Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (224 consecutive days. Amygdala to the rescue)

When there are discrepancies between expectations and reality, all kinds of distress signals go off in the brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday ritual or more mundane habit like how you tie your shoes; if you can’t do it the way you normally do it, you’re biologically engineered to get upset. This in part explains people’s grief and longing for the routines that were the background melodies of their lives before the pandemic — and also their sense of unease as we enter a holiday season unlike any other. The good news is that much of what we miss about our routines and customs, and what makes them beneficial to us as a species, has more to do with their comforting regularity than the actual behaviors. The key to coping during this, or any, time of upheaval is to quickly establish new routines so that, even if the world is uncertain, there are still things you can count on…

Routines, rituals and habits arise from the primitive part of our brains telling us, “Keep doing what you’ve been doing, because you did it before, and you didn’t die.”

…So the unvarying way you shower and shave in the morning, how you always queue up for a latte before work and put your latte to the left of your laptop before checking your email are all essentially subconscious efforts to make your world more predictable, orderly and safe…

…Our brains are literally overburdened with all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Not only is there the seeming capriciousness of the virus, but we no longer have the routines that served as the familiar scaffolding of our lives. Things we had already figured out and relegated to the brain’s autopilot function — going to work, visiting the gym, taking the kids to school, meeting friends for dinner, grocery shopping — now require serious thought and risk analysis…

But it’s mundane routines that give us structure to help us pare things down and better navigate the world, which helps us make sense of things and feel that life has meaning…

The truth is that you cannot control what happens in life. But you can create a routine that gives your life a predictable rhythm and secure mooring….

— Kate Murphy, from “Pandemic-Proof Your Habits” (NY Times, November 28, 2020)


Note:

  • My Morning Walk to Cove Island Park. 224 days consecutive days.
  • Photo: Daybreak. December 13, 2020. 6:53 am. 47° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford CT

Hmmmmm….

Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom.

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Photo: Patty Maher, Light & Dark

T.G.I.F.: It’s Been A Long Week

Look away, America. For your own good, look away. Everything will still be there when you come back. Even once the vote counting’s done, there’ll be the recounting, and the tag-along lawsuits.

So take a walk, take a breath, take a break from the election drama unspooling at a pace better suited to a garden slug than an advanced nation’s sophisticated vote-counting system. So, psychologists say, maybe you should get off the smartphone, get back to work, and get some perspective…

“One of the things that happens with uncertainty is we often don’t think realistically about the outcome, and we tend to think catastrophically. So, you’re already thinking that if your candidate loses it’s going to be awful, it’s going to be unbearable, it’ll be disastrous,” said psychologist Shelley Carson. “We overestimate how this event — or any event — is going to affect our happiness in the future.” …

The year “2020 has been filled with many things, and uncertainty has been a major one,” said Sperling, who is also director of training and research at McLean Hospital’s Anxiety Mastery Program. “To have ongoing uncertainty with this election on top of all the uncertainty we’ve already had this year, I can imagine that being particularly trying. People are eager for results, some certainty, some knowledge of what’s going to happen.”

Sperling said worries about the unknown trigger the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls our fight-or-flight response and recruits internal resources such as the stress hormone cortisol. Under normal circumstances, this heightened response lasts only until the uncertainty is resolved, and the body returns to normal. During prolonged periods of uncertainty, however, the stress can wear us down…

“These are unprecedented times where there is a lot more at stake now,” Sperling said. “That may make this election feel bigger than they may have felt in the past. … There are so many big decisions that people may feel there’s a lot that’s important to them that’s at stake.”

Sperling suggested counteracting uncertainty by carving out times in our day for activities that are personally meaningful and that we control, whether it’s going for a walk, having a cup of coffee without interruption, or connecting with people who are supportive of us.

Carson said going for a walk not only breaks one’s focus on national events, it provides an exercise boost. She suggested deep breathing for two minutes, which has been shown to calm the autonomic nervous system. We can also try meditation or listing things for which we feel grateful, because anxiety and gratitude are incompatible, she said.

“The thing to do is step back from it. You have to quit hitting ‘refresh,’ ” Carson said. “You can distract yourself. … Go do something different. If you can put the phone down, that’s wonderful.”

