Why I Quit My Fancy City Life to Live on Vancouver Island

This isn't Sarah on vacation. This is her real life!

This isn't Sarah on vacation. This is her real life!


Sometimes it takes a major event to fully step back and reevaluate your life. For Sarah Ramsden, it was a double wallops of bad news: she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and MS in the same week. That's not even fair, universe! Suddenly, her high-stress design job didn't seem so awesome. Same goes for her fancy Toronto apartment. So she quit.

These days, she's living in the sticks and pursuing a career she believes in (and PS is making money doing something she would've poo-pooed just a few years ago). She's never been happier. Here's her story, in her words. 


* * *
 

In 2011, you had a super-successful career and lived a totally fabulous life in Toronto. What did your life look and feel like?

At the time, I was an Art Director, and Creative Director working in digital media. I helped some of the most sought after clients in the industry with their website design and strategy. Companies like Dell, Hyatt, Mercedes Benz, Citi Bank, Harley Davidson and Hilton Hotels.

It was high stress, but I loved piecing together what was often a puzzle of client expectations, limited budget, and tight deadlines. I truly loved being creative every day, and applying a practical edge to it, as working with big business often requires.

I ate out all the time, didn’t sleep properly, and was always watching who was moving up in the company, comparing myself to their success, and working harder to match it. My idea of success was getting the next raise or promotion!


What pushed you to finally quit your job?

My health was the instigator! Over the space of several weeks, I started experiencing strange health symptoms. A week after finally squeezing a doctors appointment between client meetings, I found out I had a brain tumour and multiple sclerosis (MS). Yep, I literally found out I had two major, chronic health conditions in the space of one week.

This led me to brain surgery for the tumor, and a whole load of research to figure out the MS side of things as I simply wasn’t willing to be on medication for the rest of my life.

Then, a year after returning to work post-surgery, I quit my job on a whim.

I’d had a growing sense of unease about it since my surgery. I had changed, and I was realizing that I simply did not enjoy the same things that used to light me up. I didn’t know what I DID enjoy yet, but I knew that my old life didn’t fit the bill anymore. It came down to a particularly shitty day, where I was dealing with a lot of politics client-side, and I wondered why the f^&* I was doing this.

I literally thought, NO. I won’t do this anymore.

Long story short, after quitting my job, and my whole design career in fact, I went back to school to study to be a nutritionist. Nutrition was the thing that had helped me manage the MS, and I wanted to soak up more about it. It just felt RIGHT.

I later started my own business, where I helped others take control of their health through making dietary changes, but even now, that’s morphing into something else!
 


Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?

My fear was around NOT doing something about it, about NOT quitting. I literally had no plan the day I handed in my notice, but I did know I couldn’t continue making these hugely profitable companies more so, when I felt there was so much more important work to be doing.

If something is vaguely scary, I repeat to myself, “This isn’t brain surgery”. Because it isn’t. It’s not a life or death situation, and the world will not end.


I can only assume that while refocusing your career and life path, it was also emotionally (and financially!) taxing. Who or what helped you cope?

I quit my job at the beginning of the summer, and decided I’d just do things I loved doing for a few months, releasing the pressure to find a new income. I’m lucky that I’ve always been good with money, and I knew I could get through that time if I made a few simple adjustments. But I also had a new perspective on life, and made a conscious decision to simply not worry about the outcomes.

As luck would have it, freelance design work started to trickle in where I could take on projects on an as-needed basis, and get paid far more than before for doing so. After being accepted into my nutrition program, I landed a 6 month freelance contract that ended up paying all my tuition, and for me to be off work for the time it took me to complete my qualification.

If I had clung to my safe job, none of this would have happened.
 

Happy hour on Vancouver Island.

Happy hour on Vancouver Island.


When & why did you decide to quit city living, relocating from Toronto to Vancouver Island, BC?

I originally moved to Toronto for a promotion within the company I worked for. I moved there for the work, and only secondarily for the life the city would bring me. After being so ill, then quitting my career, going back to school, and starting my own nutrition business, I felt like a foreigner in the city. I had changed so much, that my environment no longer matched me.

Luckily my partner, an “outdoorsy” type, felt the same. We just didn’t fit into city life, and plus we truly hated the weather there. We both craved space, trees, and the outdoors being just “out there” when we opened our front door (and not a 3-hour drive away in a car we didn’t have).

In July 2014, I used up all my Aeroplan points (aka, Air Canada loyalty program) that I’d accumulated in my design career – oh the irony - and flew us both to Vancouver Island where he’d never been before, but I’d spent many summers as a kid. Within 30 minutes of the plane touching down, he was on board with my idea to leave the city, and we designed a 6-month plan to make it happen.

