Anxiety Advice

Recently, I shared my own mental health story with you guys. That was a difficult post to hit publish on, but I’m glad I did. Today I thought I’d share a few of the different methods I personally use to control my anxiety in particular. Most of these have the added benefit of helping with my depression and/or fibromyalgia, which makes them all win/win/win in my book!

yoga mat, Mindfulness in Plain English

1.  Diet & Exercise: Above and beyond anything else, changing my diet has made the biggest difference in the way I feel. I didn’t make any immediate or drastic changes, but rather I started with the small things – for example, I drink one caffeinated drink in the morning before switching to water or herbal tea for the rest of the day. Cutting out the excess caffeine cuts down on the anxiety and drinking more water keeps me better hydrated. Fun side note – I’ve discovered that no matter what’s wrong with me, drinking water helps 99% of the time. Turns out dehydration can cause all sorts  of chaos I’d never known about, but luckily I’ve discovered the secret to “drowning” it out – haha.

Exercise is the next best treatment. Let me be frank here, I hate exercising for a purpose. I don’t enjoy pushing my body to its limits, particularly if it’s just to meet some arbitrary social standard. I can, however, get behind the whole deal if it makes me feel better. So, I walk – a lot. I also start most mornings with 20-30 minutes of yoga. I hike on the weekends whenever possible. All of these gradually keep my body strong but also have the added benefit of soothing me mentally. You have to find those things you enjoy, that make you happier, that aren’t an even bigger challenge to you than the worry you’re trying to combat in the first place! The most important thing is to keep moving.

2. Meditation: Of everything on this list (with the exception of talk therapy), this is the one that’s hardest for me. If you suffer from anxiety/depression/etc., spending “quiet time” in your own mind seems like an oxymoron. There are all sorts of apps out there now that assist with meditation (the free version of Headspace is awesome by the way), but none of those are necessary. Do a bit of background research – there are all sorts of different ways to meditate. You can do the version that follows a voice (aka guided meditation; your breath (aka breathing meditation); a sound (like a gong, mantra, etc.); a candle / light of some sort; or any one of many other versions. You have to find what works for you!

I’m going to share a secret with you today that really helped me. When I first tried meditation, none of these worked for me. I was just too distracted and more often than not, I ended up more frustrated at the end of the 10 minutes than when I started. Then someone told me about an exercise that can help – a warm up if you will to prepare yourself for a more traditional form of meditation.

For 10-15 minutes a day, leave your phone in the other room, turn off the tv and any other electronic distractions, put your book down, find a quiet place free of interaction with any distraction, and just sit with yourself. Let the thoughts come, but don’t argue with them – just notice what they are. There will likely be boredom and a bit of panic, but sit through it.  If you can help it, don’t daydream or allow yourself to focus too long on any one topic – let your mind run the gamut. It’s an incredibly difficult exercise that often doesn’t feel as worthwhile as it is. You see, once you’ve done this often enough, you become familiar with yourself and the thoughts you might typically encounter. So when you venture into a more typical form of meditation, you know what to expect – the thoughts, the feelings, etc. – so there are less surprises. You’re better prepared to view them dispassionately and to just let them pass on a more subconscious level. it takes the pressure off and allows for a more relaxed meditative state. And there’s nothing quite so nice as a 10-minute break from yourself… (smile)

3.  Essential Oils: This one is my favorite. You can use essential oils in a number of ways – aromatically, topically, internally, etc. I will say that they do take a fair amount of research though. First you need to find a reputable place to buy them as they are not all created equal. I can make some recommendations, but the biggest things to look is where the oil comes from (not every plant on this earth should be grown in the U.S.) and it’s Latin name. These two indicators generally give you a good idea of quality. The ranking in the descriptions isn’t regulated, so it’s hard to depend on. And quality becomes a really important factor if you decide to use the oils topically or internally.

Aromatherapy is my personal favorite. I have a couple diffusers set throughout my home. Depending on how I feel, I mix and match the oils to get the effect I want. At first I didn’t believe this would work, but even in my darkest mood, certain smells can make me happy. Some days it even makes me a bit non-plussed at how well this works, but it does work, so I can’t really complain! Find what works for you and go with it – everyone has a different preference.

Topically and internally are a bit trickier for essential oils. It’s almost never a good idea to apply an oil directly to the skin or to put it on your tongue. In both cases the oils should be mixed. For topical application, a carrier oil (coconut, argon, grapeseed, etc.) is used to dilute the essential oil. Likewise for internal use the oil should be mixed with water, juice, etc. In both cases there are some oils that are just no go. For example, wintergreen is one of my favorite smells, but can be quiet poisonous if applied to the skin or taken internally (improperly, which it almost always is outside of candy, etc.). It’s really important to do your research.

