Category Archives: stress


Refilling Your Well


Most of us have very busy lives. We frequently find ourselves over-scheduled, constantly feeling like we are behind the eight-ball. The to-do list gets longer and longer and we wind up feeling more and more stressed. In the course of our busy lives many people do not take time for themselves.

My friend Vicki has a business teaching folks about self-care. I believe it is a sign of the times that there is a need for a business like that because so many of us have lost the skill of taking time for ourselves, for downtime. We need to learn to acknowledge and take joy in those small moments, such as 15 quiet minutes to drink a cup of tea. With Vicki’s help I’ve been working on finding and being more mindful of those small recharging moments. She calls it “refilling your well.”

Recently I was able to treat myself to the luxury of an entire day spent with my good friend, Doris. Talk about refilling my well, this was an amazing treat, I felt almost giddy at the end of the day because we had so much fun. Doris and I tend to have very full schedules; between family obligations, household responsibilities, volunteer commitments, and work it’s not that easy to find time to get together. To have an entire day together was an amazing treat.

We are both avid foodies. Living in the Houston area there is certainly no lack of places to go and things to do that involve food. We started off with a visit to the Chantal Outlet’s once-a-year warehouse sale. I was able to get some really adorable ramekins; I’m working on a new custard recipe that I promise to share as soon as it’s ready. I also managed to pick up a few holiday presents while we were there.

Our next stop was Penzey’s Spices which is an indulgence. It’s fascinating to see and smell all the different spices from around the world, talk to the friendly folks who work there to learn about different uses for everything. I love using good quality herbs and spices in food. These are booster foods that add scent, flavor, and micronutrients. They help make a meal so much more satisfying. It’s always hard to resist the lure of their wares, I did, however, manage to restrain myself to only what I really needed to replenish.

After Penzey’s we went to Canino’s Farmers Market, a great semi-outdoor market with an enormous amount of produce and fruit as well as nuts, including fresh Texas pecans. Walking up and down the aisles trading recipe ideas back and forth we were thrilled by the variety of fresh food available. Finally we finished with a stop at Pizza Fusion a new and amazing pizza place. I definitely plan to go back and sample other wares on their menu.

When you look at it we basically did our food shopping together and then stopped for lunch. While we might have spent a little more time on these errands than if we raced around by ourselves, checking off a list of chores, this no longer felt like a chore. I believe that food shopping, or any activity really, becomes more enjoyable when you are able to do it with someone else, you have time to talk and you share ideas. We both went home at the end of the day feeling like we had accomplished something, reconnected and recharged.

Look for opportunities to recharge your life. They don’t need to be big ones, just mindful ones.

Be well.

photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Walk Jog Run

Part of a healthy lifestyle is to get out there and get some exercise.  As the saying goes, “Move it or lose it.”  There are a lot of benefits to moving our bodies.  Even simple walking has been shown to help with weight control and cardiac health.  It’s a great way to reduce stress, strengthen bones and muscles, improve your mood and more.


It’s sometimes difficult to know how far you’ve gone when you are out there moving, especially if you don’t have a pedometer.  I’ve recently rediscovered a wonderful website that can help with that.  Walk Jog Run allows you to find a starting point (anywhere in the country), plot a route and save it.  You can even print your routes to take along with you for reference.

I’m very fortunate to live in an area where we have hike/bike paths so I do get out there on a regular basis.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my regular walk with Tobi (our dog) was 2.1 miles.  Whether you are out there for a walk, a jog, or a run, just get out there and get moving.  It’s good for you.


photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Guided Meditation

It is important for us to take time out of our hectic, frequently over-scheduled lives to decompress.  For many people that takes the form of yoga, journaling, or a spiritual or meditative practice.  I often have people tell me that they don’t know how to get started or they can’t focus enough to take those few beneficial moments to re-center themselves.  Guided meditations can be a good way to get started if you are out of practice or just beginning a centering practice of your own.

I’ve come across this guided meditation at My Own Healing Power and it’s free.  Take a few moments to do something positive for yourself and check it out.

