Finding Sunshine on A Cloudy Day

Now you’re all humming “My Girl” by The Temptations, aren’t you? That’s just fine… because it’s close enough to what I’m referring to. Today is a beautiful day here but it’s surrounded by lots of rainy days with ground well saturated with melted snow (some places still have several inches, if not feet, of snow that hasn’t yet). So you’ll understand why the idea of finding sunshine on a cloudy day is on my mind.

My Girl - The Temptations

Of course, in the song it’s all about the girl and hey, if that’s your answer – do your thing. ūüôā Read no further. You’re all set. But even for those in love, there are moments when you just need a little help finding the joy in life when it isn’t coming from outside of yourself.

I’m sure a lot of us have noticed how happy people get when the weather changes from overcast and cold to sunny and warm. Happy, friendly, and usually more optimistic. At least, this has been my experience almost everywhere I’ve been. The weather plays a large role in our mood and our outlook on the future. Recognizing this is one element of being able to turn the dial up on your own inner happiness, on your own, when the outside isn’t quite as uplifting.

And, of course, this concept of sunshine and clouds is also a metaphor for broader situations we can get ourselves into. Just the very idea of going to your job away from home, taking care of the kids, etc. can get a person down and out. Some days things are going great, other days something just isn’t connecting or you aren’t feeling appreciated. I’ve had plenty of all of it.

But it’s all the same – it all hinges on being able to recognize the impact that your external surroundings have on your own mood and outlook on life. If someone gives you a hard time, you have a choice to make. You can internalize that moment and feel bad about it and upset and angry about it. You can feel resentful toward that person for your changed mood and lost happiness. You can bemoan the unfairness of it all that you should be one chosen to be the target of this person’s ire (or whatever). And et cetera.

But where does any of that get you? Where has any of that every gotten any of us? Emotions are tied into a complex biochemical and psychological web of influences that are not easy to tease out. Emotions are a part of how you respond to the world. It isn’t really helpful to criticize yourself for your emotions. But it is useful to examine them and to examine your actions in response to them. How do you act based on your emotions?

Here’s an example. My friend Sanjay has just had a going over by his boss for forgetting to turn in a weekly report needed for his boss to be able to write his own report. Sanjay is getting the third degree and afterward he feels pretty bad. He goes to his friend and complains about the whole thing, complaining that his boss is a jerk and he doesn’t deserve to be spoken to in that manner. He complains that he doesn’t make enough money to put up with the nonsense (he probably uses more colorful language). Et cetera.

And I come along and ask Sanjay, in this fictional example, how he’s feeling at that moment. Most people would say something like: “I’m pissed off.” or “I feel like punching him.” or “I just feel like quitting.” Right? Any of this sounding even vaguely familiar? Even if you don’t work in an office – you can extrapolate this to other situations where you have had to knock heads with someone who is a position of power over you (student-professor, other employee-boss, child-parent, adult “child”-parent…)

But you see what I mean about identifying emotions really as the subsequent _actions_. Our fictional dude is probably _feeling_ angry and devalued, and who knows what else based on his own past history – he could be feeling depressed, sad, lonely, unloved, resigned, anxious, fearful, terrified, hopeless et cetera.

My point being – if he could instead focus on the emotions, rather than the actions, then he could see that his response (being upset with the boss’ actions) isn’t really useful _for him_. It only exacerbates what is upsetting him so much.

And so instead of allowing this moment with his boss to turn his day upside down – he could instead chose to use it as an opportunity for self-improvement, for change. He could instead brush it off and find ways of seizing the rest of the day in productive ways – ways that would be positive. He could instead relate in positive ways with those people he knows _do_ appreciate the work he does, rather than in negative ways through a rehashing of the upsetting moment. He could instead find the sunshine in the potential cloudy day.

Now, I don’t mean to sound like a Pollyanna and suggest that anytime something bad happens or someone does something wrong to you, you should just put on a happy face and brush it off and that’s that. Or even that this is always possible. But the act of trying, of knowing that it is _possible_ will allow you to find those happy moments more often than not. And happy moments usually feed off of each other. Remember how I reminded you that people tend to be happier when the sun is out? Same thing happens when people are around others who are happy. Granted there are some who react negatively to bubbly people, ok… but in general people react positively to happiness around them. Hence, happiness can be a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Your positive attitude can chase someone else’s clouds away.


Photo credit: hotblack from morguefile.com

Hopefully all this happiness and sunny metaphors hasn’t had you rolling your eyes too much!¬† Then again, eye exercises are good to relieve the eye strain that might come from reading long posts like this one…¬† ūüėÄ

Comments welcome. Stay tuned for a post that will seem like a counter-argument to this but isn’t really. Basically a post on the meaning of happiness, how it manifests and how Western society places value on certain kinds of happiness which may or may not be happiness at all (depending on your own perspective). Not sure when I’ll post that – I have to be in the right mood for it. ūüėČ

Post shout out to @_anawhite because I am in love with her DIY furniture plans.

