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Mental Health Sophia Pollalis

Losing Control and Regaining it

by Sophia Pollalis ATC, CSCS

This past week has been… one for the books. I have fully transitioned into the next season of sports, which apparently made my brain switch gears from being on top of everything and productive to “how do I do my job again?” The weather has fully changed so my normal running schedule is no longer 9am and 70°, it’s cold enough that I shorten my walk with my dogs and question if I really need to stay on my training schedule for that half marathon that is… let me check my schedule really quick… on Sunday. Where has my time gone? I swear this semester just started, my training schedule just started, the pandemic just started. And somehow, we’ve finished the first week of November. I am exhausted.

kids making noise and disturbing mom working at home
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I had started two articles prior to this one, well in advance of a previous due date. Which I still missed. They’re still in my drafts. I was rolling on them and the second I looked away, my momentum was completely lost. I’ve had one of them left open on my laptop for at least a week, adding maybe one new sentence or moving a few words around. Up until this morning, I was still determined to finish writing it for this deadline. But then, while in the shower listening to a Brené Brown podcast, I realized that nothing is more important than this exact moment. I have been procrastinating on not tasks, but processing. Processing information, processing emotions, processing my place in space at this time. I have said “I’ll deal with it tomorrow” too much. Tomorrow turns into next week, and next week turns into next season. So, let’s do some processing.

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I am so incredibly grateful that my school made it through the fall season practically unscathed by the coronavirus. We did everything within our control that we could. We had all the practices and played all the games. Many schools in our area were not so lucky. I am also grateful for my close friends and family’s health. They have all been healthy and have continued limiting unnecessary contact and wearing masks. We have been lucky to have had this experience, because as Captain Picard states, “it is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.” For a new normal, life has been very good, yet still seemed well out of my control. When I reflect on the fall season, we did everything we could, and that’s all we could ask for.

Lesson: Control the things you can, let go of everything else.

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My race season was cancelled, so I stopped running. I kept telling myself, you can be even better next year if you keep running now, but that wasn’t enough to get me off the couch. I kept saying this over and over, becoming more disappointed in myself. I love running, even though I’m not fast, because it made me feel great and helped relax other aspects of my life. Here I was, not doing the one thing that I knew I needed to get over a hump. One of the local race organizers recognized the need in our community to replace the fall full- and half-marathon schedule and as soon as I saw it, I signed up. I signed up knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get a full training cycle in before the race. I signed up knowing I hadn’t moved my body consistently in almost three months. I signed up saying screw it, you’re getting a half marathon in this year and I don’t care if you walk it. I signed up. And that was it. I started running barely three miles three times a week. I pushed myself to the limits of what I felt I could handle instead of following a training plan. By the time I synced up with my normal training plan, I realized I had been pushing myself harder than I needed to on shorter runs but needed to keep stretching out my long runs. I felt more prepared going into the race. I didn’t complete all my training, I completely forgot about cross training or the extra stretching and yoga I had planned to make this season the best yet; I just ran. For the first time, I trained without headphones. I just ran to process, to be in the moment. And it has been my best season yet.

Lesson: Commit to a minimum percent, and it might carry you through to great success. If nothing else, you started and that matters.

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By the time this is published, the election will be over. It came right after the half marathon I ran and just as I started my period, a perfect storm of binge eating. My brain said, “you have been working really hard,  you need to replenish those calories you burned” while simultaneously whispering “oh yea and this thing is happening and you find it very stressful and we just can’t deal with stress right now, eat that Halloween candy. All of it.” I’m sure you can picture the rest. I’m not here to debate candy corn, but I ate an entire bag over the course of 2 days. And pretzles. And cheese crackers. By the time I regained control, my mouth was sore from the amount of sugar I had consumed, I felt like garbage, and thought I looked like a garbage bag as well. Thank the Lord my therapist started taking in-person appointments again and ended our session asking about a few things, including binge eating. I was honest, I told her I just ran a half-marathon plus stress plus period, but it was enough of a wake-up call to recognize “hey, you are binge eating. And in case you were wondering, you’re covering this in class this week, so check out that slide!” With a popcorn kernel in my candy rotted teeth.