The focus is on our life now, isn’t work. We hike, go wild swimming (in rivers, lakes, canyons, and the ocean), do sea kayaking, surfing… Essentially we’ve been able to build a life around richness, and not riches.

Wait a sec... where are the towering condos & Starbucks?!

Wait a sec... where are the towering condos & Starbucks?!


What’s the biggest misconception about your new lifestyle?

That it’s hard to do. It’s not, you need to realign your priorities. We decided to choose the lifestyle and environment we wanted, and then build everything else like work around that. While I transition my business into this new location, I’m working in a job that I’d previously have snobbishly stuck my nose up at. We’ve put the focus on the lifestyle we want, and continue to build towards it.

Currently, I work in a health food store as an in-house nutritionist. So I essentially work in retail, and do nutrition consults on the fly for my customers. I happen to make a big difference in their lives, but my point is, that I work in retail. I have an honors degree in graphic design, a Masters of Arts in Communications, am a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, and soon to be a life coach…. Working in retail.

We too often look down on people who do this kind of work, but you know what, it gives me the freedom to do whatever the heck I want. I’m growing my own business to give me even more freedom, and I have placed myself in the kind of environment where I can decide on a whim to go surfing for the day, or jump in a river, or explore temperate rainforest… and it’s all on my doorstep.


Happiest moment since moving to the Vancouver Island? Saddest/most frustrating?

The happiest moment has to have been when we found the house we’re living in. In Toronto, I had this crazy idea that I wanted to live in the country, on an acreage, with horses nearby, a place to grow my own vegetables, and on a property where we were surrounded by trees. BUT, it would be 10 minutes outside of a small town where we could get the essentials. It was a ridiculous request, but every single part of it came true. Every. Single. Part!

There haven’t been any sad or frustrating moments. Everything is buffered by the gratitude we have for building a life that we choose, rather than drift through.

See that speck in the middle, at the bottom of the frame? Sarah wild swimming. NBD.

See that speck in the middle, at the bottom of the frame? Sarah wild swimming. NBD.


How has quitting changed your life?

Quitting something opens up the space for new and amazing things to come into your life. I’m a big fan of quitting, it’s essential to move on from things that no longer suit you.


Think this your current lifestyle is a forever thing?

Yes! I’ve only just begun!


What are the three most important things you’ve learned since quitting your fancy job and moving out of the city?

Allowing yourself the freedom to do what makes YOU happy, rather than going along with what society expects of you, if where true riches can be found.


I am healthier and happier living in the country.

Always trust your intuition. Your head will try to rationalize things, and talk you out of things, but that gut feeling always gives you the honest answer.
 

Really though. They aren't on vacation. This is their real life. 

Really though. They aren't on vacation. This is their real life. 


Advice to someone who’s thinking of liberating their life?

Write down why you’re scared, and all the worst possible scenarios. Are they likely to actually happen? What can you do to mitigate the risk? Then set a plan (no matter how long it might take), tell people (everyone) about it, and do it. Please don’t get to five years from now without at least trying!

 

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Read more about Sarah's awesome approach to nutrition & follow her on Instagram for envy-inducing nature pics. 

Other posts you might like: Here's what happened when Melanie & George moved into an Airstream trailer full-time; plus, how these two quit their day jobs and started running a secret supper club.  


PS Do you have an awesome Quitters story? Email me at heyeleanorproject [at] gmail.com.

 

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How I'm Getting An Extra Hour of Sleep Every Night

A simple, easy way to increase sleep with just one minor adjustment.

A simple, easy way to increase sleep with just one minor adjustment.


Subtle hints are not my thing.
 

For example, my husband gave me a FitBit for my birthday after I blatantly told him, "I want a FitBit," no less than 12 times. As I writer, I spend tons of time sitting at a desk, which according to everyone is slowly killing me. Hence, the FitBit to get me off my lazy ass.
 

And it worked. 


My high tech wrist buddy enticed me to pick the farthest parking space or always choose stairs over elevator. It also forced me confront an unexpected health obstacle: The eight hours of sleep I thought I was getting? It was actually more like six. And the quality of sleep? Just so-so.
 
Research links lack of sleep to a slew of health problems, including weight gain, impaired cognitive function, hypertension, diabetes, depression and cancer. And if that isn't enough to motivate you, a recent study by UC-Davis showed just an extra hour of sleep may result in earning five percent more annually. (You can learn more about it on Freakonomics' two-part sleep episode). 
 

