Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hitting the Reset Button on Life

Cold weather and a beautiful sunset over the Outer Banks.
Sometimes I just have to hit the reset button on life. Usually its a fairly easy thing to do. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and remind myself that the rest of the day is still ahead of me. Only slightly more difficult than rolling over in bed while still immersed in sleep to pound the snooze button.

Other times, the reset button just refuses to activate. No matter how many times I tell myself to hit it, the stupid thing just seems to be all jammed up. These are the days when every little thing seems to snowball, and the thought of just counting to ten and starting over makes me want to tell my inner voice of reason to take a hike to Antartica. On days like these, there's no starting over, just hoping the next one goes a bit better.

And that's where the vicious cycle starts. Everything I couldn't finish that day piles onto the next. I get stressed, eat a bag of potato chips for lunch and a stack of candy bars for dinner. I stay up too late, stressing about all the work I have to do the next day, then sleep in and get even further behind. I tell myself the only solution is just to work harder, and cancel all plans, date nights with my fiancee and any other enjoyable event so that I can sit and stare at my computer and lambast myself for all the work I'm not getting done Before I know it I'm hopelessly behind with work, tired, crabby and in a general no good funk.

That's when its time to hit that reset button for good. And I don't mean the soft tap, the gentle nudge into a quick reset. I mean hitting it with a sledgehammer and rebooting the whole system. This can be accomplished a variety of ways, but any way you go about it, it must have nothing to do with work, writing, school, or cleaning the house.

My favorite way of hitting reset is a mini-vacation. Just a few days out of town, not worrying about anything, and getting away from the myriad of stress-triggers of daily life. I'm lucky that I live a few hours from the ocean, so a quick beach trip is not out of the question. It's actually even better in cold weather, because rates are cheap, and without the distraction of actual swimming and sunbathing I am actually free to just sit around doing whatever my heart desires.

But although weekend trips are nice, they're not always feasible. A few other reset-worthy activities I've found helpful are: a fantastic date night that starts with a great dinner and ends with some sort of ridiculous activity, whether its sharing a bottle of wine on the front stoop at one in the morning, dancing the hustle in the kitchen, making a midnight sauna trip or attempting to teach the cat to walk on a leash (generally after that bottle of wine). Going out dancing or listening to live music with friends is a rare but excellent stress reliever for me, as is a marathon of silly tv shows or movies, a great hike including scrambling over rocks and generally getting muddy and dirty, or just a really good game night- as long as I'm winning!

Whatever the activity, I think the important thing is just to get out of my comfort zone and let loose. And promising myself not to check email, attempt to do work, clean the house, or even look at my laptop for the rest of the evening. Give myself permission to take time off and have some fun. As a constantly overextended workaholic, letting go off the thousands of pressures just for a night is necessary from time to time.

I always find that after a good night of hitting the reset button, the next morning everything feels clearer, brighter, and more doable. Suddenly that article rewrite that has been looming over me is a piece of cake. The nephew's latest respiratory infection is just another reason to keep the tissues handy. That research paper will get written, especially if it gets started now instead of later. My brain kicks into high gear, my adrenaline starts flowing, and most important, I realize that the reason that I pile so many things onto my plate is because these are all things that I really enjoy.

How do you hit your reset button?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oh What a Winter It's Been...

Winter can be tough no matter where you are.
I've been away from the blog, and pretty much everything else for quite a while now. Even away from the snow and ice of upstate New York, it seems that winter just all-around stinks. Between colds, flus and everything in between, not to mention a pretty crippling bout with Seasonal Affective Disorder its been a pretty unproductive time for me.

Luckily spring comes early here in North Carolina, birds are chirping and a faint green tinge has definitely started to invade the yuck-brown landscape. So just to get up to date, here's a quick list of what I've been up to, what I've learned, and what's on deck for the rest of the year.

Top Five Things I Did This Winter:

1. Frontierville - In the midst of my doldrums, I became horribly addicted to a silly little facebook game called Frontierville. Spent way too much time clearing out the wilderness, planting crops and feeding the family. But on the plus side, my little homestead now boasts a doctor's office, trading post and tailor shop. Up next, harvesting 1,500 potato plants...Zynga, you're killing me!

2. Illness - This year was a wretched one illness-wise. Got hit with a nasty cold on New Year's day, which turned into bronchitis and didn't go away until February. Just when I got to the point where I wasn't starting my day with a fit of hacking accompanied by the loveliest of gunk spewing out of my lungs, the flu came knocking. My 2 1/2 year old nephew got it the worst, and wound up with pneumonia. Because my sister was busy with work and her new roommate has a daughter, nephew came to stay with me and my fiancee until he was recuperated. Trust me, a sick toddler that can't go outside to play and burn off steam is not fun.

In between playing nurse and entertainer to him, my fiancee and I both got our own cases of the flu. Fiancee was better in less than a week, my poor lungs that had just gotten over the bronchitis came down with another nasty infection. This time I finally dragged my uninsured self to the doctor, and got a week's worth of a new antibiotic that made me vomit every time I took it, but otherwise cleared things up. I wouldn't wish that flu on my worst enemy. Really high fever, delirium (I couldn't remember my own zip code or my daily medications at the doctor's office) and worst of all, horrible leg cramping that woke me up in the middle of the night every night crying in pain. Fun times.

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - This year was bad. I think that because of all the illness, I wasn't getting outside as much as I usually do. Lower light levels from being stuck in the sickroom did a nasty number on my brain chemistry. Sluggishness, exhaustion, inability to sleep and worst of all, a complete lack of interest in anything whatsoever. I vaguely remember spending about two or three weeks laying on the couch, without enough energy to even walk up the stairs to my bedroom. I stopped brushing my hair and my teeth. But I did upgrade my general store in Frontierville, so hey, some good came out of it all! When I started feeling a bit better, I did some research on SAD, and wrote a few articles. If anyone's interested, here's the links:

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder: People at Risk
The Relationship Between Seratonin and Seasonal Affective Disorder
A Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder in Children and Teenagers

All in all, I learned that depression is so crippling because the very nature of the illness prevents you from doing anything about it. It's really easy to tell someone that is depressed to get off the couch and get some exercise, but when just walking up a flight of stairs makes you want to faint, the thought of even walking on a treadmill for twenty minutes feels like climbing Mount Everest. Same for going out with friends, or even just picking up the phone and scheduling a doctor's appointment. I'll do it later, I swear. Let me just harvest this corn first.

4. Wedding Plans - It wasn't all bad news. One of the things that sent a faint ray of hope into my seratonin-deprived brain was getting going on planning my wedding. Originally, when we got engaged, I told me fiancee that I in no way, shape or form wanted to have a traditional wedding, largely because it seemed like such a pain to plan it. We compromised, and he said he'd do the planning if I'd just buy a dress and show up. Well, that seemed like a good plan until he went ahead and made a guest list without me. My inner control-freak and micromanager took over, and I jumped all over the plans. And its actually been a lot of fun.

At some point soon I'd like to start a wedding blog specifically devoted to wedding-related stuff. I've learned a lot about different aspects of the planning process, and wow, I can see why wedding planners charge so much for their services!

5. Did I mention my homestead? Because I've chopped down hundreds of fake trees, had two fake babies, hired a farmhand and built a church. If that doesn't say accomplished, motivated professional I don't know what does! I think my peanuts might be ripe, so I think I need to stop blogging and get on that...