Take a Break! Hey, Take 10

Tar Heels, if you’re still hanging around the general vicinity of North Carolina this summer, you don’t need me to tell you it’s hot, but…OMG it’s sooooo hot! If you’re anything like me, a long string of hot days might make you complain a lot and think less clearly than you might otherwise.

Also, while the pictures on my Facebook feed tell me that this is vacation time for a lot of people…it might not feel like vacation time for all of us. Yes, NECESSITY, as well as our culture that socializes us to ideals of BUSY! and ACHIEVEMENTS!, can chase us down even into these summer months.

So, please allow me to be your Captain Obvious right now and give you a loving reminder:

Here is a comfy pink chair in the forest a person might sit in if they were taking a break.
Here is a comfy pink chair in the forest a person might sit in if they were taking a break.

Take a break.

Take a break! There are many ways to take a break today, this week, this month, this summer, even if you’re jamming out in Summer Session II and can’t afford a beach condo for the next decade. Here are some ideas to get your creative break-making juices flowing:

  1. Finish reading this blog post and then turn off whatever screen you’re looking at for at least 5 minutes. Feeling brave? Do it in silence. Feeling tense? Think about relaxing each part of your body, starting with the toes and working your way up. It’s just 5 minutes. You can do it. Too easy? Make a summer resolution to do this every day and see what happens.
  2. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time and catch up.
  3. Commit to listening to an entire album you haven’t heard ever or haven’t heard in a long time. Do it in one sitting. Invite some buddies over for a listening party.
  4. Find a path you’ve never walked and walk it. (If you’re in Chapel Hill, consider these!) Find some flowers and sniff them.
  5. Take a social media hiatus. Y’all. I haven’t been on Facebook for 3 days and I feel like a new person right now.
  6. Drink some water. It’s hot.
  7. Do something you haven’t done since you were a kid. Is there a swing set at your apartment complex? Can you get your hands on a pool noodle? Are there old board games for sale at PTA Thrift Shop? Where are those crayons your roommate was waving around? Can you YouTube your favorite old cartoon?
  8. Plan a day trip to a swimming hole or a waterfall.
  9. Cook something for dinner tonight that you’ve never cooked before. Never cooked at all? Then this assignment has NO LIMITS!
  10. Read a book…for fun. When was the last time you read a book for fun??

Other ideas? Do share in the comments!

Power Poses to Challenge Self-Doubt

I’ve heard it called Impostor Phenomenon or sometimes Impostor Syndrome, but it tends to announce itself more like…”OH MY GAH, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING DO YOU?! SOMEONE ELSE WOULD HAVE KNOWN EXACTLY WHAT TO DO AND WOULD HAVE DONE THIS WAAAAAY BETTER. THEY’RE GONNA KNOW! THEY’RE ALL GONNA KNOW!” …At least that’s how it shows up in my head.

But whatever you call it, false feelings of not-good-enoughness are pretty common. Google it. Some researchers estimate that as many as 70% of people feel this way at some point in their lives. And while it can happen to anyone, researchers find this phenomenon especially common in women, people of ethnic and racial minorities, and anyone who’s trying something new or who feels different from the people around them.

Common or not, these automatic thoughts of impostordom can stall or stunt a person’s progress in life in major ways. And fears of having one’s “shortcomings” “found out” can keep folks from reaching out and connecting with others who could help.

There are a lot of theories out there about where this comes from and lots of advice for what to do about it, but I happened upon a TED talk the other day that gives scientific evidence to something I’ve learned doing theater.

ITC ensemble members using Image Theater techniques.
ITC ensemble members using Image Theater techniques.

With Interactive Theatre Carolina, we use a range of theatrical tools to help folks better understand themselves and discuss the world we live in. One technique we use is Forum Theatre—sometimes called a “rehearsal for real life,” which seeks to empower regular folks to make courageous and healthy choices by practicing changing the outcomes of problematic scenarios. Another technique we use is called Image Theatre, in which participants strike poses and audience members discuss and analyze the stories and associations the body postures convey. A “picture’s worth a thousand words,” right?

This TED talk references a study in which Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and researcher at Harvard Business School, reports findings that support that rehearsing for real life…is also real life. She finds that changing our body language not only influences the messages we send to others but also the messages we send to ourselves at the chemical level.

In short, striking powerful poses (poses that open the body and take up space) alters hormone levels—increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol (a stress hormone)—which results in a person actually feeling more powerful. The opposite happens, as you might imagine, when a person strikes a low-power pose (body closed off and made small). These changes are measurable and almost instant; Cuddy’s subjects only held the poses for 2 minutes.

Will striking a power pose and altering my brain chemistry suddenly make me capable of being the next president? Highly unlikely. But could striking a power pose for a few minutes before leading a presentation help me interrupt some negative self-talk that might otherwise hold me back? Probably.