Show me the money!



There are some simple tips to getting more sleep nightly, and on paper they sound really easy. Don't drink caffeine after noon, get up and go to bed at the same time every day, don't chug wine before bed, exercise, eat well, and quit screen time an hour before bed. 

For the last two weeks, I focused on just that last one in a very specific way: 
 

I slept with my phone outside of my room. 


"What's the big deal?" I thought. "I can totally do this," I said. And then on night one, as I lay my head on the pillow, I panicked. 


I use my phone as an alarm clock... how will I wake up?! I fixed that by setting an alarm on my FitBit (who am I kidding though. The dog wakes me up at 6:30 every morning). What will I do if I can't lay here and scroll through Instagram? I decided to read a book. And the kicker: My dog looked so cute laying next to me in bed. I wanted to send a pic to my husband (who was out of town for work), but alas, no phone. So I took a picture with my brain and kept it to myself. 


I was appalled at how many times I reached for my phone that first night-- as I tried to fall asleep, and then the FIRST thing in the morning. It's like my adult pacifier! But on night two, the interest in my phone waned and continued to do so. 


After a week, I went from getting a nightly average of 6 hours and 35 minutes of sleep to 7 hours and 10 minutes.
 

Week 1: Okay, but not great sleep.

Week 1: Okay, but not great sleep.

Week 2: Hey, I think this is working.

Week 2: Hey, I think this is working.


By week two, I averaged 7 hours and 27 minutes. The last two nights? 8 hours, 8 minutes. 
 

Week 3: Damn, Gina.

Week 3: Damn, Gina.

Week 4: WHO AM I???

Week 4: WHO AM I???


What's especially interesting to me is that I didn't intentionally go to bed any earlier than normal. I simply didn't look at my phone every night while laying in bed. I fell asleep faster and slept more soundly. How great is that?


I recently interviewed a sleep-specific doctor for an article I'm working on. His words struck me: 


"Sleep is no luxury. Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. Healthy sleep provides an opportunity to promote the health of our heart, brain, digestive tract, hormones and muscle mass. But there are benefits beyond the physical – sleep is vital for balancing stress and promoting our emotional well-being and mental health, too."
 

If you care about your health, getting enough sleep should be right up there with eating well and exercise. And if you're looking to get healthier, maybe just start with trying to sleep better. It's more fun than running, and tastes better than a kale smoothie. 
 

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More sleep-centric posts: How I changed my diet to get more rest every night, plus why I hate taking naps

 

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Quitters: Why I Quit Taking Hormonal Birth Control

We fought for the pill... but is it the be-all, end-all?

We fought for the pill... but is it the be-all, end-all?


Katie Lee is an author, lifestyle designer (<<< she's really good at this!), and bakes a mean cake. She's one of those people who makes everything look easy and effortless-- a happy marriage, fulfilling job, sun-drenched home, and awesome dog. Plus, the girl has legs for days. But the truth is, she's designed her life to be effortless, something that's taken her years of work, intention and research. She never settles for the status quo. She's a seeker and a doer. 


Two years ago, she quit hormonal birth control.


Initially, it was to cure her constant headaches. Unexpectedly, she set off a chain reaction that led to better skin, "realer" emotions, and an enhanced relationship with her husband. I'll let her explain. 
   

* * * 


When did you quit birth control? What were you taking and how long had you been on it?

Katie Lee: I quit October 2013. I was taking Ortho Tri-cyclen Lo which seemed to be what everyone was taking when I went on it 10 years prior.
 

Clearly, you must want to get pregnant immediately. Right? Why else would a woman quit birth control?

Katie: Haha. That’s a big N-O. I wanted to go off birth control because I suspected it was causing the migraines I had suffered from since before I could remember. Although once I thought about, it I didn’t remember having them before going on the pill.

I actually stumbled across this connection by accident. I was on Detoxinista getting a recipe for vegan mac-n-cheese that I heard was amazing (it is!) and I saw she had a tab for natural birth control. I thought it was weird, and I was intrigued enough to click on it.

She outlined her experience with going off the pill and listed the common side effects of hormonal birth control. Even though I had been on it for 10 years, I had never seen a list of side effects. Number three on that list was migraines.

My stomach dropped and in my gut I knew that this could be the reason why cleaning up my diet and my health hadn’t cured my migraines.

I immediately fell down the rabbit hole of research into the world where people are completely aware of the harmful side effects of birth control. Everywhere I looked, migraines were in the top three side effects. I read forums, blog posts and articles from all over the world and started to get really angry that this information seemed so hidden here in the U.S, or at least to me.

