Our Reptilian Brains

The human brain is brilliantly complex. Our species contains countless languages that allow us to communicate diversely among each other. We can think abstractly, feel a variety of emotions, and comprehend the rhythm in music along with millions of other amazing opportunities that our brains give us. But not everything is as it seems.

In certain situations, our brains switch into survival mode and a lot of our reactions are no longer because of deliberation and planning, but instead out of shear reaction.

This was the topic of conversation at work on Wednesday. My manager had been to a two day training about handling heated conversations and she was giving us a summary of what the training entailed. We talked about that switch from rational thinking to natural instincts that sometimes makes you say things that you don’t mean or react in ways you typically wouldn’t.

We also discussed perception and how much our perception of things affects how we interpret people’s words. When we are in the moment and emotionally charged, we can sometimes make assumptions about what people mean instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt and hearing them out.

When you are in a stressful situation, remember to take a step back, evaluate the situation removed from emotions, turn your reptilian brain off, take a deep breath, and communicate logically. It’s harder said than done, but being aware of when you might be misunderstanding or overreacting in a situation is the first step to better communication.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

 

Happy Birth Month

I spend most of my days (Monday through Friday) asking people to verify their birth dates to either give them test results, complete their appointment intake, discuss treatment options, or talk about anything confidential. Birthdays are bitter-sweet for many people. It’s a day to mark when our earthly journey began and to celebrate the lives we have lived so far along with the life we have yet to live. As you get older, birthdays sometimes become lackluster and lose their appeal. Many people decide not to celebrate them at all. I have always been a birthday enthusiast and celebrate the whole month of September as my “birth month”, but as I have gotten older (my last birthday in particular), I found it difficult to get excited about the day’s arrival.

When you are a kid, birthdays mean gifts, parties, and attention. When you reach the age of ten, you are finally “in the double digits”. Being a twelve year old means being a preteen. Thirteen is the beginning of teenage years. At sixteen you can get your driving permit. Being eighteen years old means that you are “officially an adult” and being twenty-one makes you legally able to drink and go to clubs (not that that has ever been my choice location to inhabit). But after that, birthdays kind of lose their meaning to some people. I have seen women worry about their 30th birthday approaching…and then their 40th. Working with women who are older than me means that I have heard all about “the change” that is menopause and any mid-life crisis that may arise. We focus so much on youth and beauty that sometimes it can be overwhelming to have your birthday as a reminder that your youth is slipping away.

Whenever I tell someone about my over-the-top celebration of my birthday, they are shocked and ask why. Let me tell you why…Because every year that I get to celebrate my birthday is another year that I made it out of this crazy whirlwind alive. It’s another year of love, laughter, happiness, tears, sadness, anger, frustration, heartbreak, excitement, growth, and so much more that I have accomplished. It’s another year of meeting new people, learning new things, and spending time with the people that I hold dearest to my heart. Sure, I am getting older, but why is that a bad thing? Some people aren’t lucky enough to ever make it to my age. I know that I almost didn’t. I could have been stuck as my sixteen or twenty-year-old self in the memories of those I have met, but instead I get to celebrate the life that I am so incredibly fortunate to live. I get to kiss my husband goodbye every morning, be frustrated and then in awe of my Mia puppy, pay bills for a house I call a home, and do my best to help the people around me. No, the sun doesn’t shine brightly every day, and yes, there may be rain clouds that curtain my perspective at times, but I am so grateful to be able to have those bad days because that means that I know what good days feel like too.

So this is my plea to you…please celebrate your birthday. Hell, celebrate your birth month, because life is too short to care about being older and too precious to not appreciate the little things. You have made it another year here on this planet and that’s worth celebrating.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Help Yourself to Help Others

Being busy can be a great thing, but it can also be a dangerous habit. I have always been a person who has a million things going on at one time. I love being busy, but it felt like I got to the point where my identity/self-worth was correlated to how busy I was. I didn’t have time to step back, take a deep breath, and enjoy life.

I’ve slowly cleared my plate of extracurricular activities because I am trying to focus on myself more and outside things less.

It’s been bittersweet. I have been incredibly grateful to have the time to work on myself, but I also feel empty at times. Over the years, I have learned to correlate my self-worth with how busy I am. If I’m not filling all of my time with productive activities, I tend to feel like I am wasting my time. This is something that I am working on in my life.

