My Shield of Sanity

My stress barrier is made of flexible titanium on the outside and soft creamy cashmere on the inside. Its strength knows no match when utilized to its full potential. Strong enough to deflect stress and negative influences, it is, all the while, comforting and soothing. Soft as a flower petal on my skin and scented with the aftermath of an April shower.  It’s my Shield of Sanity and it lives in my brain.

Be difficult, piss me off, step on my toes, I’m prepared to resist. I will close my eyes, take a deep breath and conjure up my Shield. I’ll wrap it around my shoulders and block the stress and unpleasantness hurling towards me.

Like most other weapons of war, my Shield doesn’t solve every problem and slay the enemy for good. It does offer, on demand, the space to relax my brain for a bit, recoup and think in a safe space. It holds stress at bay, erases the negative thoughts of others, and gets me back on track. Peacefulness and clarity of thought are my rewards. Bravo! my Shield of Sanity.

Note to readers: There is no patent protection for Shields of Sanity. Everyone can have one. 

 

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Say You Have a Doctor Appointment…

… or something else that will explain why you’re going to be a bit late getting to work. Instead of rushing out the door at some ungodly hour, have a nice relaxing breakfast with a friend or even a date! Leave your walking shoes at home, take care dressing and go somewhere nice – no diner counters, please. Oh, and no talk of work. And no phone.

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Yes, you could do dinner or lunch with a friend, but everyone does that. Be different! Be brave! Change the context! It’ll be quieter, more relaxed. No loud bar noise to have to talk over. Now, I’m not suggesting a two-hour brunch meal, but do take some time to enjoy this little decadent, clandestine pleasure.

You’ll feel better all day. Trust me.

 

Get Your Summer On!

Spring is the most volatile season – but this year? Off the charts!  Offhand, can’t think of any region that was ‘normal’ volatile. Here in New York, it was gray and cold for way too long. Dreary with some teases of spring here and there. Then Wham! End-of-June/early July heat wave. In the 90’s, high humidity. Ugh! So bad, it put all those keratin hair treatments to the test!

The worst part of not being able to visualize that summer was close? Not getting those secondary summer plans in place. We all plan the July 4th holiday and vacations in advance, but what about the rest of the summer? Weekends, days off, evenings.

Summer. It’s here. Right now. It’s time to make some plans!

So, before too much time passes, put dinners and lunches on the calendar, with friends you haven’t seen for a bit. Just imagine…an al fresco meal, sipping some Rosé or Vino Verde and sitting back and enjoying some good company. Don’t leave it all to chance, people travel, make other plans.

Do a bit of research and make a list of some day trips in your area. On my list? Up to the Cloisters to see the other half of the Metropolitan Museum’s Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit, a bike ride along the river up to the Lighthouse by the George Washington Bridge, a day exploring Governor’s Island, strolling Central Park, checking out the New South Street Seaport, the new Brooklyn Aquarium, another trip to the Bronx Zoo, and yes, beaches!

Load the Kindle now. There’s nothing worse than finishing a book on a plane or the beach and not having another one or ten ready. My book theme and reading list have been made and started. At least every other book will be a re-read, which I rarely do, and books that are related to some I’ve already read. I enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind four-or-so years ago. Spanish Gothic. Interesting. It was the first in the Cemetery of the Forgotten Book trilogy. Ready to return for the second story, The Angel’s Game.

I read on a Kindle, but especially in good weather, I always make sure the book I’m reading is also on my phone. You never know when you’ll pass a small, quiet park, with an empty bench in the shade. Sit. Read. Relax for a bit. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ahhhh…

Bike rides, walks, tennis, yoga in the park, softball… find someone to team up with and make a date.  Baseball games, soccer matches. Call a fellow fan, get your favorite team’s schedule and nail down some dates.

Winter. Spring. Summer. Fall. All the seasons have the same number of days. And even though we mentally start Summer at Memorial Day, almost a month early, it always seems like the shortest season. Flies by in a flash. That’s why it’s so important to sit back and decide, in advance, how you would like to remember it. Then, make it happen.

Don’t Just Smell the Roses!

Yes, most of us always have a camera with us 24/7. On our phones, of course. And for many things, a camera phone serves its purpose, doesn’t take up much room in the bag or pockets and doesn’t weigh much.

Still, summer begs for a real camera. Begs for creativity. Begs to be taken off automatic. Begs for different lenses. In return, it offers unlimited opportunities. I love to screw on a macro lens and take pictures of flowers.

Think about setting a theme for your creative picture-taking this summer. Sunsets, children, pets, sunsets, boats, landscapes, sports…whatever you’re interested in.

I’ve already been to the Bronx Botanical Garden twice this year and had a different landscape each time. Two of the most relaxing afternoons this season!

If you’re interested in photographing flowers, check out this article on the dPS Digital Photography School site for some good advice and guidance on this and many other photography-related topics.

Tips for Taking Better Flower Photos

Working your brain to relax it.