Those sources even mentioned how much the pill is pushed here versus other countries.

It didn’t take me long to turn my research away from the harmful effects of the pill and onto natural and effective alternatives.

That’s when I checked out Taking Charge of Your Fertility from the library. According to all the women on the internet, this was the bible. I read every word and then read it again. I was amazed at how little I knew about my own body and what is supposed to happen naturally. Having that knowledge really made the decision to go off the pill much easier.
 

Katie Lee makes things happen.... after loads of research. 

Katie Lee makes things happen.... after loads of research. 


What finally pushed you over the edge?

Katie: I had basically decided I would go off after reading that initial blog post. It was a matter of when and how. I am a research junkie, so I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it until I knew exactly how to prevent pregnancy and that I had found a sustainable alternative. I spent a lot of hours debating which methods and thinking about my lifestyle and preferences. I was beyond ready for a while, but ultimately decided to go off of it just before our wedding anniversary.

 
How did you approach the conversation with your hubby?

Katie: My husband is very open and understanding and a research junkie himself. After my initial discovery of the link between headaches and the pill, he was really supportive and also really angry as well. He’s seen me miss out on so much of life because of my migraines so he didn’t even hesitate in supporting me getting off the pill. Just like me he said he would be comfortable after we both did the full research and completely understood how to prevent pregnancy in a safe and sustainable way.

He joined me in researching and analyzing the different methods. We had plenty of discussions about different scenarios, our lifestyle and the science in Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I taught him about what my body is supposed to do naturally so he would completely understand as well.

 
Aside from getting pregnant, a lot of women are afraid of quitting birth control because it helps them manage cramps, PMS, acne or leads to more predictable periods. Did you have any of these anxieties? Did any come true once you quit?

Katie: Of course I was a little nervous. I had been on it so long I didn’t know what would happen when I went off. To calm my nerves I just kept reading stories of other women who had similar demographics and health as I do.

I didn’t suffer immensely from acne or PMS before hand so that wasn’t the reason I went on it in the first place. But I was used to 10 years of predictable “periods.” Something to note is that PMS is not a given and the pill is not necessarily a solution for it. It’s really a symptom of other issues that need to be explored. If you’re healthy, active and don’t suffer from other conditions then you may not have PMS at all. I don’t.

None of these concerns were enough to deter me from quitting it. After everything I’d read I knew I no longer wanted to subject my body to it’s effects. I’m a natural, organic person in every other area of my life so it seemed weird to be taking this pill.

After the fact none of those things came true, the opposite really. After the initial phase of balancing out, I have clearer skin than before, less cramps and PMS than when I was on the pill and my periods are just as predictable. Obviously everyone is different, but I think it helps to hear a positive outcome, too.

 
How did you feel in the weeks and months after you quit?

Katie: The first week was a trip. I was very hormonal as my body figured out what my natural hormone balance should be. I would laugh, cry, get angry just like a pregnant woman. We were prepared for this and just let it happen.

In about a week, I felt back to normal. From that point on, things have only gotten better.

I consider myself a very healthy person, but after quitting the pill I felt 10x healthier and more vibrant. It’s hard to explain, but there is a clearness to everything now. As if there was a fog over me before that I didn’t even realize.

My skin got very clear and vibrant and I started to feel very connected and in tune with my body. I know exactly what to expect and what’s happening all month long. It feels very freeing. Most importantly I haven’t had a migraine since. Not one. Which makes me happy and angry. I had no idea this was the cause and I feel robbed of so many life experiences over the last decade.

I feel the best I have ever felt in my life.
 

That fur baby in the window is the only baby Katie needs right now.

That fur baby in the window is the only baby Katie needs right now.

 
What was the biggest change, post-quitting? Any changes—psychical, emotional, relationship-wise—that surprised you?

Katie: My sex drive went through the roof, which my husband and I both appreciate. I was on the pill before I even formed a true sex drive, so this was new for me, too. I had never craved it before and thought all of the girls in movies and magazines were lying about their desire. It has completely reinvigorated our physical relationship.

Everything I feel physically and emotionally feels more real and I’m acutely aware of it. I recently learned that hormonal birth control can also dampen your emotions. It sort of lessens everything that’s going on. Now I have more emotions, real emotions, than ever before.

An indirect benefit is this experience has strengthened our relationship. Learning about sex and fertility and talking about it so much has brought us closer. We’re both involved in our fertility and sex life now versus me just taking the pill and navigating it by myself.

