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Noticing-The First Step to Change

 

Over this winter, I’ve fallen back into a bad habit that I’ve been trying to kick for years.

Stressing out over little things. Everything feels like an emergency to me.

Part of this may have to do with tired adrenals, which I suspect I’m experiencing, but I believe that 90% of our health starts in our minds.  If anything is wrong with my body right now, it started in my head.

I mentioned earlier this week that I’ve been holding a lot of tension in my shoulders, neck, and face lately. I’ve also noticed that I’ve been doing things like I’m in a race. You should see me wash dishes. I move quickly, my heart rate seems to be elevated more often than not, my thoughts fly around my head like a swarm of bees, and sometimes I feel powerless to stop it.

Then I remind myself that the first step to change is noticing.

I know plenty of people who run on full throttle all day long and never realize it. Sometimes I compare myself to them and feel bad because they seem so much stronger than me, but I’m glad that I can notice what is going on and why it doesn’t serve me. Stress wears me out. When I notice that feeling, I can go into it and find out why it’s there. I can ask myself why I feel that way. 9 times of out of 10, its’ something that really isn’t a big deal.

I don’t beat myself up for stressing over little things. Instead, I ask myself a few more questions. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Even if it did happen, it’s never the end of the world. Will this matter in a few years? Probably not. Am I thinking realistically, or am I letting my imagination run amok? (The downside to having an active imagination is that it can take any situation and run off in any direction without looking back)

I’m getting better at reining myself back in a few times a day. It takes practice, but it’s getting easier.

How do you handle stress? Do you stay calm or do you tend to be a stress case like me? Do you notice before it runs you into the ground?

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10 Nice Things to Do for Yourself, Just Because

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It’s Tuesday. Do something nice for yourself.

  1. Leave a treat or dollar bill in a coat pocket for your future self to find.
  2. Keep some healthy snacks at work, in the car, and any other place where you spend a lot of time.
  3. Leave encouraging notes or funny pictures in book pages for your future self to find.
  4. Buy clothes and underwear that fit and feel good.
  5. Make “white space” in your day, or some time between commitments.
  6. Wear your favorite outfit. Today is special.
  7. Think about a goal you’d like to accomplish and take a baby step to get there.
  8. Do one thing that makes you really happy.
  9. If you start hearing negative self-talk going on in your head, stop yourself. Instead, tell yourself that you’re awesome, and that you’re doing the best you can with what you have.
  10. Draw a boundary, and commit to honoring it.

Let me know how your day goes 🙂

Take Time for Healing

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You may have noticed that my posts haven’t been exactly chipper this week. For some reason, this just hasn’t been the best week. Nothing bad happened, nothing that really warrants this kind of feeling, but I’ve just been in a funk this week. It’s a familiar feeling.

About a year ago, I found myself in a doctor’s office complaining about this feeling, and after some really fun blood tests, we realized that I was experiencing the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue. I felt like I was dragging through life, I never felt rested after time off or a good night’s sleep, tiny things seemed like monumental tasks, and I was struggling with depression and anxiety. On top of that, we found out that I was allergic to dairy, that my blood sugar was dangerously low, and I had several nutritional deficiencies that perpetuate and are caused by adrenal insufficiency. All effects of chronic stress.

That was a wake-up call for a major life overhaul, which helped a lot. I felt great last summer. My energy came back, I lost a lot of weight, I reconnected with my creativity, and the anxiety and depression I’d struggled with for years seemed to evaporate.

Now I’m not feeling so hot. It’s nothing like it was last year, mostly because my attitude adjustment and healthier perspective keeps me more or less level headed, but I’m noticing that my energy is dragging again, even if I get a lot of sleep. Seemingly normal tasks often overwhelm me. I’ve been feeling a little of that anxiety and depression lately. My dairy allergy is back and I feel that familiar brain fog that comes with chronically low blood sugar. The weird part is, nothing overly stressful has happened. Sure, we had some financially tight weeks and I went back to work full time, but these things seemed to affect me more than they should have. I’m not guilt tripping myself for being weak or anything, I’m just noticing.

I don’t think that my little glands had sufficient time to heal. This isn’t happening again, but still. I might just be noticing it more because I’ve always had trouble in the winter, and that may be contributing. Either way, my body needs to heal. Adrenal insufficiency can take years to heal, so if I have any hope of functioning at my best in the future, I need to take my self-care seriously. I need time for physical and emotional healing.

I think a lot of us try push ourselves to live harder than what we can handle. We expect so much our ourselves, we cling to deadlines and to-do lists, we try to use our time as efficiently as possible, we fill our schedules with so much good stuff so we can feel like we’re accomplishing something. Then we burn out. We might even try to push through that.