So let’s fast-forward to yesterday. I have been sick for over a week and yesterday it got worse. I ended up seeing a provider in my office at the end of my shift and was sent home. My stubborn self went back into work today just to be sent home when I get there. I was honestly uninterested in going home. I told my manager that I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t know what I would do all day and she reminded me that rest is sometimes just as important as productivity.

If we are going to be the best versions of ourselves, we need to know when it’s time to relax and rest. Our body and mind need that valuable time to recuperate (especially when we are sick) so we can give our best self out to the world.

Have you ever been on an airplane? Even if you haven’t, I’m sure you know about their safety speech that is given before each flight. In the event of issues with air pressure when in flight, oxygen masks are released. They tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping others because if you can’t breathe, you won’t be able to help others.

This is the same logic that they teach you for shooting situations at hospitals. They teach us that our firsts priority is to run out of the situation. If we are killed, we can’t help to treat the injured when the situation is diffused.

This is something that I have to work on. Sure, I was out of work for one day, but I wouldn’t have been incredibly productive today at work with how tired and short of breath I was feeling. Instead of ending up in the hospital and out of work for an extended period, I took one day to start recovery.

So take that sick day or mental health day if you need it. You can’t help others if you are not well yourself.

Oh, and being busy doesn’t equal being successful. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. You are strong, but you are also human and there are only so many hours in the day.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Outgoing Introvert

I always felt as if I didn’t fit into a category of introvert or extrovert. I thought that if I wasn’t one or the other – then what was I? It takes me a little while to figure people out and get comfortable with them, but once I know you and like you…you can’t get me to be quiet. I’m sarcastic and energetic, but can be analytical and calculating too. I don’t put myself out there to meet new people, but I do hold those that I know closely. Sometimes I am spunky and other times I’m reserved.

Recently I heard someone talking about a book that they read about parenting a spirited child. She said that the book outlined what it means to be an introvert versus an extrovert. This is the kicker: it’s not about how you are around other people, it’s about how you recharge yourself. That made complete sense to me. Some people find comfort and inner peace by being surrounded by other people while others need time to be alone.

This had me reflecting a lot on my life.  When I have had an overwhelming day, I don’t want to talk or be touched or be around other people – I want to have space to reflect on my day and boost my energy. Once I feel relaxed and recharged, I am ready to face what life has coming my way. And that’s okay. Oh, and it’s okay to be an extrovert too! And it’s okay to be a little bit of both.

Ultimately it’s not about fitting into a category and knowing your place in the world, but instead it’s about self-actualization and knowing yourself.

Do you know what makes you emotionally well? What helps you to recharge?

Take care of yourself and find what makes you happy.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

I’m a Pusher, Cady

Have you seen the movie “Mean Girls”? If not, where have you been the past ten years?! Do you remember the part where the teacher tells Cady that she is “a pusher” and wants Cady to do her best? (And then Cady turns the teachers words around to make it sound like she’s a drug dealer.) Anyway, I’m a pusher (but not a drug pusher). I always push myself to work harder, longer, and better. I expect myself to function at my peak performance from the time I wake up until I go to sleep. No pressure..

It’s great to have high expectations for yourself and to work to a high standard, but everyone has a limit and it’s important to recognize when you are reaching your limits and begin to stretch yourself too thin. The last few weeks have been incredibly tough for me with deaths in the family and trying to buy a house. The past week or so, I have realized that I am starting to feel emotionally and physically drained. I can feel myself reaching my limit and I worry that my mental health will be negatively affected. So what will I do? I have been trying to take a moment for a deep breath when I feel myself getting overwhelmed. I remind myself that this feeling is temporary and it will pass.

I was hoping to get a part time job on the weekends (my days off), but I am going to give myself grace and patience. I need to focus on taking care of myself right now while I am dealing with this stressful time in my life instead of trying to be the most productive person possible. If I don’t take care of myself, how am I supposed to take care of the people around me? If I am already stretched thin, how can I find more of myself to help others?

One of the most important things that I have learned in the past five years is to recognize when I am pushing myself too much and how to help myself. Sometimes it just takes a moment to close my eyes and take a deep breath, but sometimes it takes a few hours (or even a day) to let myself relax and do something that I enjoy to recharge my energy. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Just because you can’t see your emotions and stress doesn’t mean that those things don’t matter.

Stress affects everyone differently, but it has the potential to not only affect your mental well being, but also your physical health. When I was about fourteen years old I had some stomach issues. I went to a GI specialist and he found an ulcer in my stomach after completing an endoscopy. He said the ulcer was from stress and he was shocked that someone at my age had enough stress to affect my body in that way. Stress can make your hair fall out, give you a rash, elevate your blood pressure, lower your immune system,…just to name a few.

