Saturday, July 21, 2018

Using Mystery to Battle Stress

This past week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop led by one of my biggest professional role models - Teepa Snow ( who specializes in Dementia care.  Throughout the day Teepa talked about the intense stress experienced by caregivers.  One of the stressors she discussed was negative anticipation and the need to combat the negative anticipation with moments of positive anticipation.  I know the perfect way to do that!  MYSTERY!

Negative anticipation is when we are waiting for something bad to happen filling our lives with worry and anxiety.  Our phone rings - What if that's the school?  Is it the nursing home to say Mom fell again?  Is it another bill collector?  We get the mail - Will there be a letter from the mortgage company?  It's weigh in day - Did I gain another pound?  There's no way I lost weight this week.  Dad needs me to go the doctor with him - What will the doctor say?  Is it more bad news?  
Reality is not going to go away.  However, we can combat that negative anticipation by purposefully creating positive anticipation for ourselves.  What is one way to do that?  By adding some mystery to our day!  By giving ourselves something positive to look forward to aside from the worry and dread that can start to take over our lives.  

I started doing this several years ago and it has made a difference in my life.  Mystery has added fun, created good memories to reflect on and lowered my stress.  Here is a previous blog post I wrote about adding mystery to our day:

Will my husband be able to get out of bed today? Will I need to call my parents to come take care of the kids? Will I get everything done that needs done today? As a mom and caregiver I found that my thoughts were overrun with the negative anticipation of the next crisis. 

One day, I read an article in a women’s magazine about how adding an element of mystery can spice up a relationship. Right now my relationship was fine, but my own life definitely needed some spice. How could I add mystery to my life?
That Friday was my monthly self-proclaimed Donut Day. Once a month I would treat myself to two donuts and a coffee for breakfast. For a year I had been getting the same thing. This month I decided to spice things up a bit. I asked the server to pick my donuts for me and then I turned my back to the counter. She handed me my closed bag. The two minutes that it took me to get from the counter to my car were very exciting. What kind of donuts did she give me? Chocolate? Cream-filled? Glazed? I couldn’t wait to open that bag!

Those turned out to be two of the most relaxing minutes I’d had all week. To be thinking of something fun instead of something stressful was wonderful. I arrived at work with a smile on my face instead of a pounding headache.

My first attempt at adding mystery to my life was successful so I decided to try again. In making plans to meet a friend for dinner I asked her to pick the restaurant and only give me the address for my GPS. When getting dressed one Saturday I had my daughter pick out a shirt and then I based my outfit on it. I bought a crazy flavor of potato chips that I had wanted to try and waited a couple of days before opening the bag. 

Now I'm constantly thinking of ways to include some positive anticipation to my day.  If my GPS takes me on a route that I'm not sure of, I can just go for it and see where the GPS leads me.  When I'm reading a book and get to the last chapter, I can set the book aside for the day or an hour to let myself anticipate how things are going to end.  There are so many possibilities!

The negative anticipation is still there, but the added spice of mystery provides me with enough of a break to keep pushing ahead.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fruity (and Healthy!) Puns for Staff Appreciation

I supervise a group of 12-15 Program Assistants who help me care for a group of frail elderly in an Adult Day Health Center setting.  I enjoy finding creative, inexpensive ways to thank, encourage and motivate them.  It is so easy to do!  Forums like Pinterest and Facebook place an endless number of puns for things like donuts and candy bars at my fingertips.  My staff love to find little treats and notes in their mailboxes or at the Day Center work station.

Over the past few years, I have begun to take a close look at how I can live a healthier life.  By examining myself I became keenly aware that many of my staff were struggling with health issues such as obesity, out-of-control diabetes, high blood pressure and extreme stress.  What kind of support and example was I being by constantly giving them candy bars, donuts, cookies and cans of pop – regardless of how cute the sayings or signss were that went along with them?

I began creating healthier treats to let my staff know how much I appreciate them.  They love them just as much and several have commented that they appreciate my attention to their health.  Here are some examples of fruit themed puns that I’ve used.