Overall, I feel like I’m present, alive and living a real life that is vibrant and clear.


So… how do you not get pregnant?

Katie: Yes, that is the ultimate question isn’t it? We use the Fertility Awareness Method. This is not the same as Natural Family Planning or the Calendar method. The biggest difference is that this is completely based on the individual. (PS It’s taught in Taking Charge of Your Fertility).

In short, it means a complete understand of your individual cycle and the days that you're fertile enough to even get pregnant, versus the days that it’s not possible. As young girls, we’re taught that if a boy even looks at you funny you’ll get pregnant. The truth is that for many days in each month, it’s not possible.

We invested in the Pearly, which is a small computer with a thermometer that monitors my fertility then gives us a red, green or yellow light. Green means go ahead and have sex without risk of pregnancy, yellow means consult your other measures (which we’re not doing so we count yellow as red) and red means your fertile and need to use a back up method of contraception.

We use condoms as our back up method and the people I’ve told that to think we’re crazy until I explain. Although no method is 100 percent effective, the biggest reasons condoms don’t work are user error and they are the wrong size. We did the research, ordered the right size and learned the right way to put them on, use them and take them off.

I also track all of my stats using an app on my iPhone, because I love data. It tells me when to expect my period and is always accurate.

We’re going on two years and have not gotten pregnant with this method. We’re both very confident in it and completely understand how to use it.

An added bonus is that if we do decide we want to have a baby, we would know exactly when to try.


Advice for someone thinking of quitting the pill?

Katie: Although I would recommend that anyone in a healthy, committed relationship consider getting off hormonal birth control, the biggest thing I would want is for every woman to understand how her body works.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there and getting educated is the first step.

Start by reading (it’s at the library) Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Then read blogs and forums of other women who have gone off the pill.

I also enjoyed the resources at natkringoudis.com.au

This podcast episode: jesslively.com/alisavitti/

This was the blog post that started it all: http://detoxinista.com/2013/04/natural-birth-control-methods/

Then take your time. Get all of the information you need to make an informed decision that is right for you, your lifestyle and your relationship.

Then do it! It’s hard to erase years of conditioning and myths, so it’s understandable to be nervous. But eventually you’ll have to trust the research and personal stories and do it. I wish I would have done it years ago, because I’ve never felt better, more connected to my husband and more present than I do now.


* * * 


Okay, ladies and guys who stuck it out allll the way to the end: let's talk BC. I quit taking hormonal birth control three years ago, and had a very similar experience to Katie's. I tried everything-- the pill, the ring, and an IUD. At this stage in my life, I can say tracking things ye olde fashioned way is really working for me. What's working for you? Thoughts on quitting birth control? Share in the comments!


Other posts you might like: What it's like to have a baby in a foreign country; plus, a midwife's approach to no BS postpartum care


PS Do you have an awesome Quitters story? Email me at heyeleanorproject [at] gmail.com.

 

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Why I Quit The Hey Eleanor Podcast (For Now)

I'm hanging up my headphones... for now. 

I'm hanging up my headphones... for now. 


Not to sound like a pretentious jerk, but


I loved podcasts before podcasts were cool.


(PS Thanks for making them cool, Serial!) 


Over three years ago, I started the Go Fork Yourself podcast with my long-time boss/friend, Andrew Zimmern. We had funny conversations in the office; why not record them and blast 'em off to the masses? 


Recording the first few episodes were really, really scary. I'm a strong writer, but speaking? Not really my forte, especially when my co-host is a person who could talk for hours without coming up for air.


I had so much anxiety about my ability to speak confidently, that I took three rounds of improv classes.


Improv helped tremendously.

 

I learned to not over think things. Sometimes, you just gotta open your mouth and trust that the right thing will fly out of it. And if it doesn't, you need to learn to cut yourself some slack. Or ensure you have a great editor.   


As of this moment, we've recorded over 150 episodes. Slowly, but surely, we build a dedicated following that tuned in weekly. They asked us tons of questions, struck up conversations on social media, and a few even sent us gifts. It was absolutely delightful. 


In the late spring of this year, our podcast producer left (on good terms, in case you are wondering) and GFY was going to take a hiatus. I needed to make a decision. 


I had considered podcasting on my own. I was already doing interesting interviews with super-smart people, so why not record them and create my own show? Plus, I had an existing audience who knew who I was and were already listening to me on a podcast. I potentially already had listeners! I didn't want to just sit back and watch that audience walk away. 


Of course, the trouble was I didn't exactly know how to make a podcast. 



