Recap #2: Try a “Non-resolution”

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written about how my 2018 non-resolution is going. As they say, “life happened,” which prevented me from writing but didn’t stop me from following through with my goals!

So here’s what has happened since my last recap in February. As you remember, I gave you four steps to follow:

  1. Come up with the defining word or phrase for your year.
  2. Translate your word or phrase into action.
  3. Evaluate your goal each month.
  4. Start at a time that’s right for you.

My word for 2018 is PEACE. Some of the areas I am focusing on to have more peace are

  • Meal planning
  • Reducing stress
  • Rest
  • Exercise

Meal Planning

I kicked off the new year with meal planning. I set a SMART goal to plan more meals per week. I’m still chugging along with that and am using that “Knock Knock What to Eat” pad I found on Amazon.

Rest

In February, I set a second SMART goal about rest. I set a 10:30 p.m. bedtime for myself and, believe it or not, I’m still following it!

Exercise

I set a third SMART goal for myself in March, wanting to exercise more consistently. Oh, that dreaded, dreaded word! With the weather turning nicer, I thought the time was right to start reducing stress and finding peace through consistent exercise. I set a small SMART goal, operating under the policy of “something is better than nothing.” And I encourage this with all of my patients—since daily physical activity is so important, swim, bike, walk, run or go to gym. Whatever gets you moving!

My goal was to exercise four days a week, specifically on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Mondays and Fridays, I work out in the morning after I drop my oldest off for school. This type of exercise is YouTube video, workout DVD, a walk with girlfriends or a class at our local rec center, and I allow for 30 minutes. On Tuesdays, I do a YouTube video, workout DVD or a walk with the kids, and on Thursday evenings I do a class at our local rec center.

And a note on YouTube videos: There are so many free workout videos on YouTube that are completely free! One of my favorite low-impact workouts is with Leslie Sansone, but you’ll be able to find just anything, so find something that works for you!

A second note on rec centers: If you don’t want to commit to a full membership, you can often pay a small free per class. Check out a facility that’s near you to see your options.

Reducing Stress

In April, I set a specific SMART goal for reducing stress. To accomplish this, I started exploring essential oils, and found they’re beneficial, not only for me, but for my family as well. I diffuse when I’m at work, and I diffuse at home in our common areas and bedrooms. It’s important with essential oils not to overdo it, but I find that my plan is working for me.

My Time

I set my final SMART goal in May, and I focused on increasing my “me time,” specifically, reading time. I set a goal to read for 10 minutes at least three times a week, preferably Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I decided that reading before bed would be the best option, and that required me to be in bed before by 10:30 actual bedtime. I actually set an alarm on my phone to help remind me to go to bed at the correct time so I could get my reading time in!

So now you’re all caught up—these are my action plans for the first part of my year to help bring PEACE into my life. I promise I will update you at least twice more before the end of the year to bring you up to speed on how my SMART goals are going.

How are your “non-resolutions” going? (Or maybe your resolutions?) Comment below!

Just Do It

When working with people who are struggling to meet goals, I often hear the statement, “I just don’t have any motivation.” I always provide the same response: that action precedes motivation, not the other way around. Waiting until we are in the mood to do something will often result in our never doing it.

I like to exercise, but I don’t always feel motivated to do it. However, within minutes of getting back on the treadmill (after a month or so of excuses), I will find myself thinking, “I really do enjoy how this makes me feel. What was I waiting for?” That is part of the problem. You would assume that insight translates into action (“I enjoy how exercising feels, therefore I should do it.”), but that is not usually the case.  

So, whether you are just trying to get out of bed, start that diet, complete a project or follow through on a bucket list item, remember to avoid the procrastination that comes from waiting for motivation.

A few key points to remember when feeling stuck:

  • Remember that it is okay (and necessary) to acknowledge and then accept whatever emotions seem to be zapping you of your energy, but do not allow these to stop you from taking actions.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration before taking action. Taking action first will help to create the inspiration needed to keep moving toward your goal.
  • There is no need to overwhelm (or sabotage) yourself by insisting on immediate or perfect results. Small steps build motivation more effectively.
  • Schedule time for activities that you are aware would be beneficial to you without giving into the thought, “but I don’t want to right now.” Remember that you do not have to want to do something to be willing to do it.

