Mind-Body

When was the last time you unplugged…          yourself?

We often hear that to relieve stress and be more mindful, we need to “disconnect” or “unplug” ourselves.  But in a world where we are constantly connected, it seems to be harder and harder to achieve balance in our lives.  And, like most health habits we seek to adopt, disconnecting is commonly perceived as taking a lot of effort or time.  

Let’s be honest, stress is a normal part of life. Whether we endure stress through our work, relationships or managing our kids, most of life’s responsibilities come with a certain amount of stress. However when we find ourselves juggling multiple demands all at once, we can wind up putting ourselves in overdrive and feel the side effects of stress. We might become intolerant or short-fused, experience a lack of focus (i.e., brain-fog), or simply hit a wall from exhaustion at the end of the day. It is only so long we can expect our bodies to function properly when we run on all cylinders.  And, we might not necessarily feel we are “under stress” when our mind and body is in this state continuously.  It is not until physical symptoms surface that we get a signal from our body that is telling us, “It is time to unplug and re-charge”.

Many of us are familiar with the “fight or flight response” – the physiological reaction our body creates when we are in a stressful situation. This efficient process recruits stress hormones to kick in which quickly provide us with the energy, focus and strength needed to function under pressure.  Just as effectively as this system kicks in, it then “shuts down” after the event has passed and the waters are calm again.  Although this defense is highly useful in the short term, if our body recruits these hormones too often, levels can remain elevated. This is when we usually feel the physical symptoms of stress.

There are a variety of symptoms that might creep up when our mind is in this heightened state.  We may experience stiff or achy muscles, digestive issues, headaches or even a skin condition. We often dismiss these things as mild ailments and afflictions that everybody experiences from time to time.  Our natural inclination is to try to alleviate or subdue symptoms by turning to over-the-counter medications, doctor’s visits, or other treatments. Treating our symptoms may very well relieve the discomfort in our body, but until we actually disconnect from constant doing and thinking will we treat the cause of these symptoms and give much needed relief to our mind.

Although we all would like to achieve balance between responsibility and enjoyment, the percentage of time we spend working and doing usually far exceeds time we take for re-energizing breaks.  Unless we engage in a planned leisure event or activity, the common tendency is to stay on the hamster wheel without recharging… in healthy ways. Even if we know how important taking a break is, going to a yoga class or meditating can feel like too much of a commitment. Breaking this pattern for any reason can be difficult when we’re moving quickly between life’s demands.

So, how do we manage stress when we feel like we can’t always manage everything else in our day?

Learning to “unplug”… so we can recharge.

It doesn’t feel natural and it sounds counter-intuitive, but the best way to alleviate daily stress is as simple as putting your mind “on pause” for a few minutes – ideally a few times a day. You are probably asking, “How can a few minutes of anything be effective enough to manage my stress?” Well, just as we have to plug in our iPhone for a few minutes when the charge runs low, we have to recharge ourselves in between things to avoid becoming drained. Believe it or not, the action of redirecting our brains and focusing on something else – something calming – for only a few minutes, can bring our heart rate down and make our muscles less tense. I call this a “Redirecting the Mind Break”; when practiced regularly, stress hormones are kept at bay helping us feel a little calmer and a little clearer.

These mini breaks do not have to be structured or time-consuming. There are simple things you can do to get into a calmer state in as little as 5 minutes. (But if you can spare 10 or 15, please do!)  Remember, something is better than nothing so always start small and build when you can.

 Some ways to redirect the mind may include:

  • Going for a short, brisk walk outside (without talking on the phone)
  • Sitting quietly, closing your eyes while focusing on breathing (place one hand on abs to help you pay attention to the rising and falling of the diaphragm)
  • Reading a few pages of your latest book
  • Doing a few standing stretches or yoga poses (again, while focusing on breathing)
  • Listening to relaxing music while walking or sitting quietly

It doesn’t matter which “activity” you choose, as long as it is quiet, uninterrupted, and without active thinking.  Doing this 2 or 3 times a day, for 5 to 10 minute, only takes about 20 minutes out of the day.  This small amount of time doing a simple exercise will help clear your mind and give a little recharge to your day. I suggest starting with one short break and building from there. It can be helpful to set reminders at different points in the day. When practiced regularly, over time you will become more mindful of how important it is to stop, breathe, and refocus in between things.  This is a great tool for buffering little stressors that pop up throughout the day, and preventing little annoyances from snowballing into higher stress loads. When stress loads are high, we tend to decompress from in not-so-healthy ways (like mindless eating, drinking or other behaviors), which makes us feel worse and creates more stress.