Check out some of the articles embedded and below for other strategies to get past fears of being an impostor in your own life. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stand like a starfish for the next 2 minutes and have a brave afternoon.

4 Tips for Self-Compassion

Whether it’s exams, holidays, family, travel, finances, or just the persistent passage of time (aaah!) that takes our attention, this winter season can easily turn into a whirlwind of tending deadlines and the expectations or needs of others.  Of course, so much of that activity is necessary and pleasant (Completing projects!  Seeing loved ones! New Year’s resolutions!), but as the leaves fall off of the trees and the nights get long and quiet, I also like to follow nature’s lead and take some time to turn inward and rest.

1521435_10101745854380648_545676155_nI’m not proud to say that most of the time I actually find it easier to be kind to others than to myself, and this can be particularly true around holiday times. When we are able to extend the same compassion to ourselves that we extend to others, though, everyone benefits.

Here are some ideas for cultivating self-compassion in this–or any–season:

1.    Practice non-judgment.

Many of us are taught (explicitly and implicitly) that certain things are “good” to feel and be, while other things are “bad” to feel and be. Though we don’t need to indulge in or perpetuate harmful behaviors, judging ourselves harshly for how we feel or where we are (or aren’t) in life only digs us deeper into suffering.  Mindful non-judgment can interrupt that.  Practicing this can be as simple as noticing a feeling or a thought that’s happening (like “Whoa, I’m really jealous that my brother got that giant TV.”) without plastering positive or negative associations all over the thought/feeling and, consequently, yourself.

 2.    Re-connect with your body.

Academic rigor, screens in our faces, hectic western culture—there are many reasons a lot of us get trapped in our heads.  Bringing awareness back to the physical experience of a moment can be a game changer.  This might happen in the form of an activity like taking a break to go for a walk, or it might just mean objectively noticing what’s happening in your body in response to a thought or feeling (like “Hm, when I hear Aunt Pat smack her dentures, my teeth clench and my throat gets tight”).

3.    Treat yourself like you would a friend.

Would you tell a friend who did poorly on a test that they are worthless and can’t do anything right? Or “Welp, another bad date, huh?  You’ll probably be alone FOREVER.”  I doubt it.  What makes it okay for you to be a bad friend to yourself?  Experiment with changing the tone of your inner conversation to something more kind.

4.     Allow for pauses.

I’m giving you permission to do nothing.  Try it.  This might mean not going out with old friends for the 5th night in a row when you’re tired and just want to snuggle up in your new fleece footie pajamas, or it might mean closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths in silence when you realize you were about to open up your Facebook newsfeed for the 16th time today. Try it.  If it feels difficult, ask yourself why.

These are just a few ideas/reminders.  For more detailed tips about mindfulness and starting a meditation practice, check out this post from earlier in the year.

Also, if you have tips for self-kindness that work for you, please share in the comments!

You Forget It All the Time, and It’s Probably Stressing You Out…

Okay sure, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely breathing already, I’ll give you that, but what is the quality of your breath?

Breath is at the root of everything our bodies do. And even though I know this–and I even teach this–I regularly forget to really breathe. Multiple times a day, I’ll check in to find myself holding my breath or breathing only into and out of the top part of my chest.

Breath and Behavior

When I work with actors (as a part of Interactive Theatre Carolina) or when I teach yoga, I start exercises with or even center entire lessons around the breath. New actors will often glance around wondering if I’m for real. I can see the wheels turning in their heads: “What does this have to do with being onstage and laughing and yelling and crying and looking believable?” Well…

What happens when you get onstage? People look at you. It’s stressful. You get nervous. What happens when you get nervous? Your breath gets shallow and fast. What happens when your breath gets shallow and fast? Your voice gets softer, your movements are compromised, and your attention is less available to the people trying to interact with you.

Even if you have absolutely no theatrical aspirations, our breath is linked to stress, and being aware of our breath can help us manage stress.

Breath and Health

It’s not news that our muscles, organs, brains, and other innards function best when they’re provided oxygen and rid of carbon dioxide. Think of the unhealthy chain reactions that can happen when we regularly shortchange our physical selves of the breath we need.

The sympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for the “fight or flight” response), while evolutionarily useful for getting us through dangerous moments (like…if you find yourself needing to outrun a lion), still gets triggered when we’re stressed (like…when your printer jams 5 minutes before you’re supposed to turn in that thing that’s now crumpled in the paper tray), and when engaged too often, this reaction takes an understandable toll on our bodies.


If we’re not breathing to the best of our abilities even in times when we are NOT stressed, it still makes our bodies feel like we ARE stressed.