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Chemical Landscape: House vs. Body

I recently had lunch with a good friend of mine who told me that she liked my book, Mindful Beauty Is In Your Hands. In fact, she said that it “changed her life” – by which she elaborated that she had determined that her scalp reacts badly to certain chemicals found in shampoos, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Based in part on the advice in my book she is now following a haircare regimen that avoids SLS, limits shampoo use and focuses more on castile soap and apple cider vinegar rinses.

I was so flattered, naturally, but I was more struck by something else she said. She said that she had been so focused on eradicating harmful chemicals from her home, that it hadn’t occurred to her to think about the chemicals she was putting on her body!

So that’s why I titled this post the way that I did. Knowing what kind of chemicals you and your loved ones are being exposed to on a daily basis can be a constant process of reading labels and staying up-to-date on the latest new chemicals in household and cosmetic products.

So far, the best resource I have found for researching some of the products I use is Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetic database. ¬†You can look up either specific ingredients or actual brand-name products, and get information about whether they are considered an irritant , carcinogenic, a toxin (reproductive, immune system, etc), or if there are concerns about contamination with other associated chemical compounds. ¬†There is a lot of other data present in each profile – I consider the site invaluable when evaluating the commercial bodycare products I use or even for researching ingredients for products I create myself.

Now this site, as the name indicates, is for cosmetic products and not for household products. ¬†However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t look for some of the ingredients in household products in the database. ¬†You’d be surprised how wide a range of uses some chemicals have. ¬†You can even look up vinegar which I discuss later in this post.

As an example of a common brand name cleaning product, I looked up the ingredients of Lysol and one of the chemicals on the ingredient list is 2-phenylphenol. ¬†This is not a chemical I am familiar with in this context (but I’d be more than happy to draw its chemical structure out for you – I’ve always loved drawing benzene rings).

While Lysol, the brand name product, is not in the cosmetic database (because it is a cleaning product and not reviewed by EWG), this compound, also known simply as phenyl phenol, is listed in the database.  Apparently it appears on the ingredients list of 2 facial washes and 1 body wash (all 3 of which have a moderate hazard rating).  Phenyl phenol, by itself, has a high hazard rating (8 out of 10) due to such delightful characteristics as being toxic for our lungs, skin and immune systems, as well as being a potential carcinogen and reproductive/developmental toxin.

Mind you, I don’t know how much phenyl phenol is in Lysol but this is just a very specific reason why I want to avoid using it or being around it. ¬†And I could just as easily have chosen another common commercial cleaning product and likely found another similarly hazardous compound lurking happily on its ingredient list. ¬†If only these nasties would stay on the ingredient list and not end up in our lungs and on our skin.

So instead I use things like vinegar to clean instead. ¬†I find that vinegar is so incredibly versatile in its uses in the house as a cleaning agent, a laundry booster/disinfectant/stain remover, and, of course, cooking ingredient*. ¬†And considering how inexpensive a gallon bottle of vinegar is at your local grocery store, you really can’t go wrong. ¬†Clothes smell a bit off after a run through the wash? ¬†Or maybe you have particularly sweaty gym clothes to clean… ¬†All good opportunities to toss in a 1/4-1/2 cup of white vinegar in the final rinse cycle. ¬†Vinegar both kills mold and odor-causing bacteria, but it also helps to break up any soap remaining in your clothes so it can be properly rinsed away, leaving clothes looking fresher and brighter than otherwise.

*A scrumptious example being Madhur Jaffrey’s Mango Chutney (Aam Ki Chutney) recipe from her book, World Vegetarian, p. 695

Another inexpensive, versatile and non-toxic product you can use for cleaning is baking soda.  Instead of buying chemicals to remove stuck-on grease from pots and pans, try soaking them in a layer of soapy water first, scrape food away and whatever is left you can scrub off with a dry cloth and some baking soda.  The key is to not get the baking soda too wet.  You can also use baking soda as a no-scratch way to clean bugs or tree sap off your car windows.

So – is it time to reevaluate your own chemical landscape, and find non-toxic alternatives to some of its inhabitants?

End of Semester Thoughts; Perspective Shifting

It is the end of the semester Рfinals time or end of finals time, depending on where you are and where you are with your stuff.  And whether you are done or not done, surely you must have someone around you who is in the opposite state.  How does one manage the emotional rollercoaster of this time of year?  How does one maintain peace?  Harmony?  How do you still allow yourself to take care of yourself?  Is that even a priority?