Start paying attention to your body and how certain situations affect you. Take a mental note when you feel frazzled and if you feel like you are emotionally unwell. Is there something you can do to alleviate the stress?

It’s okay to say no if you feel like you are stretching yourself too thin. Hell, it’s okay to say no just because you don’t want to do something.

Take care of yourself so you can take care of those around you.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Low-Sodium Diet

Today I want to talk with you about how a change in diet can improve your health. But first, I want to announce that I am going to be posting 3 times per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) instead of every day. Live has been so incredibly hectic and I want to focus on quality instead of quantity.

So, let’s talk about food. I feel like society treats food as a reward when really it’s fuel for our bodies. Think about it this way: we go out for meals with friends to socialize, holidays revolve around food, and people often use food for comfort. When I was focused on diet culture, it was hard to break away from the idea of treating my progress with food. I had to retrain my brain to look at food as a fuel source instead of a reward for a job-well-done. There are so many other great (and healthier) ways to treat ourselves including reading a new book, renting a movie, relaxing in the tub with a bath-bomb, painting my nails, face masking, or really anything else that I enjoy. Learning how to intuitively eat has been a game-changer for me.

Working in healthcare, I get the opportunity to meet a lot of people suffering from chronic conditions. Since switching from pediatrics to adult care, I realized that a huge epidemic in our country is hypertension (high blood pressure). I see entirely too many people each day that either have untreated high blood pressure or are on medications to help manage the condition. Some people will even need to be transferred to the hospital from our office because of hypertensive crisis. High blood pressure can lead to headaches, epistaxis (bloody noses), heart disease, stroke, and even death. If you have high blood pressure or think you might, I strongly suggest talking with your PCP (primary care physician) about diet changes that could help your condition.

Before we became vegetarian, my husband started to have pre-hypertension. We were monitoring his blood pressure (BP) regularly because of symptoms he was having and lo and behold, his BP was consistently elevated. This is when we finally made the change to become vegetarians and more health-conscious beings.

Not only did we stop eating meat, but we started reading the labels on foods we were buying. It was amazing (disgusting) to see how much unnecessary salt was added to the foods we were eating.

We decided to eat less pre-packaged foods. Salt is used to elongate the shelf life of products and, although it does a great job keeping foods preserved, it has a huge impact on people’s blood pressure. Making products homemade instead of purchasing from a store can help you limit your salt intake tremendously.

My cousin always added salt to every food he ate, but if you are trying to work on lowering your BP, ex-nay on the added salt-ay.

If you are craving a salty flavor, try salt-alternatives such as Bragg’s liquid aminos instead of soy sauce or vinegar instead of salad dressings. These are great options for a salty kick without a lot of sodium (if there is any at all).

After changing our diet to plant-based, my husband stopped having dizziness and headaches. His blood pressure decreased and it has been well controlled. Not everyone will have these results, but it is a great idea to talk with your doctor about controlling your hypertension with diet.

Take care of yourself.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Personal Journey to Mourning

I have written about grief before, but it now seems much more relevant than it had previously. So here we go down the rabbit hole.

2018 was a rough year for my family. It started with the death of my great-grandmother, “Grandma Rosey”, (my mother’s grandma). There was a lot of drama surrounding her declining health after she had a stroke several years ago which lead to my grandmother, “Grandma Ginny” (mom’s mom) not attending her own mother’s funeral. We all tried to convince her to go because we know she will regret it, but it was to no avail. I had just arrived to work when I received a message that Grandma Rosey had passed. I was set to go to the funeral, but at the last minute, I stayed home because a nurse I worked with made me feel full of guilt for planning to be out of work. This wasn’t one of my proudest moments.

Next my father’s dad, “Grandpa Fink”, was in the I.C.U. In my family’s fashion, I received a call at work telling me that he was on life support and that they were letting him die the following morning. I was a mess of guilt and sorrow. My dad’s family hasn’t been a part of my life for a long time because of an argument my father and I had ten years ago. When I went to visit him in the hospital, he was unable to communicate and seemed confused. He wasn’t actually on life support (confusion runs in the family I suppose), but he was in bad condition. He’s now in a nursing home instead of being at home taking care of my grandmother (his wife) who is unable to care for herself properly.

