Connection, Community, and Friends: Mental Health Awareness Day

Hello, friends! Sorry I’m a bit late to the party today. After talking yesterday about how great and easy it was waking up early in the morning … I totally overslept this morning! Of course I did. By, like, two hours. So instead of reading my post with your trusty cup of coffee by your side, we’ll swap it out with a glass of wine (or cup of herbal tea) and have a little evening chat!

So I heard that today is Mental Health Awareness day, and what a perfect day to discuss what was on my mind today:

Connection. Community. Friends.

How does this relate to Mental Health Awareness, you may wonder? For me and my own mental health journey, this was the secret sauce. This was the one thing that was missing from my life for so long, and I had no idea what was missing. Finding people to connect with – and not just through social media, but, like, face-to-face, share-your-fries, right-here-so-we-can-high-five-each-other type interactions – is one of the most important and yet one of the most underrated ways we can improve our health and well being. Because for some of us, other people are, you know, other people.

And I get it. Friends are hard to find when you’re pretending to be a grown-up. Most of your time is filled with work, commuting, maybe caring for kids or other family members and you don’t have much free time to spend with someone else. Or you moved to a new place and just don’t know anyone yet, even years later (guilty!). But wherever and however you can find and make new friends, just know that they are a huge contributor to health and longevity. And from personal experience, can really change your mental health game as well.

Now, I’m an introvert, and I know I need a sufficient amount of alone time to maintain sanity. If I’m interacting with too many people for too long, I get this crawly-out-of-my-skin feeling and I know I just need to go … away, like, now right now. I need to be alone. So I make sure to schedule at least one day a month where I have exactly zero appointments, obligations, or plans. I stay at home all day and just do whatever I want, and don’t have to talk to anyone. I read, I organize closets, or I just binge watch Netflix. I might get outside and go for a hike or something, but only if I’m feeling it. And it’s glorious. I love it so hard. And I go to bed so refreshed and happy. To me, this is a form of self-care.

One evening or one day without human interaction is just fine with me. It’s not for everyone, but it’s what I need. But if one is good, more is better, right? But here’s the thing about managing depression – it’s a disease of isolation. It wants me to be alone for too long so it can get its claws back in me. It wants me to feel alone and disconnected, turning down invitations to be included and make excuses on why I need to stay in and be alone. And so quickly I can cross that line from innocently charging my introvert buckets to tanking back down under the cloudy mental sky, which is opposite of self care.

So how do I keep from crossing that line? How do I make sure that being alone is something I need to do and not something that’s harming me? It’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out the difference for me. But I know that if I’m hanging around at home, and the idea of calling a friend or going out sounds kind of like an okay thing to do but I’ll just do it later … I’m recharging my buckets and it’s fine. But if I actively reject the idea of reaching out to someone and I just want to crawl into a hole … then I need to call a trusted friend and make some plans to break my isolation ASAP. And I absolutely won’t want to do it. That’s how I know, when the idea of being social feels like the last thing in the world I want to do. Because it’s not me, it’s the disease at that point. So I make the call.

Just like I never regret a workout, I never regret calling or hanging out with a friend. I recognize it now as so vital to my mental health.

Big high-fives and hugs to all my friends out there that answer my calls and take me up on my invites to get out of the house. It may not seem much, but you are quite literally saving my life, friends.

If you’re struggling with mental health, there’s help. Here is a link to a list of mental health resources that can point you in the right direction. Also, if you need therapy but cannot afford it (most insurances cover it, but sometimes it’s only partial coverage or a copay), many schools and psychology student programs offer free counseling services to the community. Finally, if doing the research to find help is too overwhelming (I’ve been there and I feel ya!), find a friend or family member that can help do the legwork for you to get your foot in the door. Sometimes that first call is the hardest call to make.

Go make it a great day!

 

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Getting Off the Couch: A 3-Step Plan to Get Moving

Hello!

So, yesterday I started talking about rewriting unhelpful patterns that I recognized were keeping me from doing the things I know I want to do. And I started thinking more about specifically what are the themes that keep popping up for me, and what have I started to put in place to keep those situations from thwarting my good intentions? So to be extra helpful, I’ve collected the three big things that I find always throw me for a loop, and how I’m changing my mindset to see these challenges differently. I hope this is useful to you!

