Archive for March 2013

Mindful of Health

There are many ways of looking at health. We can live a healthy lifestyle to prolong life, or to avoid future disease, or because it's interesting or fun or a challenge. 

I focus on my health to feel good right now. I am less interested in longevity, or avoiding disease. I do not feel I can control the future.

What I can control, to an extent, is my current body. This is far easier and less worrisome than attempting to live to be one hundred, or getting through life without getting sick.

I am going to die. This is an undeniable fact. It's not something I wish to expend energy to avoid. If living a healthy lifestyle in order to feel good right now leads me to live longer, cool. If it doesn't, what am I going to do?

I am going to get sick. This is a fact. It's very likely that I will get cancer one day, or heart disease, or diabetes, or a thousand other nasty things. The older I get, the more likely illness becomes.

One of the reasons why cancer, heart disease, and diabetes rates are so high is because we have an aging population. Over 25% of the population is older than the average life expectancy in 1900! The “fifty and older” crowd has doubled in the last century, and half of that population group are over age sixty-five. 

The rate of disease skyrockets as people get into their sixties, seventies, and eighties, as it should. Disease, often caused by old age (the body's growing inability to heal itself), kills almost everyone eventually. 

All we've managed to do in the twentieth century is push the natural course of disease back a couple of decades, partly through medical technology, and partly through a higher awareness of fitness and diet, but it catches up to us eventually no matter what precautions we take—we cannot put death off forever, nor can we put off disease indefinitely, so long as it is a process of dying.

There's no way to predict my future, but I have a great power over my current health, over how I feel upon waking and how I feel upon going to bed, and the time between. How I feel today is the only thing that I can control, and it is the only thing that matters.

By eating natural plant foods, lean meats, and healthy fats, I can feel better both physically and emotionally because these foods have a complete range of necessary vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. By eating less, and implementing daily periods of fasting, I can limit the ill effects that sugar and other carbs have on the body. By avoiding added chemicals, I can keep my brain and body healthy and working at its best. I can feel alert, energetic, and happy.

But diet is not the only aspect of health. Physical fitness is a as important. Exercising early in the morning grounds me for the rest of the day. I feel more confident and energized on days that I lift weights, ride my bike, and stretch. I stick to a healthy diet more easily, and I have a sense of well-being that lasts late into the evening.

There's also an emotional component to health. Emotional well-being isn't something that is given much attention in our society, but it is at least as important. Taking care of one's emotional health is simply finding a way to stay in-tune with the world around us. Emotional health is a sense that one is “all right.” 

Stress, which if compared to cigarettes and fast food, may be an even deadlier factor for disease. Prolonged stress can rapidly annihilate the body's organs and immune system. Emotional health counteracts stress far better than diet and exercise.

When I do not fulfill these three key factors I feel “off.” I've learned to take care of this feeling quickly, because the longer it's there the harder it seems to be gotten rid of. This is why I focus on the immediate present rather than on the far away future. I can live for tomorrow and very easily miss out on today. I would never want to be old and healthy and not have enjoyed my life, or to only remember things as memories and to not have actually experienced them!

Staying healthy is about making daily, conscious adjustments. It's not just eating the same “health” food over and over again and running on the same treadmill for forty-five years, it's managing myself, figuring out what makes me feel good, and applying it to my daily life. 

My health has become a great experiment in which I try many different things in order to figure out what works for me. I've come to realize that we're all different, which is why the experimentation is necessary for each of us. We don't know what will work until we test it, and anything can work for one person and not for another.

An overall consistency is more important than a rigid constant state of perfection, for to enjoy good health it's necessary to experience some ill health once in a while, or good health itself becomes too normal to be appreciated. 

Falling off the wagon, then, isn't the end of the world. If I trash my body for a weekend on the sofa eating ice cream and pizza, I'll have enjoyed the food and the time off, and when I get back to eating healthy and exercising I will feel like a million bucks. This, to me, is also exercising my emotional health—not punishing myself for my imperfections or cravings.

The contrast is what good health really, truly is. It's a cycle, like everything else in this world. The end of the cycle isn't a tragedy, but spending an entire lifetime trying to escape it is.

Be nice to yourself. What else do we really have to live for?

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Do It, And Get It Over With

Progress is slowly but surely being made in my recovery from Social Anxiety Disorder. Last time I wrote about my anxiety I was talking about overcoming speaking on the phone and driving a car. I hit a plateau in that time, as I ran out of things to work on, but now I've set my sights on getting a job.

