Accepting Things The Way They Are

I have reached the end of a trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky with a friend, a very wise friend may I add. She has been climbing longer than I and has dealt with many of the same climbing (and life) struggles as I am/have.

As I’ve mentioned before, lead climbing (where you bring the rope up with you as you climb and clip in to bolted metal in the rock at various intervals for protection) has always been a very mentally engaging and fear-striking event for me, but I’ve been intent on overcoming my fears about it anyway. Why? Because I started climbing to overcome frustrations with rotation in grad school and then realized it had powerful applications in other parts of my life as well (read more at my guest blog article here). I’ve found every time I push my mental limitations in climbing, I also take on more challenges in life in general and push through struggles with ease.

Similarly, every climbing trip I take, I learn more about myself and my own limitations and mental blocks. This time, I learned a lesson straight from my friend’s mouth. As I was struggling with a move that really wasn’t hard but seemed for me a scary move, I continued down my usual path in times of crisis of blaming everything around me except myself. “I don’t like this.” “This doesn’t feel great.” “This route is dumb.”

My friend belaying calmly reminds me about the book we’ve both read (“The Rock Warrior’s Way” by Arno Ilgner- highly recommended, by the way) and how statements like this are energy leechers. “Accept the way things are; don’t wish them to be different. Work with what you have.” she relays. A lightbulb clicks in my head and midway through an energy leecher, my thoughts change direction. “She’s right. Why am I blaming the rock? The rock is just here, continues to be a rock, and though I love climbing, I am wishing it to be something else. It rained last night, so it is wet- but I can’t change that either. It is what it is,” I think.

This leads me to productive thoughts like: “I have this foot hold and this hand hold and if I hold my body into the wall and slowly inch up, I should be able to reach that better hold there and reach the next bolt. It’s not great, but it will have to do- and I’ve climbed on worse.” And in an instant, when I stop trying to make things different, my body does what I’ve asked it to do and I am safely attached to the next bolt.

Even if you are not a climber, I’m sure you can see how a negative “wishful thinking” mentality is one that applies negatively in life in general as well. When you are taking a test and realize the questions are not what you expected, one option is to blame the test maker and the other is to accept that these are the questions that will determine your grade and so you have to do the best with what you know. And perhaps if you have committed to someone and can’t stand a habit they have, one option is to blame them and continually try to get them to stop and the other is to accept that this is how they are and they will only change if they want to (not you) and it isn’t worth injecting more negative energy into the relationship to make them change.

It is not easy to accept things as they are. I had another moment of realization during this trip in this vein about my respiratory issues (from a heart defect called a vascular ring repaired at 8 years old) which has until the last few years limited me a significant amount from physical activity and even now continues to make it extremely difficult for me to hike uphill with large amounts of weight (read: I sound like I have never exercised a day in my life and huff and puff and look like I am dying.). If you care about details, the problem is that my trachea still has a kink in it from being impinged and is weak and when I am breathing hard due to physical exertion, my trachea collapses in on itself making it even harder to acquire oxygen.

I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I'm accepting this is just part of my MO.
I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I’m accepting this is just part of my MO.

It may be overcomeable through intense respiratory training…and it may not. I have asked a few respiratory therapists their opinion given my history and their answers bely a complete lack of knowledge regarding people like me actually getting to the physical capacity that I am at. Basically, it is an amazing feat to have gotten where I am with my condition and at this point, the medical community has nothing to offer me. All invasive procedures (like tracheal splinting or even tracheal replacement- the newest medical advance in this area) that may help have been shown to have horrible side effects or not even be beneficial with exercise tolerance. And I don’t know of any doctor that would do such a risky procedure on someone with the quality of life I do anyway.

Despite all of this, I continue to feel awful when I don’t carry an equal amount of weight as others when climbing or backpacking. I continue to try because damn it, I’ve gotten this far- why can’t I just be like everyone else? I feel in my mind like I should be as capable of others, but then when my body proves me wrong and shows my flaws, I am embarrassed and feel ashamed to be me.

From this trip, I realized I am going to have to accept that my friends love me with flaws and all and most will be willing to take more weight uphill just because they are happy to be sharing moments with me. And if they aren’t, I am going to have to accept that struggling uphill is part of my MO. It will have to be enough.

Moreover, I’ve decided I am going to try my last resort (intense respiratory therapy with packs and hills) and if it doesn’t work, I am going to have to accept this is who I am and how far my body is willing to take me- and be appreciative that it has taken me this far.

Is there something you have a hard time accepting in life? Are there energy leechers you utilize in order to continue preventing acceptance?

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Balancing Your Health at Work

When I began my new job out of school, I felt like this woman: My body wanted to move, but my job needed me to sit.
When I began my new job out of school, I felt like this woman: My body wanted to move, but my job needed me to sit.

Until a little over a year ago, exercise and movement was a regular part of my day throughout the day. Before, my day was split into intervals of one to three hours of sitting and in between, I would be racing from patient room to patient room or walking between buildings. In between classes, I would head to the gym for a workout. With the completion of graduate school and the acquisition of a shiny new job, though, 10.5 hours of my day four days a week were accounted for sitting in a chair looking at a computer or a phone. I know I’m not alone. Most Americans’ jobs entail a large amount of sitting and doing computer work nowadays. And it’s literally killing us.

Shortly into my new job, I began having back, leg, shoulder, finger, wrist, and arm pain despite exercising for hours every day outside of work. I was going to a PT on a weekly basis because of this pain. I felt like I had aged by at least a decade in a few months. I realized this job was going to shorten my life if something didn’t change. Good health is direly important to me (having not had much of it until I was into college). And so I started fighting a battle to prevent this from being my future. The battle entailed educating myself, my colleagues, and my employer, and then advocating for all of the above. I wanted to make it different for me and for everyone who would be affected by this instilled lifestyle most people passively accept as part of a job and making money.

My first battle: A Sit/Stand Desk

There are all kinds of alternative desks now, even treadmill desks!
There are all kinds of alternative desks now, even treadmill desks!

Education: I learned from arguments with my husband that without evidence as proof, I would never convince him of anything I believed. I take the same attitude with most any time I want to persuade someone of something (especially work-related items). Therefore, the first step to every battle I decide to take up is educating myself to understand the subject as thoroughly as possible. In this case, my main goal was to educate myself on just how good or bad sitting for as long as I was every day actually was for my body. Turns out it’s pretty freaking bad. I also researched the alternative desk situations out there, how much they cost (both individually and in bulk), and other companies that have begun to use these types of desks. I also talked to the owner of my husband’s company, who bought sit/stand desks in bulk for his workers. I asked him if he would be willing to be one of my “professional references” in this battle (he agreed to) and quoted him in my discussions with management.

Make your case: I am much better at writing than I am at confronting someone in person, so I decided this tactic would be best. I contacted the person who is in charge of ergonomics at my job and made him my point person for liaison between myself and upper management making the decision. I wrote a long letter about why sitting all day for our jobs is a problem (to their bottom line and to their employees’ health), verifying that other companies have seen this to be a problem and changed, and how they can change this as well. I also pointed out what efforts I made to solve this problem and why I cannot solve it myself. I asked the ergonomics contact to forward it to whoever would make a decision about this….and then waited. *If you would like a sample letter to use at your workplace, please comment on this post and I will email one to you.