Not motivated?  Take action. Depressed?  Take action. Un-inspired? Take action. 

The Benefits of Spring Cleaning on Your Mental Health

For many, spring means warmer, brighter weather—and that means it’s time to throw open the windows and start spring cleaning!

We’ve discussed before how spring cleaning has health benefits. Opening the windows to let in fresh air can actually improve the humidity and change the oxygen balance in your home. Even sunlight coming in through the windows can help clean the air. But spring cleaning also has associated mental health benefits, including improved mood, decreased stress and heightened creativity. Here are some specific mental health benefits of spring cleaning:

Gets you moving

Spring cleaning is a physical activity, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Cleaning gets the happy chemicals moving around in your brain, propelled by an increased heart and respiratory rate. Spring cleaning can give you some of the same mental health benefits as physical exercise, such as running or biking. What’s more, a disorganized space is associated with less physical activity, while organization and order have been associated with choosing to eat more healthy and taking charge of your general health

Reduces stress

Clutter and stress are related, and we know stress is bad for mental health. For example, piles of paper can create a false image that work is endless, and that even when we finish what we are working on, there is more to be done. Looking at the clutter in your home can bring on the anxiety of incomplete tasks or just make it more difficult to accomplish your daily routine. Many Americans feel that home organization and cleanliness are among their biggest stressors. Women specifically have shown to have chronic levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, if they perceive their homes as cluttered. Attacking that clutter can help reduce that stress.

Invites a fresh start

Sometimes mental health issues seem overwhelming because of their long history. You can fall into a pattern of poor mental health and get stuck there. Spring cleaning makes you feel like you are getting a fresh start. When your house looks different—decluttered and clean—you feel a greater ability to change the state of your mental health as well.

Tips for “spring cleaning” your mental health:

If you’re struggling with your mental health, why not try giving it a fresh start as well? Spring cleaning is not only a deep house cleaning, but an exercise of the mind!

  • Create a targeted, personal to-do list of what you want to achieve emotionally.
  • Divide goals into dream goals as well as short and long-term goals.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Get up at the same time each day to create a better sleep routine.
  • Schedule regular social activity.
  • Nourish your body and mind with a healthy diet.

First Day of Spring brings…Spring Cleaning!

Is clutter in your space preventing you from living a healthy lifestyle? Believe it or not, disorganization can do more than just make it hard to find daily things. Spring cleaning can actually help you live more healthfully.

Set a goal to declutter

This spring, set a health goal for yourself to start decluttering little parts of your life one at a time. You can use my “non-resolution” method from previous posts if you don’t have a favorite goal-setting method.

Remember to be specific with your decluttering goal, just like any health goal you have set. Here are some examples:

1) Organize your container cabinet.
You want to set a goal to take your lunch to work twice a week (or once a week or every day—tailor your goal to your life) but your Tupperware® or plastic container cabinet is a mess. Decluttering this space will make it more feasible to pack and take a lunch to work. Once this cabinet is tidy, packing leftovers directly from the dinner table into containers in the fridge is easy. Lunch for the next day is ready to go!

2) Organize your pantry.
Do you ever find yourself overbuying food because you can’t remember what you have in stock? Pull everything out of your cabinets, wipe down the shelves and strategically organize your food. You may be surprised how much you have, and this may be a good time to take a box or can to your local food bank. Put items that are due to expire in the front and work them into your meal plans.

3) Organize your refrigerator.
Your refrigerator can get dirty very quickly, so it’s time to deep clean it. Go through everything: I bet half of those condiments are expired! Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.

Declutter for better health

Add decluttering to the goals you already have to be healthy in order to make them easier to obtain and maintain. After you have met your goal for a significant amount of time, make sure you reward yourself (NOT with food!) to help you keep going. Happy First Day of Spring and spring cleaning!

