisions. Instead of decking halls this year, maybe go bare to save you from entering 2020 with a large amount of un-decorating to do. Instead of ordering holiday cards, email a digital picture. There are many ways to simplify, some of which I’ve written about here and here.

I am always of the mind that we need to prepare for the holidays in different ways. In doing less and thinking more. It’s worth a try, in hopes that we all enter the new decade with truer joy, and a lot more peace.

 

Intentional Living: Speaking Less

I’ve been thinking lately about speaking less. The irony of using a post to share this does not escape me. But how many times a day do we fill our lives with useless words? Trivial commentary that gets us nowhere, rhetorical questions that waste one’s breath, small talk?

I think about questions specifically. We ask each other questions not because we are looking for knowledge but rather, permission. As kind as it is to seek permission, what it actually does is inflate the number of choices that need to be made.

For example, I noticed that I ask the following questions of my husband on the daily.

  • Is this enough food? (when piling on a plate)
  • Do you want to sit here? (when deciding where to perch at a restaurant, coffee shop or even at home)
  • What do you want to do today? (or tonight, this week, or weekend)
  • What do you want to eat for dinner? (or breakfast or lunch)
  • Do you want coffee this morning? (or tea in the evening)
  • Shall we watch something tonight? (when deciding what else to clutter our minds with)

All of these questions are not rhetorical and require a response.

All of them give him additional decisions to make.

All of them are quite unnecessary.

I think about how many more I ask at work. I think about how this asking affects our lives. As if we didn’t have enough decisions to make. It’s no wonder we live in overwhelm. By asking permission, we are creating more decisions to make. In our empathy, we are wasting brain power on making choices in a society already suffering from the paradox of choice.

It’s no wonder that children these days have no direction. There are too many choices to choose from and they are so busy choosing from an early age that they never learn how to focus on one. I hear parents ask children what they want to eat for dinner. I remember growing up and never being asked that question. We simply ate whatever was on the table. More brain-power for play time outdoors. I see parents asking kids what color backpack they want for the first day of school. My parents just went and purchased my supplies for us without even taking us to the store with them. More brain-power for focusing on getting ready for the Fall semester. I see parents proudly say that their kids chose what to wear today. I wore a uniform until middle school. Think of the brain power it takes to have a kid decide what to wear, then compare them self socially with what their desk mate wore, then go home and look to their closet and see what they can wear the next day to be at least equal with their desk mate.  With Christmas around the corner, I bet kids will be writing down their lists. I didn’t write a list for my family until I was thirteen years old. My parents just bought us what they think we would want, or better yet, what we needed.

It’s no wonder college students have no idea what they want to do in life. A majority of them go to undergrad undeclared. When I was in undergrad ten years ago, half of my friends had switched majors before graduating. My own brother switched direction AFTER undergrad. Many younger people get multiple masters in different fields. Some of my closest high school friends didn’t figure out what they wanted to do until they were 25. In dental school, a quarter of the dental students had switched careers. We had engineers, doctors, lawyers, with the oldest student in his 50’s. There is simply too many choices to make.

We have created this fallacy that we live in a world where we are free to choose. But we are constantly making choices, and we have lost the freedom to accomplish much of anything else.

It’s no wonder we get home at the end of a work-day exhausted. Then to have to answer if the food on the plate is enough?! Why do we waste such energy?

I am trying to be better. I am trying to simply put food on the plate, and accept that if he wants more, he will go back for seconds. I am going to just pick a spot to sit. If he wishes to sit elsewhere, I will trust that he will say so. I am simply going to make a batch of coffee and pour half into my cup. If he ends drinking the other half, I can make a second batch if needed. Instead of asking what he wants to do this weekend, I will tell him what I would like to do and see what he responds with.

We don’t need to speak so much.

If we truly want to practice empathy, let us empathize with the excess that we all already deal with.

Let us reduce the overwhelm so that we can reserve our brain waves for the decision-making that is more important.