No one today would argue with me that most Americans are overly stressed. Technology, feeling the need to immediately return text and emails, and the pace at which we live today has created an epidemic of chronic stress and mental fatigue. In fact, between 60 percent and 80 percent of doctor visits today are a result of this chronic stress. And of course, when we are stressed we make poor lifestyle choices. Which means we eat on the run, make unhealthy food choices, and take too little, if any, time to exercise, rest and do the things that bring us joy. The cumulative effect of all this stress? Burnout and chronic disease.
Boy, did I get a surprise last week. My doctor’s office called to say my blood work came back fine except for my A1C test — the one that provides information about a person’s average level of blood glucose (blood sugar) over the past three months. It is the primary test used to determine if you are pre-diabetic or have diabetes itself.
One of the main reasons I experienced the fight of my life with breast cancer a decade ago is chronic stress. I had jogged, been active most of my life and kept my weight under control but I got cancer. Why?
Last week, I attended the 15th annual Chronic Disease Prevention Symposium for one of my clients — the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. It was two days of up-to-date research and information on how to prevent a variety of health problems. These include hypertension control, brain health to include Alzheimer’s and dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation control, and obesity’s link to cancer.
We all have stress, but one of the best ways to manage it is to first become aware of it. To help build your awareness of stress and its impact on your life, try the practice of “mindfulness.”
Have a healthy Valentine’s Day!
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the day that most of us pause to think about who we love and who loves us. It’s a day to reach out to others to let them know we care. Expressing your love is also good for your health.
Each time you give of yourself to those you love, you grow and flourish. But even though we grow when we give love, we must also be able to receive love. I’m not talking about Valentine’s candy here. It’s about your ability to give love and receive it — unconditionally.
That loving relationship may be with your spouse, significant other, close friend or family member. Someone who you give love to by telling them often how much you appreciate them for solely for who they are, not what they give or do for you.
So, starting today, let’s take some time from our very busy days and listen to others who are close to us. No need to give advice, just listen without judgment. Allowing others to know that you are listening and that you care is healthy for all involved.
Once we learn how to nurture those close to us in a loving way, then we can go out and make a difference in the world through our children, our communities and nation. The price of giving unconditional love to others nurtures us and fulfills our purpose in life. Supportive relationships with your family, friends, co-workers and colleagues that are based on open, respectful communication can have a dramatically beneficial effect on your health.
If you want to live at your optimal health level, pay attention to the health of your social relationships. An important factor of keeping a relationship operating at its highest levels is effective communication. As a health coach, I ask my clients to think about their relationships and assess their communication style, patterns and skills. We talk and brainstorm ideas on how you can improve communications.
So what better day than Valentine’s Day to nurture others, improve your health and make a difference toward making today’s world a kinder and more loving place.
With all the talk about the importance of getting the day started on the right note, it’s no wonder that getting a good night’s sleep has become more important than ever. If you have ever tried to have a productive day after only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night, you know what I am talking about.
If you are like most folks, you may feel as if there is not enough time to do all the things you want to do. Yes, most of a productive day is often work related but fun relaxing things are important too. So how do you have a productive day; do everything you want to do and get a good night sleep of 7 to 8 hours?
The answer appears to be a better bedtime routine. You might be asking how does having a bedtime routine have anything to do with a more productive next day? Isn’t a good night’s sleep all you need to pave the way for a productive day? What does a nightly routine of washing your face, brushing teeth or limiting caffeine after 6 p.m. have anything to do with the next day?
Now that we are in the holiday season, many of us resign ourselves to the weight gain that typically follows. Indeed, it is very hard to pass up holiday sweets that seem to be everywhere as well as extra servings of a traditional family dish. That’s why so many weight loss books are published at this time promising a “New Year, New You.”