Grounding Yourself with Mindfulness to Beat Daily Stress

Imagine you are driving home from work. You are replaying the day, as usual. You think about that conversation that you had with your boss, a project you hurried to finish at work, an argument you had with your spouse through text. You think about what happened last week, last month or years ago and you make judgements about all of it. You think to yourself, “I didn’t handle that well. I didn’t do my best. I should have… I could have…”

Or you are thinking about all of the things you need to accomplish when you get home. You think about the dishes that need done, the laundry that has piled up, what to prepare for dinner, or how you will address that argument with your spouse when you see them. And of course, you make more judgements. “I’ll probably not get it all done. Why did I let this pile up? I’m such a procrastinator. I’m a bad partner.” All of this causes one thing: stress. Suddenly you get home and it dawns on you… you don’t remember the drive. (Or worse, you’ve driven to the wrong place!)

Have you ever been on autopilot before?

Sound familiar? Why does this happen to so many of us? It’s called being an “autopilot.” For those who practice something called mindfulness meditation, it’s something you can strive to avoid by being more present within your day. Being more present within the day can give our minds a break from all worrying about all those future and past events, when in reality those things aren’t even real, and they certainly aren’t here now!

How does mindfulness work?

So how do we practice being present?  One of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness is to “check in” with your five senses or “ground yourself” throughout the day. Zoning out while you’re in the shower?  Think about how the water feels, how the soaps smell, how the rushing water sounds and tastes, and how a loofah feels on your skin. Suddenly you can take a mundane task, where you typically might feel more stressed afterwards, and make that task a more genuinely relaxing experience.

Give your busy mind a much-needed break. Try this technique a few times a day, or better yet, specifically when you are doing tasks on “autopilot.” This strategy is a great way to incorporate self-care into your busy day. So sit back and enjoy the ride!

 

Anxiety as a Friend

A frequent first response for dealing with anxiety is to try to get rid of it.  This resistance, however, will often lead to someone simply being anxious about being anxious. What if rather than trying to immediately eliminate our anxiety, we were to first look at anxiety as a messenger, prodding us to look at something that needs our attention? 

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard explained anxiety as a natural condition: “a cognitive emotion that reveals truths that we would prefer to hide, but that we need for our greater health.” 

Confirming this idea, clinical psychologist Dr. Leslie Carr defines anxiety as “ thoughts and feelings that we are not paying attention to, refusing to be ignored.” She points out that the best explanation she has ever heard of for a panic attack is that it is a “ton of suppressed feelings rising to the surface of our experience, simultaneously and in full force.” 

What are the first steps to treating anxiety as a friend?

When we are struggling with anxiety, it can be helpful to at first simply admit to and then accept the fact that we are anxious. In some cases, this is all we can do, for example when facing a dental procedure or another uncomfortable situation. This acceptance alone will often decrease the anxiety a bit.

But during times that we cannot pinpoint the reason for our anxiety, the next step would be to ask what the anxiety is trying to point out. This can be difficult, especially if we are at all avoiding the issue needing to be addressed.

Questions to approach anxiety

Here are some things to consider when experiencing anxiety or panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere:

  • Am I procrastinating or outright avoiding some action I should be taking? Have I been avoiding this for a long period of time?
  • Am I ignoring my feelings? Have I made this a habit?
  • Am I taking on more than I am able to handle? Again, has this become a habit?
  • Am I resisting a needed confrontation or refusing to see my part in a conflict?

Anxiety doesn’t need to be the enemy

These are only a few possibilities, but the main idea is to ask ourselves what we are resisting. As the old saying goes, “What we resist, persists.” Once we are able to spot the source of our anxiety, it then becomes possible to address it.

Anxiety does not arrive with the solution to the problem though. It is only there to direct our focus to the problem, such as when pain lets you know that you have overexerted or when a headache is pointing out that you have gone too long without eating. The rest is up to us.

So, what is your anxiety trying to tell you?