—  Alvin Powell, from “Feeling election stress? Stop hitting ‘refresh’ in The Harvard Gazette (Nov 4, 2020)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

“One way or another, we’re all white-knuckling our way toward Tuesday. I’ve probably made too many impulse donations to candidates I believe in, but I regret none of them. My husband, son, and I have written letters and held signs. In our small town, we’ll don our masks and vote in person. Beyond that, my approach during these last days has been to stay outdoors as much as possible. I can’t control the outcome of anything that matters, but I can keep the birdfeeders full. I can sweep out the shed, rake up the leaves, and pull out the petunias. I can stay grounded in the simple, necessary tasks of my own life. And I can look at the sky, at the now bare maple tree, at the snow that covers the ground this morning in a frosting of white, and trust in the forces at work in the world that are far beyond my own limited seeing and my own narrow understanding. One day last week, I rounded the corner of the house pushing the wheelbarrow and was stopped in my tracks by the sight of fifty or sixty robins hopping about in the front yard, a gathering as uplifting to me as the determined crowd of citizens who have showed up downtown every Saturday all through the fall to stand in silent solidarity with Black Lives Matter, voting rights, and democracy. When we looked up from breakfast a few days ago to see a herd of deer just outside the window, they seemed almost like silent messengers sent to remind us that we share this time, this place, with others and that we’re all connected, for better and for worse.”

Katrina Kenison, from “Our Time” (October 31, 2020)


Notes: Image from Mennyfox

Workin’ WFH. With Yiyun Li.

WFH. (Work From Home). No shoes. No socks.  Chained to the desk. Lower back groans.

HBR: “The risk is substantial. The lines between work and non-work are blurring… (those) who feel “on” all the time are at a higher risk of burnout when working from home than if they were going to the office as usual.”

I pause for a few page turns of Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life:being caught by the mesh of one’s mind.”

Friday Night. 11:30 pm. Everyone in bed – but me. I’ve shifted positions, from desk to couch.  I’m clearing out a swollen email box. 214. 210. 198. 175. 143. 138. 117.  18 hours. Calls. Conference Calls. Conference Calls. Conference Calls.  110. 108. 106. 104. 101. 99.

Get up to stretch. Walk to the kitchen. Grab a ramekin. Scoop out 3 heaping tablespoons of Talenti, tamp it down, lean in on the spoon again, add another scoop.  Today, Talenti for late breakfast, for dinner, and again, now, at midnight. Mint Chocolate chip. Close eyes. Gelato slides down throat, soothing. The only thing that is.

88. 85. 84. 83. Losing focus. Re-reading same email 2x.  Replies are littered with spelling mistakes. Autocorrect, correcting incorrectly. F-** it. I send it anyway. Does it really matter. Lose. Loose. Lose.

81. 79. 64.

Back to Yiyun Li. “Even the most inconsistent person is consistently himself.”

63. 62. 59. 57. 56. 54. 53. Li: “Wanting nothing is as extreme as wanting everything.”

50. 47. 43. 41. Li: “Did we ever ask ourselves: Why are we so lonely, so proud, and so adamant about perfecting our pretense?”

40. 39. 38. 37. 34. 32. Li: “we are, unlike other species, capable of not only enlarging but also diminishing our precarious selves”

30. 29. 27. I’m closing in on clearing my cue, but like Sisyphus, the closer I get to zero, the steeper the hill seems to get.

26. 25. 24. 23. Neck aches. I mean aches.  I turn, twist to adjust my position. 23 left. Come on. Bring it home.

I stare at the remaining cue. And stare. And stare.

And quit.

I gently set my iPhone on night stand. Twist in the earbuds, skim to find Chill Playlist, and hit Play.  But Yiyun Li can’t help herself, and lip syncs over it.

…the worst kind of fidgeting is that of one’s mind…I wonder…—not that one has known…but that one knows…This ceaseless effort—

 


Notes: Photo – Shibari & Photo Geoffroy Tako Baud. Model Lafille Delair (via Newthom)

Walking Cross Town. With Woo Woo.

It’s a blank screen.

At the bottom of the iPhone, there’s a Start arrow symbol: >

Below the arrow, is a timer.

09:00.

My finger hovers over the arrow. Oh, for God sakes DK, it’s only 9 minutes. How difficult can this be?

P: “As we get started, settle yourself in a comfortable position.”  Her voice is soothing. Or seductive? Jesus, DK, focus.

The Pacifica app’s headline: “Reduce Stress. Feel Happier.” “Apple’s Best of 2017…psychologist designed tools for mindfulness meditation, relaxation, and mood/health tracking.” Only you DK, only You, can get anxious in front of a Meditation exercise designed to reduce the same. 