This August I set myself a goal for incorporating some sort of healthy movement every day for the month, and so far I’m hitting about 50%, which I consider a win since I think in July I worked out maybe four times. My life is kind of crazy so I give myself a lot of wiggle room when it comes to achievable goals, but I also know how easy it is for me to pull out Ye Olde Book o’ Excuses and thumb through until I find one that allows me to Netflix & Beer it. There are certain scenarios, when provided at a moment of peak weakness (i.e. stressed, hungry, possibly surrounded by children), that cause me to cast my growth-mindset priorities aside for the familiar and comfy.

And we’ve all been there. Possibly repeatedly. Maybe you set your alarm to hit that 5:30 am class, but now that it’s 5:00 am you’re like, “Meh, sleep is healthy, too.” Or you told yourself that you’d go for a run after work, but now that you’ve walked through the door the kids are crawling all over you and your spouse just handed you the baby and it looks like you are now putting on the Parenting hat instead, and isn’t family time important, anyway? Or perhaps your yoga buddy cancelled because their parents are in town, and the idea of packing up and going to class alone has lost its appeal. Despite our best efforts, it’s so easy for Life to derail our fitness plans. Not to mention bed is so cozy in the morning, and the couch is so comfy after work!

But if you’re like me and circumstances have made it easy to throw in the towel for the day, it’s always so much harder to pick things up again tomorrow. Not to mention the disappointment of “I would have felt so much better now if I had gotten my run in this morning” realization. So what can Current Me do to help Future Me keep my commitments? I have shared below a few strategies that I have been using successfully, so take a look, keep what you like, and leave the rest!

For When Bed is Too Cozy

On those days when I feel too lazy, or I just don’t want to get up out of my chair and change gears, I pull out Mel Robbins’s “5-second rule” for this one. The 5-Second Rule is pretty simple: based on the premise that it takes your brain 5 seconds to decide to do something, you simply tell yourself mentally, “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … Go” and immediately get up to do the thing, no thinking about it. This is great for when I’m trying to get out of bed in the morning, when I walk in through the door at work and need to change into my gym clothes, or when I have a home workout scheduled and am procrastinating on starting. It’s so simple, it just works!

For When Expectation Doesn’t Meet Reality

I tend to get in my head the “perfect” scenario – the perfect yoga class, the perfect run, the perfect lift – and if my circumstances or energy level are anything less than my perfect idea of what I want to have happen, then I tend to make excuses on why it’s not meant to be right now. I drank a few too many beers last night, so I know I’ll feel lousy at Bodypump this morning. My legs are super sore from lunges yesterday, so if I go on a run I know I’ll feel sluggish. I accidentally fall back asleep after my alarm, and now I’ll be 10 minutes late for my early morning yoga class. I forgot my hair tie. Nothing disastrous (well, except for maybe forgetting a hair tie), just when my idea of what was supposed to happen doesn’t meet what actually happens. It’s easy to use minor setbacks as convenient excuses to say, “Oh, darn! Maybe not today, then.” But don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Accept that feeling bloated and sluggish at Bodypump is going to be a thing after last night’s happy hour, and that’s just fine. Go for a recovery hike instead of a run if you’re that sore. Show up to yoga late; it happens, and as long as you’re quiet and respectful in settling the worst you’ll get is a possibly a judgy side-eye from Judgy McJudgerson Pretzel Woman, and who cares what she thinks, anyway? Take the minor setbacks to demonstrate further proof of your commitment, and build up some self-efficacy in the process. We can do hard things!

For when plans change

You had plans to go for a walk on your lunch break and your boss just handed you an issue that’s on fire. Your Pilates-then-pinot buddy is stuck in traffic and said to go without them. You had a run planned but it’s now raining, or your bike has a flat. Similar to letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, a last-minute wrench in the plans can provide an enticing opportunity to allow fate to deal you another blow in your resolve. But we’re stronger than that, aren’t we? Take a deep breath, assess the new situation, and make a new plan. Maybe the stars have truly aligned out of your favor and a workout just isn’t going to happen today, and that’s okay. But if you can schedule your work walk at 3pm instead of lunchtime, bravely solo it to Pilates, or use the rainy day or flat tire as an opportunity to try out that new dance class you’ve been meaning to check out, then you’re proving to yourself your commitment, even when it would be easy to quit.

Do you have any other scenarios or tips you use to overcome obstacles in your habits building?

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Go make it a great day, friends!

Fur Buddies – Why Working Out with Dogs is the Best

One of my favorite things to do on a weekend morning is go for a hike with the one creature in my household that may rival me for my love of the outdoors.

I’ll admit, a big reason why I’m a dog fan is they keep me active. Olive can get rather, um, destructive with one’s personal property if she’s not regularly exercised.

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Clearly I didn’t need that.