Then my Grandpa Pauly (mom’s dad) was admitted to the hospital for organ failure. An infection was taking over his body and he was dying. Luckily, after dozens of tests, procedures, and treatments (and a week in the hospital), he was discharged in stable condition. My Grandpa Pauly is someone I have always connected with and that was a really scary time for me.

After that, my Great-Grandma Burns (Dad’s grandmother) got sick while in the nursing home with Dementia. She is refusing medication treatments and is not well.

Her husband, my Great-Grandpa Burns, can no longer walk independently and uses a wheelchair often. My dad thinks that his time with us is limited too.

Lastly, my Step-Grandma Pat (my mom’s mother-in-law), passed away on the last day of the year. In her last days, she was but a hollow shell of the woman she once was.

This year has taught me so much about myself, but it has also taught me a lot about the people around me. How we perceive things and how we grieve are both very personal experiences. Some people grow stronger in times of stress. They throw aside their fears and do their best to hold up those around them. They take charge of the situation and work diligently to make those around them comforted. Others watch in silence. They disconnect themselves from the situation and view things from the outside – they shut down. Some people use humor as a coping mechanism. They will find comfort in making the people around them smile in the darkest moments. Others become angry at the world around them. They refuse to accept the situation that has been set in front of them.

There is no one “right way” to deal with death and dying. Over the past year I have felt strength, silence, humor, and anger in vulnerable situations. And that is okay.

Allow yourself and those around you to mourn in their own way. We each have our own path to take in the journey of healing.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

It’s in the Genes

The older I get, the more I realize that mental illness is something that a lot of people in my family struggle with. I’m not just saying “my family is weird” because honestly I think all families are in their own way, but there are a lot of diagnosed (and some undiagnosed) mental illnesses that have taken advantage of the people I love.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-in-five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Additionally, many studies find that having relatives with mental illness can put you at a higher risk for having a mental illness yourself.

Growing up, I always knew that my father’s mother was different than the other adults in my life. She has never been able to take care of herself and has always been socially inept. When I was a teenager and originally diagnosed with Dysthmia and generalized anxiety, the conversation started with my mom about my paternal grandmother. I eventually had the opportunity to ask my father about her medical issues and the only answer he had for me was “she is bat-sh** crazy.” Mental illness has never been understood or accepted on his side of the family.  He told me that she has mental illness, but he doesn’t know what diagnosis she has.

As I became an adult and was a part of “adult conversations”, I realized that other members of my family have O.C.D., generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and/or addiction. On one hand, I was relieved to find out that I was not the only one struggling with mental illnesses in my family. On the other hand, I was frightened that this is something I could pass down to my children in the future.

Realizing how much distress my mental illness has caused me and my family, I worried that my children won’t have a chance to escape it. Then I realized that although we each struggle with mental illness, our lives are still full of love and happiness. We still have opportunities, experiences, and achievements. Our lives still have meaning and they are worth living.

Mental illness is still a taboo for a lot of people, but it’s a common occurrence among adults and children alike. Chances are, there is someone(s) in your life that struggle with mental illness. Have an open mind and listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to understand (or like) what they say, but it is a very real thing to them and you should validate that. Accept their fears and support their journey to wellness.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Addictive Behaviors

Drinking coffee has become such a normalized thing in society. Some people can’t start their day without it. Friends gather at a cafe to drink a cup of joe and catch up with each other’s lives. When did this beverage become such a staple in our lives? Coffee contains caffeine (even decaf products contain trace amounts of caffeine) which is a stimulant. Your body actually becomes addicted to the substance and dependent on it to function correctly. I’m not judging; for years I consumed the drug (yes, you read that right, caffeine is considered a drug).

When I was younger, I used fat burning pills that were practically just capsules of caffeine. I would have tremors, hypoglycemia, nausea, and irritability, but I stupidly thought that a faster metabolism was more important. News flash, it crashed my metabolism in the long term – I feel like after I stopped taking them, I gained whatever weight I lost plus some.

When I switched from a second shift job to a first shift position, I started drinking coffee. This also caused issues with tremors and nausea. I would only drink one cup per day, but it still affected my body. When I first started my blog, I wrote about the episode of chest pain that I experienced. After that day, I was terrified to drink coffee and decided that it was time to quit. Boy-oh-boy, I did not realize how accustomed to caffeine my body had become. Once I stopped indulging, I started having horrible headaches. My head would be pounding all day and I felt incredibly grumpy. My body was detoxing from the caffeine and I went through withdrawals. My body is very sensitive (hence all of the medication allergies and the affects of caffeine), so I should really be cautious with what I put in my body.