4.  Vitamins / Supplements: Other than diet and exercise, I’ve noticed the most long-lasting and consistently positive results from taking a specialized cocktail of vitamins and supplements. The vitamins involved, the brands, the dosage, all of that has been a series of trial and error, but luckily my doctor was there to help me through it all. If I miss a day of any one of these I don’t immediately notice a difference, but I try not to miss more than one a week. It seems like vitamins and supplements really need to be taken consistently to be most effective. My blend comes from both my doctor’s recommendations and my own independent research. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the holistic journey, it’s how to research. (smile)

I will say that much like essential oils, this can be a tricky treatment option. In the U.S., vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated like prescription drugs. This means that products vary wildly and there are no consistent standards across brands. Furthermore, some vitamins can have negative interactions with prescription drugs. Allergic reactions can also occur. For all of these reasons and so many more, it’s incredibly important to discuss any vitamins or supplements you may consider taking. At the very least you should ensure that your doctor and pharmacist are aware of which ones you take regularly so they can warn you of any possible interactions. I’ve found both to also be good sources for finding reliable brands and for figuring out the proper dosage. And that brings up another point – most vitamins and supplements contain way more of an item than you may need. In some cases, taking the recommended dosage from the bottle can even lead to an overdose for your system! Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions of those in the know.

5.  Therapies – Talk & Massage: Of all these options, therapy of any sort is my least favorite. I’m uncomfortable talking about the cause of all these issues, especially in being pressed on ways to change the situation. I also get really tired of hearing the same advice over and over. I’ve studied enough psychology in school to know the basic techniques and frankly not only are the conversations uncomfortable, sometimes they can also be downright boring. It’s like repeating a conversation I’ve already had in my head a thousand times out loud – it can be frustrating. I also have a bad tendency to tell the person what they want to hear in order to avoid deeper conversation. Because of this tendency, this is usually one of my first confessions to the good doctor. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when they then later fail to realize this is what I’m doing. But that’s neither here nor there – the important point is to find someone you like. In order for talk therapy to be useful, you really have to connect with the person you’re talking to. My favorite therapist was someone who would totally call me on my BS – it perturbed me at first, but then I really grew to appreciate her style. Those sessions with her have been the most productive of any of them, and I always feel better after.

Massage therapy may be a bit of a surprise, as most people enjoy massage. I, however, don’t like to be touched – particularly by strangers. The idea of stripping down and having hands all over me does not, therefore, really rock my boat. However, must like the talk therapist, you just have to find someone you connect with. I still get really tense, but I’ve found that focusing the massage only on certain areas really helps relieve and limit the tension. Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about float therapy, where you float in a pod of saline water. I haven’t tried it – yet – but it’s definitely on my radar. I’ll let you know how that goes!
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You’ll notice that these are holistic options – that’s because drug therapy is so unique to each individual. I’m not a doctor and so I have zero basis for recommending any one drug over another. And in all cases, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about any therapy you wish to integrate into your treatment, particularly if it involves a major life change.

Anxiety Advice: A Holistic Approach to Dealing with Anxiety

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Life Lately: Something To Look Forward To

Well, here we are at the end of the third quarter staring down fall and my favorite 3 months of the year. Part of me is just as amazed as everyone else at how quickly this year has gone by, but mostly I’m just happy I survived another desert summer. For all those summer worshipers who hate me for saying yay to autumn know this – it has taken 7 years of perpetual summer to make me truly appreciate winter. Wherever I go next, there will be more seasonal variation than warm, hot, and head-in-the-oven hot. (smile)

Arizona Butte against cloudy sky

Things have been quiet around here because they haven’t been so quiet “in real life.” Work has hit new lows and the stress new highs. I’ve had to admit some hard truths, but I think the hardest has been that FM fog/fatigue is real. Sometimes that voice in the back of my head accuses me of using it as an excuse, but as this latest round has proven, that’s not the case. Usually I can coax myself out of bed and into the familiar morning routine fairly easily, and once I get moving I’m like the proverbial rolling stone on a smooth-ish hill. (smile) Lately, it’s felt more like pushing myself uphill the whole day, which is exhausting in and of itself.

At work, we’ve had 2 people leave in the last 2 months. If that doesn’t sound like much consider this: we have had an office of 8 people. In the last 5+ years prior to this round of departures, we’ve only had 1 other person leave. The fact that these 2 were our main admin people leaves a huge gap that someone has to fill. Normally these duties would be split between myself and another co-worker, but that co-worker was just diagnosed with and had surgery for breast cancer. With her out, I’m doing my job + the admin jobs + her job. It all equals out to chaos and long hours.

