Tag: stress

times of transition.

It’s been an inexcusably long time since I last posted. I’ll blame most of it on the fact that south eastern Utah is essentially an internet void, but the rest is my own fault entirely. In my last post we were at Bryce Canyon. Following that stop we hit Capital Reef, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Arches, Moab, Canyonlands, and the Needles District. Each of those adventures deserves a post of it’s own, I intend to do my best.


Favorite spot :) More where this came from, I’m working on it!


At Canyonlands David and I made the decision to head back to Durango. Our wanderlust was fading and the prospect of camping in still-snow-packed Rocky Mountains was less than enticing. So we decided to skip the Colorado leg of the trip.

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6 reasons to exercise – that have nothing to do with weight loss.

The “Freshman 15” is a thing for a lot of people – I was not an exception. Before college I never reserved much love for exercise, I did track for a few seasons but outside of practice I very rarely got my heart rate up. I started exercising in college to combat the 15 measly pounds I gained; despite my efforts it was years before I lost it. During this time, however, I discovered a million and one reasons why I enjoyed getting my sweat on – and none of them had anything to do with losing weight.

It drives me crazy when people exercise solely for the purpose of losing weight. That’s the wrong way to go about it. Weight loss is an extremely complicated process that cannot be simplified to just burning calories. Heading to the gym to simply weigh yourself on the way out is not a sustainable weight-loss approach. Weight loss is a long-term return-on-investment; it’s so much harder to get yourself to the gym if you’re not focused on at least a few short term benefits. I’m not saying that exercising won’t lead to weight loss, it very well may and probably will; but weight loss can’t be maintained unless your workout routine becomes part of your lifestyle, and to do that you need more than a number on a scale to keep you going.

So here are my top 6 reasons why I exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss. Exercise can drastically change your life in so many other ways, even if you’re not losing weight the way you want to be. I don’t care if you’re walking, running, swimming, hiking, gardening, biking, doing yoga, or a workout tape. If you make the following benefits your purposes for exercising, rather than weight loss, you’ll get immediate payback. And you’ll get this payback no matter what: no matter how fast you are, how long you’re out there, or what you’re doing. Just getting moving.

1. Reduce stress and anxiety, relax.

This is a popular reason why people exercise. Often times people who hit the gym, road, trail, or pool do it because they feel calmer afterwards. Exercise is a huge stress reliever in many different ways. Did you know that it actually burns the stress hormone? I’ve always imagined my stress melting away when I’m running – but that’s literally what it’s doing, it’s burning off. Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise can reverse stress induced depression by enhancing the body’s ability to deal with stress. Exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants. Physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. One study suggests that more is not necessarily better; low-intensity, short exercise stints do just as much for your stress levels as high-intensity workouts, if not more. You don’t have to be a star athlete to benefit from this! In fact, no matter how hard you’re working you’re likely to experience equal stress relief. In fact, just taking a 20 minute walk can have the same effect as a mild tranquilizer.

“The real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best, and in my view, this benefit of physical activity is far more important – and fascinating – than what it does for the body.”

– Dr. John J. RateySpark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

2. Happiness!

Exercising not only reduces stress, it actually increases happiness. The brain releases endorphins during exercise that trigger the release of endorphins and chemicals like norepinephrine that actually make you feel happier. Within just five minutes of your workout you can already feel it! If you aren’t experiencing this boost of happy when you exercise it’s probably because you’re working out too hard. If you hit the ground running, literally, to the point where you can’t talk when you’re moving (because it’s hard to breathe) then you’re delaying your dose of happiness by at least 30 minutes. If you need a mood-boost look no further than the pavement outside your door – and take it easy.

3. Be more confident

This one is huge for me. Exercise made me more confident in my ability to do things. As a kid and preteen I often avoided hard labor with my father and brothers, and hikes and excursions with my friends, under the illusion that I didn’t enjoy it – in reality I was just scared, afraid that my body would make a fool of me. More recently, farming and running taught me that my body is a tool, a vessel for achieving milestones. The simple act of exercising, of using your body, can convince you that you look better – regardless of fitness. You’ll feel proud of your body and what it has achieved, giving you a different perception of yourself. If I haven’t succeeded in convincing you, let Kelsey Raymond try.

4. Get outside

We’ve known that nature deficit disorder is a thing for a long time. Humans are animals: we’re meant to be outside, in nature (however you choose to define that word). Contact with the natural world reduces depression and boosts energy levels. All it takes is – get ready for it – 20 minutes to see an improvement! Are you seeing a pattern? I’m a huge advocate for getting your exercise routine in outside. My choice is always trail running. But it can be walking, swimming, or biking. Getting your heart rate up for a short period of time, in the presence of natural surroundings will have great impact on your mental health.

