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On Mindfulness & Anxiety

Before I dive into today’s essay, I have news to share with you. In March, I’m teaching my online journaling course: Write to Flourish: A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling. Class ‪begins on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. I hope you’ll join us! You can register here.

Photography by Tammy Strobel

With that, let’s dive into today’s essay …

Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt anxious because I’ve been worried about work, politics, and world events. The anxiety ball in the pit of my stomach led me down a road of self-doubt that soured my work, mood, and well-being. However, I didn’t ignore my feelings or the signals my body was giving me.

In my early twenties, I would have tried to numb my anxiety with alcohol or sugary treats. That isn’t how I cope anymore. Whenever I feel anxious or overly worried, I revisit my core mindfulness practices because I can’t let anxiety consume my personal life or work. If I do, I’ll get sick, and that won’t help me, my family, colleagues, or the causes I support.

Below are six steps I commonly use to reduce my anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, I hope these ideas inspire you to take action.

Let’s get started!

1. Consume media mindfully. Before I simplified my life, I spent hours each day watching television. Back then, I ditched my television because I wasn’t using it mindfully and pursued other interests (like reading, swimming, hanging out with friends, and more). I don’t watch much television anymore; however, I spend a lot of time online. I work online, read the news online, hang out on Instagram, and more. I love the Internet, but like TV, spending too much time online isn’t good for my health.

Consuming media mindfully—whether it’s television or social media—continues to be an area that I revisit. Over the last few months, I’ve scaled back on social media. For example, I don’t use my personal Facebook account, and I’m only following one person on Twitter. Instagram is my favorite social media platform, and that’s where I spend my fun social media hours.

I’m also following Arianna Huffington’s advice and stepping out of “the cycle of outrage in a Trump world.” I’m taking care of myself first, so I can help others.

2. Cultivate strength. In February 2016, I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and arthritis in my lower back. Both of these issues—along with disabling back pain—woke me up. I thought my self-care practices were good and that I was building strength, but my body was telling me a different story. Since my diagnosis, I’ve taken small action steps each day to regain my health.

One of those action steps included walking into CrossFit Northern Limits in mid-September 2016. At that time, I didn’t think I’d be able to do CrossFit because of my back issues. I was wrong. Today, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.

When I’m doing CrossFit, I’m fully engaged in the movements. My focus is on form and getting through the workout. I’m not thinking about my business, career transitions, relationships, or the many annoying and mundane worries that infiltrate my mind every day. I’m excited to see where CrossFit will take me this year. Building strength is extremely important to me because I see my body as a holistic system. I want to be strong, not skinny.

3. Cook real food. Y’all, I’m obsessed with cooking. Trying new recipes is a great way to unplug from the Internet. If this writing/photography thing doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll go to culinary school and become a kitchen ninja (kidding, not kidding). In all seriousness, since January 1, 2017, I’ve been creating a weekly meal plan and preparing food in advance. As a bonus, we’re saving money on groceries, and I’m not running to the store constantly.

I’ve cooked a lot of yummy meals this month, and here’s a list of my favorites:

  • Quinoa Breakfast Bowl (with fruit, peanut butter, and a scoop of protein powder)
  • Egg & Sweet Potato Breakfast Casserole
  • Rice noodles, stir-fried vegetables, and Romano cheese
  • Homemade chia pudding (recipe found in The Telomere Effect)
  • Chicken, steamed broccoli, and coconut rice

The non-linked recipes above were given to me by my coach. If you’re interested in making one of the non-linked dishes above, Google the topic. You’ll probably discover a plethora of yummy recipes to try making. Moving forward, I’ll be cooking up vegan and paleo dishes in my kitchen.

I want to experiment with a variety of recipes because it’s fun and the type of food I put into my body has a huge impact on my daily routine. If I’m eating processed foods, I feel terrible. If I eat real food, I feel like a badass, mindful human.

4. Revisit your routines. My morning and evening routine are two rituals that are extremely important to me because they help me stay grounded. For example, over the past five years, my morning routine has been fairly consistent. I get up early, make coffee, sing to my cats, journal, take my daily photo, and then I start my workday.

After I read The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington I modified my evening routine to prioritize restful sleep. Currently, I end my work day at 4.30 or 5:00 p.m. and make a homemade dinner. Over dinner, Logan and I chat about our day, and what we learned. From there, I read a book, snuggle with the cats, listen to music, and sometimes take a bath.

5. Change your work routine. As a self-employed teacher, writer, and photographer, I tend to work too much and that needs to change. For the past few years, Logan has encouraged me to set firm work hours and not to work on the weekends. I finally decided to follow Logan’s advice. I’m not going to work on the weekends (even if it’s “just for a few hours”), and my phone is no longer following me into the bedroom at night. Powering down by 4.30 or ‪5:00 p.m. every day and making time to rest on the weekends is refreshing, and it has been sparking creative ideas.