Is pushing toward burnout faster a good use of our time, or would be be better off moving slowly, caring for our bodies and spirits along the way so they’ll last longer? Is everything really so important that we must run ourselves into the ground?

Conserve your energy. Refill your well. Understand that you are a human being who has limits, and that using “logic” to plan your life doesn’t always work, because logic doesn’t anticipate for human needs. We are not machines.

Take time to heal if you need to, and take time to maintain if you are healthy.

I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to push myself, but now I realize that I need to take recovery seriously. This means rest. This means feeding myself well, because this kind of condition tends to suck minerals out of your body. This also requires a serious examination of priorities. This might not be the best time for time-consuming, energy-zapping pursuits or overly ambitious goals.

Right now, the goal is healing. If I have to choose between much needed rest and something that I “should” be doing, I choose rest. I choose to give myself what I truly need and not what I think I should need. It’s ok to let some things go undone.

Do you need some extra care right now?

What’s in Your Toolbox?

 

We all get stressed out sometimes. We all get angry, tired, anxious, or plain burnt out. So what do we do when we get there? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we learn from these emotions?

If you can’t  think of the answers to these questions, don’t worry. It’s ok if you don’t know how to handle these emotions yet, because most people don’t. Most of us see these emotions as bad things that should always be avoided, and that something is wrong with us if we experience them. This isn’t always the case.

Uncomfortable emotions aren’t there to get us, they’re often our greatest teachers and road signs. If we’re stressed, anxious, or  depressed all the time, we know that something in our life or attitude needs to change. If we get angry, we might have stumbled over an emotional block that we get to work through and release so we can live better.

But how do we do this?

We use a toolbox. Everyone has one. This toolbox contains the tools we use to handle emotions.

Sometimes these toolboxes are well-stocked so that we can handle any job life throws at us. Some of our toolboxes are rather sparse. Others are full of hammers when what we really need are screwdrivers.

Let’s take a look at our toolboxes. What kind of tool could we find in there? Let’s take a look at my toolbox first. It may not look like your ideal toolbox, but it sure works for me:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga, walking and hiking outside
  • Uplifting reading like my religious texts, blogs, and books like Healing from the Heart by Dr. Judith Moore (this book was key in my recovery)
  • Talking to my husband, Mom, or friend.
  • Cleaning my apartment, artmaking, and cooking. Great activities for when my hands need something to do while I think.
  • iPod: good music, inspiring podcasts and my SoulArt courses.
For me, this is a well-stocked toolbox, and these things work  for a lot of people. This is what I do when I encounter difficult emotions that I need to work through, think about, talk about, or ride out.
My toolbox used to contain a lot of other things that didn’t get the job done, like eating to cope with anxiety. Actually, I think that was the only tool in there for awhile. Here are some other unhelpful tools we might use to distract, numb or release feelings:
  • Dangerous behaviors like using drugs, smoking, self-inflicted injury, having unprotected sex or drinking.
  • Zoning out in front of the TV or computer
  • Blowing up at someone to express anger
  • Shopping
  • Wearing ourselves out by overworking or overexercising
  • Bingeing or restricting food
  • Bottling up emotions until they make us sick.
If you constantly feel stressed, irritable, or worn out, you may want to examine your toolbox to make sure you have the right stuff. Otherwise, you’ll waste your time try to pull out nails with a wrench.
So what’s in your toolbox? Here are some ideas of tools you could use instead of the harmful ones listed above.
  • Supporting rituals like “you-time”
  • Supportive friends, family or a counselor you can talk to
  • Journaling and creative expression
  • Exercise
  • Service to others
  • Good books and other resources to help you work through emotions
  • Activities that help you unwind without tuning out. Yoga, reading, and that old self-care cliche, the hot bubble bath.
  • Anxiety-soothing activities that keep your hand or body busy while your mind is free to think like cleaning, knitting, wire-jewelry making, kneading bread dough, whatever.
What’s in your toolbox? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Intuitive Eating and Clearing Channels

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I’m a slow-learned sometimes, especially with intuitive eating. I first discovered IE in October 2008 and I’ve just recently gotten the hang of actually obeying my body’s signals more than 2 1/2 years later.

I knew the principles, I ate when I was hungry, but I struggled with actually letting myself get hungry and most of all, emotional eating. For a long time, I chose to focus on the emotional eating while refusing to deal with the underlying issues. I believed eating was the problem either because I had a physical addiction or because I was just hard-wired to eat when I felt bad. I never actually thought about why I felt bad. (By the way if you’re stuck in this place, that’s perfectly fine. It was a few years before I was ready to deal with the real issues. Don’t pressure yourself to jump into anything you’re not ready for.)

