Why You Should Spend More Time Outside

With all that’s happening in the world right now, the best, and easiest, solution to some problems is to put down the screens and step outside. What are the benefits to spending time outside? I learned a few today:

Helps Our Memory

Going for a stroll in a wooded area versus a city block improves short term memory for people diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, according to a 2012 study from Journal of Affective Disorders.

Stabilizes our Internal Clock

Sleeping outside will reset your circadian rhythm, says a study in the journal Current Biology, for two main reasons – sleeping outside keeps you away from the sleep-disrupting blue light and puts you at the mercy of the sun. Studies have long proven that the blue light emitting from our electronics negatively affect our internal clock while rising with the sun and going to bed with the moon puts us back into that natural internal sleep cycle.

Relieves Stress

Spending as little as 15 minutes per day outside will help drop stress levels considerably. Whether it’s your own backyard, a park or, even better, an entire weekend in the woods, spending time among plant life will make you feel more serene. And on the flipside, all that fresh air will also deliver a much needed midday energy boost.

Physiological Benefits

Spending time outside doesn’t only lower stress. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD are reduced – as well as lowering levels of inflammation and blood pressure and boosting immune system. Looking to incorporate outside time to reduce symptoms of a chronic illness? Pick up a hobby like gardening or even explore the benefits of wilderness therapy.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our bodies in a bevy of ways, including reducing the chances osteoporosis, heart disease and even some cancers. As always, wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn and melanoma. Doctors advise that even 10-15 minutes of daily sun exposure can aid in the body’s immune system.

Mood Boost

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or down, go outside. Take some time for yourself and enjoy the world. Even five minutes of admiring nature can turn your entire day around.

The Benefits of Home Workouts

Illustration by Katie H.

I’ve been a fan of home workouts since I was a teenager, awkwardly following kickboxing and pilates workouts in my bedroom. For most of my adult life, I’ve been jumping, planking, and crunching in apartments around the country. Costly gym memberships, living nowhere near a gym and the convenience of turning on a video as opposed to taking myself to another building to exercise were all valid reasons to choosing home workouts. And, yes, they were effective.

Even though some people benefit from the structure that gyms offer, there are numerous benefits of home workouts. For myself, I knew I was more likely to stick to a workout plan if I could do it anywhere during the times when I couldn’t afford a gym membership, or like now, when mandatory lockdowns have closed gyms all over the country.

Successful home workouts are possible and you can get the results you’ve been working towards in the gym. Maybe those results have changed from “lose 10 pounds” to “not eat myself out of every pair of jeans I own” for the time being, but that’s okay. There is no shame right now in eating whatever you want.

Still, as delicious as gorging on sugar and bread is (until you get a headache, toothache and stomachache simultaneously, which I call the Glucose Trifecta), there are benefits to turning on a yoga video or doing some crutches in between shotgunning beers in your bathroom and eating powdered sugar sandwiches.

It’s free

A long time ago when I didn’t know how to workout and I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself to figure it out, I’ve paid too much money for home workout programs. Had I simply done a little research, there are tons of free online workouts. For the last several years, I’ve been using Fitness Blender, a wife and husband fitness instructor team who believe that staying healthy should be a free option to everyone. Their egalitarian platform offers hundreds of free workout videos, ranging from strength training and HIIT to pilates and kickboxing.

During the quarantine, some gyms are streaming free online workouts. Studio 3, a combo spin-HIIT-yoga class studio, that usually costs $250 a month, is providing free IG strength training and yoga videos three times a day. If you’re looking for a structured yoga workout, try 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene. It, too, is free and sometimes, there’s a dog in the video. The only downside with at home yoga workouts is the hands-on correction from a yoga instructor, but placing a mirror next to your mat to check your form can do the same. And you know what a mirror can’t do? Point at your stomach hanging out of your yoga pants when you’re dying in a plank and say cheerfully, “I see some belly hanging! Belly button to spine!”

See? Even more advantages to at home workouts.