Assertive is the careful balance between being aggressive and passive and the perfect way to go about getting something you want.
Assertive is the careful balance between being aggressive and passive and the perfect way to go about getting something you want.

Be Assertive and Don’t Give Up:

It took me 5+ months to acquire the sit/stand desk, but I finally did! (Of course, no overhauls of desk situations for anyone else has occurred…)

There were plenty of road blocks along the way (namely lack of communication back to me), but I just kept kindly reminding people every few weeks by email, phone, or in person where we were in the process and getting feedback. There is a difference between assertive and being aggressive. Unfortunately, I think I may have crossed that line near the end when I was fed up with the timeline (or lack thereof). If you can, be patient but stern and most likely things will continue moving in the direction you want. However, there may be a time and place to show someone you are serious about accomplishing your goal.

Find Supporters: Because I was so new into my job, I tried to keep the sit/stand desk battle under wraps for a while. I avoided telling my boss, but it ended up getting back around to him anyway. I found out he was supportive of my endeavors and helped to coordinate the efforts. If you have someone rooting for you and with more power than you to accomplish your desires, meeting your goals become much easier.

My second battle: Changing Myself

Even before getting the sit/stand desk, I knew sitting for so long was doing the most amount of damage but that I could also be doing better for myself beyond that as well. Below is what I did to be healthier at work.

Took more breaks- I know there are many jobs that are pretty bad about giving breaks, but I am lucky enough to have one where my boss actually encourages us to take a 10 minute walk when things get overwhelming. I decided to do that more, even though I could really only get away for 10 minutes or so at a time due to the nature of my job (needing to take urgent calls that come in). I take a walk with my friend at work multiple times to get water every day. I made taking breaks part of my routine socializing and “breather” time. That helped with moving more and helped mentally as well.

Stretching every hour or less will help to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff.
Stretching every hour or less will help to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff.

Stretching while working– I am the weird person who brought my exercise ball and theraband to work. It forced me to do my PT exercises when there was a free moment and it allowed me to at the very least stretch my back on the exercise ball. Since then, I’ve added neck and wrist stretches to my repertoire and downloaded an awesome app called Ergonomics (download it here) which not only reminds you of stretching at whatever intervals you want, but also has stretches included in the app and a timer to make sure you are stretching for long enough to be effective.

Better posture- One of the things I worked on the most in PT was actually correct posture. After years of sitting and standing in horribly awkward (NOT ergonomic) positions, I had made my body actually think these bad positions were normal. My proprioception (feelings of how you are in space physically) was all off, and my awesome PT helped to teach my body what “correct” posture really is. I am by far not perfect about my posture, but it is better and at least now I know what should be correct at least. 😉

 

Healthy snacks and meals help to fuel your body and brain with nutrients.
Healthy snacks and meals help to fuel your body and brain with nutrients.

Healthy snacks and meals- I know I am not the only one who eats things they would never eat at home at work simply because you are hungry and food is there and you wouldn’t otherwise have that accessible at home. I am a sweet-holic. I admit it. And therefore if I have no food left and I am hungry and someone has chocolate sitting on their table free for the taking…well, I take it. I don’t like myself for it, but I’m soooo hungry (my brain says) and so I give in. Instead, my friend at work and I trade off bringing in healthy snacks so that when the craving hits, we have healthy food and not chocolate to munch on. Of course, if someone brings homemade berry turnovers in…well, all bets are off. I also bring my own homemade lunches in every day both to eat healthier and to save some money.

Drinking water- I am not good about drinking water. I never have been. I’m okay with the taste of it (or lack thereof), but I just have a hard time remembering to drink until I’m smacking my lips wondering why they are so dry. Water is so vital to health and so beneficial, so it really should be higher on my (and your) list of priorities (Read more about why here.). Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight, drinking more water helps dramatically with feeling more full and causes you to eat less and thus lose weight. The means of forcing myself to drink more water is to get water as soon as I come into work in the morning and finish it by the time lunch rolls around. Once lunch comes, I refill again and aim to finish that before I leave. Honestly, I should be drinking even more water, but for me right now, this is still progress. I know many people who buy a Nalgene and fill it and use permanent marker to mark each liter; they compete with themselves about drinking more than they did the day before and this helps motivate them.

Meditating, deep breathing, and even just taking a calming walk can help to reduce your stress levels at work.
Meditating, deep breathing, and even just taking a calming walk can help to reduce your stress levels at work.

Calm Your Mind- Work can be a stressful place and stress can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol levels increased over a long period of time is extremely harmful to your body. When you feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to do deep breathing exercises (see below for how), brief meditation, or take a walk in nature. If you can’t take a break, imagine all the times you were able to overcome obstacles at work and in life and consider how you might be able to become more efficient so you aren’t as stressed about all the work piling up (Read more about being efficient here.).

Exercising during lunch- Though it is nice to have a whole lunch break to devote to eating, socializing, and maybe reading a book, I find it extra refreshing to eat lunch at my desk and during my lunch break taking a walk or even heading to the climbing gym and fitting in a quick 30 minute bouldering and traversing session. Yoga would also be great too. Refreshing our bodies also refreshes our mind and takes out all that excess energy we have while we are cooped up in our offices. Additionally, exercising suppresses our urge to eat in general and also makes our body desire healthier, more nutritious foods instead of empty calories. I am also always much more productive after having gone to the gym and out of the office. I’m sure you will be too!

Even Spider Man needs a nap sometimes!
Even Spider Man needs a nap sometimes!

Power Naps- I might get some flak for this one. I am lucky enough to have my own office with my own door that I can close. If I don’t feel like I got enough sleep the night before or just am generally dragging, I take part of my lunch break to have a power nap. I shut the lights and the door, lay down on the floor, and put my sweater behind my head. I make an alarm for 20 minutes on my phone and with some deep breathing exercises, soon enough I am heading off to sleep. Before I know it, I wake up refreshed and rejuvenated. If you need some help getting to sleep for a power nap, see the below deep breathing exercises.

Deep Breathing Exercises: I was introduced to deep breathing at various times in my life but only recently have I perfected it for myself. It has helped dramatically with reducing stress in the short- and long-term as well as relaxing me enough to sleep (being a former insomniac). Here are my tips: Turn off the lights. Lay down on your back with your head on a low pillow and your arms either at your side or on top of your stomach near your belly button. If you want to, you can play one of these soundtracks to help relax as well. Close your eyes and begin to take deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Your stomach should be rising and falling with your breath (NOT your chest, which is how most of us breathe normally). Make sure your teeth are not touching; your jaw should be relaxed (almost feels like you are about to yawn). This, I’ve found, is one of the most important parts to relaxing because I tend to tense my jaw (and the accessory muscles in my neck automatically get activated too) when I am stressed. Focus on your breath. Allow your mind to calm. When a thought comes up, don’t dwell on it; imagine it drifting away. Focus on relaxing each muscle throughout your body. Soon, you will be totally relaxed…and likely asleep.

