E.N.E.R.G.Y., 7 ways

Last night was both the winter solstice— the darkest night of the year— and a magnificent full moon. As if the sky wanted to remind us that the light returns, starting now!

Lots of folks, myself included, find it hard to keep our energy levels up at this time of year. Exactly when there seem to be extra demands on us. Funny how that goes, isn’t it? If we just accept the defaults, we’ll probably crash at some point (who hasn’t had a December meltdown?). So what can we do? How can we turn this strain into a teachable moment for ourselves?

Stress can point out to us exactly where the inflection points are.  Then it’s up to us to pay attention.

So, ENERGY: each night, experience rest, gratitude, and yoga? even night-owl extroverts require gentle years? eggplants! nectarines! endive! radishes! ginger! yams!

OR. . .

Here’s some low-hanging fruit— things that are easy to blow off in the moment, but that add up to exhaustion:

  1. Go to bed! It’s OK to lean into the hibernation instinct a little bit. When you have a lot to do, don’t knock sleep off the back. Set an alarm for bedtime, use the function on your iphone, and stick to it. If you don’t have a true reason to be up too late, don’t be. I don’t mean skip out on being present for important events, but I do mean maybe turn off the Hallmark channel and get some quality pillow time. (I’ve given the sleep rundown before, but I’ll give you the short version again: make your room cool and your bed warm, no screens in bed, make it dark and unplug stuff with little glowing lights, use do not disturb mode on your phone).
  2. Eat your veggies. Of course there’s lots to indulge in around the holidays, and I’d never tell you not to do so. Just don’t crowd out all the nutrition your body needs to function. Remember to eat green stuff every day. If you know you’re going to a party, maybe start your day with a smoothie or have a big salad for lunch. Order a side salad. Bring a veggie dish to the potluck. Whatever works.
  3. Pay attention to energy vampires— sugar and alcohol. It would be easy to drink wine and eat dessert every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This will probably make your energy levels tank. Both will disrupt your sleep, in addition to taxing your system, dehydrating you, and giving you that fuzziness (you know). So just pay attention. You could think about skipping either or both few days. While we often think there’s social pressure to indulge, the fact is, most people don’t really care what you do or don’t eat and drink. You can say no thanks. You can have a seltzer with lime or a kombucha or an apple cider at a party. You can say those look delicious but you’re totally full and would love one for later. If you do take a day off, note how you feel in the morning. 
  4. Get some sunlight. It’s in short supply in December, so get creative. If before and after work are dark try midday (a walk, at least?). . Go out in nature on the weekends. If you live somewhere dark, maybe light therapy lamp is for you. Using a bright light (look for “10,000 lux)  for 30 minutes per day has been shown to combat depression
  5. Relatedly, get some exercise. Maybe you can organize a family hike? Or run a 5k? If you’re a gym person, carve out the time. Even if it’s less time than you’d like, make time.  This will feel easier if you do 1, 2, and 3. And everyone feels better after a sweat. Promise. 
  6. Don’t burn yourself out. You don’t have to say yes to everything and everyone. You can put in an appearance and go on to the next event. It’s OK if that event is a date with a good book and your dog.  
  7. Finally, don’t lean too heavily on artificial sources of energy to pull you through. I love coffee, I really do, but it doesn’t replace the things I suggested above. If you’re too tired, maybe you should listen, honor that, and cool your jets.

Which one of these fall off first for you? Can put it back?

Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

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take care of your basic needs.

I know a lot of folks who are feeling stressed right now. World events, personal issues, work (always work). What’s going on here?

Stress.

stress
stres/
noun
  1. 1.
    pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
    “the distribution of stress is uniform across the bar”
    synonyms: pressuretensionstrain

    “the stress is uniform across the bar”
  2. 2.
    a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
    “he’s obviously under a lot of stress
    synonyms: strainpressure, (nervous) tension, worryanxietytroubledifficulty;

    informalhassle
    “he’s under a lot of stress”

A little stress can be a good thing– it spurs us into action, motivates us, challenges us. think about exercise– you apply stress to your body, your body adapts. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This stress response can go haywire, though. Sometimes it’s because of the duration and severity of the stressor (toxic stress, trauma). Sometimes it’s because something has gone wrong in our body’s or brain’s mechanisms for handling stress. And sometimes, it’s because we haven’t paid attention to or prioritized our basic needs.

