Tuning out the noise

My mind is a very noisy place.

To say that my brain runs on overdrive is an understatement. I have a very inquisitive mind. I love to ask questions, learn new information, and come up with novel ideas. But that also means I like to overthink, overplan, and overanalyze. This has only amplified this past year, with multiple facets of life competing for my attention. Needless to say, it feels quite crammed and loud up there.

This recent increase in neuronal commotion has had me wondering why I need to constantly feed my brain with information, and perhaps find a way to turn down the volume. Through some introspection, I think I have managed to pinpoint the culprit: everything has to make sense to me. When I see a problem or a situation that is left hanging, my innate response is to find a solution. I mean, if you solve the problem, the problem is gone, right? And it doesn’t matter if it’s my own conundrum, or if it’s someone else who can’t quite figure out what is happening in their life. My mind creates a conceptual framework and goes full-blown autopilot: find the root cause and fix it.

But, you can’t ways do that in life. Life is incredibly messy. Things never roll-out according to plan, situations arise all at once, and certain chapters end in no clear ending at all. Yet, when you constantly want to fix things, life and its mishaps have the ability to create an environment of havoc and cognitive dissonance… which feeds into your anxiety and makes it harder to let go and let it be. 

Meditating and mindfulness have given me a way to manage these urges. I’m starting to become comfortable in the discomfort of things left unsaid, undone, and unfinished. I am able to remove myself, albeit slowly or hesitantly, from situations that seem to end in an ellipsis. But, most importantly, I’m learning to step away from what I cannot solve without a sense of unfulfillment. 

img_6273Getting into the mindfulness habit has been a slow process. At first, I couldn’t focus or fully relax. As soon as I would close my eyes, a million thoughts would flood into my head. I could see my to-do lists growing, and hear my “what-ifs” getting louder. Instead of a calm ocean, it felt like being in the middle of a storm. But, after a few days of consistency, it all began to die down. I’m finally able to find a focal point (mainly my breath) and just… be.

Yes, my mind still wanders, but I am learning how to quickly identify my fleeting thoughts and come back to a place of peace. I also realized I need to meditate more than once a day, so I’ve started incorporating a morning and evening routine. This has been a great way to start the day with gratitude and culminate in calmness.

Obviously, I haven’t achieved this on my own. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been exploring several apps and have landed on three I love: Headspace, Buddhify and Meditation Studio. All three offer a plethora of guided meditations. I’ve been starting my day with Meditation Studio, wrapping it up with Headspace, and using Buddhify in between (they have a great tailored meditation color wheel). I’ve also been tuning in to a great podcast by Meditation Studio: Untangle. Absolutely worth checking out.

I’m still struggling to fully let things go and beat the urge to fix what is out of my control, but my mind is definitely less crammed and slowly quieting down. My modus operandi is shifting from “go big or go home” to “just breathe.” I’m looking forward to incorporating new ways to increase that clarity. In the meantime, “just breathe” is good enough for me.

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Writer’s Block…

Inspiration, where art thou hiding?

Guys… I’m suffering from a severe case of writers block right about now. It could be that I am anxious about what the next few months hold, since I’ll be away from home working on my dissertation. It might also be that my current schedule has been making it hard to find the time to write. Or, let’s be honest: it may just be plain ol’ laziness.

It’s not that I don’t have things to write about… I guess I’ve just been lacking a little inspiration to get it all expressed in written form. I normally listen to podcasts that get me excited about certain topics (here and here are two of my favorites). I also like to read articles and essays that discuss growth and self-discovery – especially when they are written by people who have found it within themselves to share their views on life and all its intricacies. And, there’s my favorite movie of all time, Before Sunset, which always reminds me of the complexities of love, of living, and of sharing your deepest thoughts with people who bring out meaningful conversations. *Maybe I should write about that someday… 

But, like I said, I’ve hit a wall. I’m looking for some inspiration… and I’d love to hear what others have done to find it! Are there any books or pieces you’ve read recently that have inspired you? Any movies that have made you think about our fragility – or our resilience – as humans? Any podcasts or music worth listening to that give you a distinct perspective? Even better, is there anything you would like to read about here?

In the meantime, I’ll be watching Celine and Jesse wander the streets of Paris, talking about everything and nothing all at once… 💕

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Back at it

A lot can happen in a month.

