So I am glad that this challenge is forcing me to get exercise, but I kind of wonder why exactly I need to be forced to get exercise? I can challenge myself to not buy new stuff for a year and I can do that (less than 4 months to go, baby!) and I can challenge myself to not eat pre-packaged meals, and I can do that. I can even challenge myself not to use toilet paper and do that! So why is it that when I challenge myself to exercise for half an hour a day four days a week, I fall flat on my face?
Why do I stress out about global warming and peak oil, both of which are pretty much entirely out of my control? Am I going to die of global warming? Pretty damn unlikely. In fact, it is much more probable that I would die of heart disease. I have a history of high cholesterol, and my father passed away of a massive heart attack. You would think that exercising every day would be a no brainer.
Except that it's not. And I'm not alone. According to a 2006 Time Magazine article on risk, I'm pretty average:
Shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we'd get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong. We agonize over avian flu, which to date has killed precisely no one in the U.S., but have to be cajoled into getting vaccinated for the common flu, which contributes to the deaths of 36,000 Americans each year. We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn't) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually.
Ring true to you? It does for me. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that I think in the past few months I have worried considerably more about getting cancer from microwaved tupperware, than I have worried about having a heart attack. Rationally, this makes no sense. But, then again, people aren't rational.
Lately, my life has been going through a lot of turmoil. I always figured I'd be pretty settled in my late twenties ... married, with kids, and successful career. But beyond that, and more importantly, I thought I'd know the answers. And I don't. I really, really don't.
I've also had a lot of moments of poutiness, where I've felt frustrated with the current state of affairs in the world: financial crisis, rising food prices, global warming, disaster in Iraq, rising trade deficits, etc etc. On several occasions I have thought, why do MY twenties have to be so unstable? Why is so everything so difficult and insecure and at a crisis point NOW?
And then I have to step back and remember ... the world has been in crisis before. Can I really say that I am worse off than people who came of age during the Vietnam War? Or World War II? For all the doomsaying going on in the 24-hour news media (At 11:00 pm, we'll talk about how Avian Bird Flu, SARS and Ebola got together to create AvARSola, a disease so dangerous, you're probably already dead!) the threat of nuclear warfare is much lower now than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.
And so, I have been trying more and more to give myself a good dose of perspective when necessary. When I am stressed out about something that is out of my control, or that is unlikely to actually be a problem, I take a deep breath, and tell myelf, "You are being irrational," or "There is nothing you can do." And then I try and find something completely unrelated to do.
Does it work? Well ... no, not always. But I find that the mere act of recognizing that I'm being irrational, or that I'm worrying about something out of my control is in itself important and helps me to calm down. Even more important, though, is being dismissive of my irrational self. I used to get freaked out about stuff, and think, "I know this is crazy but..." But that, in a sense, was giving credence to the crazy thoughts. Now, my attitude is, "I know this is crazy." Fullstop. No ifs, ands or buts.
Now you might be thinking, "Okay, Arduous but irrational and out of your control are two different things." And they are. And look, I'm not saying we should duck our heads under the sand and not pay attention to the problems around us. But I think, in terms of our own personal sanity, irrational and out of your control are more or less the same.
I can't control global warming. I really can't. I can do my best to lessen my impact, and I do, because it feels right. I can write letters, and I can vote and I can act as an empowered citizen. But at the end of the day, what will be, will be, and my stressing out over it is not going to do a damn thing.
The problem with stressing about the irrational and the unchangeable is it allows you to ignore the real issues that you can change. Which is problematic. So, ultimately, while it's good that I am exercising more and eating healthier foods, it does give me pause that I'll walk to the metro to cut carbon emissions, but I won't take the initiative to walk for my own well being. And that I'll cook to cut down on packaging, but not because it's healthier for me than a diet of Lean Cuisine. I guess I'm lucky the health of the planet and my own personal health line up so neatly!