5. Age better

Aging is scary. It’s unpredictable and unavoidable. But did you know that regular exercise throughout your life and into your later years can drastically reduce your risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that threaten the elderly? Exercise keeps your body healthy and functioning, and it also keeps your brain up and running. Studies show that memory functions of the brain may be maintained or enhanced in people with higher levels of fitness. Some people are afraid that excessive exercise in younger years will cause joint and muscle pain for later years. In contrast, more and more studies are finding that low-moderate exercise, even running!, can be extremely beneficial in the aging process.

6. Get smarter, more creative

By now you get the point that running does some cool stuff to the brain. It creates chemicals that make you happier, improve your memory, and improve your self-confidence. But just to give exercise one more brain-improvement award – it can actually make you smarter. Children who exercise regularly have shown higher levels of intelligence. Regular exercise improves our cognitive skills, giving us the ability to think better. And, not only does it make us smarter, but exercise has the ability to increase our creative potential. I now understand why all my good ideas come to me on my runs…


There are so, so, so many reasons why we should exercise. These are just my favorite six – and the six that I think get over looked. But other reasons include lower risk of health problems like diabetes, strokes, and cardiovascular disease, the ability to fight addiction, and to improve social connections, to improve productivity, boost your immune system, increase your sex drive, keep you focused, fight back pain, etc., etc., etc.

All I ask is: the next time you hit the pavement, pool, gym, or trail give yourself two good reasons why you’re headed out there today – two good reasons that have nothing to do with your waistline. Exercise deserves to be valued and enjoyed, and I promise that these non-weight-focused reasons will help you achieve that. What you’ll get in return is guaranteed life improvement – can’t argue with that.

fearing “the future.”

Last year, around this time, the air was thick with the buzzing tension of a class of seniors stressing about their futures. Everyone claimed they didn’t want to talk about it, yet everyone still did. To a certain extent, I escaped the tension within myself (though I was still affected by everyone else’s stress). I knew where I was going to be. My farm job was secured.

Last night, I went to campus to see some girl friends in the current senior class – beautiful, talented, smart, and driven women who will all be perfectly fine. The tension was there, prevalent as ever, and this time (a year later) I’m actually a part of it. But as a graduate, I have a different perspective. I don’t have the stress of classes, extracurriculars, impending culture shock, theses and research hanging over my head – so things seem a little less bleak. I’m already in “the future,” so there’s a lot less to be afraid of.

I think that college students (including my former self) have the wrong outlook on what the “future” is. It’s scary because, unless you’re going to grad school, it’s the first time in your life that your life isn’t scripted. For most people, there’s no template for how your life should be laid out – you don’t need to be somewhere specific, or be at any one job for a certain amount of time, you get to choose what kinds of jobs to look for. You get to call the shots. You get to fully shape your life. That’s what’s so exciting, and so terrifying, about being in your 20s.

But under all the stress of being a senior, college students have trouble seeing the exciting – they only see the terrifying. They put too much pressure on themselves to find the perfect job and to have a detailed plan before May. What they don’t realize is that life won’t end if you don’t have a job by June 1st. You’ll just end up with more time to look for the perfect job, to move somewhere random, to travel, to do things you haven’t had time for, see people you haven’t seen – live a little, find yourself. You don’t need to find your career immediately, in fact, I’d argue you shouldn’t.

I can’t say that I’ve perfected this mind set. I still freak out, regularly, about my own future. But I am learning to put a lot less pressure on myself to know exactly what I want to do, where I want to be, and when I want to get there (let’s be honest, even if I had answers, they’d probably change before 2016).

If I have any advice for current seniors it would be to relax, to believe in yourself and what you’re worth. Don’t fear June, it’s just another June like every other June before it – it will come and everything will be fine.


‘going back’

During our homestay we spent the morning stooped in the kitchen building over a small fire stirring ugali, vegetables and chicken in the billowing smoke. After, as we waited outside for the table to be set, Kelsey turned to me and said, “It baffles me that in America we ‘go camping’ to go back to this.”

I’ve thought a lot about the concept of “going back” since then.

In America we are obsessed with the concept of progression, of development, of moving forward from a way of living that we seem to think is insufficient and unfulfilling. But as we moved further and further in modernity, materialism and ease we realized some basic cultural concepts as well as human needs and desires got left behind. Instead of recognizing that we had forgotten them, however, we addressed them as factors that needed to be added back in to our new life in new ways that fit our new model. God forbid we move backwards.