Oh and that co-worker, she just happens to be one of my best friends. She’s also one of the most genuine and positive people I’ve ever met. I know this isn’t a universal truth, but I’ve always wondered why it’s the good ones that seem to suffer the worst. Luckily, after the tumor was removed, we found out that it’s a very rare type of breast cancer that (miracle of miracles) is generally very successfully treatable and with a low recurrence rate. She’ll be in treatment for a while, but it shouldn’t be too bad. Certainly it won’t be as bad as it might’ve been. I’m not sure what the lesson was in this one; but I’ve been trying to be the positive for her that she’s always been for me. Amusingly enough, that takes way more effort than one might think – it’s clearly not my natural inclination. (smile)

Speaking of lessons, I keep having dreams about not having my homework assignments finished. Some people dream of being back in high school naked; I dream of forgetting that English essay that may or may not be due that day. Ha! I can only think this is somehow related to the studying I’ve been doing for my PMP. I’ll definitely be glad when the whole process is finished!

Arizona yellow flowers against butte

But the title of this post is something to look forward to – the future, not the past. The immediate future is one of hope, determination, and travel. The hope and determination are mostly to do with good health and finishing this damn PMP certification.

The travel, however, is pure fun. (smile) Next weekend I’m headed to California for my niece’s first birthday (!!!). Next month I’m headed to Morocco for a week-long photography tour (yep, it’s plane-tickets-booked official!). November will see my 83 year old grandmother flying to Phoenix so we can finally check the Grand Canyon off her bucket list (oh and my birthday!). Then it’s December; a time for family and gearing up to start a new year.

In between all those big occasions are the small moments that make up life. Outdoor happy hours and brunch dates with friends; turning the a/c off and opening the windows; hunting for fall foliage (it does exist here in AZ, you just have to find it); weekend hikes (now that I’m finally cleared to go again); and pumpkin-flavored baking. It will be a good fourth quarter indeed. (smile)

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Travel Tuesday: Salton Sea

Happy Tuesday everyone! I’m still recovering from the long weekend, but I just keep reminding myself that it’ll be a short week (smile). This month’s Travel Tuesday prompt is about “unexpected destinations.” I actively seek out the strange and lesser known destinations as often as possible. I’ve found that each of those destinations often come with their own lesson – some historical, others social. As I was driving back from California yesterday, I saw the signs for the Salton Sea and instantly knew that had to be my unexpected destination for today’s post!

The Salton Sea is a salt water “sea” located in southern California near the Coachella Valley. In the early 1900s, the California Development Company created a series of canals in the area in an effort to increase water flow into the area for farming. Due to an engineering error, the water fed to the canals overflowed for a period long enough to create the Salton Sea. With an estimated shoreline of approximately 130 miles, it is the largest lake in California. At 226 feet below sea level, it’s also one of the lowest points.

During the 1950s and ’60s, the Salton Sea was the place to be. Celebrities came to race boats or sun along the shores. Unfortunately, the Salton Sea has no outlet. It depends on rainwater and agricultural runoff for it’s survival, and it’s salinity increases every year. As of now, the salinity of the sea is greater than that of the nearby Pacific Ocean, but less than that of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This salinity makes the Salton Sea a less than hospitable environment for most fish and a walk along the shore these days involves more fish bones than sand.

I first heard of the Salton Sea when Anthony Bourdain made a stop on an episode of No Reservations. Once I saw the show I knew I had to go see this place for myself and I’m glad I did. When you first drive up to the lake, it looks like nothing short of a ghost town on a movie set – the buildings are falling into disrepair and there’s often no one in sight. The water, however, appears almost as a mirage – deep blue with the sun sparkling along the top and giant pelicans floating gently on the surface. It’s one of the eeriest places I’ve ever seen. Walking along the shoreline only confirmed this feeling – there were tiny fish skeletons everywhere! As it was late afternoon, my friend and I didn’t stay too long before heading out. We didn’t see another person during the entirety of the couple of hours we spent cautiously exploring the neighborhood. I think we were just waiting for someone to jump out with a chainsaw and yell “BOO!” (smile)

For all that it is a weird destination, the Salton Sea is also unexpectedly beautiful. It does take some quick mental adjustment to see that beauty once you spot/smell the dead fish, but it is there buried in the desolation. The area has a truly fascinating history and you can’t help but wonder how a place riding so high could fall into disrepute so quickly. There are talks now about how the Salton Sea could play a role in easing the drought plaguing the nearby farmers; perhaps it may yet see another 15 minutes in the limelight.

Personally, I plan on scheduling some time on my next leisurely California trip to stop in again and explore further. The Salton Sea has developed a reputation as the “crown jewel of avian biodiversity,” boasting over 400 species of birds. There’s also a state recreation area that I missed on this first journey. Despite the eeriness, there was also a pervasive peacefulness once you acclimated to the quiet. I also happen to know firsthand that it makes for a gorgeous location to watch a sunset (smile).

