Learning How to Rest

Oh, give me a break.

No, really, give me a break.

I’ve realized that I have NO IDEA how to rest. I picked up this month’s issue of Yoga Journal, which happens to be about resting. In this issue, one of the authors suggested that many of us have two states – tense and asleep. They argue that we never really rest. My guess is that there are a lot of us academics who can relate.

Ever try to sit around and really just take it easy? What happens?

  1. Maybe I have to use the bathroom.
  2. OK, now I have to get a tissue.
  3. The remote is over there.
  4. My iPad needs charging.
  5. I should probably get off Facebook.
  6. Crap, I should answer that email.
  7. And that one.
  8. It’s just a few papers. I’ll feel better if I get them done.
  9. I need a coffee.
  10. I should probably get off Facebook.
  11. Oh! Puppy videos!
  12. Crap, I should answer that email….

Resting is one of the harder things we are asked to do. Even when we are sitting in meetings and not really moving, we aren’t resting. We’re just not productive. When we are at our computers at work or at home, we’re concentrating on some sort of task. Our brains are engaged, and if you really stop to look at yourself, I bet you’ll see that your muscles are super tense.

Did you ever leave a meeting or a really intense writing or grading session and have no idea why you were sore and drained? It was probably because your muscles were in an isometric contraction most of the time. You were working way harder than you thought you were!

We didn’t get where we are by being good at resting, right? I get the impression among my colleagues that they think rest and relaxation and health behavior are woo-woo things. I’ll start spouting off about yoga and getting in touch with your inner child or something.

Plot Twist: Waldo Finds Himself.
No new-agery here! Nothing woo-woo or weird about it – sometimes you need to disengage.

Being able to rest and relax, especially when things get really stressful and tense, might be the key to our longevity in academia. Remember that book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? There might be a lot of truth in that! Small changes can have big effects.

At the last meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, I took a workshop in Behavioral Relaxation Training. Created by Roger Poppen in the late 1980s, it is a set of 10 simple behaviors that signal that the body is relaxed and the autonomic nervous system has taken over. I tried to find a video of BRT, but can’t find any that show the technique as I was taught it.

Here is another nice article about ways to incorporate small pauses into your day. In my travels and in my research, I’ve learned a few things about resting:

  • It doesn’t have to be mystical or yogic or anything like that.
  • A short amount of time here and there throughout the day is enough for most people, but your mileage may vary.
  • Anything that resets your brain and body can be considered rest. For some, it’s sitting on the couch with a good book. For others, it’s a nice long run. Today, my rest came in the form of a spin class. I totally got lost in the playlist and hope I didn’t start singing along (sorry not sorry if I did).
  • Rest needs to be something that causes your muscles to relax and give your brain that “ahhh…” – if you don’t get that, it isn’t rest.
  • It shouldn’t be something you feel like you’re going to pay for later (e.g., alcohol, binge eating)
  • If you’re walking around fuming about something that happened earlier or prepping for something you’re dreading, sorry, it isn’t rest. Even if you are in yoga or meditating.

Share your ideas for how you rest! Can’t wait to hear the ways you detach and unwind from your busy lives.

It’s been a while, but I am back!

Hi everyone! It has been quite a while since I have blogged here or posted on Facebook, but I promise there were very good reasons why!

  • I, a Ph.D. Assistant Professor at an R1 institution, proudly enrolled in my local community college for a certificate in Personal Training. And proceeded to get my BUTT KICKED by an online anatomy and physiology course. More about that in a later blog.
  • I did finish the Soldier Field 10-Mile. I was one of the last people, but I got a medal. And I wasn’t the very last. As I tried to pass out by the medal stand, a security guard told me I had to move on. They were trying to break down the stand and I was in their way. I would have to collapse somewhere else, I guess.
  • I passed my ACE Personal Training Certificate test on the first try!
  • I am also a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional through the International Association of Trauma Professionals.
  • I’m currently working on my Health Coach Certification.
  • Oh, and I went to Sweden, and I got to have dinner where they give out the Nobel Prize.