My third battle: Changing My Work Atmosphere

Changing the Lunch Situation

Before I could implement most of the above changes, I needed to change some basic unspoken rules at work in order to provide time to take a long enough break for a walk or going to the gym. When I first began working, it was expected that one person was manning the phone for urgent calls during lunch, and since everything needed to be “fair,” it had become assumed that everyone would sit in that person’s office and eat lunch together every day. This was great for being social, perhaps, but after being in an office without windows and not moving for hours, I was desperate to get out of the office. After some persuasion, everyone agreed to changing this. Most people were not happy with the situation, but the general attitude was “Oh, that just won’t change. It’s how we’ve been doing things for X many years.” And yet, it only took a few discussions and things were different. So many people complain about things at work, but don’t take action. Don’t be that person- Things can change if you work at it.

Getting others at work to participate in healthy activities will make you more likely to follow-through with healthy activities.
Getting others at work to participate in healthy activities will make you more likely to follow-through with healthy activities.

Ask people to participate with you- It isn’t a secret- the more people you have who participate with you in your healthy endeavors, the more likely you are to continue doing those things. Based on this study, it will even increase the calming benefits of exercise by participating with others and make you work harder than you would otherwise by increasing competitiveness. Additionally, you can feel good about yourself inspiring others to take on healthy ways as well. 🙂

Joining Wellness Organizations at Work

I joined the wellness organization at my work and have been on the committee with endeavors to change the health atmosphere of my company and the health opportunities. Companies have been realizing lately that the health of their employees is important not only to their employees and their employees’ families, but also to productivity and the bottom line. Per this study sponsored by the USDA, health wellness programs have shown effectiveness in helping workers (those participating at least) increase the frequency of exercising in their life, stop smoking, lose weight (10-13 lbs in 5 years of participation), reduce their total cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and consume more fruits and veggies and decrease their fat and energy intake. Companies also saw improvements of 2.5% in the cost of coverage, mainly due to reduction in inpatient costs (contributed 2/3 of that 2.5%) and reduction in outpatient costs and prescription drugs (28 and 10% respectively of that 2.5%). The wellness program effectiveness is only as good as the people organizing it, however. Be part of your work effort and see not only improvements in yourself, but also your coworkers! Be a great role model and reap the rewards.

All three battles have been a great learning experience for me. Of course, the last battle continues to this day and I’m assuming will be an ongoing project of mine throughout my time at this job. I hope this has inspired you to make changes at your work for your health and your coworkers’ as well!

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On Confidence, Vulnerability, and Resilience

When I began down my career in medicine eight years ago, I was told that I needed to become aware of my feelings regarding certain patients and that I would know who those patients were when they appeared. I didn’t know what was meant by this at the time, but over the years, I’ve come across these patients- the ones who make you want to climb out of your skin and give them yours, the ones you admire, the ones you fall in love with, and yes even the ones you want to kind of strangle.

One patient specifically comes to mind- an adorable little 6-year-old girl I’ll call Abbe. Abbe was in our clinic because she has a genetic condition which alters facial bone structure and leads to facial “drooping” as well as ear abnormalities. You can imagine that her face and ears were the butt of many nasty jokes in school, but even as a 6-year-old, she was able to hold them at bay.

AcceptanceShe wore a headband that covered her ears, but she informed me this wasn’t because she was embarrassed about their appearance. She just liked wearing headbands. Her mom wore a smile ear-to-ear and asked her daughter to describe her most recent “show-and-tell” talk to the doctor and to me. Abbe explained that she stood up in front of the whole class, took off her headband and said “Look at my ears. I’ve heard you talking about them. They are different than yours, but they’re just a part of me. My ears and my face look like this because I have a genetic condition that makes them look like this. I can’t hear as well as you because of it either. But that’s okay. I can still think like you and feel like you. If you have a question about me, ask me.” Her classmates applauded for her, and I had to stop myself from applauding right then and there in that exam room.

My husband referred to a quote recently from the Simpsons where Nelson attempts to make fun of Bart’s outfit by accusing his “mommy” of buying them for him and Bart’s response is “Of course she did. Who else would?” Nelson didn’t expect this response and says, “Alright Simpson, you win this round!” Abbe and Bart both portray what true confidence is all about, something I am still working to acquire. True confidence is knowing the truth about who you are- what you are worth, what you can accomplish, and what your limits are. True confidence can’t be destroyed by some hurtful words. Words are only hurtful if you let them carry weight, and often just by deflecting them with the truth, there is no rebuttal.

Above and beyond having confidence, I admired Abbe’s vulnerability. Ever since I watched Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability being the key to happiness, I’ve considered my past history of desperately grasping for privacy and silence. I was raised in an atmosphere where I was encouraged to hide everything negative in life with a shroud of darkness so that no one could arm themselves with my weaknesses and use them against me. It was only when I made a pact with myself that I was going to share all of me with the world and force myself to be vulnerable that I realized without secrets, there is nothing for people to arm themselves with. Furthermore, the darkness loses its hold over you and its power when you share it with others. Last but not least, you find that people who love you love you *because* of your light *and* your darkness.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strengths.” Sigmund Freud

In addition to confidence and vulnerability, Abbe expressed something I see in most people in what could be perceived as negative situations: resilience. She, with the help of her mother, was able to accept her life and her condition as it was without sugar-coating and more than be accepting of it- she took this as a sign that she needed to be strong. People were going to make fun of her, but she was going to stand up for herself. People were going to think she was “different,” and she realized she was, and she grew love for herself in knowing that.

 

Abbe understood this at 6 years old, and this boggled my mind. But then I imagined myself at 6 years old and realized I had lost some of the confidence I had at that age over the years and that much of it did have to do with losing an accurate perception of what I was and wasn’t capable of. I think a lot of us lose this as we age due to peer pressure or perceived evidence that we are not capable of X, Y, or Z. At 6, most of us have not developed the fear to worry we can’t do something (unless our parents have explicitly told us we can’t), and that allows us to see the world in a much more innocent (and possibly more accurate) way. Abbe didn’t see people talking about her ears as malicious; she understood that she was different and she stated it as such. As we age, we think “different” is negative, but “different” just is. If we were all so confident and vulnerable as to be ourselves whatever the consequences like Abbe, the world would also be a much different place.

Resilience- the courage to come back!
Resilience- the courage to come back!

I dare you to acknowledge who you are with flaws and all to people you love, to strangers, to the world. I dare you to stop holding back and thinking that people won’t like you when you openly discuss a painful part of your past. I dare you to be vulnerable and be confident in who you are and stop letting words (especially words that you know are not true) hurt you. I dare you to remember who you were at 6 years old and imagine standing up in front of a classroom of your peers and being naked before them (metaphorically at least). And then be “naked” from here on out.

I dare you to comment below with something that you are hard-pressed to admit to anyone else.

I’ll start with me: Many years ago, I spent 3 days in a mental hospital due to suicidal thoughts. It took hitting rock bottom to begin to find reasons for living again.

I have placed a fragile part of me before you here. Will you do the same?

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Unraveling Our Love Lives

I have many friends old and young, gay and straight and asexual and polyamorous, every color, from every culture, and above and beyond them all being humans, there is another characteristic that unites them—they are all searching for someone (or multiple someones) to be with. And even deeper than that? They are looking to be understood by this someone(s), understood and most of all accepted for who they are. As most of you reading know, this can be a very messy and painful process.

