Woman enjoying the water in a swimming pool
Christy Gualtieri

Feel The Relax

On the last day of the swimming season, my family and I were graciously invited to the nearby pool by our neighbors, who are mainstays of our township and some of the most entertaining and generous people you’ll ever meet.  I grew up in and around swimming pools, but don’t recently frequent them because whenever you offer me the opportunity to go to the pool alone with my two young children who can’t yet swim, I’ll often decline. (It’s a lot of work trying to keep two alive by myself at once, is all I’m saying.)  But my kids who can’t swim are a bit older now, and have these next-generation floating devices that are way above and beyond anything I had as a kid, so we agreed to go.

It was a beautiful afternoon.  It had been forecasted to rain but it held off, and so it wasn’t as hot as it had been, but not terribly cold, either – the perfect temperature.  We got in the pool and my kids had a great time splashing around, even paddling a bit to the wall in the few feet of water we were in. My daughter bobbed by, a miniature pink buoy, her hands in the water and her face looking ahead, concentrating.  She mumbled something, and I leaned in to hear her:

“Feel the relax,” she said.

I watched as she stretched out her hands, pawing at the water the way a cat would, slowly making her way to the wall from my arms.

“Feel the relax.”

I was just as struck as I always am listening to my kids.  I wasn’t relaxed at all that morning – I was upset at having to buy a bathing suit last-minute (always a terrible experience)  and not looking forward to spending hours at the pool while both kids constantly clawed and clamored on me in the water, having to think about how much sunblock I’d applied and whether it had been enough or not – and I was dumbfounded by how much she knew, inherently, that the power to relax was inside her, just waiting to help.

In the hectic, frenetic weeks before school started and as the end-of-summer activities and to-do lists stretched on, I had completely forgotten all about the point of summer: to relax.  To just stop and observe the world around me. To let my muscles un-tense themselves, to feel the air on my face and the heat of the sun on my skin.

I watched my kids playing, and observed the joy on their faces as they partook in the last of the great summer traditions before school started the next day.  I looked up for longer than a second or two at the cloudless sky, and noticed that the leaves on the trees surrounding the pool were beginning to turn. I listened to the loud roars of the buses passing, and a train that had come by; and when the teenage lifeguard blew the whistle for adult swim, I passed my kids to my husband and went for lap after lap, the same way I used to do when I was little.

I felt the relax, and kept feeling it when we returned home.  Felt it as I threw their suits and towels in the laundry machine, felt it all through dinner, and as I packed my son’s lunchbox the next day.

Sometimes I forget to feel it, still, when the anxieties of the day crowd my mind; but I remember the innate wisdom of my little girl, take a deep breath, and try again.  A new season is coming, after all – and each and every one needs just as much relaxation, wonder, and peace.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

 

Woman playing with the Rubik's Cube. Rubik's cube invented by a Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974.
Christy Gualtieri

The Summer Puzzle

I gotta tell you…as a child born in the early 1980s, there was no shortage of fun and excitement to experience.  Not in the “let’s spend every waking hour outdoors, surrounded by nature while being parented by all of the neighborhood mothers” sort of ways, like the 1970s kids experienced, but in the “what is this thing I can buy and take home and be entertained by” sort of way.  In the ‘80s, if a thing could be packaged and sold to you, it was; and one of the things I coveted most as a kid (but never received) was a Rubik’s Cube.

A Rubik’s Cube, if you are not familiar with it, is a six-faced cubic puzzle that has entranced (and frustrated) millions of people the world over in the nearly 40 years since its invention.  They were enchanting to me; I’d watch commercials of whiz kids turning the cube this way and that in record time, matching up all of the colors in some ridiculously quick amount of seconds. I’d see one at a friend’s house and give it a try here and there, but I had never mastered it.  It was way too confusing for me.  I’d look at it, turn it over in my hands, and eventually leave it alone, walking away completely disoriented.

I thought it was a kid thing.  Surely, as an adult, I’d be able to figure it out with little to no effort! So when my son, who celebrated his birthday earlier this year, was gifted with a Rubik’s Cube, I’d sneak it out of his room at night while he slept, determined to best the thing once and for all.

Did I do it? Friends, I did not.

I still haven’t.  But I smiled. Because…I found it!

Here’s what I mean: earlier this summer, I had toyed around with the idea of coming up with a Summer Project – a skill I could commit to learning that wouldn’t take too long to do, but also something that would boost my self-confidence.  I’ve tried this in past years, but I needed something that would presumably be quicker than the more laborious work I had chosen, like knitting and crocheting, and something not too intense (as most stay-at-home moms will tell you, being at home with kids in the summertime is often intense enough).  I wasn’t able to find anything, and was getting discouraged by my lack of follow-through. So when the Rubik’s Cube came into the house, I had a thought: I could do this! Maybe not in record time, and definitely not on the first try (or fiftieth, apparently), but it could definitely happen.