P: “Sit on a chair or a cushion on the floor…If you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes…” (Long Silence)

This pilgrimage isn’t to Mecca, not to the Wall in Jerusalem, and not with Him upstairs. But a prayer to the new God. My palms cradle my Smartphone, and the glowing screen feeds me.  I was off on the last leg of David Rome‘s journey: As we grow from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, eventually our most fundamental relationship becomes the inner relationship with ourselves. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 S. In a few breaths. In a few steps.

I’m medicated. Two doses of NyQuil overnight, followed by a single dose of DayQuil. Smooth gel tablets roll in my palms. FloatingIs this Nepo’s half-wakeful state? Is this place the other name for Heaven?  

Thursday. 7:30 am. Late jump. Traffic is flowing smoothly.

Head cold, congestion, body aches. Mucus draining in throat. What’s that smell of rot? Breath sweeter than a Honey Badger.

Day 3, no relief on horizon.

I tried to bow out of this speaking engagement earlier, you know, with that excuse of an important client meeting that conflicts on your calendar. Just couldn’t do it.

And to cancel now? At the last minute? Don’t feel well. Have the flu. Sorry. And leave them hanging with an empty 30 minute slot in a full day event planned months earlier.  No, no, no. A burden too heavy to carry.

So, I begged down the engagement and they agreed. I’ll take 30 minutes of Q&A “on any topic.”  [Read more…]

Line may not be steep enough…


Source: Jessica Hagy, Thisisindexed.com – Self-Medication for Anxiety.

Walking Cross-Town. With the lid popped off.

“Bring an umbrella. It’s going to rain.”  She follows the weather. She barks out the forecast. It will be 35 years in September, and I’ve found she’s right 50% of the time. And I remind her of the 50% on the wrong side. It keeps the wheels on the bus going round and round. I mumble under my breath: How hard can it rain? Do I really need to haul an umbrella around, another 1.5 pounds in my already overstuffed bag.

I take the umbrella.

It didn’t have to be this tight on time. It really didn’t.  I could have postponed an 8 a.m. conference call, taken the earlier train and given myself ample wiggle room to walk, to take an Uber or to catch a cab. I even thought about it, at length.  But no, No Sir. Why defer, when you can do it now, right now. Pack it tight, pack it in.  The Counselling Blog (I need it / I read it / I won’t admit it) shared a quote yesterday that was shared anonymously:  “I try to contain my crazy but the lid keeps popping off.” I get it. I do.

I have a 10:30 a.m. training session that I am leading with 20 colleagues. The train is scheduled to arrive at Grand Central at 9:59 a.m. It’s 10 minutes late, and it’s a 13-minute walk across town if you hit the street lights just right. Tight. Too tight for a guy who likes to arrive early, set up the room, sit and relax, and review my presentation notes.

I exit Grand Central Station. It’s raining. No. I mean, it’s Raining. Sheets. I stand under a covered area and look for Cabs. Are you kidding? Waiting for a Miracle. I pull up the Uber app and it says no availability for 12 minutes. I don’t have 12 minutes and it would take another 15-20 minutes to get across town in this traffic.

I pop open the umbrella. There are streams of rainwater rushing down the streets into the drains. Monsoon on Madison. Puddles are accumulating at the cross walks. The marble in front of the major hotels is smooth, gray and slick like ice. I need to slow my pace as the umbrella in my right hand is stretching me up, my overstuffed backpack in my left is pulling me down and my smooth, leather soled lace-ups are struggling to stay anchored to the concrete slabs – an off-kilter Rickshaw teetering on a single wheel. Treacherous. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. One Car Short.

Thursday morning.
33°F. Feels like 23°F.
Out the door at 4:50 am to catch the 5:01.

Dark.

Directly across the street: new Neighbors. Young and DINK.  First things first. No curtains up, yet bright, white lights were carefully hand strung and evenly distributed across their bushes. The evergreens throw shadows on the front door. I pause. What was that? That softening, that load lightening ever so slightly. ‘Tis the season.

I board train. No open seats. At 5:01 a.m.?  Conductor announces that the train is one car short and apologizes. $15.25 for a one-way Peak ticket to Grand Central (Yes, Peak at 5:01 am.)  $15.25 and you get the privilege of standing. And standing for 55 minutes. Sigh.

I stand in the aisle, as the vestibule overflows with commuters. I set my bag down between my legs, grab the seat support, being careful not to brush against the passenger sitting in the seat.  I hover over him. He feels it. Nobody likes this.

We’re five minutes into the commute. I’m restless. I’m tired. I’m anxious. I’m not going to make it. [Read more…]

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