So, set an alarm to hit the pause button and take a moment to disconnect once or twice today. It is a good first step in managing stress, becoming more mindful, and having your mind – and body – recharge in a healthy, positive way.

For more information about stress management and mindfulness, connect with MAP 2 Wellness Health Coaching. Working with an Integrative Health Coach will help you define your goals and get the support you need in achieving them. If you can use help with nutrition, fitness, or overall wellness – M2W is here to guide you to a healthier lifestyle!

Mind-Body

Healthy Eating

Celebrate Summer!

…while maintaining a healthy eating routine.

During the summer it is common for our eating habits to shift. With many celebrations, bar-b-q’s and other social gatherings taking place this time of year, we might not be eating as healthfully, or we might be consuming more food and alcohol than usual. While we should enjoy this fun and short-lived season, it’s important that our “once in a while” indulgences don’t become permanent habits. If you tend to overindulge or “fall off” track easily in the summertime, don’t despair. The summer can be the perfect time to clean up eating habits and boost your nutritional intake.

Summer is the perfect time to add fresh, nutrient-dense produce to your meals.

One major benefit of realigning eating habits during the summer is the array of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that are available this season. This allows us to add variety and extra nutrients to each meal. When the temperature rises, we naturally desire foods with higher water content, so we can stay hydrated in the heat. We also gravitate towards eating lighter because our bodies no longer need the extra carbohydrates that we primitively crave more of during the winter months.

So, here are some tips to maintain a healthy eating routine to off-set the not-so-healthy eating that we may partake in this summer.

  • Identify Your Favorites

It’s always easier to implement foods we like rather than forcing ourselves to eat things we are not crazy about. When my clients want to increase their fruit and vegetable intake, I have them list the fruits and vegetables they enjoy the most. We then use their list as a guide for grocery shopping and selecting recipes

  • Find Recipes in Advance

Many of us look for recipes right before preparing a meal. This is fine, unless we discover we do not have the necessary ingredients on hand or the recipes are too complicated to prepare in a short time. I always recommend finding five to ten recipes based on your list of favorite produce that appeal to you (or to your family if you are cooking for them too). After choosing recipes, you can check to make sure you have the ingredients needed prior to prep. This method is also helpful for preparing lunch for work or school.

  • Add Favorites to Your Grocery List

Once you have made your list of favorite fruits and vegetables, and have found the recipes you would like to use, you can add these items and ingredients to your weekly shopping list. This ensures that you have fresh produce on hand that you enjoy eating, along with the condiments needed to cook. The key here is when you always have these “go-to” items on hand, you are more likely to include them in your diet on a regular basis.

  • Prepare for the Week Ahead

Assuming your work week starts on Monday, have your new grocery list written and ready for shopping over the weekend or right before. Buying your weekly groceries before the work week guarantees that you will have everything you need to prep ahead of time. This way, the washing, chopping, and storing of your fruits and vegetables is done by Sunday and ready to go for weekday meals. Having a bowl of fresh cut fruit in the fridge is also helpful for breakfast or snacking.  With most of the prep work done, you won’t be pressed on time and resorting to unhealthier meals or snack grabs.

  • Try it Out

Finally, give yourself a week or two to try out this system. Take notice of what works and what doesn’t, or what you like and don’t like. After getting into a routine, you can adjust the timing of your shopping or prep work, or choose different recipes for the following week. Eventually, you will be in a rhythm of integrating more vegetables and fruit on a daily basis. Soon, the healthy weekday meals will counter the less healthy food choices you might have to make at social gatherings. Most importantly, you can enjoy the summer while still maintaining a healthy eating routine!

Spring Clean Your Wellness Routine!

As we welcome spring, join me in cleaning up old habits and reinvigorating routines with this three part series to help you renew your fitness, nutrition and wellness routines this season.

Part I Refreshing Fitness Routines

Are your workouts challenging enough? 

Longer days filled with sunshine often motivate us to start exercising or to renew a fitness routine that no longer feels challenging. 

