Back to Basics, Part 2

So last time I revisited some of those foundational practices that allow us to live and perform at peak – exercise, nutritious clean food, mood and hydration.  Incorporating any of these into your daily routine will make a significant difference in how you feel, look and function.  Give attention to each of them and you are well on your way to living a healthful lifestyle that will pay you dividends now and in the future.

The fact is that building strong personal health habits is the most important thing you can do to improve energy, stave off sickness, and increase overall wellbeing.  Each of us is responsible for taking care of ourselves and living a lifestyle that supports us in that.  As we make healthier choices for ourselves, we build behaviors and skills that build on and support each other.  It’s all connected!

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You may think to yourself, “But I don’t have time to exercise, shop, cook healthy meals, sleep 8 hours, etc.  Taking 30 minutes to exercise out of your day might seem like a chore, or just another item to add to your “to-do” list.  I’m not denying that we all have busy lives with multiple demands on our time – I have them, too!  What I know, though, is that incorporating healthy habits, making the time to get outdoors for exercise and fresh air, and getting a good night’s rest, helps make the rest of my day better, helps me to live better.  And, in the end, I’m more efficient, productive and able to meet any challenges that come my way.

Here are the rest of my essentials:

Sleep – We can’t be at our best if we are not getting adequate sleep.  Period. Our bodies and brains suffer when we are sleep deprived.  Cognitive ability is decreased, and our emotional states are adversely affected.  (Ever been cranky because of lack of sleep?)  There is all sorts of new research these days about what sleep deprivation can cause – overeating and weight issues, weakened immune response, accidents, even heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer.  Not to mention that dragging yourself through the day is not a whole lot of fun. 7-9 hours a night is the usual recommendation.  Decide what you need to feel your best and make it a priority.

Stress Management and Self Care – Did you know that over 60% of all doctor visits in the United States are stress related?  Burnout and depression are epidemic in this country and elsewhere, and the number 1 cause of work disability in the world.  Self-care is NOT self-indulgent.  Time out is essential for wellbeing and can take many forms – there’s a reason why meditation and mindfulness have become so popular in recent years.  Classes are everywhere. Find a practice that works for you and build it into your life regularly.  Other proven stress relievers are journaling, and activities such as gardening or photography.  Find something that you love that re-charges your batteries.

Community – Did you know that having a strong social support network has important health benefits?  Supportive relationships – whether family, friends, colleagues, or members of the community – have been shown to contribute to psychological and physical health, as well as longevity, and can be a tremendous resource in times of stress.  And it works both ways – giving and receiving support are of equal benefit. Make it your mission to develop and build a community around you.

Meaning – Meaning and purpose are essential to inspiring wellbeing.  Going about your life with a sense of meaning, of knowing that who you are and what you do matters, provides proven health benefits and can impact longevity.  A study led by Patrick McKnight, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University, found that having a sense of purpose can promote healthier living in general.  It doesn’t have to be about doing “big” things.  If it’s something meaningful and motivating to you, that’s all that matters.  What do you love, what do you care about deeply, what gets you out of bed in the morning?  There you go.

What about you?  Is there something you can do to develop more community around you?  Can you begin to make sleep a priority and notice the difference in how you feel and perform?  What do you want more of in your life, what lights you up?  What recharges you?  If you feel like it, please leave a comment.  I’ll be sure to respond.

And – If you’re ready to prioritize a healthier lifestyle, I’m now offering my Evergreen Wellness Workshop to private clients, with the option of 2, 3 or 6 private 30 minute coaching sessions.  In 6 weeks, you not only get great info on sleep, food, mood and exercise backed by the latest research – you’ll get activities and action steps you can start right away to see results in how you feel and look. This program will not only help you get on track, it will teach you how to stay on track and be successful.  Plus, it’s filled with fun short videos, great info, and lots of cool health-boosting activities!  Email me at Suzanne@evergreenlifeandwellness.com and we’ll set up a time to talk about whether this program is right for you!

Back to Basics

So……how was your summer?  Are you ready for fall?  I know I am – it’s my favorite season, especially here in Colorado.  The air is crisp, the Aspens turn gold, and every day seems to have a clear blue sky.

