Getting My “Gangnam” On

You’ll have to take my word for it, mostly because I wasn’t willing to pay for the $60 upgrade in order to upload my own video (even in HD) to this blog. But it really does exist: video of me, kicking it “Gangnam Style”. And here’s how it happened:

After a long and mentally exhausting day at the office, I got in my car and thought about all of the things I should spend my evening accomplishing. But I was tired and somewhat demoralized, so I decided I needed a “buffer” experience – something between the office and my house that would allow me to shift mental and emotional gears before going home to “be productive”. As has often happened over the years, my car seemed to steer itself in the direction of the Dennis family. When I arrived, Wendy answered the door in her pajamas (it was approximately 6:00 p.m.), having just arrived herself after an 8-hour day in a graduate school classroom.

We made romaine, cucumber and feta salads with a spicy side of wasabi peas, and talked about our days. Wendy had lots to share about treating patients with anxiety and depression – and how all those “shoulds” we put on ourselves can take things from bad to worse. Then, after discussing a particularly gruesome crush injury she treated at her clinical site, Wendy moved on to a topic even more painful (from her perspective): her youngest daughter’s first Show Choir performance.

Wendy is a practical, concrete, achievement-oriented person. Plays, musicals, show choir performances…not really her thing. She told me she was sitting in the audience wishing it was over – approximately 10 seconds into the first song, mind you – when her eye was drawn to one girl in particular. This middle-schooler was so animated and so clearly in the moment, no inhibitions holding her back, that her demeanor and palpable happiness changed Wendy’s entire perspective on the show. Suddenly, Wendy’s consciousness of the moment shifted from harried distraction and lack of enthusiasm to one of communion, of shared joy.

Wendy’s Show Choir “A-Ha” got me thinking about what kinds of experiences we can intentionally create in order to bring about a shift in perspective when we need one. Obviously, Wendy’s shift came as the result of a serendipitous moment rather than a specific plan, but we can’t count on serendipity occurring each time our internal tank is on low. If we did, we’d surely find ourselves stranded somewhere emotionally far from where we wish we were. Here are a few suggestions for quick energy reboots or perspective shifters:

Crank up the Music:

Music is powerful as a mood enhancer. If you don’t believe so, just try to watch a feature film, or complete a difficult workout, without a soundtrack. We’ve all used music to get jazzed up, to relax, to set a mood. Unfortunately, we often only think of doing this for specific or special occasions. But it works for the every day situations, too!

Move It, Move It:

Working in an office setting means I do a lot of sitting. At my desk, in meetings, at lunch in the cafeteria. When I leave work, sometimes it feels like all I want to do is go home and crash – meaning sit some more, just in a new location. Movement of any kind, from rigorous exercise to yoga to a stroll through the neighborhood, can really rev things up. In particular, I’ve found that moving my body outdoors actually gets my sluggish brain going, too.

Find the Horizon:

There are days when I start to feel closed in, as if my life has shrunk to a small box that includes work, stress, and all the “should” messages I give myself. That’s a pretty cramped feeling. I’ve found that a simple drive west, out of the city far enough that fields give way to an actual horizon line, opens up the box and I can breathe deeply again. Obviously, this works best during daylight hours – but the evenings in February are lengthening, and a quick escape after work is becoming more possible.

Reach Out:

Find people who allow you to break free from the energy-sappers of your day. These people can be your chosen family (like the Dennis’ are for me) or they can be a book club, people you encounter while volunteering, occasionally I’ve even found myself re-enegized by a talk with the guy behind the Hy-Vee meat counter. The point is, reach out to other people and think about, talk about, laugh about something new.

Which brings me back to the whole video of me dancing “Gangnam Style”. As I was leaving the Dennis’ home, we were talking about what I would post on my blog this week. And, as silly conversations have a way of doing, our discussion veered wildly until we were all laughing at the idea that I would simply post a video of myself doing the pony dance from the Psy video. I knew that neither Wendy nor her daughters (Katie and Dani were part of this conversation) believed I would do such a thing: which made me want desperately to do it. So, when I arrived home, I found an instructional video which took me through the dance, step by step (I only learned the gallop and lasso-ing movements). I practiced for about five minutes, then hit record on my computer. The position of the camera was such that it only captured my dance from the waist up. Still, I collapsed with laughter when I watched the recorded results, especially my facial expressions as I galloped and lassoed!

Was this what I had planned for my “productive” evening? Not at all. But it was the kind of productivity I needed – it produced relaxation, laughter, and shared joy. A perfect reboot for me!

And, while you’ve likely all seen this video, here’s a little something to ease your disappointment at not seeing my version of “Gangnam”:

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Stress Fantasies

It is no secret to anyone who knows me: August is my least favorite month.  This sentiment has everything to do with the annual opening of the fall semester. To put it in perspective, August is the tax season of Residence Life (I’m sure any accountant reading this blog will fully appreciate what I’m saying.)

In August, when things blow up at work and I find myself either in the office or working at home/the coffeeshop evenings and weekends, I find myself fantasizing a lot. In fact, every quiet moment finds me longing for something I can’t have or do in August.   One definition of fantasy is “…the free play of creative imagination”. However, these stress fantasies are both strange and a little embarrassing, because their content is…not right. One should never give one’s imagination license to play freely and then come up with…

…laundry. I can’t believe I fantasize about taking the time to run multiple loads of laundry through my basement machines. Mostly, in August, I decide what I want to wear the next day and before falling into bed throw a load made up of exactly that – including the underwear, socks/stockings, and outer garments – into my washer. In the morning, the whole load dries while I shower. I dress in scalding hot garments, standing on the cold cement floor.

…sleep. Sitting at my desk after RA training activities, slogging through the entire day’s emails, I dream about sleeping. I imagine myself crawling into bed in a dark room and…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

…falling down the stairs. Ok, this is my dark fantasy in August. They say visualization works – athletes use it to successfully achieve their physical goals all the time. This is the month every year when I visualize myself falling down the library steps when my arms are loaded down with binders, balls, and coffee. I see it happening in my mind, then tell myself that this is an effective technique only if I actually WANT to fall. And I don’t, because I can’t be assured I will hurt myself in a manner that would require me to get more bedrest.

…going to the bathroom at the moment that I actually need to.  Let’s agree, no one should ever have to fantasize about this.

…winning the lottery. Enough said.

In past years, August has managed to derail my good exercise and eating habits. Suddenly, there are not enough hours in the day, and the management of work-related concerns leaves me exhausted and stressed out. This is a terrible one-two punch to the core of my healthy lifestyle. This year, though, my exercise habits are well enough incorporated into my life that I am finding time time for exercise regardless of the rest of the schedule. I feel stronger and more energized as a result. Yes, the sudden availability of a wide variety of delicious yet nutritiously damaging foods is a temptation (the dining room reopens, RAs and other staff bring treats, we bribe – I mean thank – them for their hard work with icecream and candy). Luckily, I am tempted one day and able to manage appropriately the next, so I am hopeful that I will be able to maintain recent losses.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I do have one appropriate August fantasy: the one where I survive the month feeling confident, strong and healthy. Perhaps this one will come true if I visualize!