So it’s no surprise that the No. 1 New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. But this year consider a broader approach to resolving the problem for more lasting success. Here are 10 points that my health-coaching clients have incorporated into their weight-management programs that you may want to consider:
Coloring books for adults are popping up in stores just about everywhere these days. I’ve seen these books in Barnes and Noble, Sam’s, Costco and some of the dollar stores, and wondered why they all the rage. Especially regarding the mental health benefits associated with an activity once considered for children only.
It doesn’t require expensive paints, brushes, stretched canvasses, or special lighting to use these books… No art lessons are required either. Simply select an appropriate color and stay within the lines — initially at least.
I know what I’m talking about here. I purchased two adult coloring books the other day along with a box of color pencils, and got busy with some personalized, adult research on the matter. I had read that yogis recommend coloring books for relaxation and associated meditation, and decided that I wanted to know more about this creative alternative to meditating. It didn’t take long to get involved in what is known as “art therapy.”
I also learned about the American Art Therapy Association of mental health professionals, who help people create art as a way of improving their lives. This association helps people “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.”
What a thrill is was for me to realize that special coloring books are key tools in the practice of art therapy! And it becomes especially helpful when an individual teams up with a therapist trained in this process to examine expressed goals, including reduction of anxiety and stress, learning how to focus, being more mindful of what’s around you, and staying present in the moment.
While many of us discovered years ago that colorful doodling can be relaxing, working with geometric or pictorial designs called mandalas take it to a whole new level. A good adult coloring book offers intricate mandalas designed to switch off the individual’s brain from other thoughts thus encouraging the special energy that results from intense focus. Also note that color pencils are far better that crayons when “tuning in” to your newly emerging art gene. Pencils allow you to be more precise because you can blend, shade and add highlights and lowlights to your geometric designs.
This can be most effective for people who seldom participate in drawing, painting, decorating, cooking or even gardening. The act of adding color to an image on paper feels safe for most people who normally are not comfortable participating in a creative process and enjoying the tranquility that most artists enjoy.
So, if you or someone you know is struggling with nagging mental or emotional issues consider talking to a certified art therapist to help work things out. But if you just need to relax or get more focused, pick up an adult coloring book, some colorful pencils and get busy in a good kind of way.
It seems as though the older I get, the harder it is for me to get a good night’s sleep. The problem for me doesn’t seem to be falling asleep, but getting 7-8 hrs of uninterrupted sleep. In an effort to get a restful night of shut-eye I started doing some research and this is what I found out:
No surprise here, but good habits once again seem to hold the answers. All factors of getting a good night’s sleep might not be in our control, but there are habits that one can adopt to encourage a better night’s sleep.
- Once again physical activity to the rescue. Exercise not only increases the amount of energy you spend but also releases the feel good hormones or endorphins and helps regulate body temperature. Avoid heavy food or alcohol two hours before bed because they can interfere with sleep. If caffeine bothers you, don’t drink any caffeinated beverages after 6 pm.
- Boost your circadian rhythm. Getting plenty of sunlight during the day can help regulate your biological clock so at night your body can downshift into a more relaxed mode in preparation for bedtime. Getting up and going to bed at approximately the same times daily reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle and help promote better sleep.
- Get rid of the day’s worries. If you tend to worry, jot down your concerns and possible solutions and put them aside until tomorrow. Thinking about them once you lay your head on the pillow is not going to get them resolved any faster. Also before bedtime, start practicing a relaxing ritual such as reading, listening to a podcast or writing in your gratitude journal.
- Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Don’t eat, watch TV or browse the internet/ answer emails on your tablet, laptop or phone. Don’t talk on the phone while you are in bed. In fact, the blue light from keeping your electronics close to the bed can affect your ability get a good night’s sleep. Keep those devices away from your bed, and better yet, out of your bedroom all together.
- Last but not least, keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Use room darkening shades, earplugs or a fan to shut out outside light and noises. The cooler the room the better you sleep. This time of year I often crack a window near my bed to let in the cooler night air. In the summer, I use a floor fan. Choose comfortable, clean bedding and make sure you have plenty of room to stretch out.