I want to disclose that I’ve been married for four years and been with my husband for almost nine years. I was lucky- lucky to find my “someone” as young as I did, lucky that we’ve been growing in the same direction, lucky we are willing to learn alongside each other about who we are and who are evolving to be. I’m also lucky to have not been jaded by any extremely painful relationship breakups previous to the one I’m in now and have been in since I was 18. I realize that this disclosure may make some people think I have no credibility to offer them advice with their more advanced years and experience in dating and relationships. Admittedly, maybe I don’t…but, let’s be honest- I’m not still searching, so maybe I’m doing something right. My parents met in their teens and have been together for 35 years and both sets of grandparents were together for more than 50 years until death did them part, so I’ve had my fair share of great role models when it comes to relationships. I’ve also witnessed many of my friends in relationships that didn’t work out (and some that did of course) and have observed some patterns of positive/successful and negative/unsuccessful relationships. Without further adieu, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

If only finding love was as easy as love-seeking binoculars!
If only finding love was as easy as love-seeking binoculars!

1) Figure out who you are first.

That sentence makes it sound so simple, but believe me- I know it is not. One reason figuring out who you are is difficult is because we seem to always be in flux, changing from one moment to the next. And yes, it is true- the me ten years ago is in my opinion a totally different me than I am now. However, when I look deeper than my friends and hobbies and interests, there are aspects of me that have not changed. I have always been a pessimist, for instance. I have tried to change that, but it has not been fruitful. I have always felt as though I was an old soul in a young body, and throughout the years, I continue to feel as though my mind ages quicker than my body. I have thus always been attracted to others who feel similarly. I have always yearned for central stability- financially, emotionally, physically- and repelled any act of impulsiveness (though it does sound like a more fun way of living sometimes). I saved my money for months and years in order to comfortably afford what I wanted even when I was a child. I had no trouble delaying gratification or having extreme amounts of self-discipline. I could keep going with this list. I’m sure if you meditate on yourself- the deeper traits that make up who you are- you will soon come up with a list as well of things about you that have not changed through the years.

This list is essential to understanding 1) who will best understand you and 2) who you will best understand. The reason for this is because though opposites attract in terms of more superficial traits (like being organized or messy, homebody or life of the party), the more fundamental character traits need to complement each other or major problems are likely going to crop up. For example, how many times have you seen a happy couple where one partner’s religion is very important to them, but the other partner was brought up in a different faith and going to religious functions is the last thing on their to-do list? I only know of one. Another example: One partner who wants children and one who does not. Both of these examples portray two people whose image of their future and world outlook is inherently different and is more likely to cause problems than two people who are, for instance, not complementary in their desire to be tidy or messy.

2) If you have one bad relationship, it might be a bad apple. But if you have a string of bad relationships (especially with similar failures)…hate to break it to you, but it’s probably you.

I’m not trying to be mean, but the above statement is true. Don’t we all have a friend who we want to support, but part of us just wants to tell them “Look, you keep dating the same guy!” I’ve noticed a pattern of women (young and old) who continue to be attracted to the “bad boy” and continue to be wooed by the impulsive money spent on them, extravagant gifts and vacations, and constant sense of thrill and mystery. Many of these women expect the impulsiveness, fun, and thrill to continue through a dating relationship and then to morph into perfect husband or father material. They think a naturally impulsive person will suddenly want to begin saving when a ring or a child comes into the picture or that the fun will continue to be the same while throwing up with a stomach flu. I understand that there is a time for fun, impulsiveness, thrill and mystery. But what I’ve found is that far and wide, people don’t change very much (unless they really *really* want to—and not because you want them to either). So before going into a relationship and expending time and energy and pieces of yourself on it, consider who this person is now and who they will continue to be in 10,15,20 years and whether that is a person you think you will still want to be with at that time given what you want for your future. When we accept a long-term relationship as a commitment, we are saying to the person “I love you as you are and I will continue to love you and see and understand you- warts and all.” If you can’t say that to the person you are dating (and keep dating), find someone you can.

3) No one is perfect, even you.

Did you really need it said? When you are in love, love goggles make you think the person in front of you is perfect. You ignore the things that grow to bother you later in the relationship, once the “honeymoon phase” is over. This love is only the initial phase of love, the blinding love. The best kind of love, the real love, is the love that sees you at your most vulnerable, your sickest, your most hurt and hurtful, and understands who you are and why you are the way you are- and accepts this. Does a person who loves you love everything about you? I guarantee you that the answer is no. They just know that you as an entity are the package- and that inherently comes with baggage. They take the bad with the good, because the good is perfect for them. That aside, our partner also has a view into us that no one else in our life has. So if they tell you to consider another viewpoint or tell you something that feels very painful and raw…maybe it’s true. You aren’t perfect. Neither are they. But as a partnership, you can help each other be the best people you can be as mirrors of our best and our worst traits.

4) Don’t compromise. (Really!)

I had always been advised by others in relationships that the key to relationships is compromise. But when I looked up what the word really meant, I was confused. I had always thought these people meant that sometimes someone “wins” and other times they “lose.” The definition of compromise is “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.” So compromise means that both people lose. It isn’t what sounded or felt right to me. If we are both unhappy in order to resolve a fight, what good is that? I decided to never compromise on the big things, but instead to figure out who the fight is more important to and discuss openly what each person hopes to gain. And unlike all those people who say “don’t go to sleep angry”….well, we sleep on it. It gives my husband and I time to process our disagreement without being swept into emotions. If it’s really an important fight, it requires some thought to resolve. If you wake up and can’t remember what you fought about, it wasn’t important enough to continue. In order to decide how much a fight matters to each of you, you can either discuss it openly or last resort- each rate it on a scale from 1-10 and talk about it. Communication is obviously key, but make sure you do not give up things that really matter to you and also consider the other person’s needs and wants to make a decision that everyone is *happy* with. You may even determine a hidden third option that doesn’t remove anyone’s desires from the equation.

Love hurts!
Love hurts!

5) Love Hurts.

Hollywood romances are not real. We all know they aren’t real (logically), but emotionally, we all want a partner like those on the screen. We want a beautiful and sensuous love/lust to propel us through an entire lifetime without ever having a fight or hurting each other. We want to be seamlessly accepted into one another’s families and friend groups. We want to have amazing sex, take luxurious vacations, and never consider finances. But love is not enough, finances are always a concern, family and friends will not love your partner as much as you love them, sex will not always be amazing…and worst of all, you will hurt each other. Do you know why? Because in order to have someone understand and accept you, you have to show them who you are. And in showing them who you are, you are providing them with weapons- weapons they may use against you when they are weak and vulnerable against you. If there is a couple in the world who can say they have never had a fight or hurt each other, I will show you a couple who has not put their whole selves on the table. And I will also show you a couple who is missing out. Because you have to put it out there- you have to show them- to get real love, real connection, and real strength. Without this, you are just two people living in two worlds, sharing bits and pieces of a life you have created under a facade. You work to keep up the facade instead of risking rejection or hurt. Instead, you hurt all the time being someone you are not… Real love is worth hurting for. I promise.

