5 Tips on How to Bring the Retreat Indoors

We all come to a point where we want nothing more than to wave the white flag, run for the hills, and nap (folded white flag = awesome pillow). Okay, the last part is Elena-specific, but you get the idea. Whether you’re running from work stress or the ups and downs of chronic illness, from time to time, we all need an escape. Fleeing the concrete jungle and freeing yourself out of doors makes sense, but what do you do when you’re stuck in an office or sun sensitivity has turned you into a 10 – 4, vitamin D deprived hermit? Here are 5 tips on how to bring the outdoor retreat indoors:

  1. In my 2010 post, “Me, My Brain, and I,” I discovered that “natural, tranquil scenes caused different brain areas to become `connected´ with one another – indicating that these brain regions were working in sync. However, the non-tranquil motorway scenes disrupted connections within the brain.” Remarkably, a painting or a photograph of a natural scene has the same benefits. My ninth floor office overlooks the heart of downtown, so I’ve set my desktop image to a lush forest pathway. When I take eye strain breaks, I clear my screen of documents and reveal my electronic get-away. Co-workers often linger for a closer look at the warm, rising sun pushing through the shadowy, dense mass of trees. Most walk away mumbling about changing their desktop image. Maybe you should, too!
  2. My desk is in a large room with other co-workers, so I usually have my headphones on to dull the noise and distractions around me. Lately, I’ve been listening to the nature soundscapes on Songza, especially the tropical waves playlist. It drowns out the noise and provides a background of soothing, natural sounds that allows me to focus on the large amounts of editing I do in my job. If you can’t go to the beach, listen to it!
  3. I’ve enjoyed the results of my father’s green thumb both indoors and outdoors my entire life. Because of him, plants are an integral part of my ideal living environment. The fact that I’m a sun sensitive apartment dweller has kept me away from the joys of an outdoor garden, so I’ve cultivated my own indoor version of hanging vines and terrariums, water plants, and other leafy varieties. According to an article by the Daily Mail, hospital patients with potted plants close by said they experienced less pain, anxiety and tiredness, while houses with plant-filled rooms contain between 50 and 60 per cent fewer bacteria than other rooms without plants. Have a murderous history with our green friends? Check out this link on 22 hard to kill houseplants. While you’re at it, add a few potted pals on your desk at work. Plants not only decrease stress and detoxify the air, they also increase productivity and creativity!

    Prednisone moon-faced and recovering from Lupus Cerebritis in 2009 with the aid of my dad's fabulous indoor garden in the background.

    Prednisone moon-faced and recovering from Lupus Cerebritis in 2009 with the aid of my dad’s fabulous indoor garden in the background.

  4. Take your laptop or book and grab a spot in a coffee shop with a view, or somewhere with lots of indoor greenery like a conservatory. You’ll get “out” for a good dose of natural world goodness while getting a break from that sun-sensitive hermit suit.
  5. Think inside the box when getting together with friends during peak sun hours. Recently, on a particularly hot and sunny day, I had a picnic lunch with a friend in her closed in front porch. Don’t have one? Pick a room in your home with the best natural view, roll out a blanket, and enjoy! Take a scenic drive to a tea house out of the city or for the parents out there, set a playdate and head to an indoor pool, water park, or aquarium.

A nature retreat from the stress and challenges of our lives can be hard to do, especially for those of us living fast, urban lives. Trying to avoid an ever present burning ball in the sky at the same time is even more difficult. If you can’t have it all, be creative and have a small piece!

In other news, I’ve added a new “About Elena” page to the blog! I’ve wanted to create one for a while now, so I’m happy to be able to give my readers a condensed timeline of my lupus experiences along with a few fun, fast facts about who I am beyond my lupus journey. Check it out on the top menu bar of my home page or click here. Feel free to visit this page anytime to post any questions or just to say hi. I’d love to hear from you!