So, I’ve been busy. I thought I wanted to go up for promotion this summer but decided to defer another year – it all seemed too rushed, and I wanted to be in a better place to take my time and do it right. Isn’t that what I have been preaching to all of you in this blog?

I have lots of ideas planned for the coming year. Some of the topics I plan to cover include:

  • Defining compassion fatigue from a behavioral perspective
  • Self-care for practical people
  • Sleep and the academic
  • Delegating – going from being the assistant to having assistants
  • Paying attention to your body’s warning signals
  • Keeping complaints and negative feedback from stressing you out

As always, if you have anything you would like me to cover, please drop me a line! Look for a new blog once a week. See you soon!

I’m not so sure I’m gonna make it….

Two Debbie Downer posts in a row – promise not to make this a habit!

I’m starting to doubt myself with this 10-Miler. Always knew that I was just a little crazy to want to try it, but now I’m pretty sure I’ve lost my ever-loving mind.

My foot pins and needles has gotten steadily worse, and even happened on the Treadclimber (i.e., the thing I almost fell off more than once during my workout). Link is for visuals and not for endorsement. I’m becoming more and more convinced it is sciatica. The pattern my doctor described is pretty much what I am experiencing.

Now, here is the irony. Running (cardio in general) reduces most of my back pain. This is not uncommon when the cause is disk degeneration and arthritis. But it also irritates my back. I’m trying to find peer-reviewed articles on running and sciatica and coming up sadly short. It looks like that is because sciatica is treated the same way other lower back pain is – through movement. Therefore, there is very little research about how it might be different from other types of back pain.

This makes it quite hard to stay positive.

I have been looking for articles that talk about evidence-based ways to stay positive when having chronic health issues. I found one article about mindfulness, but nothing else when I use the term resilience. Turns out spelling matters in a Google Scholar Search. Mom was right. I found one qualitative study by Kralik, van Loon, and Visentin (2006) that suggested it is more about bouncing back from depression and setbacks. Not letting your issues or reactions to it define you. This sounds like Acceptance and Commitment Training, doesn’t it?

Griffith (2018) suggests that cultivating hope might be the antidote. He describes hope as a set of behaviors, rather than an emotion or thought, that will help counteract feelings of loneliness and a reduced sense of agency. So far, so behavioral. Some suggestions are:

  • Stress reduction activities
  • Goals and action plans
  • Defining yourself as something other than just “sick”
  • Finding friends to advise you and that you can confide in
  • Finding a good mentor

Huh…does this sound like things academics do all the time? So, if I apply the model I used to get my last grant, publish my book, and finish my dissertation, I should be ready to take on this 10-miler. Worth a try!

Handling the Bad Days

It’s been a while, I know…that is because I have been struggling a little.

Yesterday was the pièce de résistance of all days. In my top ten of bad days. Minor things got major and fit hit the shan. What are some of the things that are contributing to bad days in academia?

We live in interesting times right now. Just reading the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed can make one fearful of how things are going. Learning about takeovers of for-profit institutions, questions about the transparency of central administrations, Federal funding for higher education questions, and other issues abound in their (electronic) pages. Maybe you are feeling the pinch in your institution.

Maybe your concerns are more of the local type. Things like student issues, holdups at the bookstore, and tech issues can be just as much of a pain, if not more so, than the big things that hit the national news. It’s now not unusual to have students experiencing homelessness. Dealing with issues such as acute mental illness in the classroom can really sap your reserves.

And the struggle is even more real because you got into this – because you care. Grammar aside, right?

In helping professions such as counseling and social work, much time and effort are linked to the well-being of staff. Us, not as much. We are often more concerned about our students and fellow educators than we are about ourselves. So how can we make sure that the issues of our day-to-day don’t end up consuming our physical and mental health?