6) Real love grows with the years, while lust is quickly extinguished.

People talk about “real” love, and I suppose everyone’s opinion of real love is different. My opinion? Real love is one that has always felt natural, from day one. It is a love that never makes you question your partner’s commitment to you. It is a love that becomes something much much deeper over the years. As you watch your partner’s face changing, real love allows you to keep seeing them in new ways- and smile more because of it. Real love is when you’ve finally accepted that your partner’s dirty socks will always be on the floor in the morning- and there is no point in bringing it up again because that’s obviously just who they are. It is also picking up one’s dirty socks because you know the other partner gets pissed every time they see it. Real love is making each other grow as individuals and asking the hard questions. Real love is making the hard decisions. Real love is sometimes hating your partner’s guts, but knowing in the same moment you still love them as much as you want to kind of kill them right now. Real love is not always happy; in fact, real love is there in the saddest of times and the silliest of times too. Real love involves embarrassingly telling your spouse that you have a crush on someone else and them smiling and saying “It’s okay, sometimes I have crushes too, but you’re more than a crush and you are important.” Real love is being with someone for 50 years and still thinking “There are never enough years in my life of being with you.” Real love is a constant, something that doesn’t need to be questioned or explained or justified. It just is.

1329463562_looking-for-love-stop7) Work on yourself first and the right person will come along.

I spent 18 years of my life entirely single. I know that isn’t long and relationships in middle school and high school rarely work out anyway, but for the longest time, a relationship is all I really wanted (and of course, always with unattainable people). The most amazing thing happened when I got to college. I didn’t care anymore. I was having way too much fun with my new friends and auditioning for plays and dance companies and learning new things and taking on new hobbies and finally for once in my life- being accepted as myself. I stopped thinking about dating or relationships and decided I would just enjoy myself and having someone else didn’t matter. I was a means in myself; I didn’t need another to complete myself. My now-husband was meanwhile in the same boat. He had been working on himself: learning tai chi and understanding himself better. We both had profiles on Match.com which had been sitting there for months to years (years in my case, months in his) without success and were both very close to cancelling our accounts. And then, on a whim, I winked at his profile. He looked cute and his profile was thoughtful (as opposed to 99% of the other profiles); I thought nothing of any follow-up. And then I received a response from him that took my breath away. And there went my not caring about being in a relationship. The right person came along, and there we were…attached. There were no fireworks, no blind dates, no romantic meeting in a coffee shop. It took both of us feeling “complete” to bring us together.

I’m not using any scientific method to prove my point, but I’ve certainly met a number of other people who actively searched for many more years than I did for a partner, and the minute they stopped caring and decided they could honestly be alone in life and be happy, they met someone that turned their world upside down. I know that the last thing someone wants to hear after they have been searching for so long is “Stop searching (emotionally) and work on you.” But I think it’s true. It doesn’t mean give up. It means find completeness in you. The person who finds you attractive in this state will love who you truly are, not the persona you wanted people to see while you were actively searching.

8) You can’t expect one person to complete you or fulfill every relationship role (ex: lover, friend, person to go to the clubs with, etc).

It used to be a long, long time ago that relationships (specifically marriages) were merely contractual agreements to be bonded financially and have children. Love did not enter the picture. Therefore, people would very regularly have other “love” relationships outside of their marriage in addition to friendships with others. In this construct, it was easy to have a more logical and responsible relationship with one’s husband/wife, while also having a less responsible but more fun and impulsive relationship outside of this. Friendships were also very important to a person’s happiness, as this is where a person could be most themselves. Nowadays, it seems we keep heaping more and more responsibility, expectations, and roles onto our partners. We want them to provide and be responsible with finances, take care of children, take on household tasks, be our best friend and confidante, be fun and carefree and impulsive, and also want us all the time as lovers. Not only is it hard to accomplish all of these roles in general, some of these roles conflict. For instance, when we watch our partner being strong and sufficient (or just plain dirty/tired) in taking care of children all day or doing the dishes or telling us about their warts they went to the doctor for, it may be difficult to want them in bed. Instead of wanting our partner to “complete” us, it may be better to pick and choose what roles are most important and necessary for them to take on. If they don’t enjoy comedy clubs but you love them, for instance, give them a night to themselves and go out with some friends who can share the experience with you. Make some nights all about being fun, some nights about finances and serious talk. When allocated, it becomes easier to compartmentalize different roles.

9) Find a passion you can both appreciate.

My husband and I discovered rock climbing together, but I don’t think rock climbing is the only avenue where a shared passion will help to continue sparking a relationship. Though it is of course important to have your own passions separately, when you share in a passion together, it is easier to continue growing in the same direction. It also provides for built-in “together” time where you are both engaged and involved with each other (or at least with whatever the shared passion is side by side) and shared friendships.

falling-in-love-is-not-a-choice-but-to-stay-in-love-is10)  Don’t “need” your spouse; choose them. 
I’ve noticed many people stay in relationships they are unhappy with because they feel they need the other person emotionally or financially. Though my mom has been happily married for 35 years to my dad, she always instilled in me that I should be able to be financially sufficient on my own “just in case.” Though I didn’t like the “just in case” concept (because I didn’t like the idea of planning for a possible divorce), I did take the idea of being sufficient on my own financially to heart and extended it to emotionally as well. I think that whether or not it is actually needed, it increases the confidence of people in relationships if they know they are not dependent on each other emotionally or financially. In this light, both people are in the relationship only because they love each other, not because they at some point feel obligated (though I do understand adding kids into the situation changes things slightly).

11) All great relationships are work.

With the divorce rate close to 50% in 2014 per the CDC, it always makes me wonder what it is that causes people to split up so frequently. Is it cheating, illness, financial issues, the stress of kids, generally “growing apart,” or something else? Based on my very unscientific experience, it seems like very often it is just generally “growing apart.” I am convinced (again, through my very unscientific analysis with an “n” of friends and acquaintances in my life) that many of these relationships could be brought back together again if only their perspective was altered slightly to realize that all good (especially great) relationships require feeding and work. What you inject into the relationship is very much the product you will get out, so if you think love alone is what will keep you and your partner growing in the same direction, you may be in for a surprise. Growth also requires work, so you can deduce that stagnancy will lead to the “same old, same old,” which many people take as “I’m not in love with this person anymore because they aren’t ___ anymore.” Not to get too metaphorical on you, but a flame also requires feeding or it dies too. If you are not feeding your relationship like the flame it is, it’s intrigue will continue to degrade with your love..or at least lead to a very boring relationship.

Every relationship fails until one doesn't. Keep kissing the frogs until you find your prince (or princess).
Every relationship fails until one doesn’t. Keep kissing the frogs until you find your prince (or princess).

12) You only need one to work out.

Dan Savage (sex ed columnist) once responded to a person complaining that they’ve had X number of failed relationships with “Every relationship you are in will fail until one doesn’t.” It sounds so obvious, but it does seem like people think they have failed themselves or are doomed to die single when they haven’t concluded their search after dating a certain number of people. You haven’t failed; you’re just working through the pool of potential people. Perhaps you are looking in the wrong place if you aren’t finding enough potentials, but yes, they will all fail…until one doesn’t. That one is the only thing that matters. So keep kissing the frogs (and keeping an open mind) until you find your prince.