By now, most of us have heard that 40 is the new 30, or that gray is the new black, or strong is the new thin (or whatever……)  Lately, I’ve been hearing that September is the new January because we associate it with back to school, a new season, new possibilities, and so forth.  Maybe so, but metaphor aside, I do love September and it does feel like a time for gearing up for new things.

Because of that, I thought it might be a good time to revisit those foundational pieces that allow us to function at our optimum.  Our bodies are beautiful machines that need to be cared for regularly if we want to live a quality life.  In doing so, we not only feel better, we look better, our thinking is clearer, our energy levels are higher, and we perform better.  Our immune systems are strengthened so we’re not at the mercy of every cold or bug that comes our way.  One of the best ways to live a rich and pleasurable life is to take our health seriously.

Fall is a great time for running outdoors!

Fall is a great time for running outdoors!

Here are my basics:

Exercise.   Physical activity is at the top of the list when it comes to looking and feeling your best.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes (or 2-1/2 hours) of cardiovascular exercise at moderate intensity every week.  Brisk walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming all qualify.   Add in two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups, and you’re good to go and be in great shape for years to come.  Don’t forget to stretch, which becomes increasingly important as we age.

Fresh, healthy food in as close to its natural state as possible.  Fruits and vegetables in season, lean proteins (think mainly chicken, fish, lean meats. There are wonderful vegetarian alternatives these days.)  Lean cheeses, yogurt and whole grains round it out.  Read ingredients and avoid processed foods with added sugar or salt.  A good rule of thumb:  If it comes in a box, don’t eat it.  If you want your machine to function at its peak, the fuel you give it is key.

Mood.  There’s a reason gratitude has become such a popular topic in recent years.  It’s an instant mood booster.  So are our positive and connected relationships with others, having a sense of meaning, being of service, commitment to goals, and exercise such as brisk walking.   Why is it important?  Research shows a sense of happiness – or well-being – provides a wealth of benefits:  improved health and immune function, better relationships, more meaningful work and (even!) higher income.  Happiness is not just a result of how we live, it is also an inner resource that can afford us better outcomes in all areas of our life.

Hydrate.  Water is your best bet when it comes to staying hydrated.  It increases energy and reduces feelings of tiredness.  It flushes out toxins so it keeps your skin glowy.  It reduces hunger, aids in digestion and helps you focus more clearly (your brain is mainly comprised of water!) And it’s free!  Drink up!

There are more basics to cover, which I will do next time in Part 2.  For now, making a commitment to increase your awareness and action in even one of these areas is going to make a significant difference in how healthy you feel, how you look and how you live.

I love to hear from you so if you feel the urge to share what’s making a difference for you in how well you live, feel free to post a comment on my blog and I’ll respond!

Enjoy those feelings of fall in the air!

Civility?

I was having a conversation with a good friend not too long ago about some distressing comments I had read online in response to a posted article.  Frankly, they were ugly and I chose not to continue reading.   My friend’s observation: “Society has lost its sense of civility.”

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation since.  I took a look at the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, which is: 1. an act or utterance that is a customary show of good manners; 2. speech or behavior that is a sign of good breeding.

Civility isn’t complicated.  It’s manners, politeness, showing courtesy and kindness to others. It’s being respectful, to both yourself and others.  It’s maintaining composure in difficult circumstances or with difficult people.  It’s being willing to hear others’ perspectives and opinions, even if you don’t agree with them.  One does not have to go too far these days to find examples of the lack of it.

I thought about how I might draw some food for thought from the science of positive psychology about how this atmosphere of disaffection and discord impacts wellbeing.

Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, discussed his theory of wellbeing, and what promotes human flourishing.  The acronym he gave it, PERMA, stands for:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • Positive Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Thankyou

I’m struck by how incompatible those ideas are with the lack of civility in our society today. If positive emotion and engagement might encourage and reinforce civility, what does the lack of it do to us as individuals, as a culture?  What does it do to our wellbeing, our happiness, our sense of flourishing?

Make no mistake, happiness and wellbeing are important business.  Research shows that happy people are healthier, live longer, have better relationships, make more money and contribute more to society.   I don’t know about you, but when I hear and read some public dialogue these days, I don’t feel a sense of positive emotion, of wellbeing.  I feel ill.