O’Halloran and Linton (2000) discuss something they call Secondary Traumatic Stress. When you empathize with someone experiencing stress, that stress often transfers to you. It causes symptoms very similar to PTSD, like nightmares, re-living the event, and exaggerated startle responses. It seems as if the very traits that make great teachers and administrators can be the things that cause us the most stress.

How can you get through this as unscathed as possible? One study by Newsome, et al., (2006) suggested that programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) resulted in reports of reduced stress and greater efficacy for students in counseling programs. MBSR involves meditation, mindfulness training (being in the present moment) and yoga to help individuals detach from stress. Trippany, Kress, & Wilcoxon (2004) suggest some protective behaviors that could be applied to the higher education environment. These include:

  • Building safe opportunities for collaboration and communities of practice
  • Education on how stress and trauma affect the teaching and learning environment
  • Including rest and leisure on a regular basis
  • Educating administration on how to spot stress and trauma, and how to respond
  • Keeping a journal and attending counseling sessions
  • Having some sort of spiritual connections

Do you have these in place at your workplace? Would it be possible to create space for them? Admin (I’m talking to me here), can you create these opportunities and find ways to educate yourself?

I’m off to journal a little bit…well, maybe I just did….

The Dreaded Chronic…Pain

The runs themselves are going great. I’m at a pace that I can sustain cardiovascularly, and I’m (gasp) actually enjoying them.

But yesterday the dreaded running monster reared its ugly head. My left leg goes numb when I run too much. It starts in the foot and I get major pins and needles that go up the calf, as if I were wearing a ski boot. My calves (gastroc and soleus) have also been super tight. I wake up in the morning like Frankenstein, stomping. Spousal Unit gets worried that I am upset and stomping around.

I’ve gone to the doctor to have this looked at. While I do have herniated disks and little spots on my spine and such, none of that explain the leg thing. I’ve been evaluated by a sports medicine PT. Gait is fine. No one can say for sure what is going on, so I’m kinda on my own.

Someone brought up Plantar Fasciitis or a neuroma (a thickening of the nerve), but no medical professional ever suggested it. So, I rejected it, too. Plus, I once had PF so bad I sprained my ankle. Dr. Google says yes, but as we know, Dr. Google also has a dubious medical degree. So, I’m going to ask my doctor when I see him on Friday.

For now, I’m gonna keep on keeping on.

Days 4-5

Yesterday was a cross-training day. Usually I reserve Sundays for my R&R but now that I am in training I guess that will have to wait.

I did a 30 minute kettlebell routine that was way more difficult than I thought, followed by a 10-minute yoga. The kettlebell routine was a free one on YouTube. It showed me that I really need to consider my upper body strength during this training. The yoga was nice, but I think I could have used an hour instead of just 10 minutes.

Today I barely made it to the gym. I woke up entirely too late and had to push myself to go. (Apparently I thrive on negative reinforcement – the avoidance of looking like a fool). I did a 45-minute run walk, with 3 minutes running and two minutes walking alternated. No stretch (what?). Faculty meeting instead. Today, again, I felt pretty good – even though that old turf toe injury is flaring.

The next few sentences are not for the squeamish. I was doing a burpee during a kickboxing class years ago. I kicked out, but my big toe got caught in the seam of the mat and went the opposite way. In this case, it seems that having Ehlers-Danlos was a good thing, because I had very little injury. The pain is just enough to be annoying and somewhat limiting.

Today I did have a mystery flare, though. For some reason no one can figure out, my left leg goes numb with pins and needles when I run. Only when I run. Nothing shows up on an MRI to explain the problem, and my gait analysis doesn’t show any issues. I just have to stop and walk on a regular basis to keep it from happening. That will be something I need to watch during my training.

Tomorrow is another run and Body Pump. Wish me luck!