Life is stressful enough, y’all. Why would we do that to ourselves?

I can’t answer for you, but I can speak for my own bad breathing habits. I’ve started to watch and I notice I hold my breath when feeling guilty, when pretending to listen to someone but thinking about something else, when trying to walk quickly because I’m late, when avoiding something, when not being present—just to name a few. See if you can notice your own sticky moments. It can be revelatory. And shifting the experience of those moments is as simple as inhaling deep into your stomach and letting the breath slowly out.


As a young woman, I was taught–like many others–to suck in my stomach to keep myself attractive. I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve totally gotten over that, even though I know it doesn’t feel good, it robs me of breath, and it’s a messed up idea. Why should I stress my body out daily in an attempt to satisfy some unhealthy thin ideal I don’t even agree with? But letting go of these habits and these old ideas takes practice.

Ever gotten the advice to change the way you react to things you cannot change? Depending on the situation…that can be really annoying advice. And I’m not seriously going to tell you that deep breathing will solve all of the things that stress you out or even dismantle the social structures that perpetuate a thin ideal.

But breathing deeply is good for you. And it’s a little thing you can definitely do. And it will help to keep you healthy so that you CAN do the important stuff…like dismantle the social structures that perpetuate a thin ideal 🙂


But you don’t have to just take my word for it…





Farmers’ Market Notes from Sarah D

Okay, it’s always a great time of year to go to the Farmers’ Market…but, y’all.  THIS is a GREAT time of year to go to the Farmers’ Market.

I’ll admit; I’m actually only an occasional market goer. Let’s be real.  Even the best of us can fall into food ruts–especially if funds are tight.   And Farmers’ Markets can seem fleeting and ephemeral–especially if you’re not an early riser on Saturday mornings or have problems remembering what day it is…ahem, not that I’d know anything about that.

Getting to a Farmers’ Market can be a great way to reconnect with the food you put into your body, though.  The food is fresh, in season, and grown by people who care.  Going to the market inspires me to eat new, healthy things that I may not have thought of before.  And sometimes I find GREAT deal$$$.



Basil.  Basil is in season right now, and a bunch will cost $1 – $2.50.

Take it home, trim the ends of the stems, and put the bunch in a jar of water.  No need to refrigerate!  It should last a while on your counter this way.

Add leaves to your sandwiches, smoothies, teas, salads, or noodle dishes and feel like a winner.  Or!  Make a simple basil pesto…


(You’ll need fresh basil, fresh garlic, a blender or a sharp knife, olive oil, some parmesan-esque cheese, optional walnuts, and a sense of adventure because I don’t measure this precisely)

Pinch the basil leaves from their stems – I aim for about a packed cup, but you can do with more or less.

Smash 3 cloves of garlic with the flat side of a knife for easy peeling.

Either chop up the basil and garlic really fine, or throw it into a blender with a little olive oil.  (Tip: add some spinach or kale if you want extra nutrients) Add some chopped walnuts if you’re into that.  Add about 1/3 cup of grated cheese and stir it all up while drizzling with olive oil.  Add more of any ingredient according to your taste.  You really can’t screw up too bad.  It can be chunky or saucy.  It will taste good.

Toss this mix onto some noodles or grill some chicken in it or spread it on a sandwich.  Feed it to a friend and impress them.

CONVINCED YET?  Here are MARKET DETAILS for you LOCALS  (this post assumes that you live on or close to UNC’s campus.)

The Carrboro Farmer’s Market (http://www.carrborofarmersmarket.com/)

  • Saturday 7:00am – 12:00pm  (All year)
  • Wednesday  3:00pm – 6:00pm (During the growing season, April – October)

Located at 301 W Main Street, Carrboro

Don’t have a car?  On Saturdays, take the CM or CW bus from South Columbia Street and Rosemary to Carrboro Town Hall, then keep walking down W. Main Street until you’re at the Carrboro Town Commons.  Check google maps’ public transit or http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=706 for route updates.

The Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market (http://www.thechapelhillfarmersmarket.com/)

  • Saturday 8:00am – 12:00pm
  • Tuesday 3:00pm – 6:00pm

Located at 201 SOUTH Estes Drive, Chapel Hill (Right in front of University Mall)

Don’t have a car?  On Saturdays, you can take the FG bus from Carolina Coffee Shop on Franklin to University Mall.  Check google maps’ public transit or http://www.townofchapelhill.org/index.aspx?page=706 for route updates.


  • Bring a bag (many vendors have them, but some may not)
  • Bring cash (though many vendors accept cards, it’s just easier)
  • If you’re gong to Carrboro on a Saturday, don’t bother eating breakfast.  At the Carrboro Farmer’s Market, you can buy delicious pastries and coffee
  • Don’t be afraid to chat!  I’ve had great luck asking farmers and fellow shoppers how they prepare the various food items on sale.