It is another commitment to my already-packed schedule, but Olive is pretty good about giving me hints that she’s ready for a walk. And by hints, I mean she doesn’t leave me alone until the leash is in hand and we’re walking out the door. Now I know where the idiom “being hounded” originated. But going for walks and hikes is something I enjoy doing on the regular, and I probably wouldn’t get out as much if it wasn’t for Olive’s insistence. It’s good for her, and it’s good for me! Plus, nothing beats a pooped pooch after a long, rambling hike through the hills.

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For more info on the benefits of exercising with your best four-legged buddy, here’s a cool infographic from the canine lovers at PuppySpot (and can we just take a moment to appreciate that dog yoga is a thing? I may have unintentionally practiced this! What a great time to be alive):

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While Olive is a rescue dog and your local animal shelter has many animals that would make great pets, I recognize that not everyone is up to the task of adopting and caring for a rescue, and may have different needs when selecting a new pet. PuppySpot is a great alternative to bringing a new fur-member to your family. PuppySpot is a service committed to helping responsible breeders place their puppies with caring individuals and families. They are a community of dog lovers whose mission is to make lives better by placing healthy puppies into happy homes.

And even if you’re not in the market for a new puppy, it is a worthwhile effort to check out their website just for the cute puppy pictures. Cute puppy pictures are scientifically proven to brighten your day. Okay, maybe not really, but that’s the kind of science I would totally sign up to be a test subject. You now, for posterity.

If you have a dog, what kinds of activities does your dog enjoy? And if you have a cat, do they even do anything? (<–Okay that last question was so my sister can be annoyed that this post was only about dogs.)

Go make it a great day!

 

Five Natural Stress-Relieving Activities

Is anyone else getting overly excited for today’s open announcement for 17.4? I think I was pretty over it at this time last year, but this year I’m still giddy with anticipation. It’s like Christmas every Thursday. CrossFit Christmas. Which is only confirming that I love presents and surprises.

But if the open announcement is causing you a bit more stress than excitement, I have compiled my go-to list of stress busting activities. Mostly for my own benefit, because I like lists that I can easily reference later because as a working mom I generally operate on like seven brain cells and I do not have any more space to remember things. So the next time you (and/or I) are stressed, take note:

1. Exercise

There are studies abound that show how beneficial exercise is to the body and brain. When you move your body, the brain releases stress-busting endorphins to help you relax and feel good. That’s what that whole “runner’s high” thing is all about. So when your calendar is piling up, one of the best things you can do is make another appointment to move your body.

Now, before you throw your popcorn at me and declare, “Emily you nut job, I’m already too busy to go to the gym! Plus, I hate the gym,” let me clarify a few things. Not every workout needs to be a balls-to-the-wall marathon. High intensity exercise also increases levels of cortisol, and if you’re burning the candle from both ends this will cause your body even more stress, which is not what you need. Good alternatives are walking, some light stretching or yoga, or even running around the playground with your kids (bonus – it tires them out for bedtime!)

So experiment with activities, intensities, and also with what time of the day works for you to find the right exercise cocktail recipe that works for your hormones, brain, and schedule. Some people are morning people that can fall out of bed and into a group fitness class at 5:30 am with no issue. Others like to work out after work when they can really benefit from the stress relief. You can also squeeze in time over your lunch break (I’m a huge fan of my #lunchwalks on Instagram) to take a yoga class by your office or go for a quick hike around the neighborhood. The most important thing is to find something that works for you and to stick with it.

2. Mediation/deep breathing

More and more research is showing up on the benefits of meditation for stress levels and the brain. But for most people, meditation sucks. It’s boring. I can’t turn my thoughts off. And who has time to sit for 20 minutes?

But studies show that even just 5 minutes of sitting and breathing can do noticeable good for the brain. The next time you’re overwhelmed at work, try this exercise. Just take just five minutes in an empty conference room or bathroom stall, set a five minute timer on your phone, \ and focus on your breath, breathing in and out slowly for a count of 4-8. (Hopefully that bathroom stall isn’t too stinky for the deep breathing.) Then go back to that email or meeting with a slightly more clear head and lower blood pressure.

It’s also great to meditate first thing in the morning. The biggest tip I can recommend is don’t meditate in bed! When I think I can get away with this, I end up falling back asleep. Instead, go to a couch or your special meditation place (grab a blanket if you’re chilly) and while sitting up straight practice deep breathing for five minutes. You can even play some soothing music (just YouTube or search Apple Music for “meditation music”) if you can’t deal with the silence. Your brain may go all over the place. That’s cool. Just gently remind yourself to focus on your breath. Again. And again. Yeah, this will happen a lot, so be kind to yourself and bring your attention back to your breath. When the timer goes off, roll your shoulders, stretch for a bit, then bounce to the kitchen for that first cup of coffee!

Deep breathing  is also a great exercise when you’re sitting in traffic! Put on some soothing music (but maybe not one of those meditation apps – save those for when you don’t need to concentrate on not hitting the car in front of you) and take deep, slow breaths. Roll your wrists to relieve your death grip on the steering wheel.

3. Aromatherapy

It’s not just for woo anymore! There are many benefits to the relaxing aromas in a quickly-growing research area. Did you know that many of your memories are triggered by scent? I know the smell of a campfire always reminds me of visiting my grandparents’ cabin in Northern Minnesota, and when I get a whiff of Buttercup’s jelly sandals the scented plastic brings me back to my childhood afternoons playing with my Cupcake doll. The right scent can lighten your mood, enhance your focus, or calm you down.

Scented candles are an easy way to make things smelly, and the gentle flame can be soothing. In an office or have rambunctiously small humans around with no self-preservation instinct? Get an oil diffuser (this is the one I have, and I love it) and some essential oils! Lavender, lemon, and peppermint are all good scents to calm you down or perk you up and are on the inexpensive side. Or just take the cap off the oil and take a whiff when the mood strikes you.

4. Hugs

Social contact is hugely important and radically underrated. Physical contact with other humans boosts oxytocin in the brain, the hormone responsible for making us feel safe, loved, and connected. Ever notice that when you’re having an epically bad day and your bestie gives you a big hug you do feel a bit better? Or when you’ve had a fight with your spouse you begrudgingly have to admit to yourself that you feel a bit more connected after you’ve hugged it out? I mean, they’re still wrong, but you feel better, right? That would be the oxytocin talking, letting you know that you still have a tribe to fall back on and you’re not all alone in the unforgiving wilderness of modern society. Touch gives us a comfort that we can’t wholly obtain through social media, texting, or the phone (do people still phone?)

To get the most out of contact with other humans, make it a point to be a hugger. I am not a natural hugger, but I am slowly working on this skill for myself. Live alone or at the office all the time where it would be super awkward to give your boss a hug? Even booking a massage or mani-pedi will give you a quick boost of human-to-human contact that your body will interpret as healing touch (I sometimes do this if I’m travelling and am not around my family and friends for a while) and give you a quick boost of the warm-fuzzies. Let’s make America huggy again!

5. Food

Yes, food can be a stress relief. Here me out, this is one area I’ve been playing around with lately.

When I’m in times of high stress, I tend to eat less healthy and skip meals for the sake of convenience. Which makes my sugar cravings amp up and become unrelenting. It used to be when I felt down or stressed, I would hit up all of the usual culprits – cookies, ice cream, my beloved Safeway sheet cake – and gorge with the opinion that I’m treating myself. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to stress eat. It happens. Is it the healthiest option? Probably not. Am I a bad person for falling into this habit? Nope. It’s a habit, and one that I have chosen to evaluate and change because I want to be healthier and I found that this pattern of stress eating was not helping me be healthy because I am totally letting my cravings run the show.

I’ve learned that there is a different between treating yourself in a quick, pleasurable, yet unsustainable way and treating yourself in a kind, more nourishing way that will carry forward and make other life areas better. Both ways can be good in the right context. Sometimes a random Wednesday night cupcake happens, and it’s okay. But other nights a good steak and my favorite tea is more what I need to feel good and cared for, since it’s not only a treat, but one that’s good for my body and health as well.

This is why I list food as a stress relief, but the right kind of food. Adding sugary treats on top of stress will be a brief distraction, but in the long run only make the stress and cravings worse. However, taking the time to make a wholesome, healthy meal for yourself often is what your brain and body need the most. Sometimes a splurge on something that your normally wouldn’t buy feels like a good treat, like some selections of your favorite olives from the olive bar or prosciutto-wrapped melon. Anything that makes you feel like you’re doing something nice for your brain as well as your body.

And that’s what I have for today. Any other go-to stress relieving activities you enjoy?

Go make it a great day!

Travel Food and Tips

Good Morning! Or afternoon/evening depending on from when and where you are reading this.

Yesterday was kind of “one of those days”, so I would like to quietly move on and look forward to the rest of the week. Well, it wasn’t all bad. I had an awesome lunch.

