When life is challenging, it’s important to have an escape, something that helps take your mind off things and help you face what’s to come. For me, it’s always been swimming.
Last Saturday was a particularly difficult day. I was in Westport helping my brother-in-law. I knew it was going to be a long, stressful day. In between chores and calls, I slipped down to Westport Beach for 45-minutes and went for a long swim in Sand Lake.
The minute I splashed into the water, all the stresses and sadness began to wash away. My weary eyes concentrated on the beautiful sunshine sparkling on the water and dreamy white clouds floating up above. With each stroke, I swam away from my troubles, towards what I thought was a white buoy bobbing in the water, but on closer inspection was a very large gull. I felt cleansed, refreshed and at peace with what would come.
For my neighbour Kim, her once a day is her garden. As long as she can spend 30 minutes a day in her garden, she feels happy, balanced, ready to face what life brings.
Dave says his once a day is to look at our beautiful lake and remind himself every day how lucky we are, knowing there are so many people in the world who are not so fortunate.
Have you ever gone for a walk or a drive, and arrived not remembering anything you’ve seen along the way because you were so lost in your thoughts?
It happens to me more than I would like to admit.
I’m conscious of it now, so when it happens, I stop in mid-stride if I’m walking, scold my brain, and start looking at the world around me. I make a conscious effort to be in the moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, see the snow glistening on the pines and just take it all in.
It’s easy to become prisoners of our thoughts. It’s hard work to see past them.
You may have heard about the 75 Hard challenge that’s taken over TikTok and the internet. Created by fitness guru Andy Frisella, it’s a challenge that is supposed to toughen you up mentally and physically. He calls it “ironman for your brain”. The challenge involves doing five things for 75 days straight:
Drink 3-4 litres of water a day
Follow a diet with no cheat meals or alcohol
Workout twice a day for 45 minutes, and one of the workouts must be done outdoors
Read 10 pages of a non-fiction or self-help book each day
Take a progress picture each day
We were talking about the challenge in the car yesterday, and I said, “that’s way too hard and life’s challenging enough right now, I’d rather do a 75-day easy challenge”. Here’s what our 75 Easy challenge would look like:
Laurie’s 75 Easy challenge
Drink two glasses of wine two days a week, one white, one red
Complete one puzzle
Read the newspapers and actually get moving before 10 a.m. on the weekends (shoot, I guess I’ll have to start the challenge tomorrow)
Walk from my home office to the kitchen fridge and back at least twice a day
Wear something other than slippers and leggings at least once a week
Dave’s 75 Easy challenge
Ice fish twice a week
Pet Bentley 10 times a day, including once on the belly
Read 30 pages of either John Sandford, Wilbur Smith or Ken Follett a night
Drink one bottle of Baileys or Cabot Trail maple cream, with or without coffee
Bring his minnows in every night so they don’t freeze on the front porch (to help with #1)
Clare’s 75 Easy challenge
Eat two Mr. Noodles a day, one small bowl and one large bowl
Limit her screen time on her phone to less than four hours per day
Wear an actual winter coat each time she leaves the house
Watch at least one hour of Netflix or DisneyPlus a night
Clean up after herself in the kitchen at least once a week (again, see #1)
Grace’s 75 Easy challenge
Keep her voice down to under 100 decibels when talking on the phone late at night
Journal every day
Write and re-write her study schedule daily
Pick two items of clothing up off of her floor each day
Learn one new song on the guitar each week
Bentley’s 75 Easy challenge
Chase the squirrels from the bird feeders twice a day
Sleep on one couch at least once every night
Eat two dog treats a day without trying to slobber
Actually come when my humans call, “Come, Bentley”
Bark for only 10 minutes a night on the front porch at absolutely nothing
There you have it. Hey, at least we’ll feel good when we’re all successful at the end of the 75 days. This week’s #HappyAct is to make up your own 75 Hard or Easy Challenge. What will it be? Leave a comment.
You hear these words everywhere you go this time of year, in holiday cards, in songs, in greetings and on signs.
I noticed a slight variation this week on my favourite church sign. It said, “Wishing you peace, joy, happiness and strength”.
Strength. It was an interesting choice of words. Yes, more than anything right now, we need strength and resilience.
This week’s #HappyAct is to find meaning behind the words this holiday season.
May you experience,
Kindness and generosity of spirit Love and laughter The comfort of warm food and fond memories Precious time to reflect and recharge Moments of happiness and joy And strength and acceptance to bring you peace this holiday season
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.