1    I’m so GRAPEful for my Team!  Place a bowl of grapes in the Break Room or at the staff work station.

2   Thanks for the GRAPE job you did on the ______ project!  A note with a bag of grapes for an individual staff member.

3   We’re a fantastic BUNCH!  Hang up a sign and put a banana in everyone’s mailbox.

4   We’d go BANANAS without you!  A fun pun to use with a banana or banana muffin for a single staff member.

5   Our Team is one in a MELON! Set out a tray of melon slices.

6   You are appreciated BERRY much!  This can be used with fresh berries or berry muffins.

 ORANGE you glad you work for ________?  I am! Oranges in mailboxes or set out a bowl of oranges.

8   It’s NACHOS one person, it’s our whole Team that makes this a great Center!  I used this one with a plate of apple nachos (apple slices drizzled with melted peanut butter and chocolate chips).

Creating healthy staff appreciation puns is easy, fun and inexpensive (another key point as the funds for these come out of my own pocket).  I still bring in donut holes and mini candy bars every once in a while because those things in moderation are ok, but hopefully my focus on health will have a positive impact on my staff – both on and off the job.

Can you think of any other healthy fun puns using fruit?  Share your ideas in the comments.  I'd love to hear them and use them!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Escaping my Emotional Eating Escapade

This week was the perfect trifecta of stress for me.  I know that anytime I have high stress there is always a risk of my health journey taking a random sudden turn off road.

One - There was a holiday.  I secretly hate holidays (guess it's not much of a secret anymore!).  They make me feel like crap.  They never meet the expectations I have in my mind (And no we cannot blame this on my potentially unhealthy love of Hallmark movies as I'm sure some of you who know me may be thinking.  I am fully aware that they are completely unrealistic and unreasonably perky.).  Overtime I have learned to lower my expectations and always think that I'm going into the day with the right attitude and then BAM - sadness hits me in the face like a boxing glove.

Two - Work was stressful this week.  I love my job and I thrive on the chaotic world that exists within the four walls of the Adult Day Health Center.  But this week was tough.

Three - My delightful (she seriously can be quite delightful!) daughter worked six days in a row before jetting off to Puerto Rico at 3AM this morning for a week-long Missions Trip.  I don't need to say anymore here.  If you have a teenage daughter, granddaughter, niece, neighbor - you know.

My downfall started when I went to the grocery store on the Fourth of July.  My daughter wanted to make her favorite Buffalo Chicken Dip so I popped into the grocery store to get her the ingredients.  And it was there that I paused in front of the large Oreo cookie display.  In that very brief moment, I made the dreadful decision to put a pack of original Oreos into my cart.

I am tuned in to the fact that Oreos are my weakness.  I normally walk past that display at a quick pace with my back to the rows of blue and white packages.  I don't even look at them.  But on this day they were calling me and in my state of mind I felt that I needed them.  I needed the comfort of the cream filled chocolate cookie paired with a glass of cold milk.  So I bought them.  And I went home and proceeded to eat an entire row.  They tasted so good.

Later in the week my co-worker asked me if I wanted anything from the corner store when she was running over for lunch.  I handed her a couple bucks and asked her to get me a Pepsi.  WHAT?  I rarely drink pop anymore.  What was I doing?  I was craving an ice cold Pepsi - that's what I was doing.  Hearing the fizz when I opened the bottle and feeling the tickle of the carbonated beverage slide down my throat was so good.

Then there was the secret stop for an ice cream cone on my way home from work.  On a hot day, the refreshment of that cold ice cream was so good.  And the few times I visited the candy drawer at work.  Chocolate - so good!

Last night we went out for dinner to celebrate our daughter and her best friend heading off to Puerto Rico.  The restaurant that we went to serves large and small sizes of their dishes.  I ordered the large. I hadn't given it a moment's thought until my husband and the server commented on the size of my burrito (Yes that server did - can you believe it?!?  Don't give my husband's comment a second thought - It was made out of accountability not judgment.).  I shrugged my shoulders and enjoyed my meal.  It was so good.

Later that night my daughter asked me to help her weigh her suitcase.  We couldn't get it on the scale while being able to see the numbers.  As frustrations began to escalate, I offered to get on the scale and then get on a second time holding the suitcase.  I told my daughter that in no circumstance did I want to see or hear the number that popped up on that little screen.  I try not to focus on the scale, rather I use the jiggle of my chin fat to judge myself.