3XtRvMany are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” But how many times have you sacrificed something from that crucial bottom rung of the pyramid– physiological needs– for something external, like a work deadline? Everyone has done this– but when it’s the rule rather than the exception, it will start to impact your ability to cope with stress.  Skipping meals, shorting on sleep, forgetting to hydrate, neglecting to move around, going days without setting foot outside, even forgoing sex with your partner– these behaviors chip away at our resilience. The hierarchy of needs is built on a base of physiologic needs, safety, and social connection– the peak of the pyramid, self-actualization, is built on these less glamorous but critical parts.

Think about a toddler having a meltdown in the middle of Target. The kid’s mom probably said no, you can’t have that toy. Is the full-on tantrum that ensues for the next twenty minutes entirely about that plastic ninja turtle? Or is the kid probably overdue for a nap, crashing from a soda earlier, hungry, and antsy from sitting in the car? We’re not that different from the screaming toddler when we get stressed out.

So next time you feel overwhelmed and stressed out and unable to cope, ask yourself this question: “have I attended to my basic needs?” Before you enter full-on freak-out mode and quit your job and move to a commune, try a quick audit:

  • When did I last eat? When did I last eat fresh, healthy, and tasty food?
  • Do I have to go to the bathroom?
  • Did I shower recently?
  • Have I had a glass of water today?
  • Did I sleep for a reasonable amount of time last night?
  • Does my partner remember what I look like?
  • When was the last time I went outside and moved my body?

If you spot a deficit, fix it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t put anything else first (you’re the one who gets to decide– even if it doesn’t always feel like it). And remember that you are responsible for your own well-being.

 

who’s the expert?

It sucks to be sick. Full stop. A UTI sucks. Pneumonia sucks. Cancer sucks. People who have chronic illnesses, though, have an additional set of challenges to face. Some of these challenges are summed up in the idea of self-management, which is complex in and of itself. The definition of self-management that I like comes out of academic work* and it has three parts:

1. Medical managment

2. Role management

3. Emotional management.

I like this definition because it recognizes that there’s more to having an illness than remembering to take your meds and go to your appointments **. Continue reading

when did self-help become a dirty word?

I get it— there’s a lot of really terrible stuff that falls into the self-help category. There’s totally a danger of death by positive thinking. I am 100% with you if you can’t get behind all this manifesting and magnets and laws of attraction. But  getting in the driver’s seat and working to improve your life? Sign me up!

I think the trouble often comes from a tension between what we can change and what we can’t. This isn’t something we can just resolve— it’s been a question in philosophy and religion for millenia. It’s the subject of the serenity prayer used in AA (grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the the wisdom to know the diference.)There are some things we clearly cannot change (the weather, other people’s words). There are some things we clearly can change (what we eat for breakfast, what time we go to bed). But for most things, how do we get the wisdom to know the difference? And where the hell are we supposed to get serenity and courage??

That’s where self-help can be a game changer. Let’s get some inspiration, some role models, some strategies, some plans. Let’s go back to a place where it’s OK to care, OK to try, OK to talk about it. I’m not talking about magical thinking here, I’m talking about regular old thinking followed by action. You don’t have to find this on the self-help shelf (or itunes category, let’s be real). You could find it in therapy, or in a biography, or from watching someone you admire. You could learn it from your spouse, or your dog, or your yoga teacher. It doesn’t matter. The point is that there are tools to help you if you want change, but ulltimately, others can’t and won’t manage this for you. It’s on you to self-help.

Overcoming the fear of The Group

Hi, I’m Zabby, and I’m a Capital-I Introvert. Often when I tell people this about myself, they laugh and say something like “but you’re so friendly!” There’s been a lot of discussion in the general zeitgeist* these days of what real introversion means (Exhibit A , Exhibit B). Really, it comes down to the fact that social interaction takes energy. A lot of introverts are also sensitive, like I am— and that combination can be challenging. I find it hard to talk to people I don’t know, and I hate being in the middle of a crowd (I’d rather be on the edge). I don’t like loud things with lots of stimulation or being forced into conversation. I hate feeling trapped. I DON’T hate people— I have friends who I love deeply and want to be with. But I have, like, eight, not fifty.

At the same time, I believe in the benefits of a group— for motivation, accountability, energy, inspiration, pushing boundaries, learning.  It’s NOT about competition, comparison, or shame. “Make a date with a workout buddy!” is such common advice now that it’s almost a cliche.

I know those benefits are waiting for me, if I can push myself over the “OH NOES! STRANGERS! TALKING!” wall that I sometimes manage to build.

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