Have you ever heard of or been to the Salton Sea??


Come join Bonnie, Camila, Jessi, and Amy for even more fun!!

Travel Tuesday

 

May the Force be with Me: A FitBit Review

Last month, I set a personal goal to be more active. I have a desk job and don’t get out and about nearly as much as I would like or as I should (especially for this time of year). I’d seen various reviews online about these new-fangled devices that are essentially super-techy pedometers, and I admit they caught my attention. After a great deal of research and YouTube comparison videos, I finally decided on the FitBit Force. I’ve had the Force just over a month now and I definitely feel like I made the right decision. I love this little thing so much I just had to share with you guys!

FitBit, health, pedometer

FitBit Force 10K

Pros:

Size/weight: The Force is about the same size as a slim woman’s watch, or slightly wider than those breast cancer/WWJD bracelets everyone used to wear. It’s lighter than my watch and usually I forget it’s even on!

Dashboard: The dashboard is the interactive stats page that allows you to set goals, customize features, and track progress. I’ve found that both the webpage and the Android app are both incredibly user friendly. There are also community groups you can join if you’re so inclined. (You can friend me here!)

Watch and alarm: Speaking of watches, the Force, unlike the Flex and some other brands, has a watch feature. You simply hit the button on the side and the time pops up! You’re able to adjust the appearance of the time (to show seconds, etc) in your dashboard. So if you don’t want to wear a normal watch with the band, this is the perfect solution.

The Force also has a silent alarm which vibrates in the morning to wake you up. It’s not a harsh vibration, but it’s enough to wake me from a normal sleep. I can’t say how well it would work if I was super tired or if I’d taken a sleep aid, etc., but it’s a nice alternative to the usual buzzing alarm! On the down side, I haven’t quite figured out the snooze yet…

Tracking capabilities: The force tracks a number of things, including:

  • Steps taken
  • Stairs climbed
  • Distance traveled
  • Calories burned
  • Active minutes
  • Sleep

Each of these (other than sleep) can be viewed on the display itself. You just hit the button on the side and scroll through each one. It’s great for seeing your progress while you’re on the go. You can select which ones you see on your band in the dashboard features.

You can also use your dashboard or your phone to set your own goals for each of these categories (except sleep – that one is just a tracker). The default goals are a bit steep for the average cubicle worker as it starts out at 10,000 steps a day, which was a bit intimidating. I left the Force at the default settings for the first couple of days just to get an idea of how much I was moving, then chose reasonable goals based on that info. As the weeks have gone by, I’ve increased the goals in each category to challenge myself. So I’m working towards that 10,000 steps a day goal and I get daily motivation from accomplishing the goals in between (smile)!

If I didn’t already know how OCD/hell bent on efficiency I was before, this little bracelet has sure shown me my true colors. The first week or so I found it incredibly hard to be “less efficient” in order to get more steps in. I like carrying too much up the stairs rather than making multiple trips. Likewise I prefer to carry things around in bunches so that they can be placed properly as I go rather than walking back and forth. I’m not saying it’s not as bad now, but I did give in and start going to the park after work to get my time in. Nature and goal accomplishment – double win!!

Sleep tracker/Quality of sleep: I wanted to point out this feature separately. The Force tracks your sleep from the time you hold the button to initiate sleep until you wake up and hold the button again to stop it. Based on your movement during the night, it can then tell you how many minutes you were restless or how many minutes you were awake. This has been rather eye-opening for me personally. I wondered why I was so tired in the mornings and now I know! I suspect it’s the kitties that bump me around at night causing the restlessness. It’s been nice to be able to adjust my sleep accordingly so I’m sure to get a sufficient amount.

Battery life: The battery on the Force seems to last for approximately a week, perhaps a bit more. I check my stats throughout the day and record my sleep pretty much every night and haven’t had any problems with the battery. Your dashboard will alert you to your battery status so you know when to recharge.

Syncing/other apps interaction: Possibly one of the best features – and the reason I chose the Force (in addition to the display) – is the syncing capabilities. The band comes with a USB plug that you leave in your computer. Once the software is installed, the Force will automatically sync with your computer periodically as long as it’s within range. The Force also syncs via bluetooth with my Android phone. I noticed that quite a few of the other options only sync with iPhones, so this was a big bonus for me.

The Force also works really well with other fitness apps, especially those like MyFitnessPal (my personal favorite). I have my accounts linked and the FitBit automatically updates my exercise in the MyFitnessPal app. It’s nice to not have to do this manually and to see what a difference my new mobility makes (smile) in my day!