Every year I hear conversations in the hallway, or more often than not (and especially now that I am a more well known fixture within the college community) someone comes into my office and unloads these sorts of feelings and questionings. ¬†They rarely want _answers_. ¬†Verbally they want it all to go away and be something different. ¬†But really I think what they want is a different perspective. ¬†A way to look at the world so that the things that “must be done” aren’t done in such a way as to cause stress in such an intensely cyclical way. ¬†A way to get the work done, have fun and still remain a whole human being all at the same time. ¬†A way to make choices without that (fight or) flight response of wanting to run away and hope that someone or something will make the choices for them.

I think that deep down at least some of us know the power of perspective shifting.  Every so often we witness it in action, purely by accident.  For example, close your eyes and think of something that you really enjoy doing but that is really intense.  Something that requires a lot out of you and leaves you exhausted either mentally or physically afterward.  Something that you enjoy though.  Got it?  Ok.  Now Рlet me ask you this.  Does it stress you out?

No? ¬†I think not. ¬†For example, I LOVE hiking. ¬†With a passion. ¬†And when I walk past the parking lot and onto the trail, letting the canopy envelop me, I can’t help but let my feet take me forward and usually upward for far longer than I intended. ¬†And I almost always push myself farther than I think I can take it – not because I’m masochistic, but because I love being outdoors and there’s always something more to see and if I just go that much farther maybe I’ll see something new. ¬†I also enjoy the effect that reincorporating hiking and other exercise has had on my overall health, including on normalizing my weight. ¬†BUT – my point here is that I would not use the language of “Stress” to describe any of my hikes, even when it is pouring rain. ¬†And yet, if you were to hook me up to a heart monitor mid-hike, and definitely post-hike, you will find that my heart would like to tell a different story of being “stressed”. ¬†Same thing with lung function, blood flow to muscles… etc.

And yet when I am late to staff meeting and running down the hall, drop my pen, realize I forgot my notes about XYZ project and have to run back to get them etc. – am I stressed then? ¬†I’m running around – similarly challenging my body. ¬†And guess what, if you stop me to ask me if I’m stressed – I’m not going to be a happy camper. ¬†Not unless I change my perspective.

So – what’s going on here is the difference between how we think about things. ¬†In the hiking example, I think of hiking as a happy, pleasureful experience. ¬†So even though it is physically stressful – it does not affect me emotionally in a negative way. ¬†Quite the contrary.

And yet when I physically stress my body in a very similar manner, but inside and in the context of work and for a task which I have not framed as being enjoyable in quite the same way (i.e. getting to a meeting when you’re already late), I experience stress and negative consequences (tension). ¬†UNLESS, I change my perspective. ¬†Which I have done. ¬†This is a recent philosophical shift for me – something I’m trying on for size. ¬†Basically, trying to _decide_ to frame events in a different way when I notice that they are causing me stress (emotional).

So in the meeting example, I change the internal dialogue from “I’m late – hurry hurry.” to “Yes, you’re late – but it’s ok. ¬†Just get what you need and get there as soon as you can.” ¬†And if I still decide to run, I do so because I like the extra exercise and I do intentionally rather than in a stressful manner.

Let me know what your thoughts are on this idea of perspective shifting… ¬†Or on the end of the semester. ¬†And intentionally have a great day! ¬†ūüôā

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TAD Day 24: Bell Peppers

Taking photos while you cook is quite fulfilling but SO time-consuming.¬† ūüôā¬† I have had quite a few “TAD”s spurred on by this group but never got around to posting them!¬† I will simply try to finish out the month at this point.¬† Thanks for check out my photo(s).

Bell Peppers – These colorful vegetables are rich in antioxidants and vitamins: ő≤-Carotene (Vitamin A), Lycopene, Folic Acid, Vitamin C & Vitamin B6 ; Red, orange and yellow bell peppers are just different stages of ripened/mature green bell peppers, and they have a lot more ő≤-Carotene & lycopene than green bell peppers, as you can tell by their color.¬† If someone in your house doesn’t like them fresh/lightly cooked in dishes – try roasting them.¬† Yum!

Posted via email from thing-a-day 2010

Allergy Relief from Rooibos Tea

Yesterday I woke up with itchy, burning eyes and sinus pressure. Unpleasant allergy symptoms that aren’t that unusual for me, and are probably familiar to many others. And without any allergy medicine in the house besides some homeopathic eye drops, I decided to research teas that are known to help with allergies. After all, tea is one thing we do have plenty of.

I came up with rooibos tea as one of a few options (green tea being another). Apparently rooibos tea has compounds called quercetins which are both antioxidants and can act as antihistamines as well, much like OTC allergy medications.  See below for two articles, one on quercetin and one on Rooibos tea and its many other benefits.  The benefits of the tea are maximized if you drink it without any added sweetener, and it is actually one of those teas that tastes quite good by itself!

As for my own symptoms, this is hardly scientific evidence but yes, they are somewhat improved.¬† Is it a placebo effect or is it the power of quercetin… it’s anyone’s guess.¬† And, as they say, your own mileage will vary.

References: