5 Proven Hacks to Combat Anxiety

This is the time of year when anxiety tends to dip down in our house, because it’s the end of the school year, summer’s approaching, and everything’s a bit more relaxed. That’s the best time, in my opinion, to brush up on some strategies for managing anxiety. When my family’s anxiety is well-managed, everything else, including money management, work, and school, is so much easier.

There’s nothing worse than that creeping dread–anxiety–that steals in and leeches all the joy and excitement from life. Mr. ThreeYear suffers from anxiety, and so do several more of my family members, including both my sons. So we have lots of practice in how to overcome anxiety.

Anxiety is genetic, and I’ve learned that the anxiety gene is powerful. It got passed down to both of my kids, even though I have relatively little anxiety myself. But once you’re aware of it, it becomes very clear who in your family suffers from it. It took me awhile to figure out why Mr. ThreeYear was always so wigged out when we took the boys for a walk around the block. “Careful!” he would yell to the boys as a car rolled by at 15 mph 500 yards from us. “They’re on the side of the road and we’re surrounding them,” I would say. “Even if that car managed to light on fire and fly through the air past us, it would still miss the kids.” Somehow those types of comments didn’t help. And my own feelings about taking a walk soon changed–it was no longer fun, it was torture.

One of the best articles I’ve ever read on how to overcome anxiety (or just live with it) is written by Scott Stossel in The Atlantic. It’s a long read, but is an excellent primer on what it feels like to live with debilitating anxiety. I have used this mega guide of his and adapted some of the methods or ticks to my family with varying success. Over the years, we’ve experimented with lots of different ways to overcome the anxiety and overarching fear, the low-level worry that eats away at your ability to focus and find joy in any activity. Some worked and some didn’t. Here  are our five proven hacks to combat anxiety in our family. They’re tried. They’re true. They work.

Exercise

Without a doubt, exercising is the number one way to overcome or at least ease anxiety. We have seen it over and over again at our house. Unfortunately, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists have been slow to study the mental health benefits of exercise. There are scant studies showing the effects of regular exercise on anxiety disorders or OCD. However, one study done by Princeton University and reported by the New York Times sheds light on how our body adapts to stress, after long-term training, by creating new neurons that produce GABA, a neurotransmitter which inhibits brain activity. The study found that the active mice felt just as much anxiety initially as non-running mice, when exposed to stress, but were soon calmed by their new neurons, designed to quiet the brain. It turns out that when we’re able to turn down our monkey brains, we can turn down our screaming anxiety, too, creating a calmer, less tense mental space for ourselves.

But how in the world to get to the gym when your anxiety is sky high? It’s the last thing you want to do.

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What I Learned After a Month of Digital Minimalism

In late March, I read Cal Newport’s insightful new book, Digital Minimalism (affiliate link). In it, he proposed a digital fast–that is, a time period of at least thirty days where you would dramatically curtail your social media usage and steeply curb the amount of time you spent on electronics devices.

He proposed setting strict boundaries for yourself around your electronics usage, such as only checking email once per day, and taking a break from all social media for the month.

The idea, he said, was to interrupt your social media usage patterns to get a better idea of how and how much you were using social media and to break the mindless usage.

At the same time, he recommended cultivating some new activities for your leisure time, something he found to be critical as you broke the hold of your social media on your life.

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7 Free or Cheap Activities for Kids This Summer

We’re slipping into the golden days of the school year, where activities are starting to come to an end. I received a note from the third grades teachers that after the kids do their end-of-grade testing, an apparently extremely big deal here in North Carolina, they’re throwing learning to the wind and will be having “camp” for the last two weeks of school . I can’t decide if I’m really annoyed or really inspired by this.

However, I have printed out my three-month calendar and have started to fill in the weeks, and I’ve begun to plan some of the activities I’d like to do with my boys to explore our new city.

Last summer, we were so busy with moving and unpacking that we barely got to check out what was available.