Despite my best efforts, it happened.  I saw those numbers.  YIKES!  I looked up and saw myself in the mirror.  Chin fat is in check, but that number!  UGH!!

Then CLICK!  Just as quickly as my emotional eating had kicked in to high gear in front of that Oreo display, I felt my internal dial click back over to a healthy eating focus as I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror.  I can't explain it.  I just knew that little off-road journey was over and I was back on the path determined to be as healthy as I can  be.

Why share this personal story with you?

1) If you struggle with emotional eating, please know that you are not alone.  I've been focusing on making healthy life choices for over eight years now and I still fight this battle.

2) It's important to accept the fact that you are going to have blips in your journey like this one because they are going to happen.  No one is perfect.  The key is to not give up.  Instead, do what you need to do to get yourself back on the healthy path.  Sometimes, like in this case, it just happens.  Something clicks.  Other times you'll need to fight - fight hard! - to get yourself back.  And that is OK.

3) I encourage you to spend some time getting to know yourself.  There were several times throughout this experience that I recognized important moments
     * I knew that high stress can trigger my emotional eating.
     * I could identify what was causing my stress.
     * I am tuned in to the fact that Oreos are my weakness and I made the choice to put
        them in my cart.
Knowing what will set you off can help you to avoid those situations.  And if you find yourself stuck in an emotional eating rut, being in tune with your body and your emotions can help you to escape.

Today was a good day getting back on track.  I drank lots of water.  I made myself a healthy breakfast and lunch.  I exercised.  And when my husband and I went out for dinner, I ate three slices of pizza and stopped when I really wanted to keep eating!  My hands are firmly on the steering wheel as I continue to navigate this crazy healthy journey that is my life.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

6 Healthy Choices You Can Make TODAY!

Sometimes life can be overwhelming and the notion of thinking about your own health feels like the one thing that will send you over the edge to insanity.  Pause.  Take a deep breath.  Focusing on your health does not have to feel like a burden or a huge time stealer.  I've found that it can be the exact opposite - it can be easy!  It can actually be fun.  Here are seven  healthy choices that you can make today.

These are ideas that I imagine you have heard a thousand times and probably rolled your eyes at the suggestion a time or two.  I know I did, but then I actually tried them and found that they are easy to accomplish.  Park at the far end of the parking lot.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Set your phone to prompt yourself to take a break and walk around your office or down the street and back.

The health benefits of fruit are amazing.  Fruit can impact your health in ways such as boosting your mood, keeping you regular and strengthening your bones!  I make it a point to eat fresh fruit at least once a day and now I crave it.

Replace one can of pop or cup of coffee with a glass of water - just one!  I love to buy myself fun colorful plastic cups.  Getting a new cup every few months adds some pizazz to that water.  You can find great ones in the dollar stores!  You can also combine suggestion two and three by adding fresh fruit to your water to give it some taste. 

Take a moment to look at your calendar and find a day or half a day or two hours that you can block off for yourself (Don't forget to request the time off of work if you need to do that!).  I try to do this once a quarter.  Sometimes I take off an entire day and spend it in my PJ's binge watching TV.  Other times I might take two hours off and go for a walk in the park or sit in a coffee shop and read my book.  Planning ahead ensures that I do it and it gives me something special to look forward to.

When is the last time that you tried something new?  A new recipe?  A new class at the gym?  Walking in a new park?  A new route home from work?  A new flavor of ice cream?  It doesn't have to be a big thing to add a little excitement to your day and give you a boost of energy.

I recently attended a workshop on Dancing and Dementia.  Research on the impact of unchoreographed dancing on the brain is unbelievable!  10 minutes of freestyle dancing a day had a greater impact on brain health than completing a crossword puzzle everyday.  Plus, you get a little cardio workout in.  Go ahead - put on your favorite song and shake it!  Another bonus - I bet your family joins in!
You might be thinking that these are all small things and that doing one of these today won't impact your health at all.  I disagree.  After doing one thing, you are going to feel good.  I bet that you will feel so good that you will be inspired to make another healthy choice.  And then another.  And another.  All of those small healthy choices will add up to a big impact on your health.  Don't believe me?  I challenge you to try it.  Trust me - it will work!