In case you think I’m referring to any particular brand of politics, I’m not (despite the current political climate.)  At time, students – and parents – show disrespect to teachers and faculty, even though they may have a legitimate disagreement. Parents go into tirades at coaches and school-age players at sporting events.  The internet provides a space for all sorts of bullying, harassment and name calling.

What has happened to respecting others’ opinions, even if they differ from your own?  What role models do younger generations have to look up to, if what they have to emulate are adults behaving badly? Speaking of adults, if our homes and families are where we get our foundation what, exactly, are we passing on? What has happened to basics such as kindness, character, dignity, and acting like a grownup (assuming you are one.)

Going back to Seligman’s PERMA, I can’t help but wonder how this type of behavior impacts our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health.  One definition of flourishing is:  “to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.”  It’s our responsibility to create that favorable environment, for ourselves and others.  As someone wise once said, “We carry our own weather with us.”

The good news is that so much of this is under our control.  We have the tools we need to create positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.  Research shows that approximately 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 10% by our circumstances (married, single, living conditions) and 40% by behavior.  We get to choose who we will be and how we will relate to the world around us.  We decide what kind of meaning our lives will have.  Making a conscious effort to practice kindness, hope and optimism, gratitude, connection – all of these contribute to impacting the world around us.  So does courtesy, respect and good manners.  And those start at home, with us, and with what we teach our children.

George Washington said it well:  “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”

What about you?  What’s your take on the topic of civility?  Please feel free to post a comment on my blog or share it with me in an email.

I’m taking the month of August off from writing this newsletter, for vacation and family time. Enjoy the rest of summer and I’ll see you after Labor Day!

Summer Bucket List

I don’t know about where you are, but summer in Colorado is short and seems to fly by faster each year.  At the beginning of the season, I usually have lots of plans, ideas, and to-do’s – what I want the summer to look like – most of which probably don’t ever get off the ground.  I’m ok with that, though, because some of them do – and they add to the memories of summer that will last long after Labor Day.

In his book, Flourish, Dr. Martin Seligman enumerates the benefits of happiness or well-being in our lives.  They include more meaning, love, gratitude, positive accomplishment, growth and better relationships.  Seen in this light, putting a premium on enjoyment of life is part of the picture of having a full, successful life.  The whole goal of positive psychology is, in fact, to increase flourishing in our life, according to Seligman.  I, for one, don’t want to pass up on having a flourishing life.  So, with that in mind, here is my summer season list, so that I can be, as Montagu said, seized by those moments of happiness and flourish.

  • A trip to the coast of Oregon – something I’ve been wanting to do for years!
  • Try standup paddleboarding – I have no excuse not to, my son rents them out at our local lake.
  • Let go of anything I don’t need or want anymore – make space for more life, less stuff. (The key here is to be sure that more flows out than in.)
  • Go horseback riding at least once. I live in Colorado, for Pete’s sake.
  • Practice listening more than talking.
  • Take more walks with my husband. Spend time with my precious son, before he goes back to school.  And, of course, our dogs.
  • Spend more time at home – puttering, reading, de-cluttering (my new favorite thing) or – what a concept – just enjoy being.
  • Eat outside whenever possible – whether at home on the deck, or at a restaurant.
  • Pick wildflowers from the yard and bring a bouquet inside.
  • Finally, for all of you who wrote the kindest emails on the passing of our beloved Ben, thank you so much! And – May I take this opportunity to introduce our new family member, Princeton.  I had absolutely no intention of adopting another dog so soon, however, Princeton needed a home and one thing, as they say, led to another.  He is a perfect fit for our family and we are so happy to have him.  I plan on spending lots of time with Princeton and Charlie this summer – hiking, walking at the lake and playing.   A simple summer pleasure and, for me, one of the best.

Speaking of wellbeing (and dogs), do you know that there are actual health benefits to having a pet?  Research shows that owning a pet can improve quality of life in several ways.   Emotionally, having a pet has been shown to decrease depression, stress and anxiety.    Pets also can help lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke. Then there’s all that unconditional love and loyalty that pets can provide.

Introducing Princeton!

Introducing Princeton!

I’m sharing my seasonal bucket list with you in the hope that you might be inspired to create one for yourself, as you become more intentional about what you want your summer season to look like.   I invite you to craft one for yourself and, if you feel like it, share it on my blog or my Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/Evergreen-Life-and-Wellness-204475386293524/

Here’s to summer!