Because I am insane, I decided to go full throttle and figure it out. I bought a microphone. I learned how to use Garage Band. I purchased music. I downloaded software to record phone calls on Skype. 


A week later, I launched my first show. 



It was just me and a microphone, telling my story. It was okay. It took forever to record, edit and upload. But I did it and it felt great. 
 


Or at least it felt great for a moment.



Because as soon as I posted the first show, I had another one to make. And then another after that. And so on.... and so on.... 


This podcasting stuff takes so much time! You have to set up the interview, prep for the interview, then do the interview. Then there’s editing, transcribing, writing, recording and editing the intro and outro, coming up with a marketing strategy… it’s a lot. And I realized I was spending about 10 hours a week making this happen. And I wasn't getting paid for it. 


For a new-ish show, I had respectable listenership. I thought the content was great. I'm really, really, really proud of what I made. But it wasn't enough to even earn $20 from a sponsor. Really. I asked people who sell podcast ads. 


So I had to get real with myself.


What am I really trying to accomplish? Not just with this podcast, but with my career and life? I love writing, which is an element of podcasting. And I love working, but I want to work SMARTER, not HARDER. And since this show takes up roughly 30 percent of the time I eventually want to dedicate to working every week, I decided to put it on hold. I might take it up again, but not until I have the time. And right now I don’t.


I love that I gave it a shot, and now I know it’s not the right move to make at this time. I’ll still be doing interviews, just only in written form.


So that's why I'm a quitter, again. It's a little scary, but also feels pretty darn good.

 

* * *


You might think quitting is for losers. I think quitting can be pretty darn great. Here's a bunch of quitters who are making their lives more awesome on purpose

 

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This Week's Best Stuff on the Internet


Last week, my favorite DJ on The Current (hi Jake Rudh!) did an hour dedicated to yacht rock. You know what? I love yacht. LOVE IT. Not ironically! Give me Michael McDonald and Hall & Oates all day long. Anyhow, the set was inspired by the above sort of funny 2007 YouTube series. You guys remember it? PS if you're awesome and love yacht rock (or still don't even know what I'm talking about), listen to Jake Rudh's entire yacht rock set here.


I like camping, but I don't need to light the world on fire with my survival and tarping skills. That's why I'm a fan of ye olde car camping, as is my friend Annie of The Midwestival. Here's her indoorsy person's guide to camping


This lady basically works for Peterman. Check out her trivia challenge, sweetly entitled, "Lines from Great Russian Literature or Emails from My Boss."


The Olsen twins are getting sued by their interns, who were forced to work 50 hour weeks (gasp!) and do menial tasks, like coffee runs (the horror!). I don't know what I'm more irritated about: the fact that millennials continue to live up to their entitled, bratty stereotypes, OR the fact that I apparently could've sued every company I ever interned for. 


One more reason the Packers are one of the coolest sports teams ever: Jordy Nelson spends the off-season working on his family's farm. Pshhht. That guys is awesome.


Are you lucky enough to still have a grandma? Make her a bridesmaid at your wedding. You will not be sorry.  


Want more joy & happiness? Do it with this super doable plan, based on science


I'm obsessed with Old Navy's compression yoga pants. Guess what's different about them and my lululemon/athleta leggings? How 'bout they cost $50 less. 


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If you like these links, you might like following me on Twitter & Instagram, where I'm always sharing the coolest, scariest, funnest stuff I find on the web. 

BTW, did you catch this week's #HeyEleanorChallenge? It's one of the best things I've done for myself and my business in a loooooong time. Enter your email below to receive my weekly challenge-- a simple, easy to incorporate activity that will get you outside your comfort zone.
 

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Psychologist Dr. Russell Morfitt on How to Deal with Social Anxiety

Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic!

Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic!


Do you excessively worry attending a dinner party?
 

Or panic when asking for simplest things from your colleagues or friends? Here's my favorite: sitting in your car outside of an appointment, unwilling to leave your car because you're convinced that you have the date wrong... even though you triple-checked your calendar?


Social anxiety is real.


Research shows up to 40 percent of people face problematic anxiety at some point in their lives. But how do you know what's normal and what's "problematic"? Where do you go for help? What if you're too embarrassed to seek help? In fact, what if asking for help is the cause of your anxiety?

This stuff is no joke, and it's the exact kind of fear that slowly and steadily impacts your quality of life. Not in a good way. 

I spoke with Dr. Russell Morfitt, a practicing psychologist and co-founder of Learn to Live. Learn to Live offers online programs for people with social anxiety and other mental health disorders. We talk about what social anxiety looks like, when to seek help and why combating your anxiety from your privacy of your personal computer may work just as well as face-to-face treatment.  

