Letting It Go

by Christy Gualtieri

Unsplash Photo By Eric Rothermel

I feel fortunate that my household missed out on the Frozen craze that happened a while back. My kids were too young and although I’m a fan of Disney movies in general, we’ve never seen it. My son got some Olaf (he was the snowman) character stickers for Christmas, and my daughter was gifted an Olaf plush doll to chew on, but other than that, we’ve been relatively Frozen-free around these parts. I am, however, aware of the movie’s chart-topping hit, “Let It Go,” which would not let the collective American conscious go when it was released in 2013. I’ve never heard the song in its entirety and I couldn’t even tell you what the song is about, but I do know that there is an It involved, and you are supposed to let It go.

It’s good advice, I suppose, but like most people, I have trouble letting things go. I’m not one for holding grudges (I want to be liked by too many people far too much for that), but because I am an incredibly anxious person, I hold onto thoughts and situations and absolutely shred them with the worrying I do. If I’m around a group of people, I can think about how I was acting in that group for hours afterward: did I talk too much? Too little? Was I obnoxious, forgettable, invisible? When it comes to being a parent, am I doing it right? Does my kid watch too much TV, get enough vitamins? Why does he only like carbs? Will his brain shrink if he doesn’t eat any protein? Will he make friends? Do I do enough as a wife, a mother, a daughter? I grill my husband all the time, asking surface questions when all I really want to know is, “Am I enough?”

I can’t just let it go.  I have a hard time being myself, and that makes me extra-sensitive to comments from others.

Unplash Photo By Christopher CampbellBut if I can’t let these things go, at least I can try to lessen my grip a little bit. One thing that has worked for me in the past is exercise, namely yoga classes. The deep breathing and the concentrating on the different poses helped me obsess a bit less and release the hold my thoughts had. I also like to play those fun dance video games, where I can focus on getting a higher score instead of my inadequacies.

Another thing that’s helped is keeping a journal – writing out all of my frustrations, worries, and concerns at least helps me get them out into the open. And I try – and am not always successful, mind you – try to use meditation to focus on what is positive and good in my life, so I can focus on those things, using them as a springboard to help others.

The new year is here, and maybe something you’d like to work on this year is how to move past resentments and the negativity in your life, no matter what it’s centered on.  What are some things you’d like to let go of – permanently? What are some steps you’d like to take to make this the year you give it the best try you’ve got?

Whatever you choose to work on, I wish you the best! I’m happy to know we’re on this journey together.  

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

Wacky Weather Days

by Christy Gualtieri

UnsplashPhotoByWillieFineberg

Sometimes funny things make me remember to go with the flow.  A blogger I like to read, who is also a beekeeper*, remarked that the warmer fall and early winter days are making her bees more active than they would be this time of year, so they are eating through their winter reserves much earlier than they normally would.  In order to keep them alive, she’s having to make an extra effort to keep them fed where she wouldn’t before.

My family and I took a trip to see my ailing mother this past weekend, and because it was nearly 70 degrees in New Jersey, I left my coat behind, and didn’t realize it — less than two weeks before Christmas!

The out-of-normal temperatures are just an example of things Not Going Right, but I’m learning more and more each day that life itself mostly doesn’t Go Right.  It just…goes.  Sure, things happen that work out for us every once in awhile, and life really is full of beauty if you look at it a certain way, but I think that if we have this notion in our minds that life is powered by shoulds, we’ll end up much more unhappy in the long run with both life and with ourselves.

There is such a temptation to overgeneralize, when this happens.  If something doesn’t go the way we feel it should, then you might feel that everything is ruined.  But if we try to keep the attitude that yes, some things are different than we would like, but life is still good and worth living joyfully, then I know we’ll have a much better time of it.

One of the struggles I have is that when I overgeneralize, it’s mostly because I’m afraid.  For example, my six-month old won’t sleep at night right now (we think she’s teething), and the thoughts that run through my head is that my whole next day will be ruined, because I’m afraid the lack of sleep will cause my day to completely go downhill.  And it’s still the middle of the night!

Does your fear make you feel this way? Completely overwhelmed and anxious about what’s to come? Mine does.  But I’m taking a cue from this wacky weather we’re having and trying to go with the flow.  I’m going to enjoy these spring-like temps for as long as we have them, even if it feels weird to be opening gifts while wearing short sleeves.  It’ll help to remind me that life sometimes happens how we least expect it to.  And that might be a good thing, after all.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

*I hate bees with a fiery passion, but am also fascinated by them, so I read bee-centered things every once in a while.  Keep your enemies closer, and what have you.