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My Love-Fest With the World

Can it be acceptable to hold hands with someone we love who isn't our lover?
Can it be acceptable to hold hands with someone we love who isn’t our lover?

I have always been one of those people who form crushes very easily. And I hesitate to say crushes because it feels like something a lot deeper and significant than that. It hasn’t changed since I’ve been married. Whenever I tell people that, their usual response is shock. “So you’re married, but you imagine being with other people?” Well, no, not exactly…I imagine loving them, not necessarily making love to them. I imagine that the world can be a place where I can share all of me (emotionally, mentally, and to some extent physically) with a person beyond my spouse and it be okay.

Because, yes, I do think it is acceptable (and even expected…if not downright recommended) to make connections with people (and animals too), connections that get down to the core of who we are, connections that make you wake up in the morning and smile. To me, expecting our spouse to be that one and only connection is a depressing thought. Everyone has a special spark to them that makes them their unique self, something special only they can offer to the world. How is it fair that only their partner can experience that? Why must everyone else put up walls around them in order to prevent such a connection with them?

Rocks loveI’ve never been able to find the balance- of where to draw the line. I fall in love with everyone I see a special spark in, everyone I have a meaningful conversation with. There are definitely some things that are unique to spouses/partners. Everyone draws this line differently, of course, but mine is apparently drawn with a very light marker. I share my residence, my dog, my life, and my bed with my husband, but many many people share my heart. Don’t get me wrong; I love my husband and love spending time with him and creating a life together. However, I have thought (and spoken) “I love you” more than just in thoughts regarding my husband (who’s been my only serious relationship). I haven’t felt comfortable bringing this up with the majority of people in my life and really hope I won’t regret writing about it here. It wasn’t until I read this that I even considered it. To see that someone else “gets it” beyond a couple of friends who share my thoughts and was able to put it into words and share it with the world is inspiring.

1385767_13100666I suppose if I had to put a label on what I’m talking about, it would be “intimacy.” A close friend of mine calls it cosmic intimacy: a connection that feels like it’s been present since the beginning of time, a connection that is more than a friendship and does not spring from sexual or physical thoughts. Sexual thoughts may come up, of course- they often do when you feel deep and true love for someone- but they aren’t the point. The point is remaining connected, as the connection itself is the reward. The connection drives you to hold their hand, hug them close, wipe away their tears…but there is always the “other” holding you back, the nameless words of society telling you that isn’t okay for friends to do.

It seems like this lack of acceptance for close connections is not as present in non-European/American cultures. Hugging, kissing, holding hands are not defined as “public displays of affection” and are not specifically identified as acts between people who are “involved” in many other cultures. I distinctly remember my friend’s mother (who is Chinese) taking my hand and prancing down a trail with me when I was in my young teens, and when she stopped, kissing me on the cheek. I remember feeling so many emotions in that moment- surprise (because no one, especially someone so much older than me, had ever done that before with me), appreciation (to know she felt connected to me), glee (to see someone expressing themselves without regret or hesitation in front of me) and love (to reciprocate feeling connected in the warmth of her hand and her heart). It made me yearn for creating and embracing those moments of pure connection and unadulterated love and innocence in my life. It was the beginning of my love-fest with the world.

How do you balance connections in your life? Do you have a love-fest with the world? How do you feel about its acceptance or lack thereof in your life?

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How to Study Effectively and Efficiently Without Losing Your Mind

I have never been the kind of person who could read part of a textbook once and remember it. I was always the one who returned a book with hundreds of highlights, notes in the margins, and a flashcard or two holding its place in an important chapter. I’m not sure if this was just a natural state of being for me (low reading comprehension perhaps), if it was because I went to a competitive prep high school and therefore not studying was out of the question to get good grades, or if it was because I grew up with a mother who is a special education tutor and tutored in our house. Maybe it was a combination of all of the above. Either way, studying for me has always been a meticulous process. Its rhythm calmed me before a test, its process allowed me to manage time expediently and (perhaps falsely) believe that academics was a piece of cake.

Studying is all about finding a rhythm and studying frequently in small chunks so it isn't overwhelming.
Studying is all about finding a rhythm and studying frequently in small chunks so it isn’t overwhelming.

I’ve learned along the way that studying does not come easily to everyone, however, and moreover its process was never one that was taught explicitly to most people. I’ve met numerous people who are going into a graduate or professional degree programs who have never had to study in their life and suddenly are thrown into entirely new situations with far too much knowledge to absorb and well…are kind of freaking out. So here it is- the secrets to studying effectively and efficiently for those brilliant enough to never have to study before.

 

Before you start

Figure out how you learn best and focus on those methods of studying.- The best way to determine the way you learn best is by paying attention to when information “sticks” best in your brain. When a teacher is at the board talking to you, do you feel like you pick up the most in what he/she is saying just by hearing it (more aural learning), or do you feel you need them to write on the board or provide you with a video to best receive it (visual learning)? Do you find being in class difficult because the only way you learn is through physically “handling” the information by way of experiencing a real-life situation with the material or writing notes yourself (tactile learning)? Most of us learn through multiple modalities, but we often have a primary way of learning that allows us to retain the most.

o Are you a visual learner? Then make sure you focus on picking up material during class in visual ways. Download powerpoints from your teachers before class (if you can) and write notes in the “notes” section of each slide so you can spend most of the time looking at and picking up visual cues from your teacher themselves. Create study guides (detailed information about doing this below) and re-read them over and over and over again. Use highlighters to draw your eyes to the most important pieces of information. Use flashcards to continue seeing information in visual ways and reinforcing it.

o Are you an aural learner? Ask the teacher for permission to tape the lectures. (Most teachers will and some even have recorded lectures on the school website now.) While you’re driving, on the bus, about to go to bed…anytime you have a moment to listen to the lecture again, do. This will be how you retain information best. There are a number of apps on the iPad and for the Mac (and I’m sure the PC too) that will allow you to record lectures while taking notes, which may be extremely helpful. One example is Audio Note, which you can find on the iTunes store here.

o Are you a tactile learner? Don’t fear. Just because you learn through experience and tactile memory doesn’t mean you are out of luck. However, you are at a slight disadvantage given that most teachers do not teach to your style of learning. I am a tactile and a visual learner and the best way I’ve found to retain information is type or hand-write extensive notes….and then re-type and re-write them in different ways. Additionally, I try to find ways of experiencing the information in other ways such as shadowing at a place I might encounter the use of that information or learning details about the information that is more interesting to me.

Organize, organize, organize. Only a couple months ago, I was celebrating the end of studying for genetic counseling boards. It was well worth the celebration, as I had begun studying in January (8 months before the exam) and had spent 10-20 hours a week (more than that as I got closer to the big day) preparing. The real studying didn’t actually take place, though, until the beginning of April. It took me three whole months of organizing all the material I might need into one place that I could reference and study easily. I had gone through one entire textbook, 30 lectures, numerous notes and class handouts and medical recommendation articles and condensed it into two large study guides, a few large tables, and a small binder for important articles to reference. Organizing may not be as important for smaller tests, but when the material being covered is from numerous sources, notes and handouts and lectures, it is a necessary part of making studying efficient and effective.