Dog Lessons in Living

Our family said goodbye to our 15-1/2 year old Yellow Lab last week.  It’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a very long time.  I used to say, jokingly, that Ben was the rock of our family.  But it was true.   I never, ever, not one day, saw that dog in a “bad mood,” or anything but unconditionally loving.  I don’t think I ever heard him even growl.  He was, unfailingly, good natured.  Not many humans, including myself, can have that said for them.  Over the last year or two, knowing that he was slowing down, I remember feeling that every day with him was a bonus.  And it was.

I realize now that I wanted so much to postpone the day I might have to say goodbye to him.  Maybe I was in a bit of denial.  He had been such an important part of our family fabric for so long, our son had grown up with him.  Matthew used to say, “Ben is the best person I know.”  I got such a kick out of him, too – he always seemed to be smiling, and he snored louder than any dog I ever knew.  He had a champion pedigree but was just an easygoing, lovable hulk of a guy.  I wanted him to always be there.   But the day came when that was just too much to ask.  He was always there for us, and so we gathered around him one last time.

Ben was beautiful inside and out.  I often said if we could all be more like Ben, the world would be a good place.  I’ve been thinking of what I learned from him and this is what I came up with.

Lessons from Ben

  • Show up for the ones you love and don’t be shy -Let them know how happy you are to see them!
  • Sometimes you just need to sit in the sunshine for a while and be.
  • Go big or go home. If you’re having a good meal, enjoy it as though it’s your last.  When it’s time for a walk, give it all you’ve got.  Nap time?  Stretch out and snore like you mean it.
  • You can remain calm and patient no matter who is annoying the crap out of you. (This would mainly refer to his adopted younger sibling, Charles the Cockapoo.)
  • Choose peace. Even with the cat.  Especially with the cat.
  • Steady as you go – there’s a lot to be said for consistency, just doing the next thing in front of you. Saves you lots of wear and tear all the way around.
  • Patience pays. Hang around looking hungry/cute/eager to please long enough, and someone’s bound to give in.
  • If you have a great heart, you don’t need much else.
  • Just the quiet presence of someone you love can be such a comfort.
  • And, finally, have fun and don’t forget to bring snacks.

There have been all sorts of studies in recent years about the psychological and physical benefits of having a pet – less stress, lower risk of depression and isolation, improved blood pressure, increased longevity, and more.  I’ve never tried to quantify those benefits in my own life, but I know this for sure:  Having this special guy be part of our lives is something I’ll forever be grateful for.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Ben

Review: The 5 Minute Journal – A Cool Way to Get Journaling

As someone who has journaled off and on throughout my life, I have to admit that the last few years have been more off than on.  I’d always appreciated the process and found it an excellent outlet for organizing my thoughts, but had somewhat fallen out of the habit.

Over the last year or so, I somehow seemed to keep stumbling on one article or another about the benefits of journal-keeping, but couldn’t quite get back into making it a habit.  Enter The 5 Minute Journal.

I decided to try it after hearing an interview with one of its creators, UJ Ramdas.  It incorporates some of the basic principles of positive psychology, and that’s what got my attention at first.  I also appreciated that the beginning of the day starts out with three things you are grateful for.    Knowing the benefits that a grateful mindset can bring (better health, more happiness and stronger relationships, for starters), I got hooked in a bit further.

5MinJournal

I’ve been keeping the journal for almost two months now and here is what I’ve found:

  • It really doesn’t take more than a few minutes, morning and night.
  • The book starts out with a clear explanation of the principles behind the morning and evening prompts. For example, starting the day with three things you are grateful for automatically puts you in a state of not only looking for the good things in your life, but being mindful of them.
  • The morning prompts set you up to be intentional about your day. Asking yourself, “What would make today great?” at the beginning of the day acts as a catalyst that programs you to be more purposeful about how you go about your day.  Improving your days on a daily basis over time lead to an improved, happier existence.
  • That same question (“What would make today great?”?) also serves as inspiration – encouraging you to look at specific actions you can take to make it a good day, what you have control over. (“Going for a run with my dog,” is something within your control ; having that great job land in your lap, not so much…..)  The more you act successfully on your own behalf, the more empowered – and better – you begin to feel.
  • I’ve found that reflecting on three “amazing” things that happened during the day has helped me to focus on things I may have otherwise overlooked. Recent entries for me have included things like a surprise call from a long-ago friend, a beautiful spring day, an interesting conversation, and a red BMW convertible in the lane next to me filled with 3 (HUGE) St. Bernard’s out for a ride.
  • The evening question, “How could I have made today even better?” effectively encourages actionable problem-solving and trains me to look for better ways to do things next time. Since life (mine, at least) tends to have recurring problems, I get a chance to think about what I might do next time in the same circumstance.