Cons:

Color Selection: The downside of the FitBit Force is that your style selection is fairly limited at the moment. While the Flex (the previous version) has changeable bands, the Force is pretty much limited to the color you order. At the moment your available choices are limited to blue and black. I currently have the blue and find that it blends well enough. Most people have just assumed that the band was a watch – works for me!

Clasp: The clasp is efficient once it’s on, but it’s a bit difficult to secure it. Perhaps this will get easier with time, but it’s a bit annoying when you do have to take it off.

Charging: You do have to remove the Force and plug it in via USB to charge it. It only takes approximately 20-30 minutes to fully charge, but you miss credit for any steps you take while you’re waiting. Plus, you have to deal with taking it off/putting it back on.

Accuracy: I’m not expecting perfection here, but I have noticed the Force isn’t 100% accurate. The largest issue I’ve found with accuracy is the stairs climbed. It measures “stairs” by altitude increase while walking, which means that if you’re hiking hills you can rack up “stairs” pretty quickly. But if you’re going up real stairs, it may or may not count them depending on how many/how steep they are. Kinda lame. As for steps taken, distance, etc., it does seem pretty accurate.

Exercises not tracked: Unfortunately the Force can’t track certain stationary activities – like spinning, rowing, or yoga. Those activities can be entered manually in the dashboard, but you’ll have to keep up with your time and intensity. Similarly, if you use a stairmaster the Force tracks your steps but not your floors or “stairs.”

Water resistant: Note the word resistant here – not water proof. I’ve read some reviews where people have worn the band in the shower or pool, but I’ve yet to try it. I’d hate to take any chances and have something go wrong! This is primarily annoying in that it means I have to take it off/put it back on every morning (see clasp rant).

So there you go! Overall, I would definitely recommend the Force to anyone looking for a great tracking device and/or motivation to get moving. I think it’s really opened my eyes to just how sedentary I’d become. The weight loss, etc. I consider just a bonus (but a super awesome one!)! (Smile)

Any questions? Do you have a tracker??

*Disclaimer: This is my own review. I haven’t been asked to write this or compensated in any way. I just love this thing that much!!

My Word (2014 edition) | HOPE

hope, inspiration, motivation, goals

My word for 2014

Hope strengthens, fear kills. There’s a particular series of books that carry this mantra throughout, and the first time I read it (every time I read it actually) I got chills. Usually that reaction is my best judgment of the truth in a word or phrase, and I’ve come back to this one over and again through the years.

You see, in the last year(s), I gave up hope (because really, I don’t think it’s something you lose) on quite a lot of things. Honestly, there are a multitude of reasons behind that, none of which I want to get into today. The truth for me, personally, is that I cannot live a life without hope. There are certain ideologies out there that suggest hope is at the root of all suffering, but in my life I have found that expectations are usually to blame and the two are not necessarily the same thing.

So this year my word is HOPE. I want to find the strength in that word and leave behind the negativity and the fear that kills my dreams. I’m the only one stopping myself from making changes and achieving goals. Like that Henry Ford quote says – “whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right,” – if I live in fear of failure then I never have a chance. My hope for 2014 is that my self-fulling prophecies are all positive, or at the very least, mostly positive (smile).

This little beauty is going on the wall by my desk to remind me to hope, even in my darkest moments (which usually happen at work), and of how much fun a little crafty creativity can be (smile).

hope, inspiration, motivation, goals

My new cube decoration 🙂

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Linking up with Melissa at the Nectar Collective for her new and inspiring Creative Collective linkup. Be sure to check it out and join the fun!

The Creative Collective

Anywhere But Here

Have you ever had that nagging feeling that you want/need/must go somewhere/anywhere and that if you don’t you just might have one of these moments:


I call it the “anywhere-but-here” syndrome. And I, ladies and gentlemen, have it bad. I always have. I can say that there have been brief periods of remission, but then just as I get somewhat content in where I am, it flares up again and I feel like my wanderlust is ruling my life. Even as a child I had a wandering heart; I dreamed of the day I would be able to be wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. Oh the joys and naiveté of youth…

Huntington Beach, California, Sunset, Ocean

Usually I can keep it at bay through small changes – a new apartment, a weekend trip, a bigger trip. I completed all of the above last year and barely made it through the year. This anywhere-but-here flare has hit with a vengeance.

I have been based in Phoenix, Arizona for 5 ½ years now – longer than I have stayed in any one place since I left my dad’s house. I really loved it when I first got here, and it’s not that I don’t love this city now. But like any relationship, sometimes love runs its course and although I love Phoenix, I’m not in love with Phoenix anymore. The anywhere-but-here has crept back into my thoughts as it usually does – gradually then suddenly.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Sunset

The problem? Life is so much harder to uproot these days – I have a lease, a job, friends, and a few people I seriously consider family.  I have loans that must be paid and responsibilities that must be handled. The thing about anywhere-but-here is that after a while I don’t care about any of these things. All things can be shifted around to accommodate change. I don’t know if that’s a good lesson to have learned, at least not in relation to this particular issue.