Taking Time

As a holistic Nutrition Educator I often encourage my clients to work on other areas than just food.  We talk about ways to reduce stress in their lives, ways to increase exercise and to work toward living a happy, healthy, balanced life.  I try very hard to practice what I preach and I thought I would share an example of that today.


I’m very fortunate that my family lives in TX where the winters are, let’s be honest, not to hard to take.  I’m doubly fortunate that the community that we live in has over 180 miles of hiking and biking trails.  This morning Steve and I took advantage of that and hopped on our bikes to ride over to the local coffee shop for a date.  Granted the coffee shop is not that far, only about four miles.  But taking the time to ride our bikes over, sit together and enjoy a cup of coffee/tea and then ride back was something that put me in a great mood all day.  We got sunshine, fresh air, a little physical activity and some time to simply be together.

Many of my clients complain that they don’t “have time” for these moments.  And while they don’t happen as often as we may like, we need to make them happen.  It goes a long way toward helping us de-stress and be more balanced.

Obviously if you live in a cold, snowy winter climate a bike ride is not an option for you. Perhaps a sled ride followed by a thermos of hot chocolate.  Perhaps a snowball fight outside and then a cuddle in front of the fire to warm up.  Even just some quiet time sitting in a sunny window if going outside is not an option can be very calming and restorative.

We’re each given the same amount of time, it’s how we use that that determines our state of mind and state of being.  Take time for you.

Be well.

photo courtesy of  freedigitalphotos.net
sleeping soundly

How To Sleep Soundly

We all need sleep. Unfortunately, the pace of modern life and the ability to extend daylight has taught many of us to develop very poor sleep habits. We’ve all seen the news reports that show how significant numbers of the population are suffering from a sleep debt, many are seriously sleep deprived.

There are reports that show how sleep deprivation can cause delayed reactions and slow or confused thinking.  It can also have other significant impacts on your overall health and wellbeing. Getting back into a good sleep cycle with adequate sleep can help re-regulate your brain clock and improve some sleep-related health issues.

Sleep and heart health

Now a new report released last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that sleep deprivation can be tied to coronary calcification.  In the study calcification rates were as high as 27% of the study population who slept less than 5 hours per night.  It dropped significantly with added sleep and according to the article one hour of added sleep was considered equal to lowering systolic blood pressure 17 mm Hg (the systolic number occurs at the beginning of the cardiac cycle and is the first number in a blood pressure reading – an average blood pressure is somewhere around 115/75).

What is sleep hygiene?

According to the dictionary hygiene is:
 
                    hy·giene (noun)
                              conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease
 
Sleep hygiene is an important, and yet often overlooked, part of our health.  Yet when we add in good practices to ensure that we are getting not only enough sleep but restful sleep, we feel better and our health is better because of it.  These tips are helpful ways improve the quality of your sleep and your sleep hygiene:
  • Avoiding caffeine later in the day
  • Go to bed at approximately the same time every night
  • Don’t watch television in bed
  • Create a sleep routine that signals your body that it is time to get ready for sleep
  • Have a dark, comfortable room to sleep 

Nutrition and sleep

Nutritionally there are a few things that you can do to help you sleep as well.  As mentioned above, avoiding caffeine later in the day is important.  Many people claim to not be affected by caffeine but reports from the National Sleep Foundation show that most people are not aware of how much of a sleep debt they are carrying and how it affects them.  Try switching to decaffeinated or herbal drinks in the afternoon and evening.  
 
Carbohydrate cravings are another problem that can affect sleep and sleep quality.  For many people the mid-afternoon carbohydrate cravings are because they are producing too much melatonin at the wrong time of day, this leads to a suppression of serotonin in the brain.  This, in turn, leads to cravings for carbohydrates.  
 
Many people have problems staying asleep, they wake up around 2 or 3 am.  The general suggestion here is to have calcium and magnesium before bedtime.  Calcium has a calming effect and the magnesium balances the calcium and relaxes the muscles.  Eating nuts (especially almonds), nut butters, cheese, or yogurt are good sources of these nutrients.  Bananas, dates, figs, tuna or turkey are also good choices as they are high in tryptophan which helps to promote sleep.  Remember, this is a small snack, not a meal, so don’t overdo the amount that you eat.
 
If you take over-the-counter products to sleep please be aware that your body can become over-conditioned to them and then require them to sleep.  Melatonin and chamomile should not be taken on a long-term basis and if you are allergic to ragweed you should avoid chamomile altogether.

Holistic health sleep strategies

Detox bath

Occasionally we get overwhelmed and overstimulated as we go through our daily lives. This can make it difficult to sleep well at the end of the day. High energy output combined with an inability to refocus the mind often leads to a state of wakeful-seeming. Even though we are tired, we cannot shift our focus and calm down enough to sleep or we do not sleep deeply enough for restorative purposes.

One way to help relax the body and the mind is to take a detox bath. This bath is very soothing for many people and the addition of calming essential oils helps to support the transition to restorative sleep.

To make a simple detox bath combine the following ingredients and add them to a tub of hot water:

1 cup epsom salts
1 cup baking soda
3-5 drops of essential oil – choose either lavender, grapefruit, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, or sandalwood (note that lavender is not recommended for males due to its impact on hormones)

Soak for 20 minutes immediately before bedtime. This bath can be repeated up to twice per week.

Caution: Do not use this bath if you have other health conditions that might be severely impacted by immersion in a hot bath.

Avoiding blue light

Blue light is highly stimulating and can interfere with sleep. It is found in electrical devices, phones, game consoles, television, and the computer. Blue light fasting can be very supportive for those with sleep issues. Start with a 60 minute fast (meaning no exposure) before bedtime. If needed increase this to 90 minutes before bedtime. For those who are highly sensitive to blue light it may be necessary to block blue light earlier in the day using a lighter filter lens and then shift to a darker filter lens before bedtime. While this does require the use of two different pair of glasses, having a two step system, such as True Dark blue light blockers, provides the graduated blocking filter that is more supportive for removing blue light and more conducive to good sleep.

Planning

I don’t know about you but I love the start of a new year. New planner, new calendar, clean paper, all that writing and scribbling to come. Every year my kids get a brand new calendar as part of their holiday gifts. I usually get one too. But there is a problem that comes with all this blank paper. Having too much of it. At one point I had a work planner, a daily planner, a PDA, a family calendar and my personal calendar and an online calendar. Then there was my husband’s calendar with his schedule on it. There were too many places for information to reside all related to dates and times. Needless to say it got a bit overwhelming; one unfortunate result being the day I took the wrong kid to the dentist (a 30 minute drive each way).

My brother and I frequently talk about the best way to keep track of all of these appointments, electronic, paper, bound, unbound, it can get rather overwhelming.  Some people love their Palm Pilots, some function with a small purse-size two year calendar; I have one friend with a truly amazing huge planner-system (I wasted a lot of energy being jealous of her system and trying to adopt it for my own – it didn’t work).

I’ve realized that the most important part of stress-less planning is to learn what your style is and go with it. For me that means a family calendar and a small planner similar to the Hipster PDA.   In order to simplify your life I suggest you consolidate your calendars, reduce your planners and go with what works for you.  

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
– Robert Burns

Auld lang syne, times gone by.  As the New Year fast approaches many of us think back on the year that has been and, of course, eagerly await the year to be.


For some reason the celebration of New Year’s is tied to an expectation of promises for the year ahead.  I will….lose weight, start to exercise, get more organized, anything that we think needs to be fixed.  The problem, as I see it, is that many people try to do this in an absolute fashion.  It’s all or nothing for the diet, the gym, the insert-your-choice-here.  My trainer at the gym laughingly tells me that although the gym is starting to get very crowded these days I should be patient because in another 30 days it will empty out again.  People will start the New Year with good intentions and lots of motivation.  But it is hard work and, if they’ve done no mental preparation other than making a vague promise to themselves, overwhelming.  It doesn’t last long.