Each day starts with an inspiring quote, and the book itself has a rather simple, minimalist look to it.  I’ve never really been one to journal in the morning but now that I have, I’m enjoying having those few minutes to plan what I’d like my day to look like.

Overall, this journal has been a simple, yet effective investment of my time each day.  Some critiques I’ve read are the price (I paid $22.00, the journal lasts 6 months), and that it can become repetitive.  I find that the consistency of the questions works well, for me at least. Knowing I’ll be answering the same questions each day is training my mind to be on the lookout for the answers. I’m definitely a fan of The 5 Minute Journal.

The “What the Hell Effect”

Something I’ve observed over the years (in my own life at times, as well as others) is what’s come to be known in some circles as the “What the Hell Effect.”  It goes something like this:  “Well, I really blew my weight loss/healthy eating/no sugar/Weight Watchers/Skinny Bitch – or whatever -plan today.  What the hell – I might as well really blow it.  I’ll start over tomorrow.”

Researchers have given this phenomenon a name – the Abstinence Violation Effect (AVE), which has also come to be known as the “what the hell effect.”  The “what the hell effect” comes into play whenever we indulge in a behavior that we have decided not to indulge in, sworn off of, or committed to giving up. When it comes to food and eating, for example, a “dieting mindset” can trigger feelings of guilt and shame, of not “being perfect,” which can then spiral down into an overeating binge.

When it comes to change, an all or nothing mindset simply isn’t realistic.  Research shows that most individuals don’t overcome a problem on their first try.  Expecting perfection from yourself is a setup for failure.  The process of change very often involves trial and error, “one step forward and two steps back.”  Knowing this can prevent a full backslide into the old behavior.

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Here are some solid strategies to get you back on track fast when you derail in the moment:

  • Don’t use blowing it as an excuse to REALLY blow it. Acknowledge the lapse, forgive yourself and move on.   Everyone makes mistakes, blows it, from time to time.  Get right back on the horse, minimize the damage done.  Keep your eye on the bigger picture – a change to a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Remember your why – the commitment you’ve made to a healthier life and what that means to you. Keep a strong vision in your mind of the person you are working to become and hold to that vision at times like this. The power of this kind of personal vision cannot be overstated.
  • Hopefully you have a support system of like-minded friends, family members or a group. (If you don’t have one, you need to get one!) This is the time to use them.  You may be feeling some weakening in your commitment – having someone to talk things through with can help you get back on track more quickly.
  • If you’ve blown your food plan for the day, and someone just dropped off a box of fresh pastries direct from the bakery, realize this: You have a choice, you really do. You can renew your commitment  by walking away and going on with your day, or not.  The choice is yours. Keep in mind if you continue on with your “slip,” it may not be as easy to start over the next day as you think it will be.  Each time you make the right choice for yourself, you strengthen your emotional muscle, and it becomes easier to make good choices in the future.
  • How’s that working for you? Love Dr. Phil or not, this is a great question to ask yourself if you find yourself in the same situation repeatedly.  If you break down and have a cigarette in a moment of stress, and then go all in and buy a pack (and find yourself doing this repetitively, having to start over – again) – How’s that working for you?
  • A side effect of relapse into old behavior can be a loss of confidence in yourself and your ability to change. Self-criticism and shame are not your friends. Reaffirming your commitment to change is.   We sometimes think chastising ourselves is a way to make ourselves “tow the line.”  It isn’t.  Forgive yourself and move on by renewing your commitment as calmly as you can,
  • Learn from it. What can you learn about yourself here that will help you deal with challenges in the future?  Were you exceptionally upset or stressed about an occurrence, worrying about the future, bored, sad?   What can you do differently when this occurs in the future?  Knowing that you will be challenged again – and developing a plan of action to deal with it – is key.

Remember – Change is a process, not an event.  You are in the process!

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