If you give any of these ideas a try, I'd love to hear from you!  Leave a comment below to let me know what you tried and how it went.  Or you might make a simple healthy choice that I didn't mention - I'd love to hear your ideas!    

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Happily Abandoning My Quest for Balance

Self-Care: Choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors.
~Psychology Today

For the past several years as I have focused on taking better care of myself I have tried to live a balanced life.  By that I mean that I have tried to focus equal time on being a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, employee and volunteer while finding time to exercise, plan and cook healthy meals, sleep, relax, have fun . . . that’s a lot to balance. But everywhere I turned I was being told to seek balance. There were articles about finding balance.  News segments about balance. Our pastor even preached about finding balance. However, I was finding balance to be impossible!  This led to feelings of frustration and failure.

While doing research on self-care for a presentation, I came across this definition in an article from Psychology Today:  Self-care is choosing behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors.

There was that word - balance.  I read the sentence over again several time.  The word CHOOSING stuck out to me.  I had been focusing on the wrong thing.

Taking care of myself by chasing after balance was never going to work.  Something was always going to need more time.  During tennis season, my focus is on my son. I’m taking as many afternoons off as I can to get to a match. The scale tips towards my family. When I’m leading a training at work, I may have to stay late a couple of days to prepare. The scale tips towards work.  By putting emphasis on balance I was setting myself up to fail.  I will never be able to maintain balance.  However, I can maintain the practice of making healthy choices.

In the midst of a busy life and a heavy workload, I can successfully focus on making healthy choices.  Do I eat the apple in my lunch box for a snack or run across the street and buy a candy bar?  Do I sit in the car and nap during my daughter's piano lesson or take a walk around the neighborhood?  Do I watch a movie with my husband whom I feel like I've barely seen the past couple of days or head to the gym because I still haven't reached my step count for that day (Healthy choices include choices that are good for your family, your emotional health, your financial health and other areas of life - not just your physical health!)?  These are small choices, but a bunch of small choices can add up to a big impact on my health.  Each healthy choices is a victory.  A feeling of victory sets me up to want to make the next healthy choice and succeed again.

Just this morning, I read this quote from the Harvard Business Review and while it is talking about the workplace, I think that the content can easily be applied to leading a healthy life.
"Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation and perception during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.  And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run." 

Have you ever watched someone try to run when they are being sprayed with a fire hose?  It's a fight.  The force of the water pushes her back sometimes even knocking her to the ground.  She gets back up and tries again and may even make some progress, but she gets pushed back down.  That is how I felt trying to achieve balance.  It was a fight.  I kept getting knocked down over and over and over again.  It was exhausting and not very fun!  I was not making progress toward my goals in any area of my life. 

Focusing on making that one healthy choice in the moment gives me a sense of progress.  In the long run, those small steps moving forward get me to where I want to go.  I may take a step backwards every once in a while - choosing to eat that second (or third!) cookie or taking the elevator instead of the steps - but that's one small step and my next step forward is right around the corner. 

So - I am happily abandoning my quest for balance and turning my focus to making healthy choices.  My stress level is going to go down and my health, in all areas of life, is going to soar.  This has been a tough lesson to learn, but I'm ready to fly.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Making a Few Changes Does Not Make Me a Failure

My blog has been quiet in 2018.  It’s been a rough start.  While I’m used to life not being easy and filled with stress, I have to admit that I’ve been thrown for a loop.  How I’ve been feeling is actually hard to explain - numb, flat, frozen?

The stress level of my job went through the roof.  It was completely out of control.

I wasn’t prepared for the incredibly intense anxiety I’ve felt surrounding my son’s college decision.

We were faced with a major car repair which added to my already overwhelming stress about finances.

My husband has been sick more days than he has been well this year.

My daughter got her learner’s permit - another reminder because of how fast time with my kids is flying.

Two months ago I ended up in the hospital with chest pain.

I was transferred to a new position at work.