Don’t miss next week’s special year-end edition of Top 10 Happy Acts, my favourite blog posts to help you get through another COVID winter.
And to the stranger who showed generosity of spirit and bought our hot chocolates at the McDonald’s drive-through in Kingston last Wednesday, thank you for paying it forward! We reciprocated and hope the person behind us enjoyed their McHappy Meal and chocolate shake.
My horoscope yesterday said, “Do what makes you happy”. The problem is, I’m not sure what that is anymore.
Call it the pandemic blues, call it middle age (okay, I’m being kind to myself here), but I’ve found myself pondering this question the past 24 hours.
What used to make me happy was simple. My family, my beautiful lake and property, visiting with friends and neighbours, little things like the refrains of the piano drifting through the air while I sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.
These things still make me happy, but I’ll admit, it’s more subdued now.
I wish I was one of these people who found a new passion and purpose during COVID. I haven’t. I’ve fallen into the cohort known as “languishers” the term coined by the New York Times to describe those of us feeling joyless and aimless, and “slipping slowly into solitude.”
With things opening up, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to reach out and connect with people, but I’m not. I was talking to a friend at work the other day who felt the same way. It’s not that we have social anxiety, it’s not that we don’t miss people and would love to see them again, we just don’t have the energy.
They say one antidote to languishing is to immerse yourself in a project. But that takes energy too.
So dear readers, this week my #HappyAct is to ask you for advice. How do you figure out what makes you happy again? Please, leave a comment.
There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.
Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.
Why are we doing this to ourselves?
Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?
I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.
Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.
The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.
We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.
As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.
Aldous Huxley once said, “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age which means never losing your enthusiasm.”
I would bet that many of us right now have lost some of our enthusiasm for life. Living in lockdown, not seeing friends and family, and filling our days with work, walks, books and chores without anything to look forward to is tough.
So how do we reignite joy and enthusiasm in our lives? Here are some thoughts, but I’m hoping everyone will leave a comment to help us all through this difficult time.
Spend time with a child. Children help us see the world from a fresh perspective.
Make a goal to try one new thing this week, whether it’s making a new dish, starting a new project, or learning a new hobby. When we learn new skills or focus on something fresh, our enthusiasm naturally emerges.
Be curious and ask questions. The act of asking questions stimulates interest and enthusiasm. You can even ask questions of yourself like, “What do I want?”, “What am I grateful for”, or “What’s missing in my life?”
Do something silly and that makes you laugh.
Make a list of everything you love to do, and then take 15 minutes and do one of them a day.
Plan a trip for when this is all over. It doesn’t have to be a big trip, maybe just an overnight getaway, but it will give you something to look forward to.
This week’s #HappyAct is to rediscover your zest for life. We can all be child geniuses. Now it’s your turn—what are your ideas?
A few months ago, I headed out for my regular lunchtime walk in a foul mood. Something happened earlier that morning and it was still bugging me. Just a stupid misunderstanding, but you know what it’s like when you replay it over and over in your head. Despite saying to myself, it’s stupid, let it go, I couldn’t.
I walked to Central Park in Burlington and to my left at the entrance of the park, there was a labyrinth. I stopped and read the plaque.
It said the Burlington Central Park Labyrinth was patterned after the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France that dates back to 1200. It is one of the few permanent labyrinths in Canada that is installed in a public place and is wheelchair accessible.
A labyrinth is a design marvel, an ancient, geometric pattern with a single path that leads into the centre. This labyrinth was a circle, the symbol of healing, unity and wholeness. It is meant to be an oasis for your mind, body and soul, and walking a labyrinth can calm the mind and restore balance.
I thought I might as well give it a whirl.
I started to walk the circular paths, and found myself at first focusing closely on each step, and the lines and patterns beneath me. As I continued to walk, I started focusing more on the journey ahead and my final destination. With each step, my mind began to free. I encountered unexpected twists and turns and just when I thought I knew the path to the centre, the path changed.
I became aware that I could take control at any time, by simply stepping outside the winding circle and give up altogether or walk directly to my final destination, but as I continued to walk, I discovered a strong desire to complete the labyrinth and a strange sense of elation and accomplishment when I did.
I stood in the centre and looked up. The weight on my heart and mind was gone.
This week’s #HappyAct is to walk a labyrinth and clear your mind and soul. Need help finding one? Check out this worldwide labyrinth locator. There are literally hundreds in Canada, many located in churches.
Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.
These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.
Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.
Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.
When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.
I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.
Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.
This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:
Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.
I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.
I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.
Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.