Running with My Dog (Today's Simple Pleasure)

It is only since starting T that I’ve had any desire to go for a run. I’ve met people who talk about running as stress relief and their remarks have, until recently, baffled me. Normally, I get winded very quickly and do not have enough stamina to run any distance, but I’ve been so wound up as of late that it felt like running was the only way through my feelings. I used a running leash for my dog and we took off!

My dog is a Yorkie, so he is not built for endurance. He got worn out before I did which let me feel like I was “winning” our race (he would definitely best me in a sprint, however!). I slowed down for him and enjoyed the feeling of my legs in flight. I did still have a bit of discomfort in my upper chest where my lungs and/or blood vessels constricted, but it wasn’t as bad as it used to be. Given that there is still snow on the ground and it is below freezing, I feel that my pup and I have lots of nice runs ahead of us in the coming months.

What’s your favorite stress relief when you are angry and/or feel that you have excessive energy to burn? If you run, what season and location do you prefer? Do you run with your pet?

Migraine Self-Care (In the Cards)

I’m on day 2 of a migraine. I decided to pull a card and happened upon one focused on feelings of coziness and comfort in the chill of winter. It felt appropriate to explore how my self-care might be tailored to my particular health needs today.

Self-Observation

My migraines vary in their quality, intensity and duration. My main triggers appear to be dramatic shifts in the weather, hormone changes and emotional stress. I believe the current one has been brought on primarily by feeling overwhelmed; this kind tends to last longer and sometimes only lift after I process a lot of trauma memories and emotions. Starting by observing my experience and being with myself in the midst of it redirects my focus from the symptoms and onto self-care.

Dim the lights

I once happened to have an eye exam scheduled while I was having a migraine, which quickly confirmed for me that I become quite sensitive to light when I’m having a migraine. I began the day by skipping my routine of opening the curtains in my living room. I’ve kept everything as dark as I can and this reduces my pain level.

modulate my pace

Exercise has a paradoxical relationship with migraines. It can serve as a trigger but is also useful to reduce the frequency of migraines. For myself, low-impact exercise, where I get my body moving but do not increase my pulse to its upper threshold, seems to provide me with more benefits than complications.

I also need to rest at times when I’m in an active migraine phase. Too much external stimuli, such as a crowded mall with lots of smells, sights and sounds, feels even more unbearable when I’m in pain. Slowing myself down but continuing a steady amount of activity at times tends to work best for me.

eat nourishing foods

One sign I’ve noticed a migraine might be starting soon is that I will have strong salt or sugar cravings and a much harder time avoiding junk food. I ate a large amount of sushi Friday night which I think preemptively upped my salt level and warded off the worst of the cravings, although I then ate much more homemade food than I intended yesterday. Today, I accidentally made a super-spicy tofu dish, which I had to eat very slowly because my mouth was on fire. I found some research stating migraines are triggered by spicy foods and others noting spicy foods help to mitigate the symptoms of migraines; in either case, eating it certainly cleared out my sinuses quite effectively! Overall, doing as much as I can to eat homemade real food seems to be a way to keep my migraine symptoms from getting worse.

At times, extremely cold drinks that cause a “brain freeze” help to temporarily relieve my migraine pain when nothing else will. Apparently the blood vessels and nerves related to brain freezes may also come into play with cluster headaches and migraines, so perhaps inducing the phenomenon interrupts the headache. I may round out my diet for the day with a homemade ice-cold smoothie and see if I can replicate this person’s success.

If you suffer from migraines, which types of self-care do you find most useful? Like me, do you concentrate on trying to reduce the pain you are experiencing, or are there other priorities on which you find it more helpful to concentrate? Are there any foods or beverages that assist you the most in coping?

Exercising Mindfully (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My day is jam-packed with activity, so I decided to get creative and double-up a chore with a mindfulness practice. Specifically, I combined snow shoveling with body and breath awareness. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the benefits of both!

My attention was first drawn to my breath, more naturally than it is when I’m meditating while sitting, because I was breathing more heavily from the physical exertion. In terms of what my eyes were drawn to, I noticed that my field of vision was constricted to the snow I was moving, and I felt more centered when I purposely widened my gaze to include the trees and skyline. My felt sense of my body was quite noticeable and this brought me the most joy, as I felt the muscles in my arms and legs kicking into high gear with each shovelful I tossed. I could not smell or taste anything in particular. It was not until several minutes into the practice that I realized I’d been able to tune out most background noise, no easy task for someone with PTSD.