No commute time to the gym

The worst part of going to the gym is going to the gym. Here’s short list of what gave me anxiety preparing for the gym:

  • finding clean workout clothes
  • doing mental math of what time to leave to get to your class on time
  • calculating how much time you can spend at the gym during your lunch break
  • the possibility of running late
  • being late and groping your way to your bike in a dark spin class

Working out at home? You decide to workout, you put on workout clothes – or not? – and get it done. Then you’re back to your life – whatever that entails right now. Watching Rick and Morty, and dipping joints in a brown butter and sugar mixture? Don’t know if that’ll work, but whatever keeps the serotonin flowing.

Wear whatever you want

No one can see or judge you – wear whatever you want. Even if its nothing. Some people embrace this fashion mantra wherever they go. Have you seen how Nicolas Cage dresses? So what if you don’t have appropriate workout clothes? Who cares? Also, there’s no fear of others judging your poor form doing at home workouts, except maybe a roommate and I’m sure you’ve seen one another in more compromising situations. Even at the gym, there’s no need to feel like an idiot when you can’t correctly do a burpee or complete 100 crunches without stopping and screaming because your ab muscles have exploded. This is your time to learn how to do that stuff. So flop around on the floor like a fish in your pajamas. It’s okay. You’re trying.

Stop whenever you want

Working out at home gives you the power to end that nonsense whenever you want. You ever try to slip out of any kind group exercise class? I’ve watched people do it and everyone stares. Or worse, the impossibly fit instructor makes a comment. There’s been many times I’ve wanted to leave a demanding hot yoga strength training class or a really intense spin class because I’m so delirious I’m seeing mirages of floating ice cream cones. Even then, my social anxiety won’t let me leave. I just try to catch those ice cream cones, which may or may not look strange.

Post workout snack is right there!

It’s right there! Hooray!

Your mental health thanks you

Look, nothing makes sense right now. And it might not for a long time. The best we can do is take care of ourselves with the means that we have. Exercise creates endorphins which can significantly decrease anxiety and depression. If you don’t have some lingering sadness or frustration watching mass unemployment and death, you have the serenity of a Buddhist monk. And if you’re thinking, “Crunches? Pilates? A single push up?! That’s a hard no!” – great! You know what you need and maybe it’s snuggle time on a couch. We’re all doing our best to find ways to cope, which right now, could be doing one crunch before heading back to your Netflix marathon.

We Need Toothpaste

Fuck

We’re almost out of toothpaste. The formerly plump tube is now flattened to .0005mm, almost as thick as the random blonde hair growing between my eyes that every seven months I discover is three feet long and no one told me. I found a half-empty travel size toothpaste under the sink, but how much time does that buy us? If I use Instacart or Amazon, will the workers shopping, packaging, shipping and delivering it be okay? I don’t want them to get sick because I don’t want another fake tooth. But what if we stop using these services? Now they’re part of the 16 million newly unemployed who can’t get access to the flooded unemployment system?

Anyway, Instacart is backed up with orders, so we’re looking at four to five days. Same with Amazon; the travel size toothpaste I found lodged behind my vacationing hair dryer is buying us two days max, three days if I only brush once a day. With my extensive dental history thanks to my easily rotting teeth and sugar addiction, I have to brush two times a day – at least. This isn’t the time to neglect your teeth. Dental emergencies during a respiratory pandemic is not ideal. I don’t like dentists breathing into my mouth and vice versa on a non-coronavirus day.

Normally, when we need toothpaste, I would stop into Walgreens after the gym, but the gym doesn’t exist anymore. And walking into any store right now isn’t easy. My brain goes into mental gymnastics, jumping onto the mental pommel horse before it’s ribbon routine right before hitting the rings: “If you go to Walgreens, tomorrow morning instead of today, and if you get infected while buying toothpaste, and all the clearance Easter candy, let’s be honest, that’ll buy you 48 hours over the churchgoers who got infected going to Easter service yesterday. And maybe that’ll buy you more time for a ventilator to be available. Or shit. Will they have gotten to them first? And if the hospital is out of ventilators and have to use a point system to decide who gets the next one and if I’m up against a young church-going mother who volunteers at a swamped food bank on the weekends when she isn’t at night school while caring for a handicapped husband AND aging parents, even I’m going to say, yeah, roll me into the street.”

