How to feel productive (even if you’re unemployed)

When I quit my job in August, I had a ton of plans to do and see and achieve. I built a massive list of local museums and hikes that I’d do; trips I’d been wanting to take; books I would read. But I was also planning a wedding. For four months, I worked my way through ordering a card box and deciding on how the bouquets would be wrapped. I called venues and finalized schedules. Mere days before the ceremony, one of our honeymoon hotels canceled on us. There was simply so much to do.

I was constantly busy, but I felt like shit come the end of the day because I had no tangible results of my work. There was no manager to praise or provide feedback. I started to feel like I was unproductive and, in full transparency, pretty worthless.

So I set up a time to talk to my beloved therapist, and she asked me how I was structuring my day.  I was stunned.

At this point I should explain that — if you haven’t experienced it first-hand — I am a very organized person. Planning is probably my biggest passion, and I love the logic puzzle of putting together an amazing schedule for trips or events. I don’t go on vacation without a solid list of the best places to stop by, organized by neighborhood, and at least a couple Google Maps connecting tourist spots for a half-day of sightseeing. I make to-do lists for everything, and I keep an up-to-date spreadsheet of restaurants and museums and wineries and bars I want to try.

But, untrue to my character, I wasn’t structuring my day at all. I would sit on the couch with my laptop and look at all the tabs I’d left open from the day before. I’d throw a few things into a spreadsheet then make a call and then look at the mockup for our invitations. I couldn’t look back on my day and see one or two clear achievements I’d made.

So my savior of a therapist suggested scheduling my days: Block off time on the calendar for everything I want to accomplish. EVERYTHING. Errands, workouts, segments of planning. Here’s a look at November 9-10, 2017:

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 2.33.09 PM.png

Y’all, it’s crazy that I wasn’t doing this in the first place. I used to do this all the time when I was working, but I think the concept of ‘not working’ made me lose all my normal productivity habits. And not feeling productive was a big trigger for my anxiety, and it certainly played a role in my risk of entering depression territory. And absolutely no one wants to be struggling with that, much less before their wedding. I also sensed that I did not want to talk to anyone in my personal life about how I was feeling, because I didn’t want that to be a memory attached to that time. And in case you hadn’t already guessed, not talking about it is NOT helpful. With this one simple suggestion, I felt that it solved everything for me. I was organized and loving it.

You may not be unemployed, but these feelings and ‘slumps’ are equal opportunity predators for anyone. If this suggestion helps you, amazing! But if you’re struggling with something and either aren’t talking about it or aren’t making progress with the advice you are getting, getting a therapist that works for you solves a lot more than you may think. A lot of people think they have to be diagnosed with depression, or have regular panic attacks, or have some big messed up background to see a therapist. It’s really just having a sage advisor who gets to the root of your problem as opposed to the surface-level details. I have talked to my therapist about anxiety and panic, but I also have talked to her about things in my relationship that I didn’t know how to address, and things at work that I didn’t know how to handle. Nothing’s off-limits. And the best part: I can talk very personally to someone who will never be involved in my personal life. There’s no worry about her meeting my husband or that problematic coworker. Isn’t that the best friend of all?

PS: I recently fell in love with Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit that wants to break the stigma of mental health. Please check it out!

Why I took a four-month break from Facebook

Standing on a street corner waiting to cross. In a meeting room before the other attendees arrived. Eating lunch. On the phone with friends.

I didn’t know it, but I had a routine.

Mindless Facebook scrolling took up moments in my life when I could have been productive, or peaceful, or present.

I told myself I shouldn’t deactivate, because I saw real news on Facebook, and became more educated from my smart friends. I must also see the posts that I disagree with, to become more educated on the opposing arguments. Maybe I’d just log in less frequently.

I tried to cut back on Facebook by deleting the app from my phone. It was great at first, but then my browser began to index it as a frequently-visited site, and it was prominent in my mind once again.

I told myself I’d deactivate after the wedding, after I saw all the photos I was tagged in. You can’t deactivate social media before your wedding. It’s not the right time.

