The Unexpected Health Benefits of Travel

One of the most exciting places in the world is the Atlanta airport. Sounds a little strange right? Not if you saw it like I do: a place of endless possibilities and a gateway to the rest of the world. Travel is something so dear to my heart, I consider it a friend. It’s a concept that has allowed me to eat strange foods, witness incredible sights firsthand, both ancient and new, and meet people with completely different cultural and social paradigms that have changed and shaped me for the better. I’ve learned more about history through my travels than I ever did in school, and have felt energy in places that produced a profound impact on how I understand that part of the world and how it relates to everything else. When I was visiting Normandy, our guide took us into one of the German bunkers on the beach and at once I was transported to D-Day. I felt an eerie, unsettling energy that I would have never experienced through films or reading. Travel did that, and it’s why I advocate for it so strongly–not as a future event to be undertaken after much planning and saving, but now, right now while you’re still hungrily curious about the world and physically able to meet the demands in fully seeing it.

I don’t think my affinity for travel is unique, but I have witnessed so many friends and family members postponing that next trip for various reasons, thereby missing out on so much that life and the often not talked about health benefits it has to offer. And while the reasons they proffer are absolutely logical and valid, I can’t help feeling sad about the missed opportunity of discovery, connection to others, and personal growth by foregoing the trip. So my humble advice is to go, just go. There is no better time than now to explore this amazing planet and get out of the ordinary flow of everyday life. Your bank account might take a temporary hit, but the law of reciprocity dictates that the little you give will produce so much richness of experience in return. There is never a time in traveling where you wont learn something from getting out of your routine and embarking on a journey. What you also will find, is that beyond all of the clichés of travel expanding your horizons, there are unexpected health benefits that make it imperative that you take that next trip sooner rather than later.

First, your build a better brain. Psychologists found that when you step outside of your comfort zone, you literally stretch and grow your brain. Learning anything new challenges and activates your brain in a way that following a routine simply cannot. When you travel you may not know the language,  how to navigate a new transit system, or how to order a coffee just the way you like it–you are forced to learn, and by doing so you become smarter. When the brain is on autopilot too often, it actually becomes weaker and less efficient. The novelty brought on by travel zaps your brain into active learning mode, and the amazing memories generated are just the icing on the cake to a fitter, younger brain.

Second, travel deepens your empathy for others. Empathy grows best under specific conditions often correlated with travel: being in the present moment, listening, speaking to and relying on strangers, recognizing commonality in others, and cultivating an interest in others.  Empathy, like anything, takes work, but its a skill that is beneficial to all parties. The more empathetic you are, the more you are able to prevent and resolve conflicts, be understood yourself, and promote healthy relationships. Travel is a powerful tool in strengthening your empathetic muscles, and often it doesn’t even feel like work.

Third, travel makes you happier. A 2016 study by the U.S. Travel Association and Project found that the more time taken off for travel correlated to more happiness at home. The more vacation days used, the lower the stress. The study also showed that over the past 15 years, Americans are taking nearly a week less of vacation. The case for travel could never be more important, especially when your well-being is at stake.

Life-changing travel doesn’t mean taking a trip thousands of miles away: simply going outside of your usual track of work, life, and play can have an impact. Not far from our house is a magical place called the Atlanta Chinatown Mall. Inside you will find a cornucopia of Asian food from different regions in China. When you first approach you’re greeted by a calming zen garden and a crimson bridge crossing a koi pond. The food court is definitely not fancy, but the food is unlike anything I have ever seen or tasted. I have never sampled more authentic Chinese food anywhere else–I generally point to what looks good as everything is written in Chinese, and try something new every time. Recently, my husband and I took our two young boys there, and our four-year old made fast friends with a Chinese boy around his same age. The boys were from very different backgrounds, but bonded over an iPad game and a love for fried rice. It was so interesting to watch them connect, and when the boys parents–who didn’t speak English, came over to retrieve him, there was that mutual understanding that all parents share when it comes to raising kids. We were able to communicate though our facial expressions and share an authentic moment together despite the cultural and language barrier. It made the experience of going out for good food so much richer. 