I’m really bad at just sitting….at home watching television, at the movies, in a car or train or airplane, or on the beach, in a park. So I knit. I learned when I was about 6, and am pretty good at it. With most projects, I can knit anywhere and can divide my attention with conversation, movies, even books. In fact, it is extremely difficult for me to watch television without my sticks and yarn. What a waste of time at work when conference calls went on for hours and my hands just sat idle!

Luckily, there is no shortage of new babies and young children among family and friends to keep the fingers busy and the body from getting ansie, and certainly no shortage of media to binge. A perfect combination to pass the time away. That is, until things I don’t want to think about worm their way in.

While I’m perfectly content to work through something in my head with yarn and needles in hand, some times I just want to escape. Easy knitting projects can let too much stress and unpleasantness work their way into my brain. And there’s of lot of stuff out there these days. Happy to say I found the solution and there are many who are happy I did.

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I upped my knitting game – big time. No more simple projects that practically fly off the needles while I am also otherwise engaged. Now, I make complicated garments that require 98% of my brain power. Cables, lots of them, decorative patterns with various stitches and colors. Charting patterns on graph paper and spreadsheets. One sweater I’ve made twice has 14 panels of various cables and patterns. Let the brain get distracted and rows and rows (one time 43 of them!) have to be ripped out. Reflect for a moment on how attentive you need to be with a two-year old in a room full of uncovered electric outlets! For some reason, I still have to watch (actually just glance up at and listen to) something while I concentrate hard, but it can’t be something that I have to pay attention to follow a story line. Downton Abbey again?

The benefits?

  • My mind, while working, is on a positive mission with a craft I enjoy. It’s happy.
  • The fruits of my labors make much-appreciated gifts. Five are already done for next Christmas.
  • These projects take longer to complete, so I’ve saved a little fortune on yarn.
  • My brain might be working hard, but not on stressful musings.
  • I have plenty of scrap yarn to make easy little mittens and hats for when I want to watch a good movie.

Sometimes, you have to work hard and focus your brain to be able to relax it!

I was highjacked – twice!

I have sat in front of the computer staring at a blank screen so many times, searching for my lost voice. I had reached a point where it was hard to write about stress when I wasn’t stressed. Cool and calm and satisfied and trying to write about stress was harder than I thought it would be. So, a little hiatus. Then the election. Like so many on both – or any – side of the political spectrum, I inhaled news and indignation while stress unpacked its baggage in my brain. Settled in. Made itself comfortable. Since I was/am adamant about not writing about politics on this site, another hiatus.

The post prior to this one talks about shutting the news world out one day a week. It worked so well for a long time – it’s almost a year now. The news flow is relentless, though, the issues to deal with multiplying at what seems a more active pace. My brain shudders at all that is thrown at it. Still, the weekly blackout remains in place and the brain is thankful for at least that.

I’m committed to getting back here more often….will find another place for my politics. And that is the point here – find or create your personal no-stress zones. Limit political talk in social situations. Be diligent about protecting your Sundays (or other chosen day), for pleasure. Save and watch the Sunday morning news interviews for another day. On all days, change the channel when the conversation gets nasty, personal and vindictive or when blatant lies are being spewed.  You can be informed without feeling harassed.

Summer is here…go outside, bring a book so engrossing it builds a protective space between your brain and the constant barrage of headlines. And when you finish that book – find another!

No-News Wednesdays

Nine months ago today, I made one very good, very satisfying, very healthy, mental health decision. I started turning away from the news feeds every Wednesday. Just one day a week. I had, like many of you, become addicted to the constant flow of political news and opinions. I read and watched all I could. I read articles to the end and then clicked on the links at the bottom. I watched news and more news and more. Something had to be done to clear my head.

I vowed to stay away from the AM newscasts, the noon newscasts, the afternoon/evening newscasts and the late-night newscasts every Wednesday. Just one day a week. There would be no George, no Anderson, no NY Times, no WaPo, no Politico, no New Republic and no to the many other news and political sites saved in my Bookmarks. Kimmel and Colbert were allowed, but only after the monologues were over. I took Amy Siskind off my feed. It was a good start, but not enough. There was plenty of political comment on FaceBook and Twitter, so they too, soon joined the Wednesday list.
And then there was email to deal with. Oh, the box overflowed with news alerts, emails from politicians, survey requests, donation invitations and on and on and on. When I stopped checking mail on Wednesdays there were a few oops. Missed an important email from my accountant. When he called me the next day I explained why I missed the mail, how uplifting a day off the news was, how much it was helping clear my head. “Everyone should try it!” “Yes”, he replied, “we call it Shabbat.”  Smart.
Nine months later I declare success! I not only look forward to the mid-week day off, but have tapered off on the other days. I don’t have to read every article, don’t have to read or hear what everybody else thinks, don’t have to click on every related link. The world goes on when I’m not engaged and will be there when I get to it. My head is clearer, my stress levels are lower, my mind is free to roam and think with clarity and without interruption…and not just on Wednesdays!

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