Practical Lessons from Theatre: Creative Ways to Deal with Stress

Folks in theatre know a thing or two about stress and stress relief–it’s our primary excuse for playing all of those silly games. Since there is a lot of tension inherent in meeting multiple deadlines, collaborating with a team, and performing in front of people, a lot of theatre training involves cultivating awareness and practicing relaxation. Academic atmospheres hold similar tensions—especially at this time of year. What are your strategies for moderating the physical and emotional effects of stress?

Colorful CrayonsIn Interactive Theatre Carolina’s scene on stress management (Coloring for the Chronically Stressed by student ensemble member, Noel Thompson), an overburdened protagonist meets a fellow student in Davis Library late one night and flips out when he realizes his new friend is coloring.

Victor: NO! This is an important point! Why are you coloring?

Sunny: (Sighs) Ok, if you really want to know. You know how when some people need to unwind, they run? Or some people do drugs, some people play music, some people get as far away from the library as possible? I don’t adhere to that structure. As some form of cosmic middle finger to the universe, I come to Davis, the place where I do all my work, and I do the least productive thing I can think of.

Victor: So you come here, and you…color?

Okay, but really: have you tried this lately? Coloring is way better than you probably remember. Furthermore, there have been numerous studies showing the benefits of music, expressive writing, and art for mental and physical health. Engaging in these activities has been shown to lower heart rate and boost the immune system. Also…they’re fun.

Maybe you don’t consider yourself an artistic person. It doesn’t matter. When you’ve been toiling in a performance-driven academic environment, part of the beauty of taking on a creative endeavor is that it can be valid and helpful no matter the “quality” of the product.

If you’re someone who already engages in a creative pursuit, consider switching mediums. It can be liberating to get back to a beginner’s mind where the stakes are low and your identity isn’t tied up in the work.

So sometime in the coming weeks, take a break, find some crayons, and color. Or sing, and sing off-key. Finger paint. Invent a game. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a collage. Try to draw a portrait of your cat or a representation of your brain. Pull out that old Casio keyboard and make up a tune.

Here are some links that might help get you started: http://journalingprompts.com/ http://www.happyhealthyher.com/mind-spirit/art-therapy/

Allowing your brain some variety and opportunity for expressive outlet shouldn’t be considered a waste of time—it’s an important, healthy release. If you need a little more convincing, check out this study: http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/5/338.full

Of course, we recognize that crayons aren’t a cure-all.  If your stress or anxiety levels escalate, you can always find support at Counseling and Psychological Services

Practical Lessons from Theatre: Ground Rules for Group Work


If your middle school report card was like mine, the comments section often sported the phrase, “DOES NOT WORK WELL WITH OTHERS.” It’s true; I didn’t. I didn’t like it when people didn’t pull their weight; I didn’t like it when people told me what to do; and I didn’t like it when people didn’t do something the way I would have done it. So when I got out of school, did I hole up in a cave to work at some solitary vocation? No! By some mysterious twist, I wound up working in theatre, which is about as collaborative as it gets.

Admittedly, I’m still a recovering group-work-grumbler, but after teaming up with some skilled and generous collaborators to organize large creative undertakings, I’ve picked up a few practices that make the process much easier.

At Interactive Theatre Carolina, every performance requires the cooperation of facilitators, actors, and audience to create a valuable dialogue. Before we begin, we always establish ground rules to keep the space safe for everyone to participate:

1. Respect yourself and respect others. Respect yourself enough to know that you have valuable thoughts to contribute, so share them. Respect others by remembering that, even if you don’t agree with everything they say, their contributions are also valid.

a. This corresponds to give and take, too. If you know you’re a bold speaker, make a conscious effort to leave space for others. If you’re usually quiet, challenge yourself to step in.

2. Give the benefit of the doubt. Everyone’s somewhere on his/her/hir own learning curve. Trust that people are doing the best they can in that moment.

3. Speak from your own experience. “I” statements keep your words authentic. Used correctly, this rule can save us from making embarrassing assumptions. In the context of group work, it can also help in difficult conversations, “I’ve noticed that…”

If you have the kind of group dynamic where you can come up with ground rules as a team, this can help set the tone for the rest of the experience. If that doesn’t feel possible, even keeping these in mind for yourself is never a bad idea. It never hurts to ask, though, right? Maybe break the ice by asking group members about the qualities of their best and worst group experiences and go from there.

We can do this right here, right now. Please feel free to comment: in your experience, what does and doesn’t work for group projects?

For more group work tips, stay tuned for part 2 of this post.

You can also check out: These tips from University of the Arts and Five Collaboration Tips from Introverts