How To Feel More Confident at the Gym

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I recently joined a gym after a too-long exercise hiatus. My weekly personal training sessions with Jenn that kicked off my new fitness journey have been amazing, but I knew I needed to supplement the rest of my workout routine and give myself some variation that wasn’t running on the old treadmill in the basement. It was time for a change.

As my shiny new membership tag was scanned at the Croton-on-Hudson New York Sports Club, I was suddenly struck with a deep sense of fear.

You see, as a plus size queer person, I’ve never felt particularly comfortable at gyms.

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10 Summer Self-Care Products under $20!

10 Summer Self-Care Products under $20!

To me, summer is an ideal time to indulge in a little extra self-care. For some, that’s jetting away on a vacation or taking advantage of Summer Fridays, but not everyone has or can afford those perks.

The good news is that self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or require any traveling! Try one of these ten self-care products this summer in your room or by the pool. These items could also make great gifts for the summer-lovers in your life, and they’re all under $20!

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How Vulnerability Helps Me Cope with Anxiety

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Anxiety pushes many of us to keep our guard up at all times. It makes trusting others and ourselves difficult. It convinces us to believe and listen to our fears instead of confronting them.

Without any sort of treatment, anxiety can make you feel like a prisoner to your own thoughts.

I’ve been there. My anxiety reached an all-time high during my college years and was the absolute worst during my senior year in 2015. Everyone thought I was thriving because I was losing weight, meanwhile I couldn’t go one day without panicking about class, friendships, my identity, my body, or whatever else made my heart race. It was a painful existence.

Shortly after graduation, my circle convinced me to find my first therapist. Once I began to trust my therapist, I began to talk about my true thoughts, fears, and feelings to her. This is when I learned that one of the most effective ways to confront anxiety is by opening up about it. I began to be more vulnerable with my close friends and family as a result. My life drastically improved thanks to the lessons I gained in therapy.

Flash forward to mid-March 2018 when my relationship with my ex-fiancee ended and my wedding was cancelled. Engagement life had been pretty good, so the trauma of this event blindsided me and hit hard. I had never experienced this kind of heartbreak before.

I was particularly devastated when my ex posted a too-casual status on Facebook about the ordeal, announcing our break-up publicly without my consent. Many of my friends and family members found out by reading the status, and some of them reached out to me with screenshots attached. It was extremely upsetting. My power was taken away from me and it felt like there wasn’t much I could do.

Having to do the post-break-up social media clean-up (untagging photos, new profile pictures, relationship status adjustment) was expected, but I had no intention of writing anything about it on a public forum. I desperately wanted my pain to be private, but my ex made that impossible once the status was posted.

Anxiety quickly overtook my sadness: What would people think of me based on that status? What did this failed engagement say about me? The sense of control I had thought I had achieved in my life was gone and anxiety took its’ place.

After wracking my brain for a while and talking about it with my closest friends, I decided to post my own status and take my power back. My voice deserved to be in the mix, and it wouldn’t be unless I myself spoke up. I wrote with true vulnerability behind my words, and my status was honest and raw.

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My status. You might have noticed it is set to private in the screenshot. I was vulnerable in the moment and I’m proud of that, but it doesn’t mean this life event has to be on my profile forever.

Once it was posted, I felt relieved to have my feelings out in the open. I wasn’t hiding. I was very-much still in the throes of heartbreak (and I honestly will be for some time) but writing candidly about it made it feel less shameful. Those who hadn’t seen the other status flooded my comments with words of support, and that helped too. I flew to Paris a few days later and tried to walk with my head held high.