Lesson: Recognize where you’re having trouble, seek help, and rise up to meet a better path.

These last many months have been “unprecedented” as I keep hearing repeated over and over, weird, trying, wholesome, a gift, a sadness, a frustration; a multitude of things that can be hard to process. There is so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of anything, let alone yourself and your family. Seek serenity. Make changes in what you control and recognize what falls outside of that; let it go. Commit to start. The first step of running a race is putting on your shoes on day one of training. Set yourself up for success with the tiny steps that take you to your goals. And when you are unsure of how to get there, ask a friend, seek a professional, and explore the amazing variety of ways to get there. If you spend three hours exploring and planning ways to achieve your goals or even just WHAT your goals are you have started something in your control. Take that moment when you realize it and RUN.

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Guest Contributor Mental Health

Finding Mindfulness in the Middle of Chaos

by Guest Contributor Pascale Atallah

We are heading towards the last quarter of 2020, and chances are you might be struggling to find mindfulness in the middle of chaos. So much has changed and looks different today, and we are all having to adapt to new ways of doing things. While this is heightened right now because we are experiencing it together and on a larger scale, the truth is, individually, we all experience chaos in our lives. That can be from giving birth, going through a breakup, moving, getting injured, caring for a sick family member… So when life around you is out of control, how do you find a sense of control and mindfulness? Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness does not equate drinking celery drinks, and sitting in silence for 4hrs straight. Mindfulness comes in small doses throughout the day. Here are a few tips you can use to create grounding and presence.

1- Re-define success:

The definition of success, in any area of our lives depends on the season of life we’re in and many times we forget to reflect and allow this definition to evolve. There are times where it’s easy to go to the gym everyday, hit our macros spot on, meal prep, meditate, journal, organize the house, play with the kids… <insert whatever is the equivalent of optimized success to you> and that’s awesome. But then again, there are times where that’s not possible. And here’s the thing, we can resist change, and stay inflexible to our systems, only to hit failure over and over again, or we can reflect and readjust our definition of success for our current season of life and to what’s achievable in the moment.

No need to have an all or nothing mentality. 

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So in this season of life, and as we go into the colder weather, holidays, kids “returning to school” and the uncertainties that come with COVID, what is YOUR new definition of success? 

2- Create a “to feel” list:

Everything we want to achieve in life, is because we believe we will feel better when we reach it and many times we end up deferring feeling good, until our conditions change. We want to lose weight to feel confident. We want to create structure to feel in control. We want to lift weights because we want to feel strong. We want to earn more money because we want to feel freedom. We want COVID to end so that we can go to what feels familiar and comforting. With that said, have you ever achieved a goal, yet a few days, weeks or months later, found yourself obsessing over something new? What if I told you, that you could start experiencing the feelings, before the conditions changed? For that, start creating every morning a “To feel list”, and throughout the day, notice events that achieve this feeling for you. That could be the sense of comfort that comes from holding a hot cup of coffee. The sense of control you get when you organize your shelves. The freedom you experience from dropping your chores for the day and randomly exploring your neighborhood. Eventually, you will start feeling everything you want in your life despite what is happening around you and you will create your own sense of safety in the present moment. 

3- Build anchors throughout the day:

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It’s so easy to get on auto-pilot and constantly live in the past or the future during times of chaos. By creating anchors throughout the day, we are able to bring ourselves back to the present moment. You might be wondering what an anchor is? It’s exactly what it sounds like. An anchor is a structure that is fixed, that disrupts your patterns and around which you build the rest of your day. For me, my anchor is training. Training brings me back to center no matter what is happening around me. For some, prayer is a way of anchoring. Other anchors are breathing, music/dancing breaks, mindful walks where you are unplugged from your phone and you pay attention to the environment around you, journaling, water breaks and meal times. 