The tempering factor this time around revolves mostly around fear. Fear of the consequences (which I have learned all too well during previous moves) and fear that if I can’t make something this stable work, I’ll never find peace no matter where I go. If I move now, it will be one of the most difficult breaks I’ve ever had to deal with – but I’m beginning to care less and less. Change is coming, for better or for worse, and I grow increasingly excited about the possibilities (smile).

Scotland, Sunset, Tree

Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! The call of the sky!

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh! The call of a bird!

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun,
And the white road and the sky.

~Gerald Gould

Scuba Diving Success

One of the coolest things I accomplished last year was getting my scuba certification. When you consider that one of my biggest fears – other than spiders – is water, it’s nothing short of miraculous that I not only got my cert, but I’ve used it!!

I can’t really explain the rationale behind my fear of water because frankly there is nothing rational about it. As long as I can remember I’ve suffered from this fear. I could literally scare myself out of a bubble bath if I allowed myself to think about it too much, nevermind larger bodies of water (including swimming pools). The true irony is that until I moved to Arizona, I always lived in relatively close proximity to an ocean, gulf, or major lake but never fully took advantage of any of them. It took moving to the desert (and extreme heat I might add) for me to begin to appreciate how much fun the water can actually be!

It’s not that I can’t swim – after 10+ years of swim class I can pretty much do it all; and I float like a champ! I just couldn’t stay out of my own head long enough to enjoy water activities. This has annoyed me for years, and given all the water-based activities here in Phoenix (yeah, I know that sounds wrong somehow), I knew I had to find a way to overcome this fear.

When an opportunity came up late last summer to get my scuba certification, I took every ounce of caution, flung it out the window, and signed up. I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend my dive master for a beginner…he had a certain lack of patience which I found somewhat unhelpful. That said, he seemed to like me and did his best to push me to find new limits. I suppose in the end, it worked! I’ve been diving a handful of times since I got my official certification, although only in fresh water (aka lakes). One of my goals for 2014 is to venture out into salt water, so we’ve been discussing various options (it’s also a great excuse for a vacation – double win!). For someone who refuses to get in the ocean past mid-thigh, I’m oddly excited about the opportunity to be 60 feet under…

While I am a long way from having an underwater comfort zone, I have found that being in the water and being able to see what’s around me is infinitely less scary than being up top and vulnerable. I find that, like so many scary situations in life, removing the unknown helps in removing the fear. Perhaps that “unknown” has been my problem all along? The true test will come this summer (smile)!

scuba, dive, flag, emblem

If you’re interested in getting scuba certified, I strongly recommend you find an in-person class. There are online versions available for the first portion, but having someone in front of you to explain things is truly invaluable. Chances are there’s a dive shop in your area, no matter where you live (there’s a huge dive community here in Arizona of all places!). If not, a lot of resorts in tropical locations do offer scuba certification, but be forewarned that it’s a multi-day process. There’s a book to read, a calculator to learn, and a serious test – and that’s before you even get in the water! You do have to be able to swim a certain distance and tread water/float for a certain amount of time but neither requirement is too taxing.

The next step is your practical experience – a hand’s on learning of all the gadgets and gear that you’ve been reading about forever, which is generally done in a swimming pool for safety reasons. Your dive instructor will go over a series of basic skills you’ll need, and then you demonstrate your new skills until you have them down. Some instructors will do the pool-side skills in one day, some in multiple days.


After you’re comfortable in the pool, you must do an open-water dive – either in freshwater or saltwater, depending on your location. You’ll do a series of dives to demonstrate all of your fancy new skills, and if your instructor feels you have it down, you fill out all of the paperwork and you get a nice little “scuba certified” card in the mail a few weeks later. You’ll need this card to rent any scuba gear and sometimes to even buy certain gear. It’s a lifetime certification, but refresher courses are recommended if you have a prolonged period of time between dives. It’s also recognized internationally.

scuba, diving, diver, certification, open water

Proud Open Water Diver (maybe more later)

Once you’ve gotten your basic open water scuba certification, the sky’s the limit on additional certification courses – emergency response, photography, deep water, cavern, etc. Some of these, such as cavern diving certification, are required before venturing into any area where the water is not “open” around you. Considering all of the horror stories out there about inexperienced divers not coming back from a cave dive (like this one that just happened over Christmas), the extra time it takes to get this certification is well worth it.

There are also several internationally recognized groups for diving certifications. I went with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course, which seems to be one of the more popular options. Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list of diver certification organizations from around the world here.