I don’t have a mask. We went for a walk, or with social distancing in effect on narrow Chicago sidewalks, more like Frogger, on Saturday in the eerie solitude that used to be Logan Square. With everything closed, Milwaukee Avenue was almost devoid of human life, making my heart hurt. I missed the eclectic 20 somethings. Even dogs being walked looked confused, like, “Dude, where are those hipster kids dressed unironically like Wham band members, vaping while recording Tik Toks? I want my head petted.” When strangers weren’t jumping away from us like scared squirrels or having conversations with friends standing on opposite sides of the street, less than half the people we saw were wearing masks. After five minutes, I hated everyone who wasn’t wearing a mask. And that would include me and my boyfriend.

Do I order paper surgical masks? But that would make me asshole because of the PPE shortage for healthcare and essential workers. How do I make a mask? I can bake, but I’m not crafty. Unless, is fondant a useful barricade against pathogens?

Who has the easiest mask making instructions? A YouTube video? Buzzfeed? Which t-shirt do I sacrifice? A really old one that is as transparent as the pale flesh on my stomach? Or a thicker shirt I don’t like because it’s a scratchy and hot and why would I put that on my face if I can’t stand it against my chest skin? I mean, I think I’ll leave it in place, because death, but what if I forget and pull it down and infect myself and then other people, causing an exponential amount of suffering and carnage? Do I even use a t-shirt or something thicker, like a bath towel or a floor rug?

Am I overthinking this? Can I just tuck my chin into my neck and pull my shirt over my face like an awkward middle schooler? Would people be okay shopping near me in the candy and gum aisle with that set-up? Fuck it, I’ll tie a pair of pajama pants around my face. Easy enough. Wait. What happens when summer hits and it’s 100 and humid? From late June to early September, I don’t like to wear sleeves or denim lower than the bottom of my ass cheeks, let alone a face covering made from one of my sacrificed cat shirts that I say is “so stupid” but I treat like it’s a rare jewel.

And when the vaccine comes, who’s getting that first? Is it getting overnighted to the rich? Am I going to spend months watching celebrities like a contoured Kardashian or a white guy comedian with eye bags and pending sexual assault allegations posting photos of a band-aid on their upper arms and dumb hashtags like #toodle-looCovid-19 or #oneshotformeisoneshotforusall while us plebs have to hide in our homes eating expired canned goods for another year waiting for the drugs to trickle down to us?

And if vaccine distribution isn’t based on wealth and stance, then will it be a lottery like in Contagion? Probably not, because in real America, free lotteries are only used for getting corporate swag like keychains and beer coolies or drafting young men to die in wars, not giving the poor and disadvantaged equality. So, what then? Who filed their taxes first to last? Who voted for whom? Pant sizes? Hair length? Netflix queue? Will they just spray us down with the vaccine using trucks like DDT in the 70s?

Or will the Feds use a value based system? Hoo boy, I’m fucked if that’s so. My personal values align less with typical American values and more with a sloth’s. I dunno, I just like to hang out. Slowly. I’m 37 and recently chose to make less money to be a freelance writer so I can wander around my house asking my cats and unused uterus what they think a good, but funny “think piece” would be.

How much will it cost? Is Johnson & Johnson going to charge $5k a shot? Who can afford that? The demon drugmakers know it’s a gold mine and it’s not like the war profiteer in the White House will stop them. Look what happened to insulin. Congress will try, but Jesus, can anything get done? And speaking of Trump, what fresh hell will be unleashed in the coming weeks and months or, fuck, four more years, thanks to his narcissism and dumbfuckery? As I’m writing this, he’s retweeting #FireFauci, the one guy who knows what’s up, all because Fauci isn’t saying good things about him. How bad will this get? How scared are our representatives knowing that we’re noticing how quickly pollution went away when we stopped the capitalism grind? How gas became affordable while Zoom reigns? Or how quickly our jobs went away? And now that there is indisputable proof the economy is built on the backbone of workers, not the rich assholes gazing down on us from their penthouses, will when the revolution begin? And when will commercials start trying brainwash us back into the “normal way of life” to try and prevent this?