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

The Toolbox Technique

by Christy Gualtieri

UnsplashPhotoByBinoStoryteller

My parents live in a New Jersey apartment building that was converted from a house, and one of the neatest things about the place is the old-fashioned clothesline that strings from their top-floor sunroom to a tree across their yard and back again.  On sunny days, they loved half-hanging out their window to clip their towels and jeans to the line, pushing it out until everything was dry, and then pulling them all back in.  They swore that everything smelled better – and all around felt better – when it dried out in the sun than in the gas dryer that was set up in the basement.

I don’t know about you, but this month finds me absolutely washed out.  Once Thanksgiving hits, I feel like I’m plunged into an ocean of near-frantic activity that constantly churns me up and doesn’t relent until after the first of the year.  There are gifts to buy, school parties to plan for, travel arrangements to make, cards to write, and all-around mayhem to experience.  And while I generally enjoy the holidays very much, this year I just feel like clothes do in a washing machine: swirled around, unable to breathe, and then spun so fast I don’t know which way is up or down.

I need to dry out.  But how?

I think the best way is to start is slowly, and with some tools.  Not building tools, but tangible things that will help calm you, center you, and recharge your energy to make you feel like life is manageable again.

A few years ago, when I was greatly struggling with anxiety, I learned about something I call “the Toolbox Technique.”  Basically, you take some time to think about what makes you happy, and then you try to use those things tangibly to remind you of yourself and to help you feel better. For example, when I had to travel for the holidays, I used to bring a notebook with me and sit in another room, away from the other visitors, and write lists of things that reminded me of home.  It made me feel safe, and helped me to understand that the holiday season was a finite time with a beginning and an end.  So one of my tools is a notebook.  If I was traveling, I also brought my own pillow with me, to give me that sense of comfort and to have that familiarity.

Another tool I frequently use is music.  Although my husband is the resident dish-washer in our house, on the days when I have to do them I almost look forward to it because it’s a chance for me to put on a pair of headphones and let the music drown out the noises of all the other stressors.

When I’m really stressed, I like to re-read novels I loved as kid.  Some folks like to eat comfort food, paint their nails, light scented candles, or go for walks.  The great thing about the Toolbox Technique is that you get to decide the tools that work for you.  Of course, you want to stay clear of things that are harmful – if you have a problem with alcohol, for example, you don’t want to have shot glasses in your toolbox – but if you give yourself the time and space to figure out what makes you the most happy, I bet you can find a great deal of things that bring you joy.

I wish you the best of luck during this busy time of year!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

The Problem of Pain

by Christy Gualtieri

peaceParis.
Syria.
Iraq.
Turkey.
Russia.
The Gaza Strip.
Afghanistan.

Thousands of men, women, and children, squeezing themselves atop a rubber container that will hopefully – in the best case scenario – deliver them onto the shores of a country in which they do not know the language, do not know the culture, do not know anything except they cannot go back to where they came.

At home in America, infighting.  Right vs. Left; stalemates and refusals to compromise.  Lives lost to brutality; and service members killed daily in the line of duty.  Poverty forcing people to do unspeakable things.

Pain and fear are everywhere. It’s overwhelming.

What do we do with it?

UnsplashPhotoByTimGouw***

The sun is getting ready to set (it sets so early these days).  I’m pushing my three year old son on a swing, and we’re talking about what things are beautiful.  

“The leaves are beautiful.  The sky is beautiful, mommy.”

He is innocent; he knows nothing about terrorism or war or poverty or acting out of desperation.  And he’s right; the sky is beautiful.  The leaves are beautiful.

Life is beautiful, ugly as it can be.

***

When 9/11 happened, I was in college.  From the roof of our dorm, you could see the awful black cavity where the Twin Towers stood.  The smoke bellowed for days on end.  No one knew what to do; everyone was terrified.  I watched CNN constantly.  I had to know everything – anything – that happened, even when there was nothing new to tell.  When a plane would fly overhead, I found myself getting jumpy, which surprised me.  

A professor I had at the time had two children in a daycare close to the towers.  She left our classroom immediately, took a cab as close as she could get to Manhattan, and walked the rest of the way.  It took her so long, but she got to them.  

On campus, students were asked to volunteer to spend the afternoon at the local elementary school, to keep the kids whose parents wouldn’t be coming home to get them company, to play with them and help them stave off the devastation just a little bit longer.