This is a great time to ask yourself if your fitness routine is working for you. Like most habits, we often fall into the same routine when it doesn’t take much thought or energy. For example, getting on the treadmill for 30 minutes and walking at the same pace you have been for the last two years, or doing Pilates three days a week every week, will lead to a “plateau” in training. This occurs when our bodies adapt to the exercise load and we are no longer challenged.  If you have been doing the same exercises at the same level of pace for a long period of time, it’s time to increase the intensity or to add new exercises (or both) to complement what you are already doing.

It is common for our cardio routines (i.e., walking, running, cycling) to become less challenging over time, and at some point, we feel as if we are not exerting much energy.  The best way to know if you are working hard enough is to determine what your target heart rate is, along with observing how winded you are when your workout is complete. The easiest way to adjust for any workout that might feel too “comfortable” is to increase the intensity.  In terms of cardio, this means either to run faster or further, to pedal harder, etc. However, if you’re not keen on working at a higher level the whole time you’re exercising, you can consider decreasing the time of one activity and adding a different exercise (also cardio driven) for the remaining time. One way to do this is to move from one machine to another (i.e., from the treadmill to the elliptical machine or Peloton). Another way is to do body weight exercises, such as squats, lunges or pushups, in between.  This is an efficient way to keep your heartrate up and add resistance training at the same time. Choose the method that works for you to make sure you keep yourself challenged and get the full benefit of your workout.

Are Your Workouts Well-Balanced?

Well-balanced workouts are the key to optimal fitness.  A well-rounded regimen includes a mix of cardio, strength, core balance and stretching every week. Time constraints are the most common reason people usually include only one or two exercise components in their daily or weekly routine.

When time is limited, I use the pie method to get a well-rounded workout: just envision dividing the time you have to exercise inside the pie. Then, think about how much time you can reasonably spend on each exercise component that day, or week. For example, if you have 45 minutes to exercise on a given day, you may choose to devote 25 minutes to cardio, 10 minutes to resistance, and the last 10 minutes to stretching. Alternatively, the “opposite day” method breaks up the type of workout by the day. In this case, if you exercise 5 days a week, you can devote 3 days to cardio and 2 days to resistance training. Or, if you attend yoga class 2 or 3 times a week, you can add a cardio day on one of the days in between.

However you choose to break it down, a balanced fitness routine will increase muscle mass, improve endurance, and help you to avoid injury.[1]

Is Your Exercise Routine Aligned With Your Goals?

Besides aiming for a well-rounded and challenging workout, we should ask ourselves, “Why are we exercising in the first place?”  We all know exercise provides many benefits to our health, but it should also be tailored to our specific goals. Do you want to build muscle, or lose weight? Are you training for a long distance run?  Maybe you don’t have any specific goal in mind, but simply enjoy how you feel when you work out!

That said, if you are devoting time to exercising regularly, it makes sense to align your workouts with your overall fitness goals. For instance, if your physician prescribes exercise to lower your blood pressure, and you choose to spend your exercise time only lifting weights:  over time, you will build muscle mass, but weight training alone may not impact your blood pressure. Your time would be better spent doing aerobic exercise, i.e., walking, jogging, or swimming – or any continuous movement that keeps your heart rate elevated. On the other hand, if your goal is to build stronger bones, lifting weights and/or resistance training will serve you better than walking or cycling.

Physical goals are not always the reason we decide to exercise; many of us work out as a way to relieve stress. Running or high intensity interval training is a great way to decompress; however, some prefer a gentle activity like yoga or stretching to lower stress levels.

Whatever your exercise preferences are, make sure your routine is working for you. Spring is a great time to reassess routines and decide if the time you spend working out is most beneficial for you. Adjusting the frequency, duration, intensity, or type of exercise can make a major difference to your long term fitness goals. If you are not sure how to reassess your routine, or if you can use help with the fine tuning, consider working with a fitness trainer. A skilled trainer can access your fitness level and goals against your current routine and design a program tailored to your individual needs – the ideal way to spring clean your routine!