This year, though, we’re going to enjoy the free or low-cost activities available to us. While the activities in your area will inevitably be a little different, I hope this research from the Charlotte area will give you ideas for your neck of the woods.

You’ll Need to Plan (at least a little bit)

Before I list some ideas we’re planning to take advantage of this summer, may I make a recommendation? I am not always stellar about planning ahead, but for many of these suggestions, you’ll need to do some advanced planning, because they’re only free and low cost on select days and times.

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Why I Gave Up a Career in Marketing to Become a Teacher: Guest Post on Full Time Finance

On Wednesday, Full Time Finance featured my story of how and why I went from a Marketing Director to an ESL Teacher.

Full Time Finance is a personal finance site dedicated to those who have full time jobs and are concurrently pursuing financial independence.

Here are some of my favorite posts:

While I don’t work full time, my employment situation definitely plays in heavily to our financial independence story. Here’s how I made the switch.

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How I Pack My Carry-On for a Week

We’ve just gotten back from a week-long trip to the beach, and I’ve also just had an extended girls’ weekend. I’ve packed a lot of carry-ons in the last month.

I love reading posts about what people pack in their carry-ons, but I don’t see very good ones all that often, so I thought I’d write my own. To me, what makes a good carry-on post is pictures. Lots of pictures and specificity.

Perhaps I’m a little too nosy; I don’t know. I do love to look in people’s pantries when I go over to their homes and see what food they buy. Same thing for their carry-ons.

So here are all the details of what I brought to the beach and how I get everything to fit into my carry-on.

I’ve been a semi-minimalist for a while, and only have a small amount of clothing (compared to other people in this country, anyway). If I’m packing a carry-on only so I don’t have to check a bag (or to take up less space in the car), I need to be as efficient as possible with my limited wardrobe.

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A Year of Good Money: Decrease Food Waste

Another month is here, and with it, another opportunity to get better at money stuff! (No, it really never ends–I’m always trying to work on spending a little more wisely, despite how long I’ve been paying attention to our spending!).

Last month I took on the huge challenge of a digital fast. There were so many takeaways that I’m dedicating a whole post to it.

For this month, I’ve been reading a lot about global warming, in honor of Earth Day, and I actually read some really useful information about how we, as a family, could do a better job of reversing global warming.

I read that the third top way to mitigate global warming, according to Project Drawdown, is to reduce food waste (if you’re interested, refrigerant/AC coolant management and creating more onshore wind power are #1 and #2).

As a huge composter, I was shocked to hear that reducing food waste was much more impactful to the planet than composting (composting is still a good method–coming in at #60 of 100).

Want to know what #4 is? A plant rich diet.

Okay, as someone who pays a moderate amount of attention to helping Mother Earth, the fact that there are two relatively easy ways for me and my household to impact climate change is kind of amazing.

Reduce the amount of food we waste.

Eat more plants and less meat.

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April Net Worth Update

May is here! Flowers are blooming like crazy at our house, and temps are slowly creeping up into the uncomfortably warm. Which I’ll take! I feel like I spent eight years never getting quite warm enough in New Hampshire. Now, I’m spending my afternoons playing tennis in the sunshine. Life is good (yes, I’m going back to work at some point!).

As I’ve looked back over pictures that I wanted to add to this post, I was amazed at how much went on this month. Mr. ThreeYear went to visit his family in Chile, my niece was born!!, we spent a week at the beach with friends, and we had so many other fun adventures. April has definitely been chock full of fun. And our spending has matched!

Our Progress

This was a great month for net worth, because it’s the month Mr. ThreeYear’s stock “gift” comes in. We call it a “gift” but it’s really part of his overall compensation package. It varies pretty significantly from year to year, but this year it was pretty good (and the second largest ever). He works for an ESOP company, meaning the company is owned 100% by its employees, and so they receive a chunk of stock each year, commensurate with a predetermined percentage of their salaries.

