Monday, February 27, 2017

3 Big Ways Stress Wereaks Havoc in Your Life

Dramatic title, right?  But it's totally appropriate.  We're taught all this stuff about how to lead "healthy, happy lives"--eat this, never eat that, always work out, count your macros, get strength and cardio, work all the muscle groups--but the whole "reduce your stress" thing is a trend that, while popular, is particularly difficult to subscribe to.  Meal-prepping seems markedly easier to accomplish than lowering your cortisol levels does, especially in our fast-paced world of PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE. (Okay, maybe I overdid it on the capital letters.)
The thing is, even with all these "wellness rules" that are designed to help make our lives more, well, lively, stress continues to be a major contributor to chronic un-wellness.  I know you've heard this a million times before, but this time, please listen.  It's almost springtime.  Spring clean your life this year!  KICK. STRESS. OUT.

  • Stress damages your skin.  There is a direct correlation between my forehead and lower jaw and exams.  I can actually feel myself actively breaking out when I'm taking a test. When your body releases cortisol (the hormone stress causes), your immune system activity is reduced, and you need a high-functioning immune system to keep blemishes and inflammation at bay. But stress isn't just connected to acne.  Long-term stress can also affect the length of telomeres, the caps at the end of DNA that protect if from degradation.  If telomeres decay, then cells decay and age, and that means wrinkles and lines.
  • Stress messes with your metabolism.   When you're stressed, your body enters "fight or flight" mode, which is great if you need to outrun a zombie but not so great if you're just trying to have a happy day.  To give you energy for fight or flight mode, your body pumps glucose into your blood stream, and insulin resistance ends up impaired, so you're blood sugar goes on a wild ride that can leave you fatigued and metabolically down: "even if [people] don’t actually comfort-eat to deal with stress, their metabolisms slow down, their energy expenditure decreases, their hormones get all off-kilter, and their blood sugar regulation goes down the drain."
  • Stress can make you miss out on quality sleep.  We all know how important sleep is for everything from encouraging cell growth and repair (#beautysleep) to helping you process and store things you've learned (#studying)., but when we're stressed out, getting the quality 7-9 hours we need to function at our best is a lot more difficult.  Our minds are racing with all the things we need to get done, so we can't drift off into that wonderful REM space of recharging and restoring, and we're so full of stress hormones that our bodies don't relax enough to be refreshed in the morning.
I've been paying more attention lately to just how easily I get stressed out and just how prevalent stress is in my everyday life, and I'm encouraging those around me to do the same.  My mum, for instance, is one of the most hardworking and caring people I know, but stress is a big issue for her because she has a tendency to give give give and never rest rest rest.  But you can't expect to be well if you don't try to prioritize health!  

<3 Frances

Friday, February 24, 2017

Jill's Library: Jane Eyre

It's finally Friday, loves!  And it's oddly warm today . . . not February weather at all.  It's difficult because, as much as I love birdsong and breezes and sunshine (cliched, I know, but true), I struggle with the reality that global warming is having such a big impact on climate conditions.  (I'm not just saying this because it's warm, either--global warming doesn't necessarily mean it gets warmer everywhere!)
But the fate of the planet momentarily aside, let's talk a little bit about books. Today's spotlight is on Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.  It's one of the most famous novels out there, and I actually first picked it up about four or so years ago, when it became a way to escape the stresses of travelling one particularly muggy summer.  I of course intended to finish Jane Eyre right away, but somehow I left the last fifty or so pages unread, and when I discovered this a few weeks ago, I realized I needed to do something about it.  So now, after four whole years, I've finally finished it . . . and I'm sad because I miss it!

Picture from Bustle

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Jane Eyre, it's the story of a young orphaned governess trying to find her way in the dark moors and cold manors of 19th-century England.  Oh, and it's a bit of definitely a love story, too, famous for quotes like "I had not intended to love him."  (But you did, Jane!)  That said, it's also a bit scary.  Not horror scary, but spooky scary, much like Wuthering Heights.  Ghosts, crazy shut-ins, murder attempts . . . these aren't the first things that come to mind when you think "Jane Eyre," but the Bronte sisters don't shy away from eeriness.
Of course, when Jane Eyre is brought up in conversation (however often that may be), there are usually mixed reactions to it, with some disliking it as another sad Victorian romance and others having found solace in Miss Eyre as a friend.  I fall into the latter category.  Jane, reserved and plain as she may be, is a literary "bestie."   She is thoughtful, honest, and incredibly humble, and her ability to stick to her values and beliefs despite not being a "fighter" by nature is inspiring.  Because Jane Eyre is so character-driven, and because it's told from Jane's perspective, I think that her personality and beliefs (justice, equality, etc.) play a major role in my argument for why you should read Jane Eyre if you ever find yourself in the Victorian literature section of the library.  Adding to that, the very way in which Jane Eyre is written is in and of itself compelling, particularly when you think about how much of Charlotte Bronte's own experiences may have inspired it.  The tuberculosis outbreak at Jane's boarding school, for instance, hearkens to the illnesses plaguing the Bronte girls .... all of who died tragically young.