Recently, I left a situation that wasn’t working for me. My creativity wasn’t flowing and my depression and anxiety got out of control. Now that I’m in a better place (physically and emotionally) I discovered that I was ready to deal with my issues.

The amazing thing is, once that barrier of emotional eating started to disappear, I couldn’t believe how much more myself I felt. I could finally connect to my emotions and work through them. Emotions and creativity flowed through me, unhampered by my former tendency to block them out with food.

I rarely feel compelled to overeat and I usually don’t want to eat if I’m not hungry, but if I do (like when I know my blood sugar is low but my tummy’s not hungry) I eat. No biggie. I actually feel hunger at least once a day, which is a miracle because I used to go weeks without ever letting myself get hungry.

This is the other half of the gift of intuitive eating. On one side, IE frees us from food obsession, but on the other side, it allows us to replace that obsession with something incredible: our potential. Without those unhealthy thoughts and feelings towards foods, we free up so much mental energy and clear so many channels. We gain full access to our true desires, interests, and goals.

Here’s some questions to ponder:

  • What could you accomplish with the time you spend thinking about food in an unhealthy way?
  • What underlying potential could you have access to if you overcame emotional eating?
  • How free could you be if you accepted your body rather than striving for an unrealistic ideal?
  • How much more energy would you have if you learned to feed your body the healthy food it craves?

Intuitive eating takes a lot of work, time and emotional digging, but the rewards are innumerable, and I’m only in the beginning. Whether you are still in the preparation stages or if you’re well into your intuitive eating journey, remember why you’re doing this and what it will do for you.

Intuitive Eating: The Answer to all Your Food Worries

Who else is sick of “experts” pushing their nutritional persuasion as the perfect way of eating for everyone? Is anyone else’s head spinning while science tries to make up its mind? Animal proteins are essential! Wait, no, they’re actually the devil. Fat is evil, stay away! No, no it’s not, sugar’s the real villain! Dietary cholesterol obviously clogs your arteries. Actually…scratch that, no it doesn’t.

It’s enough to make you motion sick.

The thing that makes intuitive eating amazing is that it requires you to turn your inquiries inward rather than rely on an outside source to tell you what your body needs. You don’t need a guy in a white lab coat for that, your body already knows. Instead of buying into the notion that dairy is bad for you, why not pay special attention to how dairy makes you look and feel before you decide? Instead of eating something because you’ve heard it’s good for you, listen to your body to make sure it agrees. Don’t buy into any one school of nutrition thinking, but pay attention to what foods do to you and make choices based on what your body tells you. If something makes you feel awesome, you’ll probably develop a liking for it. If something else gives you stomach aches and makes you feel like you swallowed a rock, you’ll probably stop wanting it, or at least you’ll know to consciously avoid it.

As for me, I’ve read dozens of books pushing one way of eating or another, each proclaiming to be gastronomic gospel. I learn from each one, take it with a pound of salt, and remember that the author’s body isn’t mine. What works for them may not work for me. Also, science isn’t perfect. Many studies are full of holes and many more never get published because the media is so heavily controlled by the food industry.

Listen to your body and use your brain. Processed food probably isn’t the best foundation for nourishment, but will eating the occasional Oreo destroy the world? No. Ethical eating aside, real foods– things that come out of the ground or from healthy animals- are obviously a better choice than Easy Mac. Within that realm, finds out what works for you and eventually, you’ll hit a beautiful rhythm of eating that nourishes your body and your soul. I admit, I’m not quite there yet, but I’m well on my way.

Be mindful. Listen to your body. Keep a food/mood journal so you won’t forget any of it. Eating intuitively is harder than tuning out and following someone else’s rules, but it’s infinitely more rewarding. It may take you years, but it will be worth it.

 

Addicted to dieting and starting over

Ok, I know I’ve written a bunch of posts about food and body image lately, but that’s what’s been on my mind.

For many years, when life wasn’t going the way I wanted, whenever I was sad or stressed, my first impulse was to grab a pen and paper and maybe whatever diet book I was reading at the time and plot my next attack plan. This many calories with this much exercise should result in this many pounds lost in this much time. A simple math equation that made everything in my life seem so much better, because look how close I was to being rid of my problems! It was all on paper, and math doesn’t lie, right?

I was addicted to starting over, and addicted to the quick fix dieting promise, and I was haunted by the illusion of the perfect life that comes with thinness.