Quick Nutritional Fixes for the Kitchen Weary

When there’s an increase in stressful events, it’s easy to find yourself on the edge of a health neglect catastrophe. When I feel the threat of stress coming on and my energy dwindling, meal planning and grocery shopping fall to the wayside. For a quick nutritional fix with minimal prep, I usually turn to one of these easy options:

  • Can of tuna or hummus or goat cheese with rice crackers
  • Rice cake with almond butter and banana (or avocado)
  • Miso soup (all you need is boiling water, miso paste, green onion, and tofu)
  • Green smoothies (great for breakfast or with a light meal)
  • Baked, whole sweet potato or sweet potato fries
  • Boiled eggs or veggie and goat cheese omelettes
  • Rice cooker recipes (throw brown rice, veggies, and seasoning into the rice cooker and voila!)
  • Veggie pizza with goat cheese on a rice wrap
  • Lots of fruits, veggies, seeds and nuts as sides or snacks (no prep required!)

I’ve been feasting on these fast foods quite a bit lately, slowly inching myself towards my cookbooks and grocery lists. As I leisurely complete that journey, I will leave you with a quote from my yin yoga instructor: “Discomfort allows for growth.” I suppose the challenge of finding and sustaining health is very much like holding an excruciatingly long yin yoga pose – you breathe, you modify, and you don’t give up.

E’s Wellness Emergency Kit

We all have things that we automatically do when we are sick or feeling low, a kind of “wellness emergency kit” full of tools like your favourite CD, a hot compress, that favourite pair of pyjamas, or the classic, homemade bowl of soup.  What do you prescribe when you’re forced to nurse yourself?

Here are some of the tools in my wellness emergency kit:

Hot showers:  A quick, hot shower loosens up my body and soothes any inflammation I am feeling. Afterwards, I feel fresh and more ready to deal with the physical pain and stress I am experiencing.

Naps:  Napping has always been an integral part of how I manage lupus.  I always try napping first before taking any additional pain medication like tylenol.  Although, I always say that I have “sleeps” rather than naps.  It’s nearly impossible for me to nap less than two hours!

A steaming cup of decaffeinated tea: My top and most frequent choices are ginger, peppermint, lemon balm, and indian spice.

Steamed plantains: For as long as I can remember, my mom has cooked plantains for our family, mostly in the pan fried form with a sprinkle of brown sugar. When I was experimenting with nutrition and trying to cut out sugar, she encouraged me to steam them. They are healthy, naturally sweet, warm, filling, and my ultimate comfort food when I’m feeling sick and secretly wanting someone to take care of me. It’s as if my mom is in the kitchen making them for me!

Watching an episode of The Daily Show: I tend to watch Jon Stewart online (I don’t have a TV) at the end of a long day or when I am feeling sick because I know I’m guaranteed a laugh out loud moment.  No matter what has happened or how I am feeling, ending the day with laughter puts things in perspective.

Fuzzy socks and fuzzy blankets: Making sure I’m warm is always a top priority when I’m feeling sick.  My sock drawer is overflowing with thick and fuzzy socks and I have several blankets in my apartment aside from those on my bed. I’ve also been known to sit in front of my little heater, as well!

Candles: Creating a peaceful, quiet atmosphere when I am dealing with pain (physical or otherwise) is important to me.  Softening the lighting in a room calms and helps me focus on getting through the sensations I’m feeling.

An epic fantasy novel:  In the past, escaping into a really good novel has really helped me in the recovery process. Recently, I’ve fallen in love with fantasy authors like Guy Gavriel Kay and George R. R. Martin, but any great piece of writing will do the trick. The short opportunities to let go of my story/present moment and lose myself in someone else’s helped ensure that I wasn’t swallowed up by the fear, stress, and pressure that come with the recovery process.  I found that when I did come back to my story, I felt less overwhelmed and more ready to face my circumstances and move forward.

A little help from my friends:  When I am feeling really sick, I tend to want to be alone, but I’ve tried to teach myself that it’s okay to call a friend or take a quick drive to be with family.  It’s hard to ask for help and not feel dependent or incompetent, but it’s important to remind yourself that sometimes the healing is in the company you keep.