So I’m still going to try to hit my summer skill goal.  And you can, too! Maybe it’s not a Rubik’s Cube. Maybe it’s perfecting a new recipe, going from point A to point B without using a Google Maps, or it’s learning how to change a tire or sew a button…whatever is manageable for you is the perfect choice!  And because it’s still summer, there’s still time! Let’s try a new Summer Skill, and once you’ve chosen one, let me know in the comments, and we’ll boost our confidence together. Good luck!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Beautiful young woman in a field on a sunny summer day.
Christy Gualtieri

A Leisurely Summer

I was having a conversation with some friends recently, and the topic of leisure came up.  I had assumed that the definition of leisure was something like “taking your time,” like a leisurely walk; or “relaxing without a specific goal in mind,” but I learned that it’s not always been defined in that way.  In the book “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” philosopher Josepf Pieper describes it as:

…not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation…it is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”

In other words, leisure is the state in which your mind is free to explore and contemplate things – to really think.  (Hardly seems like doing nothing!) And, to be honest, it seems kind of difficult to pull off in today’s current world.  We have so much information coming at us from so many different angles (this news site, this social media page, this neighbor, this radio station, this friend) that it’s hard enough to step away from it, much less stop altogether and think long and hard about what we’re hearing.  Not only do we have to know everything that’s going on, it seems, we’d better have a good opinion about it, too!

That got me thinking a bit: how much time do I spend in contemplation? Turning things over in my head, examining them, figuring them out? As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can tell you – I don’t do much examining…I’d rather just jump to the worst conclusion possible.  It’s definitely not a healthy way to live, and I know I’d probably be better off if I decided to live a bit more contemplatively.

But how do we do that, cultivate a more contemplative life? One thing I know is that I need a lot more silence. In my home so far this summer, we’ve instituted a “quiet time” for the kids each afternoon, an hour of quiet in which they can occupy themselves, and it’s really worked wonders for their attitudes (when we can stick to it, that is!) It really is a leisure time in a lot of ways, where they do have the freedom to learn more about things by reading, exploring the backyard or watching the neighbors work on their landscaping. And I try to do the same for myself, too: free up a little time to learn more either about something I’ve been curious about, or even to learn more about myself by journaling or reflecting on my feelings about something. It doesn’t always come easy – and we aren’t always able to fit in in the day – but I think it’s worth it so far!

I’m sure your summer is pretty busy with lots to do with family and friends and work.  How can you “steep yourself in the whole of creation” this season? Does the idea seem intriguing to you, or does the idea of quieting down our minds in order to free it up for other things scare you? How can you experience a more “leisurely” summer this year?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

The Mind Body Connection. Women with outstretched arms in front of a waterfall.
Christy Gualtieri

The Mind/Body Connection

One of my favorite movies – and one of a handful I can think of that still holds up after so many years of it having been made – is the first of The Matrix movies. In this sci-fi adventure-turned-philosophical treatise, the protagonist asks his mentor what happens if they are killed in “the matrix” (an alternate reality they can enter in and out of by the power of their consciousnesses).

“The body cannot live without the mind,” comes the answer.

A few weeks ago, I was really stressed out about a large number of things; and because my anxiety is like a muscle that sometimes gets pulled, it constricts and contracts and pulses out of my control, sometimes for hours – if not days. My entire upper back painfully twisted and stayed that way for days. I went to the dentist and had a wisdom tooth extracted, and the pain from my back was far greater than the dental work. I had been so nervous already that by the time I sat in the dentist’s chair, I was a wreck. After he pulled the tooth (a painless procedure – my dentist is seriously awesome) he lightly patted my hands, over and over, and I couldn’t figure out why.

“Stop clenching,” he told me. I hadn’t realized that I was still so tense, my hands stuck tight, holding onto each other. After days of feeling so uptight, my body was finally speaking up, and needless to say, it didn’t like what it was feeling.

Two days later I had an anxiety attack. I called my therapist right away and he counseled me about stress hormones and how they were affecting my body. The flight-or-fight response was flooding my veins with cortisol and adrenaline, and because my eyes could see that I wasn’t in any immediate physical danger the incongruency just kept taking its toll. Everything just felt awful. The physical was mirroring the mental. What had been working pretty decently was just calling out that things weren’t okay, but they needed to be addressed, and worked through, and quickly at that.

So I started working through them. And slowly, really slowly, the pain in my body lessened. The mind/body connection was so evident to me in those days, and it’s something that’s becoming more and more clear over time.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Although I think as a society we’re doing a good job of researching, treating and diagnosing mental illness, it’s worth a deeper look at ourselves to see where our own mind/body connections are telling us. Have you been having any sleepless nights recently? Haven’t been eating, or eating too much? Has your stomach been in knots, or have your eye muscles twitched uncontrollably? Are you not sure why? This might be a good time for you to look at your physical body as objectively and without judgment as you can, kind of like a scientist taking notes. Observe what your body’s been telling you, even if you’ve been telling yourself you’re okay. If you’ve been uncomfortable or even in pain and think it’s worth reaching out about it, I heartily encourage you to do so. The mind/body connection is a strong one, and the healthier we feel mentally, the better we’ll feel all around.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.