<3 Frances

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Study Corner: Writing Timed Essays (and Why They Make My Skin Break Out)

I had a timed essay in my English class today.  At the end, I felt good about what I'd written, but I also had a breakout of hives on my chin from the anxiety of the experience.  Skintervention setback! I guess I broke out because writing a timed essay is stressful, kind of like riding a roller coaster.  Once you're in your seat and the ascent has begun, you know that there's no going back and that you have to get through the ride now, but you can't quite imagine how.  It's a bit terrifying, really, and, unfortunately, I can't give you much advice in the way of the inevitable "drop" without passing out because riding roller coasters is not something I have much experience with.  Writing timed essays, though . . . that's something much more familiar to me.  I'm no expert, but I definitely have some tried-and-true tips for making timed essays feel less like timed essays (if that makes sense).

I definitely did not take this picture, lol, but it goes well with study time :).
  • Take a deep breath.  
    • Read the prompt over once to familiarize yourself with it and then again to find its main point.
    • Ask yourself what the prompt is asking for.  Usually, it wants you to take a stance on something and defend your position with evidence, but there are nuances in the way a prompt is written that can change the way you're supposed to present your argument. 
    • Also--think of your rubric (if you have one). You want to make sure you hit the big points on the rubric.
  • Decide.
    • Once you've figured out what the prompt wants, think of your resources and come up with a general idea for what you want to say.
    • You need to have a general idea of your argument in order to write a cohesive paper.  Find your focus! Center yourself on it, and let your ideas for your body paragraphs stem from it.
  • Make your skeleton.
    • Come up with the "key three."  These are the main body ideas for your essay.  Put them in boxes on your brainstorm paper to help you organize what you're going to write about. You have limited time, but it might help to write a few bullet points in these boxes if you can.
    • Make sure all your boxes relate in some way to your argument!
  • WRITE!
    • Your thesis will go at the end of your intro, but don't get too caught up in the introduction. If you're getting caught up in it, get your thesis down and start your body paragraphs.  
    • Each body paragraph needs 1) an opening, 2) examples, 3) supports, and 4) a conclusion to tie it up (and relate it to the argument).  This is the simplest formula, and it works.
    • Once you get your three (or however many you end up with) body paragraphs down, work on your intro (if you haven't already) and write your conclusion.  Make sure your conclusion doesn't just summarize but instead also carries your argument forward, but remember that the intro and the conclusion aren't as crucial as getting in the key arguments of your essay and your main point, so don't freak if you're running out of time to make the conclusion super fancy.
  • Check it over.
    • Read over your paper (if you have time) and make sure it hits at least most of the points on the rubric.  If you have time, try to get all of them, but if you're running out of time, try to get at least the big ones.
Good luck, loves!!! I hope this is a *bit* helpful. Coming up with a skeleton is probably the tip that helps me the most.  Let me know if you have any study or writing questions.  I'm not an expert, but my tutoring work has helped me come up with some ideas to make school more manageable.

<3 Frances

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Link Loves and Must-Reads (and Hermit Crabs)

Bear, one of our sweet hermit crab babies, passed on this week :(.  We're going to give him a little burial today in our porch garden cemetery, and I already really miss just knowing that he is in the little terrarium in the living room. We've had many hermit crabs and hamsters over the years, with our apartment serving as a hospital and rehab home for all the smaller pets that get ill at the school my mum works at, and it's always heartbreaking when a pet passes on. I just hope that Bear is now in a happy place with his hermit crab spirit family.
This week's Link Loves and Must-Reads are from many different times and places, but I think they're all important and/or interesting in their own ways, covering everything from happiness to mindset to education.  Education is a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately because, while being a superhero and communciating with the spirit world writing, reading, and dancing are my favorite pastimes, my "daytime identities" include being a teacher and a student. I spend a lot of time in classrooms surrounded by children.  I think their circadian rhythms are on a totally different schedule from mine, though.  When I'm exhausted, they're ready to run an Iron Man or scale walls (the latter of which they've actually attempted).
  • What Happy People Do Differently by Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd B. Kashdan
    • We actually read this article for class, and it couldn't have been a more timely read.  A loved one of mine is currently going through a really hard time health-wise, and I'm praying for them to get better and also thinking a lot about one of the things we talked about the last time we saw each other--balance.  Balance is so important.  Anything to the extreme is detrimental, and even if we think that having control over all aspects of our lives is going to make us happy, IT ISN'T.  If you need any research to back this claim up, "What Happy People Do Differently" lays it out pretty fantastically. Intuitively, it doesn't really make sense that there are many times when discomfort and unpredictability shouldn't be avoided but rather embraced, but curiosity is directly linked to satisfaction and long-term growth. Curious now?  Yes, yes you are ;).
  • Paralysis by Analysis (vlog) by Maddy Moon
    • I've shared some of Maddy's work before, and I keep returning to her podcast, vlog series, and blog because of how inspiring and honest she is.  Her insights on body image, loving yourself, and being true to yourself are incredibly motivating if you're going through a hard time and trying to release limiting beliefs that are holding you back from really living your life (as opposed to just being afraid of it).  "Paralysis by analysis" is something I definitely deal with, and having Maddy tell me to snap out of it is very helpful.
  • Beautiful Women Smile from the Soul by Brooklyn of No Sleep Till Peace
    • This is a post by a Peace Corps volunteer working in Peru, and I love it because of how sweet it is. It's a real cheer-up that'll make you feel like there's still good in the world, no matter how dark things seem sometimes.
  • Why we should all be reading aloud to children TEDTalk by Rebecca Bellingham
    • Anyone who remembers being read to as a little kid, be it at home or in a class or even via a television program (Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, etc.) will be able to relate to this TEDTalk.  It's really quite amazing to think that, of all the little kids I've known, very few have been unable to become engrossed in a book.  Read-alouds seem to be a universal sort of entertainment.  
<3 Frances

