Unexpected anxieties and flexibility

Yesterday my goal was to go to a coffee shop and write for a few hours before therapy. I had made the goal the previous week and as the day approached my anxiety increased. I slept poorly the night before, and I woke up anxious and irritable. Planning logistics makes me nervous, as do changes in routine. I am most comfortable when my life falls into recognizable patterns. 

Stopping into the coffee shop represented a deviation from the norm. Usually, on Tuesdays, I run, read, work in my office for a bit (writing, returning emails, working on the project of the moment). Therapy is wonderful but stressful, so I try to keep my mornings light. 

Going to the coffee shop, therefore, was a significant (to me) change of pace. It required leaving early, and also early enough to have the time needed to make the the trip worthwhile: ten minutes of writing would not offset the stress of planning its inclusion into my itinerary. 

I also grappled with the feeling that my stress was overblown. From a rational perspective, there was no reason to fret. The coffee shop I had in mind is one I like, in the neighborhood where I used to live, an easy drive on major streets I use often. Parking is on the street, but is usually easy to find. It is a short drive from there to my therapist’s office, also along steets I have driven many times. The coffee shop itself is comfortable, well-lit, not too hot, too cold, too loud or too quiet; the coffee they serve is excellent; the baristas are pleasant. My boyfriend usually has to drag me away, once I’ve settled myself in there. The space, route, and location are all familiar. My goal of writing there for a few hours, or even one hour, should not have been difficult to attain. But it was. 
It was so difficult that almost the moment my boyfriend woke up I fought with him over a glitch in my iPhone that is not his fault at all but that he was unable to fix in the few frantic moments I gave him between opening his eyes and readying himself for work. I left the house to go running in a horrid mood and without a hat, the latter a fact I failed to realize until I was half a mile away and cold. As I shivered along, I muttered to myself about my dumb phone, my unhelpful boyfriend, the high annoyance of everything. I was embarrassed at having behaved badly and mad at myself for everything in general (I am a big fan of arranging situations so that I am always at fault.) 

The cold wind only enhanced my angst: how could I be so dumb as to forget my hat; my hair is in my fave and this is going to be the worst run ever; why won’t my phone work properly; why is is this cold in April; why didn’t he wake up early enough to talk to me about my coffee shop anxieties –wait, what? I wanted to talk to Mike about my coffee shop anxieties? Was that my problem? Good grief. 

Once I realized that I wasn’t really stressed about my phone or my missing hat but about my impending trip to a coffee shop, I relaxed. Knowing the root of my problems always makes them easier to tackle. And, since I’ve been vigilant about being kind to myself when I can, I decided that any amount of time in the coffee shop would be beneficial because it would give me the change of scenery I craved as well as time with my thoughts, with the added bonus of proving to myself that a change in routine isn’t the end of the world. I came home thirty minutes later refreshed and energized, ready to implement my plan. 

In the end, I did not go to the coffee shop. After showering, packing a lunch, and preparing for the day it just didn’t seem practical (the fight about my phone had set me back longer than I realized). I would have spent more time driving than writing. 

Instead, I made the most of the time I had  left, writing the beginnings of this post between forkfuls of a sweet potato, lentil, and kale salad. I didn’t complete my initial goal, but I am still proud. I was able to recognize my anxiety, and then to honor it, not forcing myself into an unduly uncomfortable situation. I went as far as I could on that day, and that was enough. 

I left the house feeling happy and accomplished. I did the hard work of planning the goal, and took the often harder step of amending my intention. 

Perhaps next week I will take the long way to therapy, driving past the coffee shop, scoping out the route. And then the next week maybe I’ll leave early enough to go in, gradually building my tolerance to the change. Or perhaps my step yesterday was the perfect stepping stone, and I will be able to write next week at the coffee shop. I don’t know now, and I am okay with that. 