In our recent history, we’ve had 9/11.  Paris has just had its 11/13.  And in so many places around the world, people – people just like you and I, people with families and jobs and worries and fears and dreams – experience events like this every single day.

I don’t like to think about that.  I like to think about my little life, filled as it is with conveniences and joys, even when things are hard.  But the days are coming when more and more of us will be called to hold this reality: that terrible things like this happen with an incredible frequency.  But above that reality is a greater one: what kind of person have you become because of these tragedies? Have they caused you anger? Pain? Sorrow? Regret? A sense of solidarity? Revenge?

Because time will march on until the next tragedy, no matter where in the world it hits, be it man-made or environmental.  In that time, what person will you become?

***

Thanksgiving is coming up, and in light of all of the events of recent weeks, maybe it’s easier to pick out the things in our lives that we’re thankful for.  Let’s let that light continue to shine, dark as these days are.  We all need each other’s light.  I’m thankful for yours!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

Lessons from Anne

by Christy Gualtieri

Unsplash Photo By Alice HampsonA friend of mine recently showed me a book she’d received in the mail from a friend of hers – a copy of Anne of Green Gables, with a beautiful written inscription.  I smiled and told her that I had never read Anne of Green Gables.

“Oh.  But you’ve seen the movie, though, right?”

I had not.  

“Seriously?”

I’d always wanted to get around to it, and although I was a voracious reader as a child (and an adult, a hobby which eventually led me to earning my Master’s Degree in English Literature), there were so many “must-reads” I had missed.  

So I decided to start.  I created a sort of “book bucket list,” and first on it was Anne of Green Gables.  I can understand why it’s a great book for little girls – Anne has a ton of imagination and is so purely excited about so many things in her life, it’s hard not to feel her infectious joy as you read her story.  Then again, as a parent myself, I feel as though if I had a little girl like Anne, she’d drive me absolutely up the wall, with all of her over-earnestness and constant chatter.  

Even so, Anne of Green Gables has indeed taught me a few neat things, which I think are important for folks of any age, not just children.  

The importance of imagination

Anne is a girl who knows the power of imagination.  An orphan who lived in pretty deplorable conditions before she moved to Green Gables, she uses her daydreams to escape when things become too overwhelming.  No matter how great your life is, rough days happen to everyone.  When was the last time you indulged in some good old-fashioned daydreaming? It Although it’s never wise to live in complete denial, taking a few minutes to use your imagination to cheer yourself up can really lift your spirits if you’re having a bad day.

The importance of speaking your mind

Anne also doesn’t shy away from speaking plainly, much to the chagrin of the adults in her lives (and quite a few peers!).  I know that for me, I’d much rather make others happy than speak what’s on my mind.  But it’s healthy to let others know how you feel about things, and to have your own opinions! Don’t be afraid to share them!  

The importance of choosing joy

Anne understood the need to choose joy in her own life – and it’s a struggle many of us have, especially when we find ourselves in a time of sadness or stress.  But choosing joy doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing exercise.  If you wake up and decide to choose joy for just the first few minutes of the day, you may find that it gets easier to do so as the day goes on.  Joy attracts joy – and it can produce some amazing results in your life!

The next book up, To Kill a Mockingbird.  We’ll see how it goes!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

 

Neat and Organized

by Christy Gualtieri

UnsplashPhotoByDenizAltindasOur home is filled with the efforts of trying to teach our preschooler how to pick up after himself.  It’s going as well as you might expect: a lot of crying, whining, and refusing.  Every night, we give him his orders (“time to start cleaning up,” “time to pick up your blocks”), and every night, he tells either my husband or myself to do it and heads back to his spot on the couch, watching us with an expectant eye.

It doesn’t last very long: eventually, after a lot of effort, threats, and tears, he makes his way to the toys and dutifully begins to put them back where they belong.  It’s a long process (way too long), but essential, as he begins to learn the lessons he’ll (hopefully) turn into good habits as he gets older.

***

Cleaning up after oneself is the hot new thing, and not just for preschoolers, either.  “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” is a #1 NY Times bestseller; hundreds of social media photos show before-and-after portraits of messy and clean rooms captioned with sentences like “finally free!” and “eliminating the noise our possessions create.”  

