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Healthy Living

By Sheryl Kraft

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I realize we can't all get away. But this winter – ESPECIALLY this winter, we all wish we could escape to a warm, tropical island where the only white stuff is in the form of sand.

Okay – don't hate me. I just got back from four days in the sun. La Samanna in St. Martin gets my vote as possibly the most beautiful place on earth. A beautiful hotel on its own private beach, relaxation comes easily and instantly. It was my Vitamin D fix. It was my sanity restored. It was my time to reconnect with my husband.

Although…the time leading up to vacation was anything but relaxing. All packed and ready to leave our house at 5AM, Alan checks Jet Blue's website to make sure our flight is on time. I hear him yell. Very, very loudly. "WHAT THE ^%&*&*???" I know something is wrong. Turns out our flight is scheduled for the next day – even though our printed confirmation clearly reads otherwise.

A panicked phone call to customer service follows and I am finally connected with a supervisor. "Oh, the flight was canceled back in November," she casually says. "You received an email, AND a phone message, in which you accepted the changes by pressing the number one on your phone."  I assure her that both my husband and I are extremely capable and on top of things, and had we accepted any change we certainly would have a). remembered  b). marked the change on our respective calendars and c). not have set our alarms for the middle of the night in order to leave the house before sunrise ON THE WRONG DAY. The bad (worse) news: there are no other flights out this day. Nada. The good news? I'm already packed so I can sleep a little bit later the next morning, when my "new" flight leaves.

At that moment, more than hating the fact that we are shortchanged on vacation time by one whole day, I hate, hate, hate electronic communication.

First Lesson Learned: Once we get to where we are going and we have to surrender our cell phones to the land of no reception, I begin to relax. Not having my Blackberry to check emails – my fingers are trained to jump to attention at the slightest detection of that insistent blinking red light – frees me up to do other things. Like nothing.

Second Lesson Learned: I CAN do nothing. I am of the fidgeting variety. I can't sit without doing something – reading, doing a crossword puzzle, checking my emails…you get it. In usual form, I am lugging things to the beach: my kindle, some puzzles, a few newsletters and magazines. It is into the end of the first hour of becoming frustrated by my crossword puzzle that I realize I am not doing what I love to do, which is very simple and requires nothing more than a few keen senses: watching the water, listening to the sounds of the surf, walking and hunting for shells, breathing in the clean, pure air. It's like meditation, but without trying.

Third Lesson Learned: Being out in the fresh air is a like a sedative – without the side effects. Why am I searching for the treadmill when everything I need is right here in front of me? I trade in the gym for some resistance walking (walking on the sand is hard! Seriously, this type of sand is not the powdery-soft variety but the larger-grained type that makes your feet sink…so you have to work your calf and quad muscles extra-hard to propel yourself forward). I manage to not only get the physical benefits from walking outdoors, but the mental ones as well. (Interesting to note that Science Daily reports a recent review of existing studies by the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry that finds that there are benefits to mental and physical wellbeing from exercising in a natural environment compared with exercising indoors; like decreased tension, confusion, anger and depression.)  

Fourth Lesson Learned: My seasonal affective disorder, resulting in tension, anger and depression needs to be taken seriously. Being out of the cold and embraced by the warm air and sunshine makes me feel like a whole human being again. And if I can't take care of it by flying to the Caribbean (which I can't always do, naturally), I need to take care of it at home. That means bundling up and taking a walk outdoors (even though I can see my breath and the cold air stings my face); keeping active socially (even though bundling up and leaving the house after dark feels like a huge chore); making sure I take my Vitamin D and load up on whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies (even though I crave comfort foods, common because carb cravings seem to be related to decreases in serotonin activity) and getting enough – but not too much – sleep (you know those cold, dark mornings when it feels too tempting to stay under the covers? I do, too).

Fifth Lesson Learned: I love what I do. But I need to take a break from it every once in a while. Some days I get so involved with my work that I forget to eat. I lose track of time. I ignore phone messages and hate the fact that my dog is crying for a walk because that means having to stop what I'm doing. But then there are those other days…where my mind feels so overwhelmed by words, data, stuff, that it hurts. It feels like there needs to be someone in there directing traffic. It feels like the crowd is getting way too big and too rowdy for the room and that things are soon going to spiral out of control. Taking a break gives my mind a chance to wind down, air out and sit still for a while to ready itself for the next set of special guests. Only I have to remind myself to actually do it.

"You look so lost in thought. What are you thinking about?" Alan asks as I stare out toward the water.

"Nothing," I say.

Give yourself the gift of nothing.

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