Since then, I’ve strived to be more vulnerable on a regular basis as a way to cope with the anxiety this break-up reignited in me. I’ve also aimed to expand the range of my vulnerability. My first round of therapy helped me open up to close friends and some family, but that was pretty much the extent of my openness. Now I’m trying to be even more vulnerable on both a private and public level. A few recent examples:

  • Talking to a stranger in Paris about the break-up a week after it happened
  • Writing about seeing a therapist again to help myself feel less embarrassed about it
  • Working through a panic attack with my parents present and making a plan together
  • Speaking to other LGBTQ+ folks at queer events about identity and dating struggles
  • Opening up about body-shaming in the past (see Instagram post below)
  • Admitting fitness fears to my personal trainer and then conquering them together
  • Starting and maintaining this blog

 

Each act of vulnerability has helped me feel less anxious in general. Speaking about what scares me helps me accept each fear a little more. This in turn gives the anxiety less power. I am better able to recognize that an anxious thought popping into my head is usually a distortion: Just because I think it doesn’t mean it is true or that I have to be dictated by it.

Unlocking the door and throwing away the key is ultimately bringing me more peace because I have no secrets to burden me. The pressure to be perfect is slowly but surely disappearing. Fear used to impact my decisions, but now love and kindness act as my primary guides.

I’m sure some people disagree with being as vulnerable as I have been as of late, but most of my circle has expressed positive feedback. I typically find that anyone listening is sympathetic rather than judgmental. The judgement I’m afraid of tends to be a product of my own imagination. We are all in our own heads all the time and are often too busy worrying about ourselves to judge others.

Many people have told me they relate to what I’m feeling, and that helps normalize my feelings and mental health issues in general. It’s essential to remember that we are all fighting our own battles regardless of if we are sharing our battles with others. Choosing to be open about these battles can and will help others.

Does the notion of opening up terrify you? Consider trying therapy first, as it is a way to receive an unbiased response.

If you want to be more vulnerable with your inner circle, start with something small, something with low stakes so you won’t be too intimidated. Maybe tell an embarrassing story to a friend or let yourself cry in front of someone you trust.

Being vulnerable about your anxiety won’t cure it, but doing so can certainly lift some weight of your shoulders. You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings, and sharing them with the world proves you are courageous and strong. I look forward to continuing to live with an open heart and spirit, and I hope doing so will help others as well.

It’s taken me a lot of time to realize I’m often nicer to strangers than myself. I’ve spent too much of my past picking myself apart: My body was never good enough, even at my lowest weight. I was deeply ashamed of my stomach and the stretch marks that came along with it. Exposing my body was a nightmare situation. When my grays started sprouting when I was 14, I would pull them out, too embarrassed to let them be. I spent ten years trying to cover them with dye. My eyes were too squinty and my pores were too big and there was always something to pick on whenever I looked in a mirror. I didn’t feel I was worthy of love because I wasn’t perfect. I am done with that self-hating mentality that is all too present in our culture. Enough is enough! Instead, I’m trying to develop a radical self-love for myself and my body. I’m skipping the judgements and accepting that people and their bodies are not good or bad, they just are. I’m doing what brings me joy and saying no to things that do not. I’m being kind to myself and this kindess radiates past my finger tips into the world. Read more about ways to practice radical self-love on my blog. Spread the love friends! We need it more than ever ❤️ . . . . . #effyourbeautystandards #selfie #selflove #radicalselflove #everybodybeautiful #kindness #love #goodvibes #grayhair #greyhair #grayhairdontcare

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5 Ways Becoming a Dog Parent Has Brought Me Joy

5 Ways Becoming a Dog Parent Has Brought Me Joy

Anyone who has spoken to me in the last two months know I became a proud parent to a pup. Since entering my life in April, Stella has been the main topic of my conversationsand rightfully so. She has brought me major happiness in a short period of time. Various studies support the idea that dogs can improve mental health overall.

It’s surprising just how much this eleven-pound bundle of fluff has changed my life for the better. Here are five ways becoming a parent to a dog has filled my world with bliss:

1. Unconditional Companionship

This is fairly obvious one but it is fundamental! The companionship dogs give humans can provide a lot of happiness, and the relationship between dogs and their owners can be strong and special. Dogs are known as man’s best friend, after all.