Tanzania has made these concepts and needs clear to me because the culture here never moved away from them. The two main concepts I am referring to are minimalism, and purity. The human needs and desires are nature, relationships, and mental health.

Minimalism in America is a new up and coming thing. Many people now see materialism as an evil, for reasons too numerous to name. You see cute thrift shops on popular streets. People bulk shop at health food stores that are ten times more expensive than convenience stores that individually wrap things. Reusable water bottles and bags are the hottest eco trend. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Well, there are no clothing stores in Tanzania, at least none that I have seen. Everyone buys their clothes used from vendors at markets if they haven’t had them handmade. Every local market is a thrifters paradise (and also explains why Tanzanian’s have a very, very interesting sense of fashion). In Tanzania, when you go to a small duka for things like rice or oil they are delivered automatically in bulk, measured out into reused plastic bags or plastic water bottles by necessity. One of the most baffling products in Tanzania is soda. All soda comes in glass bottles, all bottles must be drank in sight and returned to the shop owner immediately or the buyer pays a hefty bottle fee. As a result the soda is stupid cheap. In Tanzania minimalism make sense. You don’t waste more than you need to and you recognize that everything has value.

Purity is something we Americans are yearning for and the economy has decided to capitalize on it. All Natural, Organic, Local. People in Tanzania don’t even know what those words mean. At Moyo Hill everything we eat is local and all natural, not because its environmental, but because its cheaper. The way it should be. In America we decided that pure was for people with money, in Tanzania that logic makes no sense at all.

Nature is something, for a while, we disregarded as unrefined and backwards. When we started to miss it, instead of changing our lifestyles to include and celebrate nature we invented “camping” and “vacation.” Our relationship with nature became vacation, something only the wealthy can afford. In rural Tanzania nature is everything. It is how you cook, what you eat, where you get your money. It is what you look at when you walk out your front door, where your kids play because there is no such thing as a playroom. You go on a hike every time you go to the store. The weather sets your schedule and the sun is your watch.

Relationships between people lost footing as our obsession with money and individualism grew. More time is put into work and less time into family and community relationships. The idea is, if we have more money than our neighbors then our family will be happy. We created daycare and fences. The result has been depression, divorce, and the invention of counseling. In Tanzania, relationships are the most important capital an individual can accrue. Family is the center of everything and, most importantly, community is the foundation. If you don’t have people who care about you, you have nothing, and if you care about no one then you won’t survive. It is from these relationships that Tanzanians find happiness and success. It is love that makes life rich. No wonder people here are so damn content.

Mental Health. This one really caught me by surprise. In America our obsession with money and success has left us with a severe case of stress addiction. To combat this, instead of cutting out stressors, we found ways to help ourselves to handle them better: yoga, meditation, exercise. At home I do all of these things and more to keep myself relaxed. From the first day here when I went on a run I realized just how absurd all of it was. People in Tanzania don’t exercise, they don’t run, they don’t have gyms – they work, physical labor, and they walk, everywhere (and sometimes they play soccer). People in Tanzania don’t do yoga, they don’t meditate – they drink tea, they take breaks, they give themselves time to relax. Tanzanian’s don’t allow themselves more stress than is absolutely necessary, because when your potential stresses are as serious as theirs are you really should save all your strength.

America needs to rethink the “more, more, forward, forward will fix everything” mindset. Moving forward doesn’t need to mean moving away from the past. We need to admit that aspects of this life we have constructed are wrong. We need to admit that in some areas we have gone too far. We missed some crucial basics when we created this “modern world” and maybe fixing them by turning around isn’t necessarily admitting defeat.

More photos of the original homestay, cooking and relaxing over chai:

in time, in time.

There is a calm in Tanzania that, over time, seeps deep into your conciousness. It happens so slowly that you swear it was always there. Without a doubt, it is the greatest gift this country can offer.

Hakuna Matata. Amna shida. No worries.

Today we started our Directed Research Projects. We all awoke and crammed into the dining hall at 7am to grab our breakfasts and lunches and leave by 7:30. The room was a beehive of tension. Breakfast wasn’t ready until 7:15… apparently the kitchen didn’t get the early breakfast memo. As expected, chaos ensued. People running, pushing, whining. My group got our stuff together, jumped in our cars, and realized we had a broken GPS and were missing our professor… twenty minutes later he arrived, giving us enough time to find Yohana to fix the GPS (he can do anything, I swear).