So I kept scrolling. And seeing the divisive posts. And clicking into the comments. (Why are we so sadistic?) And getting my spirits downtrodden.

It wasn’t until I found myself doing something I never did: Drafting comments to those I disagreed with. I saw a post by an acquaintance, expressing disdain at the fact that Kevin Spacey was a newly-confirmed creep. There were comments below from one person who was also sad, and another person who “didn’t buy” the story from the most public victim. I personally knew of someone who had nearly the exact same thing happen to him, and I began to write back. And edit the comment. And feel uncomfortable because I was writing on an acquaintance’s post, to a commenter I did not know. But I felt compelled. And then I felt exhausted. And then I immediately deleted it and texted my therapist.

It was the day before my birthday, and I was on the phone with my therapist, talking through the triggers I experienced that were bringing on anxiety. She suggested getting off social media. I wouldn’t, couldn’t.

Before the session was over, though, I had already deactivated.

And I didn’t miss it at all. For four glorious months I only had Instagram as my social media channel. It was an onslaught of gorgeous photos and the happy moments that friends had captured. I got married and got tons of photos without needing to be on Facebook. My friends still kept in touch and I kept an active social life. I found myself never wanting to go back to Facebook.

Then I started blogging again. I love blogging, because it’s a creative outlet that allows me to essentially keep a public journal of my beliefs and thoughts and fun times. I posted on Instagram every time I had a new blog post, but it wasn’t getting read as much. And I love when people comment and tell me their thoughts, advice, or personal stories. So I decided to do it: I would reactivate my Facebook.

I did, and I had tons of notifications from groups and friends. But after I scanned through those, I didn’t do anything else. I haven’t reinstalled the app on my phone. I haven’t logged in more than a handful of times. It doesn’t even really cross my mind. I don’t have to log in to Facebook to share my blog posts, either. WordPress does that automatically for me. I can use Facebook when I want it, but I really don’t want to, and I don’t need to. I feel so free and so much happier than when I existed within the grip of Facebook.

You might be struggling with the same thing that I was. It was feeding and triggering depression for me. It was strangely so hard to detach. I felt guilty and embarrassed that I was so affected by Facebook. I didn’t want to tell people openly, because I thought they wouldn’t understand, they’d scoff at my millennial obsession with social media and tell me to get over it. But that’s the same mentality that stigmatizes mental health (and really, isn’t that what that’s doing anyway?). I’m here to say that if you are depressed, anxious, or just sad from social media, and you want to detach, I understand. I hear you. Deactivate if you want; delete the app if you want. Do whatever it takes for you to feel happier. Just don’t add a feeling of guilt on top of everything you’re experiencing. Be selfish, and take care of you. ♥

New Year’s Resolution: Self-Develop

By now you know my heart beats a little faster for New Year’s Resolutions. This post rounds out my three-part 2018 resolution breakdown.

As a teen with a developing body my yearly goal was always to lose weight. It was one of those classic scenarios where now, looking back on it, I was totally fit and looked fine and would be happy to look like that again. The funny thing is, even though I’m probably the least ~well shaped~ I’ve ever been, I have no goals about weight loss or measurements or eating those awful fat-free diet foods that I was super “into” at 14. I’m somehow the most happy with myself and don’t view myself very negatively. Yes, obviously there are days when I regret having love handles and feel uncomfortable. But on the whole I am super content.

Learning to manage my anxiety means that I went through a long process of discovering what makes me feel content, happy, safe, and free, and then actually practicing those things. It’s surprisingly harder — or perhaps more time-consuming — than it sounds, and I’m still discovering and evolving those practices. A recent one: Having a skincare routine. I think a lot of people agree that their skin has a major impact on their confidence. That’s always been true of me. I never had a big interest in skincare because I thought it took too long and it was impractical to have all those products when I travel so frequently. But last month I took a skincare class at Sephora — it was surprisingly educational — and I have found that in the morning, it makes me feel like I’ve done something good for myself to start the day, and at night it reassures my brain that I’m totally unwound and ready to sleep. It’s awesome. And bonus, my skin looks and feels fantastic.

acs_0003

As you can see in my journal page, my “self-develop” goal is not centered around one aspect of myself. I’ll break down what each one means to me.