I thoroughly enjoyed engaging in mindfulness in a new way, and will be considering other places in life into which I can bring present-moment awareness. I did find my thoughts eventually drifting into what else I have to accomplish today, so the “return to breath” needs to be an anchor-point to which I hold. Have you attempted present-moment awareness in any settings aside from sitting meditation? If so, what was your experience like? How did it compare and contrast to more traditional forms of meditation?

Grounding by Lifting Weights (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I wrote yesterday about feeling dissociative and disconnected. As I composed my post, I thought to myself that physical exercise would probably be an effective method of grounding myself, even if the effect was only temporary. Today, as I engaged in my workout routine, I paid special attention to how my sense of my body was impacted by being physically active.

I love using Fitness Blender (not an affiliate link) for my daily workouts. The founders have made their videos are free and both of them have a positive outlook on health and exercise. My ability to lift weights has been diminished since becoming ill a few weeks ago, so today’s routine was particularly fulfilling as I was finally able to lift near my capacity instead of having to use half the weight I normally would.

After completing the workout, I feel more present in my arms, but cannot sense much in terms of my lower body. My legs aren’t physically numb, but I don’t feel connected to them or like I am inhabiting them fully if that makes any sense (if you haven’t struggled with dissociation, it might not). I still feel an eerie sense of calm, but having my heart rate up is counteracting it slightly.

Going for a run would seem to be the type of full-body exercise that might allow me to come more present, but the abundance of ice outside isn’t going to make that a safe experiment. I think I will add a series of stretches for each part of my body to see if that brings more depth and richness to my sense of being grounded. If you’ve dealt with trauma and feeling disconnected from your body, what effect does exercise have on your ability to become grounded? Are there types of physical activity that are more effective than others? Are there any kinds you’ve learned to avoid or that worsen your dissociation?

Raise Your Toes (Today's Daily Presence)

Today’s Daily Presence card invited awareness to my toes. I’ve managed to break more than one of them in recent years, so they could certainly use some TLC. I decided to spend some time conducting toe stretches.

In attempting the stretches I found, the simplest movement–placing my feet flat on the floor and reaching upward with my toes–seemed to help to adjust my toe posture. I discovered I do not have a lot of lateral mobility, especially in the second to last toe, which seems to be the one I’ve injured the most on both feet. I was tempted by the marble exercise but envisioned my dog trying to eat each one so I declined to pursue it.

I was intrigued by focusing solely on my toes as I haven’t done it before in terms of stretches, and I found that it challenged my body in a way it had not been before. I noticed some of my ankle and calf pain and tension unexpectedly releasing as I worked. I’ve lived so long with little awareness of my body, so I feel like I’m discovering new connections each time I slow down enough to attend to it. To whatever extent it exists, what is your relationship like with your toes? If you’ve had any injuries or loss of toe(s), what effect has it had on you? If it was accessible to you and you tried the toe stretches in the link, which one do you enjoy?

Habits of the Heart (Today's Daily Presence)

Today’s Daily Presence card focuses on the circulatory system. In bringing mindful awareness to this part of my body, I chose to review habits in which I engage that can affect the health of one’s cardiovascular health. My goal in doing so is to examine more fully the context in which my system is operating and to consider where my energy will best be spent in promoting heart health. Habits are only one piece of the puzzle in regards to how well our circulatory systems function. Perfect habits do not guarantee perfect functioning, but I want to do what I can to mitigate other risk factors.

Exercise

I exercise several days a week by combining strength training, cardio and stretching. I feel that I’ve gotten quite a bit slower/less intense in my workouts in the last year or two, in part due to a shoulder injury and in part due to changing my medications so that my heart races more when I am working out vigorously. Once I get to about 130-140 bpm, I feel that I am not getting enough oxygen and have a hard time maintaining my pace.

Prior to the workout videos I’ve been using for years, I never been able to maintain any set exercise schedule, so I am hesitant to try to make alterations to what I’m doing for fear I will end up not working out at all. I have fallen into the practice of working out right after I eat lunch and then writing my blog post. I wonder if writing before working out would give me more time to digest and would therefor lead me to be able to push myself farther.