We arrived at our starting point an hour and a half late, waited another half hour for our professor to find our guides, and then spent another hour wandering around in confusion. In short – we started our vegetation plot transects three hours later than planned. The whole of the morning I felt strange, uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out why.

We fumbled through the day struggling with our equipment, the terrain (we basically bushed whacked 5 kilometers up and down three hills), and communication with our guides. Mid-afternoon we breached the last hill to the marker that signified we had finished our very first transect. Not nearly what we had hoped for the day but an accomplishment nonetheless. But our professor, instead disappointed with the few plots we had completed, was utterly thrilled. When I looked up from the ground at the world the strange feeling that had hung around me all day escaped in one, big, satisfied sigh. There is nothing comparable to a hill-top view of an African valley, in the rainy season, in the sun. Rolling farms and forests filled landscape with vibrant reds and greens. The sun glimmered off all of the rain coated foliage. Sunflowers smiled from every field.

Stress, I realized. That was the feeling I could not shake all morning. A feeling I have not experienced in a long, long time. When I looked at my professor’s face I almost laughed – how ridiculous. I thought back through the morning, through breakfast being late, my professor being late, the late drive, the late start. I realized that the only ones stressed had been students – and the whole time it was completely unnecessary. At first I considered the contrast in reactions as just a difference in the perceived importance of time, but the more I thought about it the more holistic it appeared.

Amna shida. Don’t worry. Pole pole. Slowly, slowly.

Nothing happens fast in Tanzania. This calm is apparent in time values, as already observed. It is shown through disregard for appearances and etiquettes. Grown men wear pink crocs and sweaters with flowers on them. Dress pants are obviously okay for soccer. Holes are more a factor of indifference than poverty. You should expect public presenters to answer their phones in the middle of powerpoints. It is totally acceptable to pick your nose during a conversation, or spit your watermelon seeds onto the table during lunch. It is apparent in resource sharing – people share food, clothes and other possessions like they were always community ware. The concept of ownership is skewed. I could go on and on.

None of this is a result of laziness, rudeness or aloofness – Tanzanians are the hardest working, kindest and most observant people I have ever met. It is simply because worries are reserved only for things that are important. Africans do not waste energy on the trivial. It does not matter if you are late, what clothes you are wearing, how you eat your food, or what you accomplish. What matters is if you are okay, that you are empathetic and patient, and that you work as hard as possible – everything else you need will fall into place, in time, in time.

Amna shida.

b*tch, b*tch, work, work.

(NOTE: apologies for the language in advance)

Our third week was rough. A scheduled seven day school week, two huge research papers and only one active field day … we were getting a little stir crazy. And to top it all off, we were to end the week by picking up rocks.

The morning was shot with frantic energy. After passing our first papers in the night before we found out that we had a pop Swahili quiz in the morning. Flashcards at breakfast, flashcards in class. We stumbled through a Wildlife Management class on estimating population counts (actually some fantastic stuff, but that is for later). Then we wrestled our way through the ten minute quiz only to find ourselves facing new material. Nothing is more frustrating than a new language when your brain has checked out. It was a relatively unpleasant two hours.

When we left class late everyone stumbled to their bandas and fell on their beds in a huff of self pity. My banda determined it was b*tch hour and let it rip along with rest of campus – I didn’t understand any of that. It’s too hot. I want chocolate. I’m so tired. This room smells like s#*t. I just want to nap. I’m hungry. I don’t want to do this second paper, and most of all… I don’t want to pick up rocks.

See, M’Lis scheduled our first community service trip for this particular afternoon. The task: walk to the nearby Lutheran Church and aid the local tradesman in flooring two new buildings – a task that required carrying boulders into the frames of buildings and laying them on the floor in preparation for a concrete filling. In the hottest part of the afternoon. Perfect…

But we didn’t have a choice. So at 1pm we lined up at the gate, Bring a water and a good attitude, my friend Calvin called to us in our banda. Then we walked together to the church. Upon arrival we huffed and puffed in opposition as we got in an assembly line.
And then we picked up rocks.

The change was instantaneous, unacknowledged and beautiful. With each rock our smiles widened, our voices rose, our pace quickened. Covered in spiders, dirt, and sweat we kept moving – brains resting, bodies moving. We sang through every 90’s song and rap we could think of, screamed nonsense Swahili words with our staff members and learned about the spiders and scorpions under the rocks that we let the tradesmen kill (I promise no one was bitten). We finished in half the allotted time. When we found out that we were to leave early we cheered, of course (more time to write that paper…) but there was a moment of hesitation beforehand as we all wondered why we secretly wanted to stay.


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