The Chinatown Mall experience reminded me of one of my first travel memories: running through the San Diego airport away from my screaming mother. Our family of six was on its way to Okinawa, Japan for a two-year stint courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. I didn’t really understand where we were going or why, but I knew it was going to be completely different from anything I had experienced before, and I was excited. When we finally arrived after an uneventful 18 hour flight, I was introduced to an unfamiliar landscape, heavy humid air, and the smell of sea and salt from the ocean. My mother was understandably unnerved when a crowd of other passengers gathered around us while we waited in Customs, and started touching our hair. We were oddities with our bleach blond hair and pale blue eyes and they investigated us with open curiosity–looking back now, it was a fantastic introduction to Japan. The Customs clerk was equally as curious about this strange ragtag group of six, and made each of the kids a different origami figure to take with us, just because he was kind and knew we would like it.

We lived in an area called “The Ville” off base. My younger sister and I had a Japanese nanny, and she would sing us songs that I still remember today and sing to my boys. Because our nanny was Okinawan, we ate how the locals did, and our seemingly mundane errands turned quickly into an education on Japanese, and more specifically, Okinawan culture. We’d walk with our nanny or our mother to the Oki-Mart grocery store down the street and pass the different shops with various goods hanging in the window, usually some kind of poultry in its full form. The air in Okinawa was thick with the tantalizing smells of strange foods, the ocean, and mildew, creating a strange, yet comforting aroma unique to that part of the world. It seemed so stifling at first, but we all quickly adjusted and by the time we left, we didn’t even notice it. We didn’t speak the language of our neighbors, yet there was a bounty of learning and communication happening–as children this was invaluable to our development and growth in understanding, connecting, and empathizing with others.

I have no intention of bringing my boys on an 18 hour flight anywhere, at least not yet, but I know the extraordinary impact that travel had on me at an early age, and I want the same for them. I want them to converse with different kinds of kids like the boy at the Chinatown Mall, to taste food local to our destination, and to see landscapes they’ve never seen before. I look at it as my duty to show them the world, and spark the same curiosity about places and people who I still have today, so that they develop into smarter, more empathetic, and happier adults.

Whenever I travel, I am more awake, present, and alive then any other time. On my deathbed, I’m not going to remember those cool shoes I bought, or the purse I just had to have. Instead, I will remember that amazing meal I had in Nashville with my sister and brother-in-law, or the funny conversation I had with a Moroccan boy in a laundromat in Montpellier, or how unsettled I felt standing in a German bunker looking out on the beaches of Normandy. Travel offers you the unique opportunity to experience new places, food, and people firsthand, but its true gift is discovering who you really are and how truly connected we all are on this beautiful planet.

 

 

 

Red Tricycle Articles

Guys I am so excited to share that Red Tricycle (basically my bible for all things motherhood), has published TWO of my articles on the realities of momlife. You can check them out here:

The Mommy Wars

Want to Try for a Water Birth? Here’s My Story and How I Did It.

Thanks for reading, and please share if they speak to you!

Love in Marriage When You Have Littles

Update: Red Tricycle published this post! You can find the article and more awesome momlife related content here: http://redtri.com/love-in-marriage-when-you-have-littles/


When my husband, Sam, and I first got together our love was easy. We’d go to dinner, get drinks, or jump in the car on a whim and go camping for the weekend. We knew that when we had kids, things would change, but didn’t really dwell on it. I had co-workers tell me to wait at least five years after we married before having kids, so that we’d have our own time to enjoy each other and our freedom. Of course, me being me, I did the exact opposite and we became parents as soon as possible. If it weren’t for conception issues, I’m sure I would have been pregnant within months of our wedding.

What I learned soon after having Nash, was that love in a marriage is an organic, ever-changing animal. During those early days and weeks, I knew I loved my husband, but when I was the only one getting up every night to change and feed the baby, the only one struggling with Nash all day while Sam went off to work where he had long lunches and happy hours, our love began to deteriorate.