Day 3 (or 48 days to go)

Today was a running day. Spousal Unit wanted to go to the gym, and I thought the treadmill might be a better challenge for a beginner. So I agreed.

Instead of the plan I posted yesterday, I decided to use an app dedicated to training couch to half marathon. It was a 45-minute training run – 3 minutes run, 2 minutes walk, with a 5-minute warm up and cool down.

I found a classic rock playlist that syncs with the app. Being a musician, one of the things that makes running difficult for me is the disconnect between the beat of the music and the cadence of my stride. The way this app is set up, the cadence varied between walking and running. I really appreciated it.

To be honest, I didn’t think I could do a 45-minute run. When I got to the gym, everything went wrong. My ear buds weren’t actually charged like I thought. So I walked around for about 10 minutes until I found Spousal Unit. Luckily I keep spares in the car at all times. Then when I went to fill my water bottle, I accidentally activated the hand sanitizer at the same time. So far, so good, right?

Once I got on the treadmill, though, the run was do-able. My heart rate didn’t get out of control. Neither did my breathing. The playlist was awesome and the experience was pleasant. Yay! Maybe I will enjoy running at some point?

After I finished, I stretched and foam rolled again. My calves are super tight so I have to keep working that. I also did a set of planks (front and side). Times planking were decent.

Tomorrow is a rest day, so you’ll probably hear from me on Monday. Hope you have a great weekend!

Day 2 of Training, Active Rest – In Theory

Day two of training is supposed to be a rest day. As we have discussed, I’m not good at resting – all or nothing for me. So, what should a rest day include?

This article from Runner’s World talks about why rest days are important. Over-training is one reason, but injury prevention is another. Shin splints and tendon injuries can be avoided by resting and not trying to do too much, too fast. They suggest cross-training on rest days if you aren’t a gold medal rester (hmm…that should be a thing).

I’m a huge Spin fan. I have been doing Spin since 2004. My family and I recently joined a new gym, and I thought a nice Spin class would be just the thing for my rest day.

But – somehow I walked into the Super Extra Intense Spin class. I looked around the room and it was clear no one was prepared for the level of Extra this class would be. Huffing and puffing, heart rate elevated, we were in a bit of shock when she suggested an easy increase in tension while increasing our pedal speed – about 10 times. Each one built upon the last.

Usually, I’d be right on board with this – suck it up, buttercup – but today I was thinking how this was going to affect my tomorrow. I foam rolled like my life depended on it, and I must say I am enjoying the endorphin kick. So maybe I’ll be ready for those three miles tomorrow after all!

This afternoon I’ll finish my work and prep for the weekend. Will check in soon!

What Exactly Was I Thinking, Again?

Well, since thoughts don’t necessarily cause behavior, I guess I could say I wasn’t thinking.

Right after a day and half of fatigue, I decided it would be a cool idea to invite students to join me at the Soldier Field 10-Miler. Yes. 10 miles. Me, of the I-Hate-Running crowd. I will not be the incredibly photogenic racing behaviorist.

Every year, the Association for Behavior Analysis International has its convention over Labor Day. I’ve only missed one in over 20 years. This year, the convention is in Chicago, so the Health, Sport and Fitness Special Interest Group puts together a few health-related activities. Doing the 10-miler is one of those activities.

You don’t have to run all of it; walking is fine as long as you get done in two hours. But even that is going to require training on my part. Well, I’ve paid for it, gone public, invited students to join me, there’s no going back now.

via me.me

So, anyway, some training is necessary. I don’t want to over-train, and I don’t want to under-train, either. So, I went to the American Council on Exercise website to see what they suggest.

Given that the closest standard time is a half-marathon, I figured that was the distance I should look to for training plans. It was slightly dated (2010), but I found this article. Through that search, I happened upon this training plan. I have 50 days to train, so the plan seemed do-able.

Unfortunately, I’ve already worked out on Day 1, so I’ll pick up on an active rest Activity for Day 2. Will post progress as I go along!