  • Read: I hesitated to put this on my goal because I thought I would fail. But then I realized, it feeds into other areas of my goal, like relaxing. And even better: I’ve already read one book this year!
  • Having fun with health: I dread going to the gym when I’m not inspired. If you do a workout and it totally sucks, you’re pretty unlikely to return, right? Instead, I’m prioritizing workouts that I enjoy. I love Barre3 and it’s only a short drive from my place. I also really like doing spin classes, which I can do in my building’s gym. (We have an awesome virtual system, kind of like Peleton.) And Tim and I love hiking and going out into nature, or traveling to a new city and seeing it by foot. It’s FUN, and I want to do it.
  • Relax: I’m a highly strung person. I am super organized, was born with a self-imposed perfectionist tendency (s/o to my therapist who’s helped me tame this!), and feel most satisfied when I experience lots. But over the course of my life, I’ve rarely remembered to make time for relaxing and unwinding. It’s not self-indulgent. It’s necessary for mental health and honestly for spiritual, physical, and all the other healths.
  • Español: I tried to use Duolingo to learn some Spanish before our South American honeymoon last year. It was a fabulous mini-foundation but I saw how much I’d barely scratched the surface of this whole language. Learning a language is satisfying intellectually, adds to my understanding of my own language, and it opens up a huge door for communicating with people I normally wouldn’t be able to. (There was a lot of miming to taxi drivers when I didn’t know exactly how to say what I needed to.)

So how’s it going so far, now that we’re a month and a half into the new year? You already know I’ve read a book (and I can’t shut up about it — please read ‘The Girl with Seven Names’ so we can discuss it). I am writing this not long after a workout at my building’s gym, during which I read the March issue of Martha Stewart Living. I went to Kauai to have a relaxing trip, and I’ve been trying to build it into our everyday lives a bit more. (And thankfully my husband provides regular reminders with his own, more finely-tuned need for relaxation.) I am still searching for some things in this life, but how to develop myself to be even happier is not one of them. It’s the best, most peaceful feeling. Now, time to go find my next book.

What do you want to work on this year? Any book recos?

PS: I’ve been getting a LOT of comments on my bullet journal. I’m obsessed! I got all my gear on Amazon: dot-matrix notebook | fine-point markers | stencils (MUST!) | washi tape

New Year’s Resolution: Deepen Friendships

acs_0003

I mentioned previously that I made Tim engage in a “reflection on the past year and intentions for the upcoming year.” The thing that he brought up — that I promptly adopted — was the desire to maintain closer relationships with the people in our lives. He kept describing it as “casual friendships,” which I kept hearing as “a lot of not-that-close friends.” But what he really meant was friendships that we don’t treat as precious events, instead getting to the level of friendship where you can make casual plans the day-of or be just as happy meeting up for a single drink versus a whole big night out. I love the sound of that — don’t you?

It’s my theory that everyone wants a FRIENDS-ship. Obviously, with TV being my #1 hobby/interest, I do mean the NBC hit comedy from 1994-2004. The show follows friends across three different apartments in NYC who could just show up unannounced constantly, make fun of each other, have fights and patch things up, and it somehow it all wasn’t weird. (See also: ‘Seinfeld’; ‘Clarissa Explains It All’; I’m pretty sure ‘The Big Bang Theory’ also has this?) I’ve never had an adult FRIENDS-ship. (I sort of had those uber-close, do-everything-together friendships in elementary/middle school but realistically that’s just not the same.)

In reality I’m too afraid to not constantly have my front door locked so I will never have that type of friendship. So here are some things I’m trying to do to foster greater friendships!