6. Savor tiny pleasures. I started February oscillating between hope and despair because of politics. Instead of ruminating, I decided to take action, voice my views, and focus on creative projects. For example, I created a photography challenge called A Month of Tiny Pleasures. Throughout February, I’ve been capturing tiny pleasures every day with my camera. In addition, I’ve been journaling about the tiny pleasures I’ve experienced. It’s a simple, creative exercise that’s helped me focus on gratitude and mindfulness in my daily life.

***

Everything is interdependent and that’s why I come back to my mindfulness practices; especially when I feel anxious, worried, or stressed.

With gratitude,
Tammy

What is your cellular legacy?

Photo by Tammy Strobel

“What is your cellular legacy? Each of us has a time-limited opportunity to leave a legacy. Just as your body is a community of individual but mutually dependent cells, we are a world of interdependent people. We all have an impact on the world, whether we realize it or not. Large changes, such as implementing policies for societal stress reduction, are vital. Small changes are important, too. How we interact with other people shapes their feelings and sense of trust. Every day, each of us has the chance to positively influence the life of another person.”

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer
Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD & Elissa Epel, PhD

I’m sharing this quote with you because it was a message I needed to hear and it inspired me. I hope Blackburn and Epel’s words inspire you, too. If you’re looking for a good read, I highly recommend The Telomere Effect.

In other news, I’m teaching my online journaling course—Write to Flourish: A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling—in March. I hope you’ll join us. Course details here.

I’ll be back next week with a long essay about mindfulness and anxiety. Make it a great weekend!

With gratitude,
Tammy

Winter Vibes

Photo by Tammy Strobel

Today, I have a photo round-up to share with you! If you’re reading this via email or in a feed reader, visit RowdyKittens.com to view my photo gallery.

And, in case you missed it …

During February, I’ll be savoring a tiny pleasure every day. In addition, I’ll be documenting tiny pleasures with my camera. I invite you to join me.

With gratitude,
Tammy

On Politics, Silence & Speaking Your Mind

Photo by Tammy Strobel. Quote by Paul Jarvis.

When I was in high school, I identified as a Republican. Looking back, this strikes me as odd because I didn’t know why I was a Republican. I didn’t understand the party platform or the core values promoted by conservatives. My parents were Republicans, though, and I did a good job of parroting their views.

Also, whenever I walked into my dad’s shop, I’d find my dad puttering around with Rush Limbaugh’s voice running in the background on the radio. By the time I left for college, Limbaugh’s voice and ideas became more and more grating to my ears. But I didn’t have the words—or understanding of public policy—to identify why. When I was eighteen, I remember feeling that Limbaugh wasn’t a very kind or compassionate human.

During my first year of college, I began to question my political viewpoints and perspective. Calling myself a Republican didn’t feel right because I didn’t truly understand what “conservative values” meant. The more I learned about history, politics, and policy, the more I questioned the value system I embraced in high school.

I took my first women’s studies course at CSU, Chico from Dr. Moon Jee Yoo-Madrigal. Her research, teachings, and mentorship led me to feminism, volunteer work at a rape crisis center, writing, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I took all of Dr. Madrigal’s courses because she was an outstanding teacher, and it was the first time I felt connected to history. The coursework wasn’t solely focused on learning about dead white men. Instead, we dived into what women contributed to history, and I learned about all the ism’s (like sexism, racism, classism, ageism, and more).

As my first course with Dr. Madrigal came to a close, I remember feeling angry, as if the wool had been pulled over my eyes. I’d walk to class and ask myself questions like:

Why didn’t we learn about “ism’s” in high school? And why didn’t I learn about Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Sojourner Truth, or Gloria Steinem, or the many other women who were absent from textbooks? 

Attending classes, in addition to reading, writing, and listening, helped me clarify my value system. I stopped identifying as a Republican and started calling myself a Democrat.

***

I graduated from CSU, Chico in 2003 with a job in the investment management industry. I felt grateful to have the job, yet I had my doubts about the position. I should have listened to my instinct because I resigned from the job one year after I started working in the industry. I was drinking too much wine and shopping for stuff I didn’t need, all to fill a void of deep unhappiness.

I felt like a fake in the investment management industry; that I couldn’t voice my feminist views without a huge fall-out. Instead of remaining silent, I took a risk, went back to graduate school for a second master’s degree in Education and Women’s Studies, and started working in the non-profit sector.

During this time, I worked odd jobs and spent time volunteering at a rape crisis center in Sacramento, CA. By 2004, I landed my first paying job in the field of victim advocacy. The pay was very low, but I felt good about my transition away from the investment management sector to victim advocacy. I worked at a local rape crisis and domestic violence center, and I felt like I was actually helping women and children.

I felt incredibly lucky because I was working with a wide range of people from different cultural backgrounds, in addition to professionals in our community (like police officers, district attorneys, and professionals from other non-profit organizations). My job helped me learn how to listen, be empathetic, and see that politicians—on both the left and right—cared about ending violence against women and children.

Sadly, increased responsibilities, and being the ultimate back-up for my agency’s 24-7 crisis line, led to burnout and depression. I left the agency to work on a short-term project for a research evaluation firm and then I started a new job at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) around 2006. My time at CALCASA was another political turning point for me.