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday Playlist

My poor little laptop decided yesterday that all websites were dangerous.  Apparently, the National Geographic site is off-limits because it's been flagged as "education."  Oh, dear.  But that didn't stop me from learning that the Devonian Period (one of the periods of the Paleozoic Era, yay!) was named after Devon, England, because that's where a lot of its fossil evidence was found.  Five year-old me is very excited right now.
And there's music to share today!
Wolf Larsen:: "If I Be Wrong"

Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval: "The Spoils"

Sarah Jaffe: "Adeline"

<3 Frances

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why You Should Make a Library Pilgrimage

The summers when I was in elementary school and my mother was working and my grandmother was still alive, she used to take me and my brother to the library so we could participate in the summer reading challenges.  Read x number of books by y date, and you get a little prize.  Somehow in the joy of small plastic frogs and miniature Slinkies, I didn't realize that the real prize of the summer reading challenge was the books-with-my-grandmother part, and our times at the library became some of the memories I now revisit whenever something is scary or sad or difficult.  But I hadn't really re-lived anything like those memories recently, save for all my literary talks with my mum.  Today, I changed that.  I walked up and down the aisles of the school library and rediscovered the rush of finding a book, picking it, and actually checking it out to read.  Checking a book out is like making a commitment to yourself to spend time with a friend, even if it's just for a short while, and I can hardly describe how exciting it was to take the book out of the library with me and know I'd get to go home and share it with my mum later. I felt like a six year-old again, and the best part is that, as I was leaving, I saw all these other books--everything from an anthology of French literature to a novel of the Irish potato famine to a tale of heartbreak--and cataloged them in my mind to check out later.

The book I found at the library today.  It's not a novel by any means, but it's full of beautiful art and poetry.

Where am I going with this?  Well, if you've been stressed or anxious or worried lately, I strongly recommend that you make a library pilgrimage if you get the chance to!  Literature has such amazing healing abilities, and there's nothing quite like the rush of picking a world to educate yourself in and disappear into.  It's like travelling but without the stress of airports or passports or money.

<3 Frances

Friday: Groundhogs, Dresses, and Humanitarianism

Yesterday was Groundhog Day, dears!  And little Phil saw his shadow, which supposedly means six more weeks of winter, but I'm not so much interested in his forecast as I am in his adorableness.  That said, often times I wish Phil were able to have the life of an everyday groundhog with a family and a little burrow of baby groundhogs instead of being subjected to flashing cameras and newscasters.  If only Beatrix Potter's world were real . . .
This video gets us pretty close, though.  My mum sent it to me the other day while I was studying, and it really did increase my productivity!  Cute baby animals have a way of doing that ;).

The SAG Awards were Sunday night.  I didn't even realize that until I heard people talking about the dresses and winners on Monday.  We don't watch our television much, but I liked getting to see everything recapped in the news, and some of our favorite looks are featured below (pics from POPSUGAR).  Fashion news is a nice break from all the sadness that's been everywhere lately.  Speaking of which--if you're reading this, I highly suggest you look into the International Rescue Committee or the Sierra Club or any of the other organizations that support humanitarianism and the environment.  It's so important that people take individual action to make the world a better, safer place for everyone!!

Emma Stone

Kirsten Dunst

Taraji P. Henson

Natalie Portman

Kerry Washington

Emily Blunt

Salma Hayek

Ellie Kemper

Winona Ryder

Rashida Jones

Viola Davis

Claire Foy

Maisie Williams

What were some of your favorite looks from the night?  
Are there any organizations you think need some extra support right now?  What about causes?
Now, watch those baby groundhogs one more time ;).

<3 Frances