Studies show that studying in multiple locations reinforces concepts better.
Studies show that studying in multiple locations reinforces concepts better.

Plan it out. So you’ve organized the material. Your next step is to plan on how you’re going to get through it. You can use a datasheet like in Microsoft Excel or write it into your planner or your calendar. Whatever you feel is easiest to use to manage your time and information retention is what you should do. Make sure to break it into manageable and reasonable chunks for the time period you are allotting and spread it out. Give yourself a few days before the exam to go over the material you haven’t retained as well (This will largely be determined by your use of flashcards and quizzes. See below for more information).

Reinforce the important stuff, but know the other stuff too. As good as I am at test-taking, I honestly despise tests because they are never a true indicator of how well or not well I know material. Often, I find that test makers focus on things that may not be that important (like details you would just reference books for in your own job, for example) or they emphasize one area too much and others too little or not at all. But we can’t control that, so there is no real point in complaining now. The point is, you don’t know what the people making the test will think is important…so, really, you should know it all at a shallow level and know the stuff that is cited multiple times by your teacher or sources at a more in-depth level. Therefore, when you are planning out when to study material, make sure you allot more time to these areas and less (but still some) time to the more minor minutiae.

Let friends and family (and pets :-)) help you with your studying.
Let friends and family (and pets :-)) help you with your studying.

Start studying WAY before the test. As you’ve probably noted, in order to complete any of the above items, you need to not be studying the night before a test or even two nights before a test. Studying for true retention and not memorization requires little chunks of reinforcement over a longer period of time. When you are studying for your career especially, retention is vitally important to your future (and possibly your patients’ or other clients’ as well).

Re-synthesize Information

Tables: I don’t find enough people using tables to study. Here is a tip: Don’t overlook the amazing capability tables have of organizing huge amounts of information in consistent ways into easily visually accessible means. With the use of a header row or column, you can organize just about anything and easily take this information and make them into flashcards or just use it as a primary study guide as long as the information is all similar/comparable. For an example, I made a very large table of over 300 genetic conditions while studying for genetic counseling boards with columns for gene involved, symptoms of the condition, age of onset, differential diagnoses, testing procedures to diagnose it, etc.

Study guides: Everyone has a different idea of what a study guide is, I’ve found. A study guide to some may be just a bunch of class handouts and notes compiled together. For me, a study guide is a very thorough re-organization of information from numerous sources into one word document. Often, I will include pictures and figures from the text books or handouts or lectures in the location I am referencing that topic. I try to compile all information about one topic into one space in the study guide so that topic isn’t repeated in some other area. Honestly, I learn much more out of making the study guide than I do studying it. The numbers or other details are the things that often go onto flashcards, but the big ideas are covered in my brain just by making the guide. At the end of making the study guide, I have all the information I will need to review for the test in one place and written in my own words. Try it sometime! I guarantee the time you spend on it will be more than worth it. If you have a photographic memory (or close to it) or are a visual and/or tactile learner, this is especially helpful, as recall is as simple as remembering where the piece of information was on the page in your study guide and the other information around it will also come into focus with it.

Memory Triggers: My grandfather was always repeating medical mnemonics to me as I grew up, since he went through med school for a few years. It is the means many people use to remind themselves of large amounts of information that has a pattern or organization to it and that order is significant. For instance, to remember the cranial nerves, it is easier to remember Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Vintage Green Velvet, Simply Heaven (well, that’s one clean version at least) than to remember Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Vestibulocochlear, Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, Accessory, and Hypoglossal in that order. Personally, I don’t find mnemonics or other memory triggers to be helpful unless I or someone close to me invent them and they need to have something visual I can imagine or it just won’t “stick.” It doesn’t have to make sense; it just needs to trigger your memory. The more outlandish and crazy the better. 🙂 Songs are good too!

Study groups can be helpful if they are organized effectively!
Study groups can be helpful if they are organized effectively!

Study groups: I am not a huge fan of study groups, but I know many people who are. It all depends on if you are the kind of person who learns best on your own or with a group of people working together. The key benefit of study groups is that each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and if well constructed, these complement the others’ in the group. Notice the key phrase “well-constructed.” If everyone in the group generally tends to be disorganized, not punctual, and all are confused about the same material, I doubt you will be very effective. The other important thing about study groups is that you can’t expect all your studying to happen in the group. It is more effective to come to a study group with specific questions about topics you’ve already reviewed to bring up as discussion points. The easiest way to make sure this is accomplished is to make a schedule with homework for everyone every time you meet and a presenter of material and discussion included.

Take advantage of your friends and family (if they’re okay with that). Though I have never been the type to work in larger groups, I do work well being quizzed by or explaining information to someone else as a means of studying. This is especially helpful when you are having trouble understanding a specific concept. The person doesn’t even need to know what you’re talking about; just trying to explain a concept in layman’s terms often clarifies details or reinforces your need for understanding in a specific area. Having someone ask you questions about your study guide or flashcards is also immensely helpful in figuring out what you know and what you don’t.

Reinforce materials in other modalities. I discussed above how to determine what your learning style is. Often, if something is difficult to understand or remember in our primary modality, it is because we need our other senses to help out. If you can find pictures or figures about the topic you are not understanding or finding new sources that might explain the concept better, this not only provides you with new information, it also provides a different way of viewing that information from a new perspective. Pictures especially (if the material is something where pictures would be applicable) are very easy ways of recall. When I was memorizing genetic conditions, for instance, I would find pictures and stories online of people with these conditions because remembering their story and their image would remind me all about the rest of that condition too.

Flashcards really are your friends!
Flashcards really are your friends!

Flashcards are your friends. I don’t know that I could have passed my boards without the use of flashcards. They are so immensely helpful in breaking down material into manageable chunks and also easily defining what you know and what you don’t and separating the two in physical space. I highly highly recommend using electronic flashcards if you are the type of person who is always on their smartphone or iPad. They don’t waste paper, they don’t cramp your hands up, and they are available whenever you have a spare moment to study (waiting for a friend to meet you at the coffee shop, while you’re eating breakfast, while you’re on the toilet, etc). I have been using flashcardexchange.com (now cram.com) for years now and it has changed my studying life. When you make flashcards, take into consideration whether the test will be a recall-based exam (fill-in-the-blank) or recognition-based (multiple choice). Though it is helpful to make flashcards that are reversible (those you can study in either direction) and study them in both directions, it’s best to spend the most amount of time studying in the way the material will be presented to you on the test. For example, when I was studying for boards, I put a description of a genetic condition on one side and the condition name on the other. Since I knew the boards would mainly be recognition-based, I focused mainly on recognizing the description and not defining the condition (seeing the description and trying to remember the name of it, not seeing the name and remembering the features of the condition).

Study better/Test better

Know what you know and reinforce what you don’t. When I first make flashcards, I review them in totality once. Then, I quiz myself a few hours or days later and remove the ones I know. As I keep studying, I remove those I feel comfortable with. I don’t go back to the ones I’ve removed until the day before the test. I spend the vast majority of my time looking at the things I don’t know, not wasting time looking at the stuff I do. Flashcards and highlighting make this a much simpler and efficient task.