There are so many parts of life that feel nonnegotiable, like work or school commitments. And so I am a firm believer in working with the parts of my life I can control. This is easier in theory than in practice but when I remember that there is no shame in altering a goal or a situation to increase my chances of success, my life is so much more relaxed and, somehow, more productive. Small wins are important for motivation and, after my miniature success yesterday, I feel confident about my ability to leave my house and change my routine. At some point. 


Weekend Diversions 4.1.16

Happy Friday, all! My post on Wednesday left me feeling a bit unnerved: I am not used to writing that candidly about my eating history, or my body-image struggles. It feels good to put down my thoughts, though, and necessary. I have a feeling that is the best way to put the memories to rest, and to move on with my life (which is now much happier, and filled with much less, although still some, fretting about food). Thank you for all the support I have felt here.

Now, for some weekend reading!

  1. Quinoa chocolate chip cookies -Let’s start with the treat today. Each week, I usually make a batch of granola bars or date and nut balls or some variation thereof for easy snacking. Sometimes I follow a recipe, sometimes I throw a bunch of ingredients together and hope they taste good. These cookies are going into the rotation soon, with the quinoa providing a nice variety to my usual string of oat-based treats. I imagine a flax-egg can easily replace the egg in the recipe.
  2. Your quinoa habit really did help Peru’s poor. But there’s trouble ahead. -Speaking of quinoa, I enjoyed this article about the real effects of quinoa’s popularity on the populations who have cultivated and consumed the seed for generations. Since 2006, quinoa has situated itself on the plates of people in more affluent countries as a gluten-free and high-protein alternative to grains. Its inflated price has often been justified as economically beneficial to its growers, who in theory benefit when I pay many times more for the product than I would have (had I known about it) fifteen years ago. Economists Marc Bellemare and Seth Gitter recently paired up to analyze economic data about Peruvian households (those who grow and eat quinoa, those who eat it but do not grow it, and those who neither eat nor grow the crop) from before quinoa’s popularity through its rise to Western-staple. The results: high export prices do help locals prosper. Other problems have been created, however, such as potential loss of plant diversity: of the 3,000 varieties of quinoa, only a handful are sought after by exporters and, therefore, grown by farmers. Quinoa’s popularity also has caused other countries (America, Canada, China, even coastal regions of Peru) to start their own crops, drawing business away from quinoa’s native geography. This may be one instance where local is not better. Also a good reminder of the politics that go into keeping people in all countries fed, happy, and prosperous.
  3. Stop freaking out about all the protein you’re getting. -Which brings me to this reminder that glorifying one nutrient over others is not beneficial for our health, nor is it really based in good science. Jounalist Marta Zaraska recently published a book (Meathooked), about the roots of our cultural obsession with meat and its protein content. In it, she recounts one of the beginnings of the protein myth in the late 1800s when German scientist Carl von Voit analyzed protein consumption of soldiers and hard laborers to create a baseline for all human consumption of this nutrient (150 grams per day; as an moderately active adult the USDA now recommends I consume an average of 55 grams per day, as a point of comparison). Zaraska explains how laughably easy it is to meet protein requirements, given adequate caloric intake, by consuming a normal, not protein-enhanced diet.
  4. Americans say alcohol is the the biggest problem in their communities, not heroin -Heroin and opioid addictions and overdoses make more headlines than stories about alcohol abuse, probably because alcohol is legal, while heroin is not. On a daily basis, however, it seems that ever-pervasive alcohol is more concerning than other substances. Alcohol is socially acceptable and its negative implications are underplayed. I’m not against drinking, but I do think that more public awareness about its emotional, social, and physical impacts is needed. Just because it is legal does not mean it is implicitly safe for everyone at all times.
  5. A simple exercise that may help children become more successful adults -Mindfulness, no surprise, is a helpful exercise even for children. By building up the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that handles executive function and decision-making), practicing focus gives children the clarity of mind they need to succeed later in life. As always, the most simple solutions are often the most effective.


Happy reading, and here’s to a calm and joy-filled weekend for all!