When I started this very young blog back in the cold, snowy month of March (which feels like eons ago), I thought I would be able to write at least once a week. I figured it would be a way to channel my thoughts and process my emotions as life happens. However, the past five weeks have been pretty intense… not so much in the negative sense of the word, but in the pace at which things have been occurring. Ergo, writing here fell to the wayside.

I’m currently juggling several facets of my life that are all in alignment and important, yet managed to speed-up simultaneously. Since my last post, I was involved in back-to-back activities related to relief efforts in Puerto Rico post-María. I first moderated a panel discussion regarding the social, economic and public health impacts of the hurricane six months after its passing (it was really informative – you can watch it here). The following week, I took over my university’s Instagram account to share a fundraising event for community members in Sector Maná. Thankfully, both events were incredibly successful at raising funds and getting the word out about the needs Puerto Ricans are still facing. This also led to more exposure about PR Stands, which has brought about opportunities for new projects, partnerships, funding mechanisms, membership growth and other very exciting things that require lots of time and planning.

Yet, my month didn’t stop there. Simultaneous to the growth of our organization, the PhD side of things also picked up. I received IRB approval for my dissertation research, which is scheduled to happen over the summer in Tampa. With IRB approved, I finally had the green light to start planning my trip and data collection timeline. A few days later, I received the amazing news that I was selected to attend a summer program for doctoral students at the Oxford Internet Institute for two weeks this July… so I had to start scheduling that in as well. Then, another email came in: I had a manuscript I’ve been working on for quite some time accepted with minor revisions (finally!), which were due by the end of April. Oh, yeah – I also had pending data analyses for a study exploring Snapchat advertising among adolescents… plus two personal trips scheduled smack in the middle of April: one to Puerto Rico to visit my sister, and another week-long trip with my husband to New Orleans.

Needless to say, I’ve had a lot going on; so much so, that the end of March and beginning of April felt like a blur. I was going through the motions, but didn’t have the time to process and contextualize my emotions given the pace at which things were happening. The events related to PR relief efforts left me with conflicted feelings: I was elated that our efforts were successful and impactful, yet I was frustrated with the current situation in the island. I mean, just recently there were two major blackouts within a week of each other, and there are a myriad of social and political issues being trampled upon by the island’s current administration – which is why thousands are marching today. I was also really excited about the professional and academic opportunities coming my way, but felt anxious about getting everything done on time and in a way that meets my standards. It was a lot to try to put my finger on, and it took a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out how to manage it all.

Although things are not slowing down quite yet, I’ve managed to get a handle on the speed at which things are happening. How? This is what has worked for me:

(1) Make a list.

When things start to feel chaotic and messy, I try to realign myself by making lists of what needs to get done. It may sound somewhat mechanical or overly simplistic, but it really forces you to think about what it will take to get things accomplished and how much time is needed to do so. It also compartmentalizes your thoughts into plans that are easier to digest. Making detailed lists for each project has helped me identify what needs to be resolved immediately, and what can be tabled for later. It also lets me visually compare tasks and make a timeline; mine is currently out until the beginning of August. Now that I mapped it all out, it’s easier to tackle each day and build in time for myself. Personally, I use several journals and a weekly/monthly planner to break down my days and write down my thoughts as things come up. Whatever methods works for you, the most important thing is to remember that there are only 24 hours in a day – no matter who you are. So, manage them wisely.

(2) Say no.

One of the harder things in life is saying no, both to things that are out-of-scope and to people who take you off track. Again: our time is limited. Every thing you do takes up a portion of that time. Therefore, when you say yes to things and/or people misaligned with your goals, you are saying no to yourself. Recently, there have been several opportunities that I’ve had to politely decline because I knew that the quality of my work would suffer if I took on another project. And, even if the quality of my work didn’t suffer, my mental health would. Meeting other people’s deadlines and priorities at the expense of unnecessary anxiety and stress is not a worthwhile investment. I’ve also had to say no to people – those who truly matter will understand when you need to disappear for a while and take care of what’s important. Here’s a great essay on the need to say no.

(3) Surround yourself with similar vibes.

Energy flows from person to person. In my experience, this energy has the power to fuel you when life gets difficult. When those around you have ideas and priorities that resonate with your own, it’s much easier to stay motivated and use their energy to fuel your own. Being around friends with similar values has allowed me to stay concentrated on things that matter and refocus my energy on getting tasks accomplished. It also keeps me positive, which is so important when life starts to get stressful. Yet, not everyone has energy or values that align with your own; some people’s energy can be draining. It’s okay to remove yourself from this negativity, if it is starting to influence the way you approach things or the way you feel about yourself. It may be temporary, but it could well be permanent – that’s for you to decide. In the words of Joshua Fields Millburn, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.”