Living alone in New York City can be a pretty lonely experience. Getting a dog helped me feel less alone, even if she primarily communicates in barks, tail wags, and licks. She quickly bonded with me and now she tends to follow me around the apartment. Stella is sitting on the couch next to me as I write this sentence.

The best part is that I know she is always thrilled to see me when I come home. She’s never mad at me for leaving her, all she cares about is that I’m with her now. If only humans could be so forgiving!

2. More Responsibilities

Some may argue that having more responsibilities is a bad thing, but the duties that come with dog parenting have actually been good for me. Since getting Stella, I’ve been waking up a bit earlier than I normally would. My schedule is set around her feeding times and walks, and we’ve developed a solid routine.

Waking up earlier has increased my productivity (after that first walk, I try to jump into another task), and having a schedule again has also helped me find a comfortable groove (I’m a freelancer, so my work schedule tends to vary.) The more productive and scheduled I am, the better mood I’m in.

I also get to see how doing things for her makes her happy, which in turn makes me even happier. She gets so excited every time the dog bowl is at her feet, and every walk is an adventure to her. Sure, I don’t always want to wake up at the crack of dawn for that first walk of the day, but getting up for her is worth it!

3. Increased Physical Contact

With companionship comes a familial closeness. While not all dogs are interested in being touched by humans, many do enjoy some form of physical affection like pats, scratches, and belly rubs. This definitely depends on the dog, so always ask an owner before touching a dog that is not yours and take time to discover what forms of contact your dog likes.

Let’s be real: your dog’s decision to lick your face is not an expression of love (this tends to actually mean they want food.) It sure can feel like love to humans though! Making physical contact with pets can bring us joy.

I lucked out with my little fluff. She loves belly rubs, head scratches, licking my feet, and occasionally snuggling with me for a nap. All of our forms of physical contact make me pretty happy. I can’t help but love her a little more whenever she puts her little head on my thigh.

4. Increased Physical Activity

The added responsibilities of owning a dog can really increase your physical activity. Regular walks get you closer to hitting that 10,000 step goal. Throwing balls and frisbees can increase your heart rate as well. My dad fully works out whenever he is playing with our active Australian shepherd.

Of course the amount of exercise you’ll do depends on your living situation and the type of dog you have. People with adequate yards do not have to go on walks as often, an some dogs don’t require much exercise. I think it’s safe to say that your physical activity generally increases from owning a pet though, so let the endorphins flow!

Stella is pretty tiny so she doesn’t need to exercise a ton, but the steps from our walks definitely add up and the occasional tug-of-war doesn’t hurt either.

5. More Socialization

Many dogs are social creatures, and owning a dog can make socializing a more regular part of your life. Walks, visits to the dog park, and other dog activities can all lead to meeting and communicating with new people.

Almost every time I take Stella for a walk, someone will come up to us to say hi and ask what breed she is. These encounters have led to quick chats, deep conversations, budding friendships, and even exchanged phone numbers. I’m pretty sure I’ve interacted with more strangers in these last two months than I have my entire two years living in New York City and I have a little puppy to thank for that. The increased socialization can add little moments of happiness to my day.

Dogs can truly be a great conversation starter. If striking up conversations makes you feel uncomfortable, bring your dog to a public environment they are comfortable in and let them be the center of attention when people approach you. Fur babies tend to steal the spotlight in the best way.

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How has your dog or pet brought you joy? Share in the comments below.

The First-Timer’s Guide to Finding a Therapist

The First-Timer's Guide to Finding a Therapist

Please note that any of my tips are just suggestions and not professional, legal, or medical help. If you are struggling with mental health, trauma, abuse, or any other difficult situation,  I strongly encourage you to seek help. Check out this page for some mental health resources. Reaching out for help can feel scary, but it is one of the most important acts of self-love you can do.

Seeking out the help of a therapist for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Have depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can make it difficult to reach out to anyone, let alone a therapist.