Study EVERYWHERE. Studies have shown that retention and recall of material is both improved when studying occurs many times over a long period of time and also performed in many places (Read more here). This is because we have context-dependent memory and viewing the same information in multiple locations helps to reinforce this knowledge in your brain in different ways. Studies have also shown that studying in an environment that is different, but also similar in some ways to the testing area (such as noise level), will improve recall and effectiveness of studying as well (Read more here). Thus, in order to get the most out of studying, study in small chunks frequently in different locations that are quiet. Not too hard, right? 🙂

Your brain and body need a break. Stretching is good for both!
Your brain and body need a break. Stretching is good for both!

Give yourself a break. Studying regularly is difficult; there is no doubt about it! It requires being motivated, organized, and focused. But if you do all of the above and provide yourself a good environment for it, you will be far less rushed to learn/memorize, more capable of retention, and you will even find that it takes less time and less focus in totality than your all-nighter ever did. Take that extra time to take a break and give your brain a rest: Exercise. Watch a movie. Hang out with friends. And make sure to sleep! Give your brain and your body time to refuel for the challenges ahead of you. You will feel even more willing to study with some time between anyway.

Avoid all-nighters. In my opinion, this is the most important tip. I know I’m a little weird, but I didn’t have one all-nighter all through undergrad or grad school (or boards). I had a single all-nighter during high-school at a lock-in (not for studying). Why? Because my brain needs sleep to even partially function. And so does yours…even if you don’t think it does. Not only does lack of sleep or restricted sleep over time lead to “decreased cognitive function, emotional lability, increased blood sugars, weight gain, increased risk of substance abuse, and postpartum depression,” despite popular belief, it also can’t be made up for. “Recent studies in humans have shown that five days with only four hours of sleep/night result in cumulative deficits in vigilance and cognition, and these deficits do not fully recover after one night of sleep, even if 10 hours in bed are allowed” (Read more here). So on top of not being prepared because of waiting until the last minute to study and being stressed because of that, your brain is functioning even more poorly than if you had slept and not studied. And the more you do this, the worse your brain is functioning on a day-to-day basis too. I highly recommend adopting a new rule of 7-8 hours of sleep the night before an exam (or, ya know…any day of the year) whether you want to or not.

Super foods fuel your brain and body- you'll need it for those study sessions!
Super foods fuel your brain and body- you’ll need it for those study sessions!

Feed your body (and brain) well. Did you know the majority of the food that goes into our body is transformed into energy to process our brain? Therefore, feeding your body is directly correlated to feeding your brain, and feeding it junk food is not going to allow it to run optimally. While you’re taking the time to feed your mind, exercise, take mental breaks, and sleep, give your body and brain the extra nutrients and boost it needs with some healthy food such as superfoods blueberries, wild salmon, nuts, seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, teas (especially green), and dark chocolate (I think most of us can agree to this one :-)).

It is easy to get swept into the stress of studying and leave friends, family, hobbies, and your own health by the wayside. It is difficult, but definitely possible to find a balance. At least try- for your brain’s sake at least. 🙂

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The Amazing Vitamix

We love our Vitamix. This is one of our staple smoothies before being blended.
We love our Vitamix. This is one of our staple smoothies before being blended.

Anyone who has come over to my place to eat knows how much I use (and love) the Vitamix. It took me a couple years to convince myself to get it due to its price (yes, it’s about $400…$600 if you get the wet and dry containers), but it ended up being one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Obviously, a total “want,” but it is a want that did make life a lot easier! Here are the reasons why:**

1) It replaces most other food appliances.

At the time I acquired a Vitamix, I owned a breadmaker, food processor, and blender, all sitting on my countertop. As soon as I realized how great this thing was, I got rid of all of them. Had I also owned a juicer and ice cream maker, it would have replaced those as well. For the type A personality in me, I love the fact that my kitchen is less cluttered and requires the use of (and space for) less appliances.

2) It is freaky fast and freaky awesome.

As a vegetarian who makes homemade food for most meals a week, do you know how much time I used to spend chopping vegetables and fruits? Even when my husband, the anal food chopper, laboriously cut vegetables or fruits into 92 pieces (all exactly the same size), many times I needed them to be smaller for what we were making. With the Vitamix, I can chop, dice, or mince at whatever variability I want. It’s even better than a food processor because you can make pieces whatever size you want…and do it freaking fast.

3) It gets so hot that it will actually cook food. (And so cold it will make ice cream and sorbet.)

I’m serious. The Vitamix has 2+ horsepower to produce enough heat to actually heat and cook soup. This means on a cold winter night, you can get home and spend only 10-15 minutes in the kitchen and have a healthy homemade hot soup ready to warm you up. Who wouldn’t love that? Similarly, on a hot summer day, a minute or two of blending frozen fruits will create some amazing ice cream/sorbet. To make a thicker ice cream texture, use whole milk or full fat coconut milk (here is why you should consider the latter).

4) You can make homemade flour, dough, and granola bars.

It used to be a Sunday ritual that my grandma would come over to our place and I would make pancakes. Because this happened every weekend, I got pretty creative sometimes. With the Vitamix, getting creative was easy. I made pancakes from totally raw materials like flour from garbanzo beans or kasha. I prepped biscuits or other bread or dough in minutes without requiring kneading. For our hikes after brunch, I made granola bars in minutes from apples, steel-cut oats, berries, and other super heart healthy schtuff (See a staple recipe here). Making breakfast was not only made easy, but also fun!

5) It’s a professional-level smoothie-maker.

The Vitamix is beyond a good blender; it is an amazing blender. It makes smoothies taste as consistent as fruit juice, but doesn’t remove all the great fiber and nutrients from fruits and veggies like juicers do. The next time you go to a smoothie place, look at the blender they use- I guarantee it’s either a Vitamix or a Blendtec (competing brand). And for good reason. These things can take any combination of healthy food items (and take them whole) and blend them into smooth goodness. And yes, I realize how sexual that sounds. I’m not un-typing it.

6) Clean-up is quick and easy!

Clean-up of a Vitamix requires putting a couple drops of soap and some water in and turning it on high for a minute. It’s just as much fun using it as cleaning it up. 🙂

7) Make organic fertilizer from your food scraps!

Yes, you can actually take food scraps, blend them in the Vitamix, and use them as organic fertilizer. It’s cheaper and better for the soil anyway. Find out more here if you might be interested.

8) Provide the best for your babe!

Do you have a young child? Why not give them the cheapest, healthiest, and least processed food to grow up on: steamed and/or pureed fruits and veggies. No more BPA to worry about or chemicals you don’t know how to pronounce. Pure fruits and veggies, no more and no less (see recipes here). You can even make raw almond or soy milk if your baby is lactose intolerant! (example here)

9) Get the creative juices flowing!

My favorite thing about the Vitamix is that it makes cooking so much easier in general that I am much more willing to try preparing new dishes. When the chopping only takes a minute or less, I can spend more time doing other more complicated things within the meal.

So those are my reasons for why the Vitamix is awesome. Have I convinced you yet? If I have, go out and see one for yourself (click here for more information about Vitamix retailers in your area) or buy one online at the vitamix.com website.

**Note: I am not being given anything from Vitamix to get on my soapbox about this great product. 🙂