I realized I didn’t need or want a romantic partner, I wanted a partner that could work and relieve me from some of the drudgery of parenting. My husband hadn’t had to go through 10 months of pregnancy like I had, and wasn’t yet mentally prepared for taking care of another life. I understand this now, but at three in the morning after being around a crying baby all afternoon, that logic didn’t translate. We went through a period of struggle those first several months, and there were times I wondered if our marriage would ever feel like it used to—happy and free, not an endless debate of who changed the last diaper, or whose turn it was to wash the bottles for the next day. I wanted to love and be loved, and not feel forced to make it work because we had decided to have a baby.

To give you some background, I grew up in a home where my mom did everything. My dad worked 18 hour days as a Marine, and was often deployed for months on end, so my mom had no choice but to rise up and take care of everything. I am still amazed at her strength and selflessness. I know myself and my weaknesses well enough to know that I would not have been able to do it with such grace and love. I’m still amicably called a shark in our family, and for good reason. But I never had the impression that mom resented the fact that dad was gone so much working, in fact she carried on like it was normal. If she ever felt like things were unfair, I still don’t know it. Growing up that way didn’t make me want to be like mom, however, I resented the idea and fought it every day which didn’t make things easy at home.

Our marriage, after surviving the first real rough patch following Nash’s birth, began to get better once he was older and began to form a true bond with Sam. It was then that our love changed again. I saw Sam as someone who loved Nash as much as I did, and would spend hours with him after work playing, reading, and goofing off. Then after Nash went to bed happy and tired, Sam would cook dinner and we’d drink wine and talk. As rough as the beginning had been, this new stage of intimacy was so unexpected and fortifying. I looked at Sam with new eyes, or maybe I just saw who he had become through the transformative power that becoming a parent has on someone. I was smitten all over again, and with someone familiar but also completely new.

If there are any take-aways from this, is that in any relationship, there are highs and lows, but that if you can hold on to each other and push through the tough times, you will be so rewarded in the end. I’d never dreamed that I’d feel as close to another person as I do to Sam—in fact as much as I moved around growing up, I never really felt that I belonged to any place or person. Sam has been the avenue to finding myself and a home, and all the hard times and arguments were the resistance needed to realize that and find true peace and happiness.

 

Floating Piece Published by elephant journal

The rapid pace of life we live today is not normal. My latest piece, published by mindfulness magazine elephant journal, describes a way to rest the brain and start anew from a place of clarity and calm. Thank you for reading and sharing!!!

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2017/02/how-floating-helped-me-reset-my-brain/

To Be Happy Means to Be Creative

Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Since starting a blog I have been asked countless times why I was doing it, and the question honestly caught me off-guard. For me, writing is a facet of expression, a way I can share who I am with those who know me, or think they do. Most people have an idea of who they think someone is, I’m equally as guilty–but unless you spend substantial time with a person, you never really know who they are, what they have experienced, or what they might be going through. When we leave the house we are ever ready with a smiling face and shiny exterior, even though it is not always the case.

Through writing, I am able to share an honest picture of who I am, and perhaps inspire someone else in the process to take down the mask and revel in the freedom that an authentic existence can bring. What could be more fulfilling? I have always loved and admired artists- they are fearless, and they unabashedly share their souls with the world through their chosen art form. Though writing, I wanted to embody that freedom and truth too.

And it’s not just me who senses the benefits of living a more creative life. A recent psych study showed that daily engagement in creative activities (i.e. journaling, painting, doodling, cooking, etc) positively activated emotional states and lowered stress and anxiety. Participants in the study reported an immediate increase of feelings of well-being, and “an upward spiral” of positive emotions.

I can attest to the truth of this study. Since starting the blog a short while ago, I have experienced an overwhelming response from friends and strangers on how they have been inspired by what I’ve written, and that confirmation means everything. Each time someone reached out, that ephemeral connection we are all constantly searching for was there, and I was grateful in that moment with that person.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Choose an art form that interests you. It could be anything from cooking, to drawing, or even creating boards on Pinterest with images that spark your imagination. The point is that you are engaging in an activity where your mind is activated in creative way.
  2. Try to do at least 10 minutes of your chosen art form a day. Start small, and then go from there. If you can incorporate at least 10 minutes every single day, you will start to receive the brain benefits, and it’s a goal that is small enough that you minimize the probability of failure.
  3. Ritualize your art by making this activity a regular part of your day. Pick a time of day that works best for your schedule, thereby increasing the chance that you’ll actually do it. I know that I have a half hour when I get home to cook, it’s scheduled.
  4. Track your progress. How did you mentally feel week 1? Week 2? How have you improved, and what have you learned? Write down wins so you can remember them. A great journal might work for you.
  5. Continue your practice each day. Make it a habit until it becomes second nature, the reward is a better brain and genuine happiness.