As far as I'm concerned, working or going to school are the worst of my problems. These are long-term commitments that I feel I will get trapped in and panic, and cannot get out of without having the guilt of letting someone down. These are my biggest fears. Going to school is not necessary, but working is. Fortunately I have experience in the grocery industry, and have an opportunity here for a job at a local store.

This is a very interesting process for me. In my mind I feel that if the job is just given to me, I can show up and do the work, yet the people involved aren't going to make this easy on me (said with a wink). I'm under the impression that the job is mine, but I still have to do everything I would have to do if I was anyone else off the street. Certainly this is no slam dunk (I may not get the job), but regardless of that I am getting some much needed experience and confidence. I am at once lazy and don't want to do this, and appreciative of the opportunity to do it.

The back story is that I live near someone who is pretty high up in the grocery chains corporate office. He's a cool guy and told me he could get me a job.* I have avoided it for months, but I have finally made up my mind  to get the ball rolling and see where it takes me. I have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain from this.

Two Sundays ago I filled out an application, which required me to go to the store and be told I had to go back home to fill it out online. The application wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, and I was quickly done. I was a bit let down that I couldn't bring it back in to the manager, mostly because I felt it was such a big leap to actually have gone to the store, I wasn't sure if I could repeat it.

But I still had to go back to let the manager know I had filled out the application, and that I was serious. This is where things got interesting for me—and I learned something about myself.

If faced with a tough decision to do something right now, or put it off until a “better” day, I will choose to do the thing NOW.

Last night my anxiety got the best of me and I spent the evening crawling up walls. I was very anxious and depressed. Anxious because of the uncertainty I faced having to go back to the store, and depressed because of the hopelessness tied to fighting the inevitable.

I went to sleep with a heavy heart, but when I woke up the fear was gone and I knew what I would do, and why I would do it this morning.

I had thought to do it Monday, to postpone as long as I could. The logic behind this was simple. Going back was the last thing in the world I wished to do. I thought dying would be more convenient for me, or even applying somewhere else. Anywhere but there!

Then going Monday required me to sit on my hands Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and Monday could come to find me postponing this again. In those four days I had plenty of time to fret and worry—hell, I could think myself so far under the table that I could lose all my confidence.

The alternative, as I saw it, was to go to the store immediately to keep moving forward.

Between these two choices, I chose the one that required less mental anguish—less anxiety, less depression. I knew, and I was proven correct, that if I just did it, I could put it behind me.

I know this because I'm beginning to understand the nature of the fear in my mind. The mental anguish I experience inside myself is not consistent with the world around me, which is often peaceful and serene. The anguish exists because I exist, which makes it both difficult and easy to remedy. Getting rid of it is as simple as getting rid of, not necessarily the self, but the things that prop the self up.

Namely the fear of change; wanting the world to be just so, and not accepting it as it is.

The self is an illusion of the “unchanging.” Of course the self is just a concept that we project onto reality. We are constantly changing, never the same as we were before. The self only exists when we're aware of the self, and yet we can lose ourselves in many things like sleep, or a drug, or a game, etc.

You can never step in the same river twice, they say. So the human mind creates the self as a way to give clarity and meaning to the ever-changing world, by having something that can be counted on not to change. The self is something to hold onto in chaos. If the self were only ever used to serve this purpose, it would be a great thing, but I for one have clung too tightly to myself, mistaking the anchor for the ocean.

A side effect of this is self-consciousness. I focus too much on myself in order to maintain it and ignore the rest of the world which is in constant motion. The truth of the matter is that the ocean of reality is usually tranquil. Sometimes a storm can batter the seas, and certainly anything caught in that storm is in danger, but this is rare. What hurts me the most is maintaining the self, and the mental anguish I experience when I try to fight against the ocean around me. I drown not because I am sailing upon a sea, but because I hold onto the anchor as it sinks in an attempt to stay in place. If I simply let myself go where the tides take me, the suffering will be minimal.

So this morning I woke and I did the thing I most feared in an attempt to not have to fear doing it.

The fear of doing anything is more toxic than the doing.

I wonder what else I can apply this to? Can you apply this to your own life?

* In my defense I have 7+ years of grocery experience, managed dairy, frozen foods, and grocery, and can find my way around produce, meat, and bakery/deli. I can even run a register! It's not like I don't know what I'm doing. A lack of confidence isn't my problem. It's the fear of letting people down, the fear of the unknown, the fear of change. These things I will get over. *

Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series

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