There is something to be said about the satisfaction one feels when they’ve tackled a large organizing process.  I spent the greater part of my time last week on a mission: I was going to Organize.  My four-month old had been sleeping in reasonably longer stretches at night, so I wasn’t completely exhausted, and so off I went to Costco to buy up as many clear plastic tubs I could fit into my trunk.  My reasoning was simple: I wanted to keep things Neat and Organized because if I did, my life itself would be Neat and Organized.  (Never mind that I had a three year old literally throwing things around the room for no reason, and a four month old that didn’t care about the staggering amount of laundry she perpetually causes.)  

There was a tub for the kids’ hospital forms and knicknacks – hospital bracelets, saved shriveled up umbilical cord (gross), teeny knit hats and baptismal gowns.  There was a tub for our wedding, a tub for the tons of greeting cards we’d accumulated over the years, a tub for all of the clothes my son has outgrown, and one started for my daughter.  I made my way through suitcases, books, old computer hardware, miscellaneous school fliers, and portfolios.  

I sweated, stacked, and sorted…and things were indeed Neat and Organized.  For a little while, anyway.  And I was disheartened by the fact that no matter how hard I’d try, things would still keep going – and I felt like I’d be scrambling forever to keep up.

But I realized something that I suspect we all already know: life is never Neat and Organized.  Life is messy, and complicated, and too fast in some places and way too slow in others.  It can’t be put into a clear plastic tub and still enjoyed – it needs to be lived.  And looking at all of the things that our family has accumulated over the years (the things worth keeping, anyway) showed me that I have a full life, indeed – and one that’s brought me a lot of joy.

It makes me happy to be tidy, so I try to be to the best of my ability.  But I can learn to forgive myself for a bit of a mess here and there, and ask for help when I need it.  Here’s hoping that you can find a way to give yourself a bit of grace when things get overwhelming for you!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!

Finding Your Tribe

by Christy Gualtieri

Female friends by the sea

When I first moved to Pittsburgh by way of New Jersey, I wasn’t a tremendous sports fan. In New Jersey, all the teams mostly belong to other states: either you’re a New York team fan, or a Philadelphia one, depending on how North or South you live.  I was unprepared for how absolutely wild Pittsburgh residents get over their beloved (and wonderful) teams, and I loved how specific it was.  These teams played for their city, and it created a camaraderie I had never experienced before.

At the first job I got when I moved to town, I was standing outside the building, looking for my cell phone, when a man approached to enter.  I opened the door for him and he smiled and thanked me, and then said, “Go Steelers!”

“Go Steelers,” I replied, slightly taken aback.

As my first weeks in Pittsburgh progressed, I began to take notice of how deep the sports rabbit-hole went.  Grocery store employees wore Black and Gold on game days.  The breaking news and top stories on the nightly news were sports-related (a far cry from the crime-ridden ones from the reports back in New Jersey).  I could even buy Black and Gold bagels!

It was infectious.  I’d always loved having a football game on in the autumn, but my husband and I got caught up in the meteroric rise of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  We cheered at parties when the Steelers won the Super Bowl; we cheered even louder when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.   We developed (friendly) animosity towards Baltimore Ravens fans and Washington Capitals diehards. We’re a bit slower to embrace baseball, but it would be fun to have the Pirates win the Pennant!

Yes, the teams are all exciting, and their players work hard.  But what I was really drawn to, through it all, was the community they brought.  I wasn’t just a resident in Pittsburgh – I became a Pittsburgher, just like everyone else.  I felt like I belonged.

It’s ingrained in us as humans, I think, to belong, to feel like a part of a tribe.  We’re not meant to walk through the world alone, and yet so many of us feel exactly that way – alone.  Anxiety and depression can wear down the healthiest of us, and make us feel as though we’re separate from the whole, and no one can reach us.  It’s an awful feeling.

A friend of mine once told me something I’ll never forget: “No matter what you’re struggling with, think of all of the people in the world – seven plus billion.  There is always someone else struggling with it, too.”  And even though I didn’t know anyone at the time that had struggled so much with the anxiety levels I had, I was comforted to know that at that moment, someone else was standing in it with me.  If you’re feeling alone, know that you are not alone, and reach out to someone who can help you find support.

But maybe you’re doing all right these days – maybe you’re getting help and managing your symptoms and things are going well.  If you are, that’s wonderful! Maybe take today to be that helping hand to someone who feels alone.  Know that you have a special ability, because you’ve been there, to reach out to others around you to help them have that same sense of community that we all desire.  

You don’t even have to be a sports fan to do it!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!