Each year, in December, an independent company comes in, audits the stock, and sets the price for the year. So the stock price, and therefore the entire value of Mr. ThreeYear’s stock portfolio, is dependent on the auditors. They base the price on the market, competitors’ stock prices, debt held by the company (which is not much), and more. The stock price has been growing steadily over the years, but that doesn’t mean it always will. Nevertheless, it’s now become a significant chunk of our net worth. We won’t be able to access it until Mr. ThreeYear leaves the company or retires, and even then it’s distributed over five years. So even though it’s a big part of our net worth, we have to be careful not to rely on it too much since we’ll be limited in the way we access it in retirement.

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5 Ways to Decrease Food Waste

Last week, I read not one, but two articles on the top ways we, as ordinary people, could help decrease global warming.

Boy, was I surprised to learn that the NUMBER THREE thing we could do was decrease our food waste. I’m a big fan of composting, but according to Project Drawdown, an organization that ranked the top ways we can mitigate the effects of global warming, composting is only the 60th best method for solving the problem.

It turns out that paying attention to how much food we waste is a much better way of helping the planet, as composting can give you a false sense of doing good while still letting you chuck a good bit of food waste into the bin.

I’ve followed YouTuber Debt Kickin’ Mom for awhile, and I’m always inspired by her videos of her ZeroWaste food plan for her family of six. Basically, she buys just enough to last her family for the week, with only a few leftovers. She even tries to eat up everything in her freezer in a week or two, which apparently is a really smart strategy, as people throw a ton of frozen-over freezer goods out after they’ve been sitting in the back of the freezer for six months (guilty on that front! So guilty!).

I’m going to be completing a challenge to drastically decrease our food waste this month, so in the spirit of getting ready for that, here are some ways that I’ve researched and implemented in the past to decrease our food waste.

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Our Secret Weapon Towards Financial Independence

This post is as true today as it was when I first published it two years ago. And it was a great reminder to me that going back to the basics can help you, no matter how far along you are in your financial journey. Our “secret weapon” is something we need to continually practice in our over-the-top excessive neighborhood because we have so very much. Hope this post helps you as much as it helped me this morning!

On our journey to financial independence, most of us know by now that we need to spend less than we earn and invest the difference. There is no magic formula for building wealth, other than focus, restraint, and patience.

Or is there?

It’s been said that personal finance is 90% behavioral. For our family, that was definitely true. We understood the how of personal finance pretty quickly, and in fact, the more we simplified, the better results we had. Pay off debt, max out retirement accounts, invest in low-fee index funds. The why of personal finance was much more difficult. It’s been much harder to curb our desire to spend in the here and now for such a distant goal. Continue reading “Our Secret Weapon Towards Financial Independence”

Our Switch to an HSA: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Last October, I was excited to learn that Mr. ThreeYear’s employer was offering, for the first time ever, a high deductible health care plan, coupled with a Health Savings Account (HSA).

In the past, we’d only had the option of a Flexible Savings Account (FSA). Flexible Savings Accounts offer some tax advantages, such as allowing you to deduct up to $2700 of your paycheck, tax free, to use with qualified medical expenses. But you only have one calendar year to use the funds or you lose them. $500 of the funds carry over to the next calendar year, which you have to use by March 31st.

With an HSA, however, you can deduct up to $7000 of your paycheck, tax-free, and there’s no deadline for using the funds. You can invest the money in your HSA, and take it with you if you leave your employer. Your money will grow, tax free, for as long as it’s kept in your account, and you can access the money whenever you like to pay for qualified medical expenses. If you haven’t read the MadFientist’s excellent primer on HSAs, you should. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to get an HSA option this year.

Last Year

Last year, we opted for the company’s normal health care insurance option. Each paycheck, $280.99 was taken out of Mr. ThreeYear’s paycheck for his cost of the health insurance, and $57.75 was taken out of each paycheck to fund the FSA.

When we went to the doctor, we paid a normal copay of $20-$40 and medications cost us $10 each.

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