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Fried chicken, broccoli slaw, an entire raw bell pepper, and 1/2 an avocado. Plus a copious amount of strawberries.

So, moving on. Happy Monday!

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Some cheesy Facebook motivation for the week.

I started my day off right with a happy little scramble with bell pepper, zucchini, and Italian herbs.

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Today I want to talk about what I do for “healthy” food when I’m on the road. I like to use  quotes when talking about “healthy” food because we are all special and unique snowflakes, and one person’s version of healthy can be completely different than another person’s version. So play around and figure out what’s best for you, and make your own “healthy”!

I travel a lot for work, and usually during travel and at my destination my preferred food choices are limited at best. My first couple of trips consisted of a few days of sad salad bar salads and bun-less burgers with a sad side salad, until I would give up midweek and eat pizza and sandwiches and whatever else I wanted because I was so tired of sad salads. I am human, after all. I want my food to taste good.

Now when I travel, I prep some food to take with me to supplement the little good stuff I can find.

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(My stash of goodies on the airplane)

You’ll have to experiment with what works for your situation. I know I have a kitchenette in the hotel I usually stay at, so I’m okay with bringing stuff that requires refrigeration since I can stash it as soon as I get to the hotel.

Anyway, this is what’s in a typical “Emily Eats Weird Food” carry on:

  • Packs of tuna
  • Packs of almond butter
  • Olives
  • Homemade trail mix: nuts, coconut chips, dried fruit
  • Apples or cuties, or both
  • Hardboiled eggs (in a leak-proof container!)
  • Carrots or baby carrots
  • Other cut up raw veggies: bell peppers, cucumber, etc.
  • A small container of coconut oil (to replace margarine at some restaurants where I know they don’t have butter)
  • A water bottle!

I usually stick all my food in a reusable grocery bag in my carry-on, so if anything gets leaky my bag doesn’t stink like olive brine and hard-boiled eggs. Then on the plane when it’s snack time, I whip out my bag and feast! I can also supplement those sad salad dinners when I end up at some Pasta-R-Us restaurant or a fry-it-all sports bar during the week; when I get back to my hotel room, I can pound some tuna or a couple of eggs and finally feel like I’ve had a meal.

I hope that gives you some ideas the next time you’re trying to travel paleo or on a Whole30!

Do you have any travel food ideas to share?

Time to do my weekly prep, and get ready for a fabulous day! TTFN (ta-ta for now!)

The One With Tips to Avoid Mindless Snacking

 

So, THIS was the post I meant to write last week when my phone ate it. It was tragic. Recovery was a difficult road. Things have not been the same. But somehow, I beat the odds and overcame my post being deleted.

Okay, that may be a little bit dramatic.

Any-hoo, every afternoon I battle a big ol’ snacky demon. I’m not hungry since I just had lunch, and it’s usually my notorious sweet tooth coaxing me to have just a little sumpin’ sumpin’ … but it never ends up as “little”. This was my big motivator for doing a Whole30 this month, and so far – let’s face it – I haven’t done very well.

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I hadn’t expected it, but some of your kick-in-the-pants comments from yesterday helped. Ugh, I just need to get over myself and do the right thing, ya know? So I composed this little list of things I can do INSTEAD of eat candy.

Ready? I know ya are 😉

1. Breathe. Take a walk. Stretch.
I’m a stress eater, so espeically if I’m facing a deadline I’m prone to sniffing out a candy jar. Taking a few minutes to practice some tranquil, stress-relieving technique will give me a pause to reflect on what I’m really feeling and the best approach to handing it.

2. Talk to someone.
I don’t talk nearly enough to my coworkers. A lively over-the-cube-wall chat will kill some time, build relationships, and get my mind off of food.

(from Pinterest)
(from Pinterest)

3. Take five.
I do this when I don’t feel like working out, too. I give myself five minutes, and after five minutes if I still feel ravenously hungry or snacky, then I’ll eat something nutritious.

4. Drink more water.
I’m probably just thirsty. Nothing wrong with more water. Or tea.

5. Use an Inspiration Board or Something to Recommit to Goals.
I’m a very visual person. I have my daily, weekly, monthly, and long-term goals written out in various spots of my planner. If I don’t write it down, I just forget what I’m trying to do. The trick is to actually read them when I’m struggling and remember WHY I’m doing what I am doing. I’m trying to get healthy. Pinterest would be good for this too, if I’m pinning other things besides funny pictures of dogs.

(from Pinterest)
(from Pinterest)

What techniques do you use to avoid mindless snacking, or sugar cravings during a sugar detox?

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SUCCESS!