  • Just send the text. If it’s been a while, don’t be afraid to send a quick “hey! been thinking about you” message.  A lot of times, I get in my head like, “It’s been too long. I’ll need to do a proper full hours-long catch-up session and right now I can’t commit to that.” But that just keeps me from catching up even longer. Just send the message now!
  • Organize a group event. If I want to start a friendship with someone and we have mutual friends, I’ll probably invite them all over for cocktails or a dinner party. That way, it’s a lower-stress environment because there are many people that we know well, and there are only one or two people we are getting to know. The biggest fear is usually that you don’t know what to talk about, and by having another party present, you can learn about them more indirectly without the pressure!
  • Invite them to what you’re already doing. This one was a bit of an “aha” moment when I decided on my New Year’s Resolutions. Because I wanted to experience more, why can’t I two-birds-one-stone it by inviting a friend along? I want to visit a couple local wineries. When I do, I’ll invite someone I know who’d enjoy it. There’s a concert coming up I’m dying to attend, or a bar I want to visit, or a workout I want to try. Add a friend and get drinks after! It’s a perfect system.

I think a lot of people struggle with keeping up friendships. In fact, I saw recently that people form an average of 400 friendships in their life but only keep 33. TBH my first thought when I heard they keep 33 was “wow, that many?” I think it’s hard to maintain pretty much all friendships. And I’m an extrovert, so I can only imagine it’s even more difficult for an introvert. Make it easy on yourself, then, and remove the pressure. And don’t forget to lock your doors, even if your friend does live nearby. This world has as many Chandlers as it does Janices.


PS: I’ve been getting a LOT of comments on my bullet journal. I’m obsessed! I got all my gear on Amazon: dot-matrix notebook | fine-point markers | stencils (MUST!) | washi tape

New Year’s Resolution: Experience More

New Year’s Eve is such an overrated holiday, right? It’s a lot of expectations for one tiny second switching from one year to the next. (Or in my case, I haven’t made it to midnight in at least three years.)

But I’m a huge sucker for New Year’s Resolutions. There’s something about the perceived “reset button” of a new year that makes me so motivated. So after forcing Tim to do “reflection and intentions” with me, I put together my New Year’s Resolutions for 2018.

Ok, I made a couple little mistakes because I’m new to my sure to be short-lived attempt at bullet journaling. But whatever, all in all it looks pretty cute, no?

So I’m starting with the one that’s most exciting to me: Experience More.

When Tim and I went on our honeymoon to Chile & Argentina, I was so inspired. First of all, I really had no idea what to expect going there. I feel like I knew what I was getting into when I first went to Paris or Rome. But Santiago? It hadn’t been on my radar as a kid the same way that the Colosseum was. And the whole trip was AMAZING. (I am pronouncing that “a-MASE-ing” because that’s how an Argentine would pronounce that word in English, and it’s impossibly charming to me.) We did so much: Interesting restaurants with local foods; in-depth winery tours learning how Mendoza vintners create their wine.

Speaking of Mendoza — best known as a massive wine region in Argentina, the size of the state of Indiana, and capital of Malbec production — something big stuck with me there. (Not just the several pounds I undoubtedly gained from consuming steak, bread, and a cumulative bottle of wine every day.) So many times throughout our trip, people assumed that we went to wineries all the time because we live near Napa & Sonoma. Spoiler alert, we totally don’t. Like twice a year maybe. And that thought totally crushed me. I put such an emphasis on traveling the world — and I don’t want that to change. But instead of throwing away a day by sitting around the house or just going to one of the restaurants down the street that aren’t special to me. It’s so easy to make the effort to go somewhere new.

As soon as we got back from our honeymoon, I made an effort to put fun things together. We went for a hike, and instead of getting Taco Bell on the way home, I put together a little charcuterie picnic and we drove to a local winery only 20 minutes away from where we hiked. It was SO GRATIFYING! We got a full tasting and took home a few bottles and still look back really fondly on that day.

When I lived in LA, I created a spreadsheet of all the places I wanted to check out, organized by neighborhood. Well, I have one for the Bay Area now, and we’ve been ticking off places pretty consistently. That’s why I love New Year’s Resolutions: They motivate action (or in my case, they motivate organization, which motivates action).

What do you want to experience this year?

PS: I’ve been getting a LOT of comments on my bullet journal. I’m obsessed! I got all my gear on Amazon: dot-matrix notebook | fine-point markers | stencils (MUST!) | washi tape