 

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You started your career as a mechanical engineer. What was the moment that pushed you to pivot and pursue psychology?

Dr. Russ: I remember the afternoon when one of the other engineers in my group received a new piece of equipment and how thrilled he was with it. That look of excitement gave me pause; I began thinking about the parts of my job that inspired me, and it wasn’t equipment. I had worked in engineering for only a few years, but had been given the opportunity to supervise others in the organization. The parts of my job that truly inspired me most did not necessarily involve engineering per se, but rather helping people solve problems and plan solutions.

I also remember friends and family members who were encountering challenges, like stress, anxiety or depression. I wished I could be of assistance to them, but I didn’t have the training. When I actually did help them in some small way, I found those moments extremely rewarding.

I was living in California at the time and felt it was time for new experiences and new adventures, so I decided to explore psychology.
 

Dr. Russ: Engineer turned psychologist.

Dr. Russ: Engineer turned psychologist.


There are so many sub-categories in the field of psychology. Why did you decide to specialize in social anxiety?

Dr. Russ: The field of psychology is very broad and the corner of psychology that addresses human suffering seems only slightly less broad. Social anxiety is part of that corner.

In my clinical work and in Learn to Live, much of my focus has been on social anxiety. This is due in part, no doubt, to my own challenges in the area. I realized that even though I had been generally successful in my career, I had some difficulties with anxiety. I learned that many of my personal challenges were borne of my anxieties about how others perceived me. I became aware of the ways that my behavior patterns reflected that anxiety. So social anxiety has been a focus of mine by its nature as a personal challenge for me. I think that’s how it often goes; we tend to be especially fascinated with those areas in which we’ve personally experienced some difficulties.
 

How many people struggle with social anxiety? What does it look like? How does it feel?

Dr. Russ: The research shows that 13 percent of the US population suffers from diagnosable social anxiety or emotional distress, which is characterized by fear of judgment, criticism, or observation by others. Other research suggests that up to 40 percent of the population experiences problematic shyness at some point, [meaning] a level of social discomfort and impairment that may not be equivalent to social anxiety, but that still negatively impacts individuals on a regular basis.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be the most successful treatment. But 75 percent will not seek treatment due to some combination of stigma, cost, and availability.

As for its manifestation, social anxiety involves excessive worry about social situations in which we feel observed, criticized or judged by others. At work, we may have difficulty delegating tasks, making requests, or confronting others. Social anxiety can impact performance or transactional situations, too. What if I sound stupid giving this speech? What is the cashier going to think of me if I make this return?

One of the additional challenges of social anxiety is that we worry that others actually notice our anxiety. In addition, by avoiding fully engaging with others we may appear as stand-offish or stuck up, so our prediction that they won’t like us may actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Social anxiety typically involves avoidance patterns, like censoring our words or avoiding eye contact and conflict. Many people with social anxiety problems stay home as much as possible, or stay close to safe people they trust. It can affect family, friends, and career. People with social anxiety are less likely to seek out promotions or to solicit feedback for improvement.
 

What exactly does Cognitive Behavior Therapy mean? 

Fundamentally, it means that people learn to change their thought patterns and their behavior patterns in a structured, systematic way.

The “cognitive” relates to thoughts, in particular learning to identify unhelpful thoughts, to challenge them, and ultimately to change them for healthier thoughts. In doing so, people start to realize that the objective danger is smaller than they thought – that either things that they feared are less likely to come true, or if they were to come true, that it might be less terrible than they initially imagined. So their knee-jerk assumptions or beliefs about the dangers out there may not be entirely accurate. 
 

Your roomies will think you're on Facebook, but really you're learning how to cope with your roomies. 

Your roomies will think you're on Facebook, but really you're learning how to cope with your roomies. 


I think a lot of people believe they can “think” or “talk” their way out of social anxiety. I’m a smart person, I know I’m not in danger, so why am I feeling this way? What problems does that rationale create?

Dr. Russ: A common misconception about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is that we can just change our thoughts. And to be honest, it sometimes stops with that in the therapist’s office. But a more accurate picture of CBT recognizes the importance of examining and changing both thoughts and behaviors.

It’s important to identify specific thoughts we’re having, then examine them and choose more reasonable or useful thoughts. We might call it thought challenging or cognitive restructuring. But, it can’t stop there.  Research has demonstrated that the most powerful elements of CBT for anxiety problems are the subsequent steps of reducing unnecessary precautions and facing our fears – the behavioral aspects.  