Diet

I have an addiction to junk food (I mean addiction here just as seriously as someone might reference an addiction to an illegal substance) and lose control over my eating as soon as I have anything deep-fried or sugary. I have to abstain totally and eat only home-cooked foods to stay on track. I’ve failed at this for several months and have gained 10 lbs, so I am now at least 20 lbs overweight. I feel that this is affecting my ability to exercise. I get my bloodwork checked each summer, so I have some time to hopefully get things on track again. My glucose does not run too high, but my triglycerides and cholesterol are a little over the recommended maximum, which can definitely affect my cardiovascular health.

A particular aspect of my diet I’ve become more aware of in recent years related to my circulatory system is the ratio of water to salt that I’m ingesting. I have orthostatic hypotension when I get dehydrated, which means my pulse rates shoots up from the 50’s to the 120’s when I get out of bed in the morning and I sometimes pass out if I stand up too quickly. I’ve found that I have to constantly drink water as well as have a little salt if I had any IBS flares, as I get imbalanced more easily than I thought I would. I also have to be careful not to overdo it on salty foods as I find my blood pressure rising when I do so.

Stress management

My favorite story (regardless of whether it is true) about Type A people is that heart doctors first investigated the connection between heart health and personality after noticing all the seats in their clinic had the edges worn off because patients were so impatient to get to their appointments. I am extremely Type A by nature and it takes deliberate, conscious effort to override the seat-wearing setting at which my body naturally runs.

All the work I’ve done on my blog the last few months is a testament to my attempts at managing my stress. Simply spending time writing posts like today’s slow me down and allow me to think, feel or behave in ways that reduce my anxiety and reframe my experiences. I still react with intense emotions to stressors, but thoughts such as “this is only one part of my life” or “I will handle this and it will end” are more likely to pass through my mind than ever before.

I will say that I was surprised to learn that everyday stress does not have the same direct link to heart health as the rest of the habits I’ve listed on this post. This makes me feel so much better because I’ve always interpreted my problems with emotion regulation to be horrific for my physical health, but conceptualizing reducing them as helpful but not life-or-death (in this regard) makes me feel calmer.

substance use

I am proudest of myself in this arena as I have not drank any alcohol for over a year. I never had a full-blown alcohol addiction, but I’ve had times in my life when I got drunk every weekend. I gained a lot of weight when this went on and became pre-diabetic, which motivated me to make a change. I am alright at watching my caffeine levels; I definitely have pulse rate issues if I over-indulge.

Conclusion

In sum, my diet stands out as the place where I have the most room for improvement. I at least eat a varied diet, some vegetables and fewer carbs overall than I have in the past, but I am consuming significantly more calories than my body needs and am, at times, eating food that is lacking in nutritional value. For me personally, my weight tracks very closely with my bloodwork and my overall health, so I would like to lose some weight and improve my physical stamina for exercise. I have gained and lost more than an entire person’s body weight at this point in my life, so perhaps I need to look at it as entering a period of healthier behaviors rather than conquering my issues once and for all. What habits do you consider crucial to your heart health? How do you make sense of your behaviors in light of their effect on your cardiovascular health? What changes, if any, would you most like to make?

Carrying It All (Today’s Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I selected a card that focuses on meditation and relaxation for my feet. When I spent a few minutes thinking about this area of my body, the first word that came to mind was “work.” My feet are responsible for bearing much of the weight of my entire body as I walk. Their burden is heavy and I pay them far too little attention as a reward.

I’ve never tried a self-massage for my feet, so I found a massage resource and engaged in the techniques listed. I found the “sole rub” and “thumb circles” to be the ones that woke up my feet the most and made me feel as though they had been stretched and soothed. I was surprised to find that my ankles seemed to be carrying more tension than my feet.

I’ve sustained ankle and foot injuries over the years, and sometimes have aching in them, especially if they are in an awkward position when I sleep. I’m too quick at times to take an anti-inflammatory medication, rather than to slow down and check in with them with touch. I am grateful that I’ve been able to afford sturdy and high-quality footwear as I think that, as someone who is on my feet for my job, it makes a huge difference. What is your relationship like with your feet? What is your favorite way to pamper them?