And I turned 45.

Eight years ago I arrived to a place where I had to make some changes in my life or continue on a path of uncontrolled stress and poor health. I successfully made those changes and have been sailing along since. That is until now.

I felt like a failure. What was I doing wrong?  Why was life not working?  Why did I feel this way?

At one of my follow-up appointments, the doctor was suggesting areas I could think about making some changes in my life to improve my health. Cut out pop?  I’ve done that. Switch to wheat bread and pasta?  I’ve done that. Exercise?  I do that. Shaking her head she said, “Everyone can find something to change.”

I was feeling a tad cocky at first.  “I’ve done all I can,” I told myself. “What else can I possibly do?”  That mindset did not make me feel any better.

It feels like I’m back at the beginning. I’ve slowly been finding small changes to make in my daily life. I’ve cut out my morning cup of coffee and caffeine. I’m purposefully embracing my new job. I’ve resumed my practice of sipping a cup of hot tea before bed.

I’ve also been working on accepting that needing to make these life changes does not make me a failure.  I’m a work in progress. Life will never be perfect. I will never be perfect.

I’m reminded of the scripture that I clung too when my journey of healthy life choices began 8 years ago:
This is not the time to give up. This is the time to dig deep and continue to do good - for me, for my family and those around me.  Life isn’t going to stop so neither shall I.

Monday, January 1, 2018

3 Tips for Keeping Your New Year's Resolution

Today I celebrate a New Year's Resolution that I made eight years ago and have kept ever since.  Eight years ago I was overweight, over-stressed and about to go over the edge.  I resolved to get healthy in 2010 and to do that by training for and completing a 5k.  Eight years later, I weigh less, handle my stress better and am an overall much happier person.  How did I accomplish that?  Here are three simple things that I did to help me be successful.

1. Make a PLAN.
In my family, my father is famous for reminding us to PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN.  It's one thing to state your resolution.  But how are you going to do it?  You want to travel more?  When?  Where?  How?  You want to spend more time with your family?  What are you going to do?   When are you going to get together?  Eight years ago I wanted to get healthy.  How was I going to accomplish that?  By training for and completing a 5k.  I chose a local 5k and registered for it.  I found a training plan on-line and mapped out how I would follow it marking training runs on my calendar.  I planned my work.

2. Be PURPOSEFUL in working your plan.
Talking is easy.  I can talk with others about what I plan to do.  Great conversation take place in my head about what I'm going to do.  Creating a plan is easy.  I can write anything I want on my calendar or make charts all day long.  In order to truly make a plan work you must put it into action.  That means making decisions that go along with your plan.  Reminding yourself of your resolution.  Actually doing what you said you were going to do.  For me, that meant posting motivational quotes and reminders of training deadlines around my home, car and desk.  Making the conscious choice to get off the couch and head out the door for a run.  Asking family and friends to hold me accountable.  I worked my plan.

3. Be PATEINT with yourself.
Nobody is perfect and change does not happen overnight.  There were days that I just couldn't get myself together to get out for that training run.  Sometimes that happened two or three days in a row.  I didn't throw in the towel and give up.  No.  I forgave myself, tied my running shoes and got out there.   You're going to mess up.  That's a fact.  Accept it and move on.  Don't let a single mistake or bad decision knock you off track.  Stand up and start again.  It's ok.  Be patient with yourself.

Eight years ago I resolved to get healthy and I set in motion the plan to do that by training for and completing my first 5k.  I beat the statistical odds of New Years Resolutions by successfully keeping my Resolution.
Me and my brother-in-law at the Finish Line of my first 5k - April 2010

And guess what?  Eight years later I am STILL holding tight to that resolution.  Every year I set a few goals for myself.  I PLAN out how I'm going to accomplish them.  I PURPOSEFULLY make decisions sticking with that plan.  And I am PATIENT with myself when things don't go as planned.
2017 Pittsburgh Marathon
Team Muscle Relay Team

If you are serious about making a change in your life - whether it's health/fitness related or not - YOU CAN DO IT!  It will take work and time and sacrifice, but it is possible and it is worth it.

Wishing you the happiest and healthiest 2018!