When I work with clients I encourage them to not work in absolutes.  If you slowly and mindfully make changes, just one or two at a time, they are more likely to stick.  As an example, I have one client who is trying to break a fast food habit.  Instead of never ever ever going to a fast-food restaurant again, we started by having her give up the soda (that was her choice).   Then we began to cut down on the number of times she went out for fast food.  Next it was to downsize the meal (get a Jr. burger and a small fries).  Eventually it will not even be a temptation.  In the past because she would say, “That’s it, I’m never eating fast food again” she would not have much success and usually within 30 days found herself standing in line to order and feeling really bad about it.  Feeling bad about it may be modestly motivating in the short term, but I believe it just helps build up that “I don’t care” callus and gets in the way of making positive changes.

I don’t make grand sweeping resolutions anymore.  I personally see no need to tie all my motivations and changes to one day.  Instead I try to live mindfully; to make thoughtful, achievable choices.  Don’t make a huge, possibly overwhelming, promise to yourself later tonight.  Consider a modest goal that, when you reach it, will make you feel good about yourself and encourage you to keep going.  

Some suggestions might be
*adding a gratitude practice to your day – writing down five things a day that you are grateful for
*choosing to leave five minutes early for appointments to reduce stress
*planning to turn off or not answer the phone the first 15 minutes after you arrive home from work to give yourself some decompression time
*deciding that at least one day a week you will set a beautiful table for yourself and your family to eat dinner at
*choosing to eat one more piece of fruit or vegetable a day than you normally do
*drinking one (or one more) glass of water every day if you, like most people, don’t drink enough

Think about what you want to achieve, why you want to accomplish that goal and a small step as part of the process to get you there.  With this kind of mental preparation and reasonable expectations you will achieve your goals.

Have a happy, healthy New Year and be well.

photo courtesy of freefoto.com

Fifteen Minutes

As a Nutrition Educator with a holistic focus to my practice I believe it is important to do more than just pay attention to the food we eat.  We need to nourish our whole being; that includes our brains, our emotions, and our spirits.


I recently learned about Spring Forest Qigong’s gift to all of us.  In the hurry and flurry of post-holiday time, as we settle back into our normal routines and recover from any holiday-induced stress, we need to remember to take some time for ourselves.

Master Chunyi Lin has created a free fifteen minute guided meditation that is wonderful.  You deserve to take fifteen quiet minutes for yourself to listen to this amazing gift.

Unexpectedly Serene

My aunt was here visiting us, and we loved having her here.  She used to live in the Houston area 35 years ago, so one day we wandered down to Houston to visit a couple of places.  On the itinerary was The Rothko Chapel.  The chapel was built as an interfaith chapel, and Mark Rothko was commissioned to create the artworks. 


My first response when we entered the chapel was “huh?”  Fourteen enormous canvases of black or purple which appear to be solid.  Very strange.   But when you take the time to sit and contemplate them, shadings of light and dark appear.  The whole experience is very spiritual.
  
We all need to take the time to find serenity and calmness within ourselves and in those quiet moments of our life that present themselves.  Part of living a healthy life is taking that time for meditation.  It is serendipitous to find a space that so fully imbued with the energies that lead to that sort of contemplation.

I fully intend to go back and encourage you, if you are ever in the Houston area, to visit the chapel.

Be well.

People Power

As a Nutrition Educator I do more than talk to people about food. We talk about choices, changes, finding ways to reduce stress in our lives, adding exercise, meditation and a lot of different things. Stress is a big one. We all face it every day. How we react to it can have a huge impact on our health, so finding ways to reduce our stress can be a very good thing to do.


I don’t know about you but one of my least favorite activities is to spend what feels like hours on the phone in Voice Mail Hades trying to get to a real person. By the time I get to that person if there is a problem of any sort I’m already at a boiling point. Not a good way to get things resolved and certainly not healthy for me or the person on the other end of the phone.

I have found one great tip to help circumvent some of this; Get Human is a wonderful online resource to find the prompts and/or voice responses you need to get through to a real human being as quickly as possible. The website is broken down into categories such as finance, government, insurance.  

So the next time you are facing a potential foray into voice mail take two deep breaths, check out GetHuman and calmly make that call.

photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net