I’ve totally been there. Throughout college, I did my best to ignore my anxiety. My friends encouraged me to consider therapy, but I didn’t listen to them. The notion of talking about my thoughts and feelings to someone terrified me, and going to therapy felt like admitting defeat. I didn’t want to believe I needed help, so I bottled it up as best I could. I was also extremely focused on losing weight at the time instead of treating my body with love. By the time I was a senior, symptoms of depression were added to the mix. It was a painful existence that was hidden with a plastered smile.

My depression-anxiety combination was at its’ worst when I graduated in 2015. By this point, I was crying every day. Even a month-long trip through Europe, a dream abroad experience I had planned as a graduation gift to myself, wasn’t as amazing (or distracting) as I had hoped. When I returned stateside, I finally admitted to my parents that I was struggling and needed help.

I visited a psychiatrist first and was given a prescription, but she told me to quickly find a therapist as well. While Lexapro could alleviate some of my symptoms, I still needed to truly figure out my issues and learn coping mechanisms. Taking a pill wouldn’t heal me like therapy could.

So I embarked on my mission to find my first therapist. How did I end up finding one? My aunt, who is an administrator at a psychological hospital, sent me a few suggestions. I ended up picking Hannah Starobin, LCSW from her list. Hannah was an excellent match for me: she was LGBTQ+ friendly, experienced with food issues, and had a great understanding of the theatre industry (I was fully committed to my theatrical career at the time.) I booked my first session and began my first dive into therapy.

Three years later, I’m thankfully in a much better place. I can manage my symptoms more effectively using the tools I learned in therapy (meditation, grounding, paying attention to my thoughts, for example), and no longer have to attend on a regular basis.

I was lucky enough to find my first therapist with the help of my aunt, but there are other ways to find a therapist if you’re seeking one for the first time:

Use an Online Directory

The internet is your friend in terms of finding a therapist. There are numerous online directories that can help. Here are a few I’ve explored before:

Once you find a couple that pique your interest, visit their websites (or profiles) and try to get a better feel for them. Let your intuition guide you through the search. If someone looks friendly or their writing just clicks with you, then reach out. Just make sure to find a few possible options: some therapists book up quickly.

Use Available Community Resources

If I could change one thing about my college experience, it would be to actually use the mental health resources that were provided. Why didn’t I go to therapy when it was freely available to me?? Hindsight is a drag.

If you’re a student, I suggest looking into the services your school offers before looking off campus. I can’t promise that all campuses provide the best mental health support, but you may be surprised to find a counselor you really like.

Some companies also provide mental health support for their employees (though not nearly enough businesses do.) Even if they don’t, check in with your human resources department. They may prove helpful in your search.

There are also community, city, and state resources that could help you find a local therapist. I’ve visited the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in NYC in the past and know they have great information and numerous support groups running. Your local community center may also host support groups.

Try Online Therapy

I personally have never tried online counseling, but I have several friends who swear by it!

This could be an option for anyone who would prefer email/messaging/text-based therapy rather than talking face-to-face with someone. Another benefit is that some of these services offer instant, 24/7 therapy. No more waiting for next week’s session! Online therapy can also be more affordable than in-person sessions.

My friends have used the following online counseling tools and recommend them:

  • BetterHelp – Offering messaged-based and video chat therapy. They’ll match you with a counselor based on your needs, and you’re able to switch counselors at any time. Services start at $35/week, but they do offer financial aid to those in need!
  • TalkSpace – This service focuses on 24/7 text therapy, but audio and video options can be added at an additional cost. They also offer couples therapy
  • Doctor On Demand – Video chat with any type of doctor through this site and app, including mental health care professionals. More expensive than the services above, but your insurance may be applicable depending on the professional
  • Lantern – Based in cognitive behavioral therapy, this app matches you with a professional life coach who sends you exercises related to your personal needs. The most affordable option on this list

Searching for your first therapist can be intimidating, but taking that first step will be so worth it!

Please seek help if you are experiencing a mental health crisis. Check out this page for hotline resources