I’ve been fighting this very strong urge lately. My brain has been working like a calculator again and I find myself longing for my skinny days when life was so much simpler. I only had me to take care of; school, friends, fun, a job and a couple of bills. Yes, life was simpler then, but I have to live in the present instead of wishing for the past. Life will probably never be simple again, and I have to learn to thrive with what I have now. I’m not a single college sophomore living at home anymore; I’m a married, graduated live-in nanny trying to figure out her life, no  padding of next semester or my parent’s house. Just me and what I can do now.

This is harder than it sounds. I have to ban myself from calorie counting at any time, but sometimes when my hair is about to turn gray, I whip out my calculator and start crunching numbers, then I stop myself and think, “how will losing fifteen pounds solve all my problems? All this crap will still be here, I’ll just be a little smaller. Big whoop. Also, I think I’ve become completely incapable of dieting. I no longer have the “willpower” to eat 700 calories a day or resist a cookie when I really want one. This is a good thing. It’s progress. Even though I’d love to lose 15  pounds because I felt much better at that way, I love myself the way I am and I know weight loss won’t make life go back to the way it was. That math equation isn’t magic. All I can do is press forward with my intuitive eating, move with joy, and nurture myself so I can be stronger.

And that’s ok.

Real Food

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I’m going to postpone my update on my Happiness Project: Attitude for another week. I won’t go into it, but I bombed, so I’m going to give myself another shot. If at first you don’t succeed, right?

Instead, I want to talk about something essential to authentic living: Real food.

First of all, what is real food? I currently live with and work for my uncle, who is the CEO and founder of Real Foods Market, so real food is something I hear about a lot. He’s very passionate about what he does and every food, personal care item, and pamphlet in his store is the result of extensive research on his part. He manages to keep a wonderful organic garden despite rough growing conditions and he has several bee boxes in the backyard. He’s even established his own farm in Redmond, Utah to raise raw milk, grass-fed beef and truly free-range eggs.  I strongly urge you to visit the store’s website to read about real food.

His definition of Real Food, and the one I’ve come to accept is this: “Real food is nothing more or less than food created by Mother Nature and eaten in its natural, unadulterated, pure and nutrient rich state. In theory, if you cannot pick it, gather it, milk it, or hunt it – it is not real food.”

I don’t subscribe to any particular diet philosophy; vegan, vegetarian, macro, raw, omnivore, locavore, low-carb, high-protein, etc, because every body is different and what makes me feel good may not work for you. The one thing I do think is right for everyone though, is real food.

The problem is, real food is sometimes difficult to find. Visit a regular grocery store, and most of what find is processed, chemical laden food. While there’s nothing morally wrong about eating these foods, they’re not doing your body or the environment any favors. I don’t believe in “bad foods”-believe me, I’m not above the occasional Twix or bag of Cheetos- you don’t want this in your body very often.

If you shop around the outside of the store like health experts recommend, you’re still getting mostly denatured food. Most of the produce in produce section has been sprayed with pesticides, covered with wax to look shiny and may be genetically modified.

Animals products are even worse. That chicken you just bought for $1.25 a pound was most likely a drugged, diseased, tortured and mutated animal who lived an awful life an died a horrible death. That gallon of milk most likely came from a cow who spent her days being artificially inseminated, carry and birthing babies only to have them taken away, destined either for a life like hers or  the veal crate. That cow was pumped full of hormones to increase her milk production and drugs to survive her awful living conditions, fed an unnatural diet and then slaughtered to make ground beef in the next aisle over. Even some organic brand in stores are actually factory farms, feeding cows on “dry lots”, fed an organic yet still unnatural diet and hooked up to milk machines three time a day.

This is why I spent most of this year experimenting with veganism. I read plenty of books and studies, spent a lot of time watching videos like “Meet your meat” and played around with cooking without animal products and occasionally sampling vegan substitutes such as Boca Burgers and Earth Balance. I felt virtuous because I knew I was doing something good for the planet and keeping that bad stuff out of my body, but after even more research I learned that all animal products aren’t created equal. Properly raised animals (ie, grass-fed, free-range, etc.) make much healthier products than those raised in factory farms. Meat, dairy and eggs from pastured animals contain many essential fatty acids and other nutrients absent in conventional animals. Through further reading, I realized that most studies exploring the negative effects of animals products on humans used poorly produced, overcooked and often highly-processed meats, eggs and dairy instead of healthy grass-fed meat and raw dairy or truly free-range chickens and eggs (I specify “truly free-range” because many produces claim their chickens are free-range when they actually live in similar conditions to conventional chickens, just without cages). Remember: healthy food can’t come from unhealthy animals.