Okay, I found toothpaste. On Amazon. It’ll be here in two days. The sparkling cheesy packaging says it’s probably not effective, like it’s filled with M&Ms and meth, but it’ll do in these “uncertain times”. Uncertain times – there has not been a phrase that makes me gag more. Ever, in any times. It fails to encapsulate the scale of the awfulness of all this. Uncertain times should be trying to decide what’s for dinner, not wondering if we’ll die from a pandemic or if we survive, suffer financial ruin.

Uncertain times. Please. But, that’s my anxiety talking. Maybe we should expect good things? Maybe things will change? Maybe it’ll all be okay?

Shit, we’re almost out of milk.

Carpe Diem! Recipes for A Minor Depressive Episode

For those of us that live with someone else, be it roommate or partner, there are those few and far in between times when you get the place to yourself. And today was one of those days! Yesterday, the boyfriend took off for Vegas. I woke up, headed straight for the couch and played an episode of Jessica Jones, ready to plan a whole day for myself! First, I was going to go thrift store shopping for a cute summery dress for when I joined him in Vegas later that week, followed by lunch for one at my favorite ramen place. Then, I was going to go to the store to gather ingredients to make homemade ice cream and a cauliflower pizza crust, yum! A full day!

After watching another episode of Jessica Jones, my rumbling stomach decided it was time to make myself breakfast. As I stared into the fridge, I realized there wasn’t shit to make breakfast with. But I got pretty creative! I found a buttermilk waffle in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago when I made a batch with our waffle maker during a desperate attempt to snap myself out of a desperate cloud of negativity. Thankfully, I had two remaining pieces of turkey bacon and a few eggs left. I popped the waffle into the toaster, tossed the turkey bacon into the microwave and scrambled those eggs! Away we go!

However, I set the microwave for too long and the bacon returned to me as two pieces of salty cardboard. Setting my sight onto the waffle, however, even after two attempts of toasting the waffle, I discovered it was still cold and somehow had the texture of human flesh. The organic maple syrup did nothing to save it and somehow the clammy flesh of the waffle infected the syrup with it’s putridness, providing the syrup with an essence of sweet dogshit. Scrambled eggs were edible because that’s almost  impossible to fuck up. Good thing too! Despair was clawing at my back!

A much better breakfast than mine

Burnt As Fuck Turkey Bacon With Cadaver Belgian Waffle & Easy As Fuck Scrambled Eggs

2 pieces of turkey bacon

2 pieces of paper towel

1 leftover frozen Belgian waffle from a happier day

2 eggs

1.Sandwich turkey bacon between two paper towels. Place into microwave for 2 min. This will be too long.

2. Remove frozen waffle and place into toaster. Press the lever down.

3.. Place a pan on the burner and spray with cooking spray. Crack eggs into a bowl and scramble with fork.

4. Open the fucking microwave because it won’t stop beeping. Swear with favorite cuss word when you see how burnt as fuck the turkey bacon is.

4. Press the lever down on toaster again. Waffle still frozen.

5. Pour eggs into pan. Move them around.

6. Press the lever down on toaster again. Waffle will remain cold.

7. Put everything on a plate. Salt and pepper eggs to taste and drown waffle in syrup. Eat however much you can stand. Throw entire waffle into garbage.

Since it was a Sunday and I wanted more time to myself and whatever trouble I could get into, meaning watching another episode of Jessica Jones, I decided not to leave the house. I decided to order my groceries online from Instacart. After readying my computer for online shopping, I flip through an ice cream cookbook. I remind myself that I can simply click on a button selecting whatever flavor of ice cream I want rather than spend three times as much money buying ice cream ingredients, cooking the ice cream mixture, then waiting hours for it to cool, then putting it into the machine and then finally eating it. Fuck that. Click! I remember my plan of creating a cauliflower pizza during more optimistic times two hours ago.  I google a recipe for cauliflower pizza crust. After reading about the small amount of effort, I am reminded of my own indolence and click! theres’s a frozen pizza in my cart. 