For anyone concerned about buying a ton of equipment for something you may never do again, there’s this amazing thing called equipment rental (smile). For the most part, it’s recommended that you do buy a mask, snorkel, and fins (all of which are pretty customized to you), but it’s not necessary. If you do buy these items, you’ll be set to snorkel, even if you don’t dive. The rest of the equipment can be collected (and customized/color-coordinated) as you go.

Diving at depths does put your body under a lot of pressure, something  you have to take special care with and play by the rules. But I’ve found that it’s not really claustrophobic underwater. On the contrary, scuba diving opens up whole new worlds! As long as you have a good dive buddy and a solid amount of common sense, the bottom’s the limit (smile)!

Do you dive or snorkel? Have you ever purposefully done something out of your comfort zone to conquer a fear??

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

This week’s photo challenge is about beginnings. So this should probably be a post about something deep and meaningful to start off the new year, but that’s not really what inspired me when I was browsing through photos this morning. Maybe it’s just because it’s Friday and I’m looking forward to the weekend, but what really tickled my fancy were these photos of the beginnings of making Scotch Whisky (smile).

Photo 1: Barley

This barley was being brought over to the Isle of Islay to begin its transformation into the “water of life.”

Barley, scotch, Islay, Port Ellen, Scotland

Barley being unloaded on the Isle of Islay, Scotland

Photo 2: Casks

After the barley has gone through the process of becoming spirits, it’s placed in casks to be held in special warehouses for no less than 3 years and 1 day (to be official Scotch whisky). So for these barrels, they’re only beginning to live up to their rich, full, peaty potential (smile).

casks, barrels, scotch, whisky, Islay, Scotland

Casks: Spirits into Scotch

I think I’ll be having myself a wee dram when I make it home today (smile). And I’ll definitely be posting a full distillery photo tour soon! Slàinte!

Motivational Pondering | November Update

As a disclaimer, this post probably interests me much more than you. I won’t be offended at all if you skip it. I will say, however, that there is a very pretty picture at the end that makes it worth scrolling down. Please come back tomorrow when we’re back off topic (smile)!

Okay, so it’s technically December (and btw can I just say OMG how is it Dec already?!), but my internet has been out and I couldn’t post this until today. I’ve debated about posting this at all versus something more fun (like trip photos *ahem*), but I feel like I need to somehow keep myself accountable. So here goes…

A month or so ago, I wrote a lament on my lack of motivation. Somewhere in there I realized how whiny I sounded and after a mental smack I decided to stop the whining and set some goals to actually move forward! November was a pretty exciting and busy month, but I feel I’ve made a little progress – and something’s almost always better than nothing, right?

1. Find something satisfying in every day.

There were certainly days when this was hard – difficult – challenging – painful even. But on the whole I think I managed. Obviously the vacation days were much easier than the days spent at work, but looking back I think I am most proud of myself for pushing through on those painful days.

2. Remember to be grateful for each experience, be it big or small.

Yeah, so I’m just going to go ahead and admit to a slight fail on this one. There are things that happened last month that still just irritate me. I haven’t found my way around my irritation yet, but I have hope for the future. The other half of the month, well let’s just say it went a long way in reminding me of why my life really is pretty awesome (smile).

3. Cut back on the daydreaming and be more present in each daily scenario.

Okay, so it’s a work in progress…

4. Create a thought board with my bigger goals made by smaller pictures to remind myself that this is how we create our worlds.

I haven’t actually started on this one yet, beyond thinking of the direction I want to go in. I almost want to wait until January for this one, but we shall see.

5. Take one small task that I’ve been trying to turn into a habit and do it.

Yeah, just not even close. Unless I can claim #1 here, in which case I have a maybe. I’ll take it!

6. Begin researching opportunities for changing my bigger picture

Researching? No. But I did re-find my motivation this month – and really that’s most of my battle!

7. Focus on an area of my life I want to change and begin the steps of pursuit.

See #6.

8. Find activities to participate in that take place during the week.

To Do

9. Put dates on my To Do list and stick with them.

I have made great progress on this one actually and I’m pretty proud of myself. Maybe next month this one can go under #5 as well (smile)!

10. Breathe deep and let it be.

Sunset, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Sunset, Isle of Skye

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Dealing with Difficult People

Have you ever had one of those super difficult, refuses-to-agree-on-principle, know-everything kind of people cross your path? They seem to be popping up all over the place in my professional life lately. I understand that there is inevitably at least one person at the office that drives you nuts – and difficult clients aren’t exactly a rarity – so who am I to expect peace all the time? I realize that’s unrealistic. However, I refuse to believe that either coworkers or clients should have the ability to make life miserable on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time. It just doesn’t make for a happy life. For this and a few other reasons, I’m currently looking into new career options, but I’m going to leave that for a different post. Today, I want to talk about how to deal with difficult people in the work place. I do this in hopes of reminding myself that it can be done and also for any of you my dear readers who are likewise dealing with difficult people in your life.