[1] Marni J. Armstrong, Sheri R. Goldberg and Ronald J. Sigal, Moving Beyond Cardio: The Value of Resistance Training, Balance Training, and Other Forms of Exercise in the Management of Diabetes,” National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, January 28, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334083/


Keeping Resolutions Beyond the New Year

Why we start with force and go out with a fizzle… 

As the calendar turned to the new year, we envisioned a fresh start and thought about what we would like to do differently in 2022.  Resolutions are often made at this time.  The new year brings an opportunity to abandon old habits and commit to the improvements we would like to see. We might want to improve professionally or personally. Maybe we think about paying more attention to our physical or mental health.  Whatever the change we desire, having a vision of what that change will look like is usually what motivates us to take the first step.

When a resolution is centered on our health, it often involves a new diet or exercise program.  We might vow to practice mindfulness, or take more time to do the things we enjoy.  Regardless of the behavior we choose to adopt, we first have to eliminate one or more automatic behaviors that are part of our routine.

It is for this reason that after we follow a new regimen for a few weeks, most of us reach a “fading point”.  It may start by missing a workout or two, or by gradually drifting away from a new diet plan.  No matter the trigger, we eventually become too bored or too busy, and find we are not nearly as motivated as we were on January 1st.

Why does our enthusiasm to adopt a new habit fade so quickly? 

Here’s why we might start with force and end with a fizzle…

We Need the Right Kind of Motivation

When the desire to make a change comes from an inner yearning to achieve a certain goal, you are more likely to achieve it. For example, if a doctor advises a patient to lose ten pounds or eat less sugar, the instruction might seem simple. Advice given by a doctor for health reasons is usually enough to motivate us. However, if the individual receiving this advice does not connect it to a personal value or something important to them or their lifestyle, (i.e., having a job that requires physical stamina or the desire to stay active with age) then the likelihood of maintaining the change is going to be low. Having intrinsic motivation can be a powerful motivating factor in getting a desired result.

Thinking Too Big or Too Many

It is common for many people who make resolutions to commit to many changes at once.  Although it is admirable to want to improve ourselves, being overly ambitious often results in unrealistic goals that are difficult to achieve. An example of setting the bar too high would be trying to run five miles a day after being sedentary for three weeks. Or, cutting every carbohydrate from your diet (including carrots and bananas because they rank high on the glycemic index), and signing up for a thirty minute meditation class five times a week.  Being overly enthusiastic and impatient often precludes us from setting manageable goals that fit into our lifestyle. 

Smaller goals like cutting all added sugars, walking for twenty minutes two to three times a week, or meditating five minutes a day might not sound like much, but starting with little steps creates a much higher likelihood of achieving (and maintaining) commitments that you can build on later.

We Need a Contingency Plan

Similar to creating realistic goals, we have to plan for interruptions when trying to work on a new goal.  Just one unforeseen event can easily throw us off track.  This is why it is important to consider any possible roadblocks or obstacles when planning your new regimen.  Even small disruptions can easily get in the way of planning.  Having a “plan B” in place helps to prepare for anytime a new routine or schedule might not work.  For example, if you miss a jog you had scheduled with a friend, you can follow an exercise app instead. Or, if you wind up working late on an evening you designated for self-care, you should have another day penciled in as an alternative.  This simple step will prevent the feeling of failure to meet goals, and allows some “mental flexibility” by realizing you are not locked into one way of achieving them.

Having Someone to be Accountable to

Some of us prefer to have a partner when taking on new activities. It can be more fun, and it’s nice to have support when navigating new territory.  Still, many of us prefer to take on new challenges by ourselves and not complicate the effort by involving another person. Either way works – but staying motivated is easier when you have someone to check in with. Sharing our progress with a partner, spouse, or friend gives us someone to be accountable to.  Having someone who can make sure we stay on the road we set out to drive on gives us the support we need if we veer off.  If there is not a person who you feel you can count on, you can also consider working with a coach.  Having a Fitness Trainer, Nutritionist, or Health Coach will not only provide support and accountability, but will help guide you with suggestions and resources to keep you motivated.

So, as you continue to envision your goals for this year, and what things you would like to improve, try not to put too much emphasis on resolutions. Instead, commit to making a realistic plan with small goals, and have the support you need in place to ensure long lasting change. 

If you are considering making changes in your life to improve your health and well-being, it may not be difficult to start a new regimen, but it is often difficult to maintain it.  A Health Coach can help you outline a plan to benefit your health, and more importantly, support and guide you while maintaining it.

Contact MAP 2 Wellness to learn more about Health Coaching and our wellness related services.

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