4- Play:

When chaos strikes, we are quick to get in doing mode. We are swept away by the stress and the momentum of everyone and everything around us. It feels like we are in a constant race. The good news is, it doesn’t have to feel this way. One of the best ways to find presence in the midst of chaos, is to unplug and play!!! Get reconnected with your inner-child. Did you forget how to play? Find something you used to love doing as a kid: painting, playing and instrument, video games, puzzles, climbing trees… anything that will put you in a flow state and will capture your attention for a long period of time. 

5- Unplug: 

Whether it is the news or social media, in today’s world things have gotten out of control. We are previewed to an abundance of information meant for us to react emotionally to and in many cases without any truth or data to back it up. As humans, it is completely normal to find our energy split as we worry about what this or that can mean for us and for our future. While it’s important to be proactive and aware, it is also important to control what we give our attention to. By scheduling times to unplug and distance ourselves from the news and social media, we are able to recenter ourselves, create clear thinking and tap into our heart center.

6- Do something outside of yourself:

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

This past week-end Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away and I’m sure like me, you have been seeing her quotes all over the internet. One in particular stood out to me: “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside of yourself, something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you”. Volunteering and random acts of kindness are a great way to do that. So everyday, ask yourself, “who did I help today?”. It’s incredible what shift can happen when we take the focus away from ourselves.    

Today, mindfulness can be a scary buzz word that makes you think you have to dissociate yourself from your life and environment to experience it. That is very far from the truth. When we learn to bring all parts of ourselves and our energy to whatever moment we are in, we are able to navigate all sorts of challenges and experience the ultimate level of mindfulness. 

Which one will you try and what resonates the most with you?

Learn a bit about Pascale:

Pascale Atallah holds a PhD in chemistry and works as a sustainability advisor. She has mentored and coached many in the past 15 years to find balance in their lives. Using her extensive knowledge and tool-box which includes neuro-linguistic programming and cognitive behavioral therapy her goal is to educate people on how to build a balanced approach to goal setting so that they can fully enjoy the present moment while also pursuing a thriving future.

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Cassandra McCoy Mental Health

Can We Find Peace During a Pandemic?

by Cassandra McCoy MAT, ATC, LAT, RYT

Can we find peace during a pandemic??

Is it possible? Or was I just hopeful.

There were 15 seeds that we planted in tiny containers for our garden. This would be our second rotation into our tiny garden to extend it’s life expectancy. Weather had been harsh to our initial crops and we knew we needed a back up.

We tended them, planted them in the best soil with the best fertilizer, kept them at an appropriate temperature and water daily.

One week went by with no sprouts.

Two weeks went by with no sprouts.

Finally, at two and a half weeks, my husband checked out what was going under this beautiful soil and found the seeds were liquid. Literally melted. 

There went our second crop of seeds. Our back up plan. Our source of food to save money. We had hoped for a good crop this year, a crop that would last us all season long. But instead, we reused the dirt for our potted plants to give them more nutrients and protect them from the sun.

But in truth, that matches what has kept happening to me in 2020, so I guess it was fitting. I will tell you my personal story in hope it comforts you and let’s you know that you’re not alone in this crazy time and that peace can be found during a pandemic.

To understand it all, we have to go back to 2019. I had graduated with my Masters degree in May after having a baby during grad school and holding down a few teaching jobs at the same time. I have never not had a job, I usually have 3 to 4 incomes at a time, even during school. 

 I graduated from grad school, relieved and thankful that I had pushed myself through, as I knew I wouldn’t have finished otherwise. A job that I had always wanted, fell into my lap right as I was graduating. I thought it was going to be part time, which was perfect as I needed some time to recoup, love on my son, and take a breath while getting my career established.

But it was full time, so I dove into full time two weeks later.