(4) Share your emotions.

With time, I’ve learned the importance of expressing my emotions when I start to feel overwhelmed. Doing so allows me to process things that don’t quite make sense. Sometimes this takes place in written form, when I start making lists and jotting down random thoughts. Other times, it’s more helpful to talk to someone who might be able to share valuable insight – or just lend a friendly ear. There are times when all it takes is listening to yourself say something out loud to find the answers you are looking for! That’s the great part of surrounding yourself with people who care and bring out the best in you: it is easier to share your thoughts and figure out how to best navigate present challenges. Regardless, my experience has been that the more you articulate situations and the accompanying emotions, the easier it becomes to identify how you feel about them. Getting clarity in this regard can help you figure out how to tackle what’s right in front of you.

(5) Take a break.

Seriously, find a way to stop the madness and center yourself. At first, I was somewhat anxious about my two pre-scheduled trips, because that was time I wouldn’t be able to get work done. Then, I decided to do the exact opposite: I did zero work those 10 days. Instead, I used that time to enjoy myself and let my mind relax. Rather than chastise myself for taking this time off, I gave myself permission to do something fun and soaked in every second of it. Whenever I started to feel anxious, I reminded myself I deserved to take a break. Once I returned home, I had the energy to hit the ground running with a new sense of clarity. Although I know it isn’t always possible (or realistic) to take a vacation when you need a break, it is feasible to take some time for yourself – exercise, mediate, sing, dance… whatever feels right. Do it – your mind will thank you!

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when multiple things – good or bad – happen all at once. Instead of letting it overpower me, I’m embracing the ebbs and flows of life and findings ways to manage the things that matter. Taking this approach has allowed me to find balance and tackle things with a new sense of purpose.

And, before I knew it, time did its thing: it’s no longer snowing or 30 degrees outside. Instead, April showers brought beautiful May flowers… and lots of sunshine. Like I said, a lot can happen in a month!

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So, I started a blog…

Last week, I was reading a NY Times article by Matt Ritchel entitled, “How to Be Creative.” In it, he provides fantastic advice on  allowing yourself to let go and feed your creative self. What really hit me was his section on being imperfect when creating something new. As he so eloquently states…

“Perfectionism is creativity’s biggest foe.”

 

Wow. Honestly, this couldn’t have come in a better moment.

See, I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for years now. I love to write, but it’s a scary process to write something and put it out there for the world to see. It opens you up to criticism, opinions, and a myriad of emotions. Not only that, but something else always happens: Work. Travel. Home. Starting a PhD. Trying to finish a PhD. You know, life and the anxiety of it all. Inevitably, blogging – and writing anything not conducive to my dissertation – was set aside. This, in part, was due to fear of starting something imperfect; something I couldn’t finish.

But this past year definitely set a different tone. It was, by far, the hardest year I’ve experienced: Charlie’s knee surgery. Anxiety. Cancer. Death. Way-too-early biopsy. Self-doubt. World doubt. My 2017 culminated in Hurricane María completely devastating the place I call home. I’ll be writing more about Puerto Rico recovery efforts in Rincón Boricua, but what I will say here is that even out of the darkest moments, there is light. I basically had to stop working on my dissertation for a few months, while I tried to figure out how I could help communities impacted by the storm back home. During this process, I realized how lucky I am to have special people in my life, and I felt a renewed passion for helping those who don’t even know I exist on Earth. I also met a group of amazing, hard-working people who really want to make a difference – so we started an organization and are working with a community on long-term recovery efforts. This experience has reminded me that if you want things to happen, you have to stop thinking and start creating.

All this has brought me here. I’m ready to share my stories with whomever wants to read them. They won’t be perfect… and that’s okay, because life’s beauty is in all its imperfection. And, because life is multi-faceted, I won’t be sticking to one topic (or one language). I’ll be sharing posts about:

My hope is that you will find some of these entertaining and insightful, and that they inspire you to create whatever it is you want to put out into the world.

Time here is finite, so you need to make every moment count. Como dice mi amiga Vane, el miedo lo dejamos en la gaveta… so, I started a blog!

Thanks for reading! img_8313