• Cameron Mazzeo MSW, LCSW

Drive, Tunes, and Views

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

Small bits of Self Care for your jam packed schedule!

Self Care as a Stressed Out Millennial

My ride home from my day job at a local Community Health Clinic is about 40 to 35 minutes on a good day. When my "to do" list after workis jam packed, you can find me bobbing and weave around commercial vehicles on several different highways, including the GSP, cursing ever "slow" moving commuter in front of me. If you've never driven around the coast of New Jersey, Just know the posted speed limit is the suggest slowest speed you should go if you want to survive, or at very least not get the "state bird" every other minute.

But every once in a while, I have the time to take the leisurely route along the water. I do this intentionally because it significantly improves my mood when I'm stressed, which is always. I think being stressed is literally part of the way young adults now just function given the state of the world. I digress. This route isn't longer by distance, of course, but it's longer because of the significantly lower posted speed limits due to heavy pedestrian traffic in the spring and summer (*cough cough bennies cough*). In the winter, however, when all the visitors have run off to their home states, the multi-million dollar homes are packed up tight, all the bars look like ghost towns, I assert, it is, by far, the most relaxing ride. This may be in part because I've grown up on the shore. Since the age of 13 I've lived within 1 to 2 miles of a beach with a view of Manhattan. This particular street, Ocean Avenue, is a completely straight line up the coast, and it is nearly empty, well at least compared to the highways I previously mentioned around the high traffic times. Unfortunately, a rock wall blocks my view of the ocean on my right, most of the trip.

There is one moment, as soon as I hit the bridge by Sandy Hook, I'll catch sight of the silhouetted Twin Lighthouses framed by the golden orange sun setting on my left and the rhythmic dark blue green waves hitting the sand on the right, just at the highest point of the bridge. It is like instant nirvana, one simple beautiful perfect moment, that I am in total bliss and genuinely thankful to take it all in. That is not what make this drive so soothing. It is merely the icing on the cake.

While I am driving along with that boring view of the rock wall and empty Mcmansions, waiting for that spectacular view, I am singing, loudly. Side note, I am a TERRIBLE singer! This is not an exaggeration. As a result, I do not enjoy singing when people are around. I can, and have, stood in front of many unknown people and told them intimate details about my life as a presenter and public speaker. Yet Karaoke is my personal nightmare. When I'm alone however, and trying to slough off the daily mishaps and difficult situations of life, I am doing that by blasting tunes I can belt without fear. What do I sing? Mostly Broadway show tunes or Disney songs, song that happen to make me feel lighthearted and child-like.

After doing this a few times, I notices how much better I felt when I arrived home. Turns out so did my family. When I came home and they were surprised I was in a talking mood. When they asked if I had an abnormally good day, I'd say "no, work was about the same." As a social worker, my job has me dealing with multiple cases that have a lot of difficult and emotional situations. As a result, I seem to carry that stress in me long after I've stopped thinking about the people I work with. What does that look like for me? Well I'm very short with my loved ones, even when they are being kind. I have little to no patience and I do not want people around me. I want to zone out. I want to eat stuff that taste good and is very quick to acquire. I want to mindlessly swipe on my phone or play a video game. I do not want to talk. I have no spoons, energy, or however you refer to it left to give to other. My cup runneth dry!

In graduate school, all we talked about was self care, and how burn out is inevitable without self care. For me personally, self care was a topic and but not lesson. Sure, I knew that people who engage in outside activities like clubs, classes, or sports were less prone to depression and were significantly happier in their lives. But you know what else makes people less prone to depression? Being able to pay your bills. when you work two jobs to cover your bills, there isn't extra money or time available, and only have enough energy to eat and sleep, then what the hell are you suppose to do with your stress? It's not like social work is lucrative field. With the unbelievable cost of college and the low salary, field that produce social good often struggle with burn out. We, in the field of social work need to stop preaching self care, and instead start teaching it. How? you ask. Start by having student practice small sustainable self care lessons.

Here are 4 real life self care techniques, that I accidentally stumbled on, and you can start to doing even with your busy schedule

1) Sit by your window

If you are like me when you show up to work there is a pile of forms to complete, 12 new emails, and a blinking light showing a voicemail or two as soon as I walk in. It makes someone want to light the whole thing on fire and walk out. For a long time, my anxiety had me jump right into work, panicked I'd never finish. By the end of the day I'd feel like ET after phoning home, completely drained of my color. My quick self care trick? I opened the widow shades. Direct sunlight not only triggers Serotonin, it also gives you a Vitamin D boost according to The effects include reduced depression and mental alertness. If you work in an office without a window, try Photo-therapy as an alternative. A Happylight box runs about $30 on Amazon and can mimic the effects from sunlight. People have reported feeling better when its on them for 20-30 minutes total a day.

2) Take a break

We tend to work right through moments of self care, especially if we are feeling overwhelmed or have pressure at our jobs- and lets be honest who doesn't. I have worked through lunch more times than I'd like to admit, and when my job was extremely emotionally taxing it showed! I personally spent a week in the hospital mentally burnt out after a year and a half working in child protective serves. I would tell myself things like "I can't take a break when this family needs this, its too important" and before I knew It I was trying to break my hand in the parking lot so i could have an excuse to take some time for myself (true, and rather embarrassing story). When I returned I found taking my hour paid lunch meant the difference between being able to help a family or having a complete panic attack and being useless at my job. If you have a break, take it! Even if you only have 10 mins. Believe me, I understand being behind the eight ball, but we end up shooting ourselves right in the the foot by working through out breaks. The more you work through your break, the worse you are at your job and the crappier you feel according to a study sited in Forbes. Taking time away from your work is crucial! What do you do with that time? Take a walk outside, chat with a co-worker about anything other than work, eat your lunch, do yoga, meditate, listen to your favorite pod cast, read a book, knit a scarf, photography, or anything that helps recharge your mental batteries- the possibilities are endless. When you come back a tiny bit rested you can focus better at the task at hand, you'll really appreciate it, and so will you job (if they see the correlation).

I would also like to include your vacation and personal time in this statement, though I do understand that can be a little more complicated depending on your employment. If you have the paid vacation time though, do not let it go to waste.

3) Detour into Nature

On your way home, take a small detour if you can past a park. It doesn't have to be long, just pass through some natural beauty. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, however, studies have found that looking at "nature" improves our mood and actually your health. There is literally a whole therapy that is based off this effect. In Japan they refer to this as Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. In fact, hospital are more frequently including a healing garden because it has been shown to boost patients health. If you live in an urban jungle, don't fret. Reports in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, suggest even images of nature reduce stress by activating that para sympathetic nervous system. So pop, a few beach and forest scenes around your office if possible.

4) Sing

Research from University of Frankfurt showed that singing in a choir improved participates immune system. According to a Seeker article, music naturally releases huge amount of dopamine in our brains, which is why everyone loves it. Have you every met anyone who hated music- all music? Probably not. and since its an aerobic activities it helps take more oxygen into our body, improving our circulation, and creating an organic feeling of stress relief similar to deep breathing exercises. If you happen to be a metal fan, where you will inevitably end up screaming more than singing, rest assured it is also effective. So much so screaming is literally part of something called "primal therapy" which many believe reduces stress and helps us to process unconscious traumas. So whether its a solo during your morning shower, screaming alone in your car, or belting out tunes for Karaoke- find some times to sing.

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The Unintended Effects of Disney on Values and Morals My very first favorite movie was Disney's (Original) Beauty and the Beast. I was drawn instantly to Belle's character. Even to this day I am very