I started eating more real meats, eggs and dairy along with my usual produce, raw nuts and whole grains and I can tell my body loves it. This may not be the case for you, but it is for me. As a person deeply concerned about how food is produced and what goes into my body (even though I still eat junk sometimes) it’s important for me to know what’s in my food, where it comes from and how it was produced. I’m still learning about food and how to find real food on my own (right now room and board is part of my job benefits) and I feel I’ve found another big piece of the puzzle. Eating this way is good for me, and eating real food is good for everyone.

How do you feel about real food?

My Happiness Project: Health

Continued from Learning to be Happy: Part 3

Happy Monday everyone!

I’ve spent the last week on part one of my personal happiness project, and I’ve focused on improving my health through a short list of guidelines I made for myself.

Here’s how I did:

–          Do a little yoga each day– Didn’t happen every day, but most days. I’ve noticed on the days I did practice, I had more energy and I felt all loosey-goosesy instead of my usual achey upper-back and tight hips. I’ll keep working on this one.

–          Learn to move more– Being a full-time nanny is draining sometimes, so instead of sneaking out for a cookie-dough shake in the evenings or diving into my hidden pint of chocolate hazelnut fudge ice cream, I took walks in the evenings, which helped me unwind and calm down much better than a sugar jolt.

–          Take my vitamins– I remembered about 70% of the time. Whole food vitamins are usually multiple pills taken several times a day. I remembered in the  mornings, most of the time at lunch and only a few times in the evenings. I didn’t used to believe in supplements because I reasoned that good food should have all the nutrition we need, but healthy food isn’t what it used to be and I’d have to eat a ton to get everything I need. I currently take a women’s  multi, herbal iron, fish oil, and an herbal complex called MindTrac to help with anxiety. Also an herbal tincture when I feel overwhelmed or panicky. I plan to add a B complex soon and D3 during the winter.

–          Honor my hunger and fullness– this one is always hard for me, and I’m still working on it. Most of the problem is that I rarely feel hungry. I’m a snacker, so when I feel a glimmer of hunger, I eat and don’t get hungry for awhile. Sometimes I just nibble throughout the day without giving myself a chance to get obviously hungry. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not. Also, I’m a textbook emotional eater. If I’m stressed out, you can bet I’m searching for the nearest chocolate bar. I’ve been trying to take walks instead.

–          Treats should stay treats– I’m the kind of person who loves dessert every day, so I try to stick to a couple pieces of dark chocolate or a scoop of chocolate hazelnut butter when I want something sweet and then have a real dessert twice a week or so and really pay attention to it.

–          Spend time outside every day– Also hard sometimes, because when I get a break, I usually plop down on the couch to write or read and only go outside to dump the compost bucket, feed the dogs or throw away dirty diapers. I take walks outside though and try to enjoy the time I do spend out there. Maybe I’ll throw in a few park visits with the kids this week.

Nobody’s perfect, but progress is much more important than perfection. I’ll continue to work on my health.

Next week: mindfulness

-Be here now

– Sing like I mean it

-Keep better track of spending

-Honor my emotions

-Limit screen time

PS: if you’d like to join me in the Happiness Project, leave me a comment and/or post it on your blog!

Learning to be happy: Part 3

Continued from Learning to be happy: Part 2

The next step to Gretchen Rubin’s happiness project was to list the areas of her life she wanted to improve and set a time frame for focusing on each other these areas. Then she worked on mini-goals within each time period. Her project lasted a year, so she each month she focused on one part of her life.

I think I’ll start with a week for each of my areas, and then each Monday I’ll check my progress.

It took forever, but I think I’ve identified my areas and mini-goals (I’ll probably keep adding to them) but as it stands, here they are:

Health:

–          Do a little yoga each day

–          Learn to move more

–          Take my vitamins

–          Honor my hunger and fullness

–          Treats should stay treats

–          Spend time outside every day

Marriage:

–          Do something nice for Sam

–          Make time  for us, every single day

–          No snapping

Friends and family:

­– Reframe social gatherings (i.e. don’t dread them)

-Call a friend of family member I haven’t talked to for awhile

-Arrange a get-together with my old friends

– Email someone I haven’t seen lately

Mindfullness:

-Be here now

– Sing like I mean it

-Keep better track of spending

-Honor my emotions

-Limit screen time

Attitude:

Decide to have fun

-Dress nicely. And shower every day.

-Don’t let myself off the hook

Act the way I want to feel

This week, I’ll start with Health, because the way I feel tends to affect everything else. Next Monday, I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

I’d also like to invite my readers to start their own happiness project! Visit Gretchen’s site for tips or make it up. Share it with me in the comments or send me a link!

McKella