At that point, I was the Public Affairs Program Coordinator, and my boss was the lobbyist and Director of Public Affairs for CALCASA. My position gave me a different perspective on politics and policy because I learned how lobbying and public policy work. In addition, I learned how to use social media and blogging as a force for good. One of the most important lessons I took away from my time at CALCASA was this: No matter who you are—or what you believe—listening, empathy, compassion, and hard conversations must happen, especially when it comes to public policy. Making and implementing policy isn’t a game or a joke because policy impacts real humans in the real world.

***

In December 2007, I created this website—RowdyKittens.com. I was still working for CALCASA full-time, and in my off hours I wrote blog posts, took photos, and learned about blogging because it was both a personal interest and part of my job. At the beginning of my personal blogging journey, I wrote short posts about politics, living simply, and whatever happened to be floating through my mind.

Soon after I started blogging, I made a decision to stop writing about politics and policy on RowdyKittens because it was such a big part of my day job. I didn’t want to bring work into my personal writing projects. In addition, writing about politics in my off hours fueled a serious case of burnout. (I deleted all of my old political posts from the archives because the writing was so bad!)

My feelings of burnout continued to grow. I would call my husband, Logan, on my lunch hours crying about office politics, and I felt angry because it seemed like the work we were doing wasn’t making a difference in the lives of women and children. Plus, there were the online trolls, politicians, and the media who continued to blame women and children for being raped.

When I left CALCASA to start my business, I intentionally avoided politics because I was so angry. I also avoided the news for years. I still voted, but my activism subsided. I didn’t write about policy, feminism, or humans rights because I was disillusioned with the system. In short, I didn’t believe my contribution to public policy made a difference. I don’t hold that view anymore, but it followed me around for a long time. Burnout does bad things to my body and mind.

***

Today, I find myself in a strange place. I never imagined that Trump would be elected President of the United States. I voted for Hillary Clinton and assumed she would win. Apparently, I was living in a filter bubble.

Naively, I thought candidate Trump was all talk. I didn’t think he’d follow through on his campaign promises. I was wrong. President Trump’s wave of directives has reversed years of American policy on trade, healthcare, abortion, the environment, and immigration. With the stroke of a pen, Trump is rewriting many lives, and I don’t support his rhetoric or policy choices.

I don’t plan on turning RowdyKittens into a political blog. However, I need to be honest with you. I’m not a brand. I’m a one-woman shop. I write, I teach online classes, I take photos, and I also have political and policy opinions.

Yet, I hesitated to share this essay because:

  • I didn’t want to deal with online trolls.
  • I didn’t want people to assume—wrongly—that I hate Republicans.
  • I didn’t want people to yell at me for being “liberal.”

With that being said, I could not remain silent because President Trump’s Executive Order outraged me. Also, Chris Guillebeau’s recent Instagram post prompted me to speak out. Chris eloquently said:

“I have visited many Muslim countries and felt welcomed and safe. Many times their hospitality has greatly outdone anywhere else in the world, and certainly anything that I’ve offered myself.

To those who say, ‘Keep Muslims out of the US’—aside from the lunacy of such a concept, I’d start with asking: ‘How many Muslims do you actually know? Have you ever visited a mosque?’ 

Furthermore, I’m tired of hearing that ‘we’ (you/me/anyone) shouldn’t be speaking out about these things. If you don’t speak out, you are offering tacit approval of systematic oppression. If you don’t use your voice now, why should anyone listen to you later? What will you tell a future generation that asks ‘Where were you?’

History asks us: What would you have done during the holocaust, times of slavery, etc.? And the bottom line is, most of us really have no idea… we *hope* that we would have done the right thing, but there’s no way to know for sure. Except now you have a real-time chance to answer that question. What will your answer be?”

I wholeheartedly agree with Chris’s post, and I’m thankful he wrote it because I’ve been silent for too long.

With gratitude,
Tammy

Further reading & action steps:

A Month of Tiny Pleasures

Whenever I feel anxious about my personal life—or world events—I focus on taking care of my body and mind because when I’m healthy, I’m a better friend, wife, worker, and community member. One of my favorite ways to practice self-care is by savoring tiny pleasures.

During February, I’ll be savoring a tiny pleasure every day. In addition, I’ll be documenting tiny pleasures with my camera. I invite you to join me.

A Month of Tiny Pleasures by Tammy Strobel

Here’s how the daily photography challenge works:

  • Take a photo every day.
  • Use the prompts above as a guide.
  • Let’s gather together and share our photos on Instagram. To share your images with the group, use the #TinyPleasures2017 hashtag.

Other notes:

  • There are no rules.
  • You don’t need a special camera to document your tiny pleasures.
  • Sharing your photos online isn’t a requirement.
  • This photography challenge is an invitation to practice gratitude and self-care by savoring tiny pleasures.

Let’s make February a fantastic month!

With gratitude,
Tammy

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