Another episode of Jessica Jones later, my groceries arrive. I unpack them. I make myself a cup of coffee because we were also out of that shit. Nothing fancy, it’s just Keurig. I’ve watched friends make coffee with french presses and the hourglass shaped gravity thing that you just pour boiling water in and wait forever like anywhere from four minutes to two days, but I prefer having my coffee and it’s caffeine induced worries immediately. I dump an obscene amount of sugar and milk rendering it more of a dessert than a beverage and wander out into the backyard with my cats. The next door neighbor comes out, sees my cats and warns me about fleas. I go back inside.

Back inside, I pull out my new carton of ice cream and dump a massive scoop into my almost finished sugary milky coffee. I sit back on the couch and eat my disgusting version of Affogato.

Like this, but not at all

Sad Affogato  

1/16 cup of coffee

2 scoops of vanilla ice cream

  1. After guzzling a coffee that is primarily milk and sugar, shuffle to the freezer.
  2. Spoon out two scoops of ice cream and dump into cup. 
  3. Jam another spoonful straight from carton into mouth.

After two and a half more episodes of Jessica Jones, I decide it’s time for lunch. I cook a frozen pizza that I’ve received acquired thanks to Instacart. It’s an Amy’s Organic pizza. Usually, I prefer a Jack’s, but I’m on a health kick lately. As I pace around the kitchen waiting for my pizza to cook, I eat chocolate, hummus, almonds, stale cheddar Ruffles, crackers, really anything in reach. I eyeball a bottle of rose for 6 seconds. I look at the time. 1pm. This day is pretty much over. I pour myself a large glass.

“Say when.” “….”

Amy’s Organic Spinach Pizza

One (1) Amy’s Organic Spinach Pizza 

  1. Preheat oven.
  2. Wait 5 seconds.
  3. Tear open box and place pizza in oven, on pizza pan, foil or directly onto the rack because who cares.
  4. Wait 12 min. Check on pizza after 4 minutes, then 2 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 2 minutes again, then 1 minute, then another minute, then another minute and finally take it out.
  5. Cut that shit.

Carrying two slices of pizza, I return to my permanently indented couch cushion. I watch 10 more minutes of Jessica Jones. I return to the kitchen three times for two more slices because I am not self-aware enough to know I will eat not 3 pieces but 5 pieces. Why three times for two slices? That math doesn’t add up.  On the second trip, in a pathetic display of portion control, I cut one slice in half. The third slice is eaten after finishing the wine and taking a 40 minute open mouth nap with one cat asleep on my neck. I am so drowsy and confused I’m not even aware I’m eating the slice until it is finished. It is only 4pm.

I decide it’s time for more ice cream. Using a juice cup is a good way to eat several servings of ice cream in one day and still fooling yourself into thinking it’s not a full bowl of ice cream. But it is if you really pack it n there. Years ago, when I was little, I was waiting with my brothers and  grandparents for a table at Denny’s on a busy Sunday morning. The waiting area was directly in front of the dessert case, that was filled with pies and also Baskin Robbins ice cream. A woman ordered a pint of ice cream to go. That lead to myself and the entire waiting room of after church crowd watched transfixed as the  Denny’s employee filled the container by using the ice cream scoop as a hammer to smash out any air pockets, ensuring that pint of ice cream was filled to the motherfucking brim. I think about this at least once every two week. Using the 1991 Denny’s Baskin Robbins method, I filled my juice cup of ice cream to the motherfucking brim.  I remember I have sprinkles and dump a pile on top of the ice cream, but only after I dump piles of sprinkles in my hand and eat them.

I finish my ice cream and watch the rest of the season of Jessica Jones. I briefly wonder if I want to smoke weed or take a vicodin or both. I decline on both, Vegas is only a few days away.  I accomplish nothing all day and go to bed with a feeling of something between deep sadness and crippling anxiety. I eat a chocolate bar in bed, smushing chocolate into my pillowcases and my right forearm, scrolling through videos of people icing cakes and dogs doing things. Tomorrow is another day.

“Oh, you don’t sleep on your toes, in a squat, next to the bed? That’s weird.”