I’ve done quite a bit of research into various methods of dealing with difficult people (especially on the worst days), and the general consensus seems to recommend some version of the following:

  • Keep Calm. It’s hard not to go with the immediate knee-jerk reaction when we feel attacked in some way. Even if I don’t necessarily say what I’m thinking, I’m pretty sure my face usually does. I’m not normally quick to anger, but over a prolonged period of time those feelings do tend to build up and simmer. The thing about simmering is that it’s not that far from a boil – it only takes a little heat to burn the dish. I do my best to just walk away when I’m particularly annoyed about something. I go out to lunch, run an errand, walk around the building, cry in the bathroom, whatever it takes to get the immediate emotions out of the way so that I can think rationally and handle the situation more calmly. It’s certainly not easy, but luckily I simmer down pretty quickly if (and this is key) I’m allowed the necessary time to do so.
  • Don’t ignore the person. This is one of the most difficult things for me to do. I tend to ignore and/or avoid problem people at all costs. I just don’t see the need to keep unnecessary drama in my daily routine. That said, I’ve now reached a point with two separate people where interaction is inevitable. The “experts” say that ignoring difficult people tends to make them worse, as they feel they have to act out even more to find the attention/justification that they seek. Dealing with an unavoidable issue head on also ensures that tensions aren’t left to build up and explode at an inopportune moment (which makes that whole keep calm thing that much harder).Benjamin Franklin
  • Listen. If you have to deal with someone, listening is usually the best first step. Often there is a reason that difficult people act the way they do, whether it’s something in their personal life or professional stress. Actively listening to their concerns (justified or not) with a calm and open mind can give invaluable perspective into the person and the best method for dealing with a problem situation. Active listening means that you are actually listening to the other person and not plotting your response the entire time they are speaking. Let the other person get it all out. Then begin your response by giving your summation of their thoughts – “so what I heard you say is that you feel/think/believe/etc…” This lets the other person know that you have heard them and that you consider what you are about to say relevant to their feelings. Sometimes being heard is really all it takes to make everyone feel better.
  • Don’t stay silent and don’t agree just to appease. I am a people pleaser. I quickly learned growing up that if I just told the other person what they wanted to hear, I could still do whatever I wanted anyway. I’m not saying this is right, it was just a habit. Sometimes I still fall into this habit in order to avoid the conflict – especially if it’s an issue I don’t feel worthy of confrontation. I also use silence as a tool to annoy those that annoy me. Difficult people tend to also be vocal people who crave a response. I’ve found that silence often annoys people more than anything you can say to them. Sometimes, depending on the situation, this is a valid and useful tactic. Most of the time, however, it doesn’t move the issue towards any kind of resolution. You are entitled to an opinion just the same as any other person involved in the situation. Remaining silent or agreeing just to avoid conflict allows resentments to grow, which will still have to be dealt with later. Better that everyone knows where you truly stand on the issue (stated in a calm and respectful argument) so that compromise can be found sooner than later.Quote
  • Problem solving. One of my pet peeves is the “blamers.” You know, those people that want to blame whatever on whomever and just won’t let it go? If I make a mistake, I am the first one to apologize. Everyone makes mistakes. If something goes awry, I want the responsible person(s) to assess the situation, own up to the mistake, apologize, and then help me fix it. I take no satisfaction in making someone feel bad about an honest mistake. If they can recognize the mistake and assist in fixing it, chances are they’ll learn from it – and isn’t that really the point? Forcing me to continuously apologize for something by repeated reminders only makes me feel untrusted and resentful. Not happy feelings. I make a concerted effort to keep this in mind as a supervisor, so it makes it especially hard for me to respect people who can’t do the same.
  • Pick your battles. This is perhaps the hardest piece of advice to master. What I consider a big deal may not even be on someone else’s radar and vice versa. Taking time out of my day to deal with something I don’t consider a big deal is not easy for me, especially if the other person is more interested in blaming than problem solving. I likewise have to assess my level of annoyance to determine whether I want to address something I feel is a big deal where the other person might not agree. It all goes back to the very first bullet – keep calm. Usually if I can escape long enough to clear my head, I have a good idea of whether or not the battle is worthwhile. Sometimes even when I feel it is, I can clear my mind enough to see that dealing with it later once everyone has had time to gather perspective is the better way to go. It’s certainly not easy, but it’s definitely necessary.

John Steinbeck quote

Great words of wisdom, right? I hope I can reread my words on the particularly bad days (and especially in the next couple of weeks) and remember to take my own advice!

What about you – do you have a difficult person in your life? How do you deal with them? Tips & Tricks are always welcome!! (smile)