When I stopped drinking coffee, I also limited my alcohol consumption drastically. I have never been a big drinker, but we would go out from time-to-time to a bar and indulge in a couple drinks. In the last two months I have only drank twice. I honestly shouldn’t be drink at all. I am happy to say that I haven’t even wanted to drink alcohol recently.

Addiction is an issue that many people in my family have struggled with, so I should be especially aware. Growing up, my father had an issue with drinking alcohol. It was a big strain on my parents’ marriage. Shortly after they separated, my mom met her now-husband who also had an issue with alcohol consumption. Both of my grandfathers had the same issue. So does one of my great-uncles. Let’s just say that I have a lot of not-so-great childhood memories that were due to alcoholism. I don’t think that addiction is specifically hereditary, but I do think that having addicts as closely related family members can increase someone’s likelihood of becoming an addict themselves.

Additionally, I think that some people are more susceptible to addictive behaviors. I guess you can say that I believe some people have “addictive personalities” and I’m one of them. I become obsessed with things easily. Whether it’s photography, crocheting, nicotine, coffee, sugar, food, running…I get hooked. I am an all-or-nothing kind of person and I realize that it’s something I will fight against my whole life. When I started photography, I devoted every free moment of my time to photo sessions, editing, and research. Exercise has been an addiction of mine on and off for years. I will go from not exercising at all to exercising every day. For a while, I was running three or more miles per day plus weight training several  days a week. The same thing happened when it came to eating – whether it was excessive food consumption or minimal food consumption (let’s save that for another post).

This year I have focused a lot of energy toward maintaining balance in my life. No more caffeine and no more nicotine. I have been enjoying the things that I love (food, photography, crocheting, writing, and reading) in moderation and without becoming obsessed.

Are you someone who struggles with obsessive and addictive behaviors? Balance is key to a happy and healthy lifestyle. You aren’t alone and you can do this. Take every day in stride and don’t be too hard on yourself when you have setbacks. Nobody is perfect and progress is all that matters.

Every day is a new opportunity to live a better life.

Love Always,

Elizabeth

Perfectly Imperfect

You would think that because I am an anxious person, I am great at dealing with other anxious people. On paper, I am. Through text, I am. In person, it’s often a train wreck. My anxiety builds off of their anxiety which builds from mine which…well, you get the point. Or we both have no idea what to say and its just awkward.

Speaking of building my emotions off of other people’s feelings, I have something really embarrassing to share. When I was younger, I thought that my over-sensitivity and anxiety was my “superpower”. I thought that deeply feeling the emotions of those around me was my Superwoman skill. I remember one instance in particular when we (my family and I) were driving by a group of people who were at a roadside memorial for someone who was recently killed in an automobile accident and I could feel their sorrow so deeply that it actually brought me to tears. I hadn’t experienced a loss in my life yet at that time, but somehow I felt their pain. I was amazed and scared at that point, but now I know that it was due to being a highly-emotional person. But what if it is also my superpower?

Empathy is one of my strengths and it is something that has guided me into a nursing career. What if we thought of some of our “flaws” (such as being overly sensitive and emotional) and twisted them into strengths (such as the ability to be empathetic)?

Why does being emotional always have to be a bad thing? Why does having anxiety always have to be a bad thing?

Having anxiety has saved my life at least once. In the fall after I graduated high school, I tried going to a university. The night before classes started, I went to an outdoor concert. I convinced the guy I was with at the time that we needed to start leaving two songs before the end of the concert. He fought me about it, but I said I needed to go and had a bad feeling about staying any longer. Long story short, we made it to the buses that drove us to the parking lot down the street. The buses never came back to get more people from the concert. Everyone else had to walk in the dark down the road and through the woods to the parking lot. Someone was hit by a car and died that night walking to the parking lot. I remember hearing the news a day later and how everyone who was left by the buses had to wait hours for the police and medics to clear the scene. That could have been me that night and if it weren’t for my anxiety and deciding to go with my gut, I would have been there when the tragedy occurred.

Maybe the things that set us apart aren’t all bad. Maybe those are the things that make us better at what we do and will protect us in certain situations. Sometimes you don’t have to understand why things are the way they are or why you are the way you are. Go with your instincts and try to put a positive spin on all things in your life. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it will make your life much more manageable.

You are perfectly imperfect.

Love Always,

Elizabeth