At Learn to Live, we’ve built opportunities to not only challenge thoughts, but also to change behavior as members gather data on what happens around them. For example, making more eye contact or stop censoring our speech so carefully. Activities like fear-facing allow members to get that deeper, gut-level knowledge that they don’t need to be afraid.
 

When is a good time to seek out professional help?

Dr. Russ: The short answer is when motivation is high. If I’m frustrated enough about the limiting aspects of my suffering, I’m motivated to make the necessary changes. It could mean seeking out face-to-face therapy, medications from a primary care physician, or an online CBT-based program like Learn to Live. But the research is clear: change is more likely to happen when we’re highly motivated.
 

Tell me the story behind Learn to Live. Why did you create it? What specific gap in the marketplace does it fill?

Dr. Russ: I remember the moment when I first conceived of the idea for Learn to Live. I had just learned that yet another patient who was seeking therapy, someone open to making the long drive, just couldn’t accept the long wait time until my next opening. People suffering from social anxiety who finally muster the courage to make an appointment too often find out that the wait is too long, or that the provider does not provide the kind of therapy [they need].

Seventy-five percent of those who suffer from social anxiety don’t even reach out for help. I saw so many people helped by these CBT tools in my own practice and recognized the potential appeal of an online setting. I found that there was already a very strong body of research demonstrating that online CBT is powerful.  So I reached out to some very gifted people in tech and business. They helped me realize my goal of bringing the benefits of CBT to more people.

The gap we fill addresses those who would not otherwise reach out for help, and those who need a place to start.  We offer a solution for those who are too busy during the workday to make an appointment, too financially-strapped to pay all the copays for therapy, or too uncomfortable to make a face to face appointment.
 

What can a Learn to Live member expect from the program? How long does it last? What’s the commitment like?

Dr. Russ: Structurally, the Learn to Live Social Anxiety Program consists of eight interactive, multimedia lessons with practice exercises to complete in between. We recommend completing about one lesson per week. Periodic assessments help members to set goals and track their progress along the way.

Members quickly learn that they are not alone, which is very powerful. Throughout the program, they learn the key tools of CBT and how to apply them in their personal situation. Members also learn how to build up their social support network, a trusted group of friends or family that may support and encourage them throughout the program.

And it’s not just thought-challenges and fear-facing exercises. These are important, no doubt. But sometimes it’s the small things in our lives, the tiny avoidant habits that add up to unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. Members learn to identify these habits and work toward changing them. The overall process involves learning online, then applying that learning to one’s life. It’s really the real-world practice that creates results.
 

Once someone completes the program, what skills will they have in their proverbial tool kit to help de-escalate anxiety?

Dr. Russ: Our program teaches members a host of CBT tools and skills, among them to identify their negative thoughts, to challenge them, and to face their fears. Members build a toolkit of useful resources to help them overcome their anxiety issues.

Incidentally, the goal is not simply to eliminate anxiety. Anxiety itself is not a bad thing; it is, for example, a great motivator that gets us to practice so we do something well. The goal is to learn to live our lives fully, though we naturally also hope to reduce our anxiety to manageable levels where it’s serving a useful purpose again. Ideally, we want to learn to live with a certain amount of anxiety, without trying to cover it up.
 

Learn to Live offers anxiety treatment from your laptop. Convenient!

Learn to Live offers anxiety treatment from your laptop. Convenient!


Best thing that has come out of Learn to Live?

Dr. Russ: Without a doubt, the stories of people finding it possible to return to work, school, or friends.

It goes back to that question about engineering. I don’t get excited about equipment or things; I get excited about helping people to live better lives. Seeing people improve their quality of life is immensely satisfying to me. I am humbled and grateful to be even a small part of that.
 

What’s the most useful way to help a friend or loved one who’s dealing with social anxiety?

Dr. Russ: Let them know that whatever state they’re in, you’re there for them, that you will continue to care about them as a friend. You can also let them know about resources like Learn to Live. In fact, our program offers the opportunity for friends or family members to serve as a TeammateTM, someone to encourage the member and provide support. We all yearn to be cared about at a meaningful level.

 


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Find more info on Dr. Russ and overcoming social anxiety at  Learn to Live. You can like them on Facebook & follow them on Twitter
 

Want more stories on social anxiety? Oh boy, I've got lots of them. There's Jaimal's crazy-inspiring story of overcoming fear & anxiety (cool surfing stories included!), and remember Lucas's inferiority complex? And basically every other post on this entire website is about my own person experience with anxiety, so I encourage you to just start bopping around. 


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