It was perfect. The perfect mixture of patients, performance, movement, exercise, nerding out on new exercises and more. I started to slowly feel comfortable; however, it took me awhile to settle in for some reason (I didn’t know what it was at the time). By August, I was seeing patients on a regular basis, loved all the performance women I was able to work with, loved just quietly observing the professionals around me and just being in the setting. I didn’t try to bug people with questions; however, I tried to stay within earshot of conversations where I knew I could learn the most. 

Things were going pretty great, but then late October hit me like a ton of bricks.

We had a good friend watching our baby boy. Really it was the peace of knowing he was with someone I trusted that made the difference for me doing full time. But then they moved further away. We decided to stay with her watching our boy and just driving the extra distance to get him to her. It was too late to get him into daycare for various reasons and I just wasn’t sure financially and trust wise, if that was going to be an ok decision. I felt guilty for not being there for him, the least I could do was make sure he was with someone who loved him and that we could trust.

Well that meant we were driving over an hour and a half to drop him off and get to work. One of us would drop him off (usually me) and then the other would pick him up. Sometimes just due to our work schedules, one would do both.

Around this time as well, my husband had to start working later or be on call. I was used to him working a lot as he had a job right after our son was born where he was working 6 to 7 days per week. But now, with his work changing, it created a whole logistical nightmare. If he was sick, if I needed to go get him after work, if I had to teach or cover a game, the whole schedule was thrown off and it was like a snowball effect. Usually I love adapting to changes and improvising but something about all of this just drained me.

While this was going on, my childhood dog of 15 years started to have seizures and difficulty walking. Truthfully, it broke my heart when we had to start thinking about putting her down. I hadn’t expected it to affect me as much as it did. I started having panic attacks I hadn’t experienced panic attacks in well over 5 years and man did they come back with a vengeance. I will never forget the day I had to schedule her appointment I had the worst panic attacks of my life. I had started to walk during my lunch time to try and clear my head. I was having trouble sleeping, so getting out usually helped wake me up. I called my dad to let him know what was going on. Cried a bit with him as it was really hitting home as to how much this dog meant to me and had done for me over the years. I hung up with him and kept walking.

 I don’t remember how long after I hung up it was, but I suddenly started to have trouble breathing. Then my legs gave out. Then I start to see black spots in my vision. I knew what was going on and I knew my tools to help calm myself, but they weren’t working. Then the scariest moment happened. My hands curled up into a fist and I couldn’t move them. I was literally looking at my hands, trying to breathe and trying to get them to move, but they weren’t. I was saying “ move your left index finger” or “straighten your hand” but nothing would happen. It was like the connection was cut completely.

Well you can imagine what that did to my panic attack. Luckily, I still had my headphones in and was able to tap the recall button on the phone with my elbow. It called my dad. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with him until finally my thumb started to move, my breathing started to slow and my words didn’t slur. Then I had to walk back to work and try to act like nothing had happened.

We put my dog down the following week. I didn’t sleep much. Felt like I was sleep walking through the day. I began to notice I didn’t like my job anymore around that time. There were several factors that led me to realize this. But I think mainly it was the health concerns that started to arise and a few other things that caused this shift. I was told the company was changing how ATs would function and the new direction just didn’t sit well with me on a moral standpoint. However, my husband and I had dreams of owning a small property of our own, saving up to getting financially reset after grad school, and so for that reason I knew it was best for me to push through this season.

In January, I noticed some more health concerns start to pop up. It seemed like every week I was noticing a new symptom, problem or getting sick. My hormones were all over the place. Missed periods. No motivation to exercise, teach class, or do my personal yoga practice.

My Grandma died in January. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral and it brought up a host of other issues and ghosts that I hadn’t had to deal with for years. I used talked to my grandma about everything. We talked weekly on my walks. She was the one I looked to for advice and consul and so much more. She was the only one I had told about my hormone struggles and how we had wanted another baby but it might not be possible. She was so sure everything was going to work out, she told me she was starting to sew another baby blanket. She told me it would happen, she just knew it. After she died, I was told I was being sent the blanket, only to find out a few days later that the unfinished blanket had somehow disappeared and there was no way to get it. I was heartbroken.  