Moms, Stop the Self-Shaming and Be Selfish.

How does a parent (especially a mother) justify taking time away from their family to do something completely indulgent and self-aggrandizing like working out, reading a book in one sitting, or just being alone? Why is taking space for oneself considered abhorrent and selfish in this society? It may be due to unattainable expectations put on parents-both moms and dads, and the shame that goes along with failing to live up to what we erroneously think is the standard. Author Brene Brown described this situation perfectly when she said, “Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”

This is how I lived for a long time when I first became a mother. I remember feeling this overwhelming weight of responsibility and it terrified me. How would I ever be enough for this little person? How could I show him the way when I barely knew what I was doing? These feelings of shame came to a head one night as I was giving my son a bath, and I just started to cry. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, or being enough for him. I couldn’t understand why he had cried for four hours that day, or refused to eat everything I offered him. I was failing. It was a false story playing over and over in my head, brought on by fear and shame.

Fortunately, the best way to break the perpetual cycle of outlandish expectations and subsequent self-shaming is to bring it into the light. I started talking to my husband, fellow moms, and co-workers about how I was feeling. I hated being vulnerable and showing weakness, but I couldn’t carry the burden of my critical thoughts alone anymore. It was a sink or swim moment, and I had to survive. I was amazed at the response I received. More often than not, the moms mirrored exactly how I was feeling. They told me about situations where they had felt “less than” or had messed up, and it enabled us to laugh and revel in the mutual suffering of early motherhood. In hearing their stories and sharing my experience, I realized I wasn’t alone. Everyone had these feelings, especially the new mothers. Through those simple, albeit vulnerable, conversations, I had been thrown a lifeline and I realized I had been thinking about my role and responsibility as a mother all wrong.

Once I realized that my experience wasn’t unique, I could relax. I started to make self-care a priority in my life. I realized how damaging my casual relationship with exercise and healthy food had been since having my son, and I made a conscious decision to make health and self-respect the priority. Now I tell all my friends who are expecting, and even those who aren’t, that when you have children it is even more important to take care of yourself. The emphasis you place on your own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being directly impacts your children. As parents we are the first example of how a healthy, happy, human being should exist in the world, and owe it to them and ourselves, to be an example of self-love so that they can embody that mindset too.

Five years after that first tearful session with my son looking up at me from the bath, healthy habits have developed into a mindset and way of being. I realized how important my health and sanity was for my family, and I was never going back to that role of martyr and self-doubter. I was going to be selfish and carve out time for myself to workout, read, meditate, and just be without feeling guilty or shameful about it. Then I would return to the fold, rejuvenated, reenergized, and truly present. I brought the breath of fresh air I had just received into every action and conversation with the boys, and my happiness was contagious. They benefited directly from the space I had taken for myself, and learned that it was normal for mom to not always be immediately available for every need they had. My relationship with my husband has grown even stronger too, as I rely on him to help provide me the ability to take care of myself, while not having to worry about the boys. And I do the same for him when he needs space. His choices for self-care include ice hockey, cooking unobstructed, or sometimes just listening to music.

It may seem like a tall order at first to make the switch, but I have found that if you are consistent in your healthy habits, you really will become what you practice. My husband loves to say that personal growth is the hardest things anyone can do–and I agree. To truly change and elevate yourself to a higher level, it takes a breach from hardwired, second-nature tendencies and such a deviation takes serious dedication. But if you see, as I did, that your selfishness is for the good of the entire family, and you are consistent in your efforts of self-care–positive life changes can and will happen, and your family will thank you.