I love the natural high of exercise. To me, it serves as a kind of pseudo anti-depressant* that puts me in an instant good mood, and I like to alternate new workout plans to give me something to look forward to during dull or stressful stretches of time (like, say, the bulk of winter). For most of my life, largely because of Lululemon models that looked nothing like me and my overall hatred of gym class, I thought of myself as the opposite of a “fitness person.” I was on a sports team for a few years of high school, but I still felt like I’d never be someone who exercised of my own accord, and I dreaded “mile run day” in school like it was the plague. At that point, I figured I’d be doomed to choose between either a sedentary life or one full of countless miserable, wasted hours forcing myself to break a sweat when I’d rather be reading a book. I can’t pinpoint exactly when that changed, but sometime within the last few years, I started to kind of like going to the gym. I started to realize (and this is going to sound painfully obvious, so don’t laugh) that exercise is not just for those among us who are ultra-thin and have $200 Nike fitness gear, or something that only some people are “good” at. Instead, it’s an amazingly simple, egalitarian way to improve your life and practice keeping promises to yourself (for real, this was an actual surprise to me). These days, I get twitchy after a few days without a workout, which has me in a bind, because I just injured my foot and am totally out of commission. Keep reading »
Oh thank goodness, someone finally says that mindfulness practice isn’t for everyone. Neuroscientist Catherine Kerr studies the effects of mindfulness practice on the brain, and is a practitioner herself, but denies that it is the emotional and scientific wonderdrug it’s been made out to be.
Kerr was an author on a 2005 paper that claimed, tentatively, that mindfulness meditation — basically, focusing one’s attention on the feelings, sensations and emotions in the present moment — increases the thickness of the cerebral cortex, which many news outlets jumped on as proof that meditation is absolutely an effective treatment for stress and depression for everyone. Kerr is much more reserved: There’s evidence that meditation is beneficial to brain function, but not enough to paint it in the unfalteringly positive light that some have done. Keep reading »
One of the focuses (focii?) of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project is figuring out how to break bad habits and moderate indulgences. Yesterday on the project’s blog, she talked about two different ways to manage temptations: Abstaining and moderating.
She describes author Delia Ephron as a “Moderator”: When she goes to bakeries, for example, she can take a few bites of whatever she buys, get bored with it, and throw the rest away (Ephron’s husband has named this “Discardia”). Moderators can indulge a little bit at a time, but they panic if they’re told that they absolutely can’t have something. Rubin describes herself, on the other hand, as an Abstainer: Abstainers have a hard time stopping once they’ve started, but find it easy to just totally cut themselves off from something, too. Keep reading »
This January, I had a bad job interview. I performed the best I could, but they’d kept me in a room, coming in groups of two or three at a time, grilling me on why I wanted and was qualified for an entry-level customer service job for two straight hours. I’ve been employed in some way or another for the last ten years, and I graduated with honors last year. I couldn’t just say, “I need a better job than I have now, and frankly this is going to be a cakewalk for me.” Some of them said I was underqualified; some of them said I was overqualified. No one really seemed to have a real sense of what they were doing; HR was out for the day, so it was all sales managers. I was so upset and confused afterward that I sat in Merchandise Mart crying for a half hour before working up the courage to get on the train. Keep reading »
Sometimes I feel totally overwhelmed at the thought of how much I want to accomplish in a given day or week, or how much growing stands between me and whatever distant, self-actualized ideal I hope to someday be. On days when I wake up cranky, thinking about stuff like this creates a snowball effect and suddenly I’m frustrated and calling myself a failure because I’m not living up to some nonexistent hypothetical that nobody else even sees but me — and then I miss out on enjoying all the great stuff that’s happening right in front of me. What I forget a lot is that every second is an opportunity to make a choice that aligns with becoming a calmer, kinder person, or at least could make me feel like more of a “together” person (I’m convinced people who 100 percent have it together don’t actually exist, but that’s another story).
I think one of the biggest reasons we get stuck in personal ruts or find ourselves feeling trapped in routines we absolutely hate is because the prospect of changing our lives sounds gigantic and intimidating. In actuality, epic changes don’t happen overnight. Whether you want to rebuild a relationship, rescue your finances, change the way you treat your body, or just improve your attitude, it will happen slowly as lots of tiny choices start to stack on top of one another. I find that to be a huge relief, because none of us can move a mountain in a day or do things perfectly all day long, but it’s so much easier to make a tiny positive choice in the right direction. Here are a few itsy bitsy changes that don’t always come easily but can make life a bit sweeter. Keep reading »
Spending time at home is way more stressful than spending time at work, according to a surprising new study by Penn State researchers. This comes as something of a surprise given the endless national dialogue about American working too much.
The study measured participants’ cortisol levels, which is one of our bodies’ major markers of stress, both at home and at work. The results show that for both men and women, spending time at home is not very relaxing. The study also learned that women often feel even better at work than men do. This pertains to people both with and without children, but especially for those who don’t have kids. Keep reading »