Then in February, the crowning concern, I lost my appetite and I lost a total of 15 pounds in 4 weeks. I was getting sick almost every weekend, I had no energy. It was affecting the quality of my marriage, my ability to be a mom, and my jobs.

During all of this, I tried to stay positive. I mean, I own a small business called Positively Balanced. I was focused on helping other women have access to knowledge, resources and to be heard. I knew life wasn’t all sunshine and roses but I also knew I needed to look for the good and what could happen in the future and try to keep that in my focus. I founded Positively Balanced because I knew we don’t have to be positive all the time, we don’t have to be balanced, we can be positively balanced and thankful for the good when it comes. But instead of asking for help like Ii tell all my patients and trying to move forward that way, I decided to stay on the struggle bus all on my own. 

So, in turn I’m having panic attacks, not sleeping, hormones are crazy, constantly driving, lack of motivation, lack of connection, and decreased immune system.

I asked my boss if I could go part time or be relocated to an office closer to home. His answer translated into probably not. So my husband and I decided to start looking for a home closer to work and a daycare around there to help take off some of the driving and stress associated. My husband had just gotten a new job, so we knew everything would now be there and it made sense to move closer.

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Then enter COVID. 

At first I didn’t think anything of it. I was working four jobs but really, it didn’t affect me much. Then I felt sick on a Sunday afternoon. I went to work Monday and by that evening had chills. You can read more about my Unplanned Quarantine here.

The company furloughed me for a month. Then extended it for another. Then laid me off on June 1st. I had filed for unemployment as my income was our largest and supporting income. Unemployment hasn’t paid me since they extended my furlough, and even after calling every week, I still have over 2 months of unpaid unemployment. 

I was furloughed from every job except one. My position as an adjunct professor during the spring and fall.

I am not going to kid you. Those months off for furlough and now being laid off have been some of the best moments of my life. I have been able to be with my son and husband more than I ever have before. My husband and I have been able to reconnect, grow and have fun doing things that we never had the time or where in the same place to do in the past. I have been able to watch my son develop, learn and grow. He now says mama and cries out for my help, something he couldn’t do before, because I was rarely home.

We had a good savings built up and we don’t live crazy, just the basics. But even with that, we are now dipping into savings.

 I found out I was pregnant two days before being laid off.

When I was first put on furlough and then laid off, I told everyone this was a good thing. I could finally feel like a mom and spend time with my son. I could finally regain some strength, weight and improve my immune system. I could figure out what my new path looked like. 

But truthfully there has also been an underlying fear  ever since I was laid off. I have always had several jobs, even during college. But now I have nothing. I was worried about what others in my profession and friends would think. I was worried about the dreams we have been saving for would never become a reality.

We had put in for approval for a home loan, so we looked into what that would look like now. Unfortunately, we also found what was our dream home. Nothing fancy by any means, in fact it needed a lot of work, but it was perfect for what needed and had the potential for what we could make of it.  Only to find out with all the circumstances we now found ourselves in, it has become a whole lot harder.

I am currently trying to find peace again during this pandemic. I have found it here and there throughout the past few months, so I look for it where I can. In my son’s laugh. In the sunrise I see with my morning coffee. In the garden we planted that is still going strong despite the challenges it faced. In the fresh bread rising in the sun. The hope of getting out fixer dream home. The fresh meal I prepare for my family and little cleaning chores I do throughout the day. The opportunity to build and grow my business after differing it as a possibility for so long.

I am blessed. My story is not as severe as many in our world are experiencing, yet it is similar to what many are experiencing in their own way.

I tell you all of this because I want you to hear something. Some things happen in our lives that we just can’t control. All we can do is try to find our way as best as we can!

The world is changing. It can be disappointing. It can be scary. It can be heartbreaking. Just remember this: There is nothing we can do about it but try to find peace and stay as Positively Balanced as we can through it all.