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?

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.

 

I got punched in the face the other day.

Don’t worry. The guy who hit me was wearing 16-0z boxing gloves, and so was I. I got hit because I was in a boxing seminar, and I’m not very good at boxing.

I learned some skills in that class (and in other martial arts and self-defense classes), but more than that, I learned that I’m not made of glass. I can be hit. I can hit back (or try to, at least). And I can learn where I left the opening.  I’m not saying getting hit is awesome, or super fun, or a good idea to do every day. But it’s instructive to get in that position, to get under the gun, and realize that you’re strong enough to handle it.

Moving forward: Looking inward

2016 has been a rough year– this  doesn’t need to be said anymore. I personally feel like I was dragged behind a truck over a bumpy road for a while, sucker punched a few times, and spat on for good measure. There’s political strife, there’s personal heartbreak, there are pure WTF moments (e.g., the car that crashed through my font yard last week). Yet I survived 2016 (unlike so many icons of creativity and resistance). And as it draws to a close, I have to wonder what 2017 holds. Great challenges, without a doubt. We must prepare ourselves to meet them head-on or risk being a) destroyed, literally or metaphorically b) complicit in evil, or c) all of the above.

Lots of folks have helped spur us to action— call your senators, organize, donate to social safety net and civil liberties groups. This is needed. This is good. Do that. Plenty of others have counseled self-care— also good advice. But I think we also need to take a step back, and start with self-inquiry. What can we learn about ourselves from the relentless onslaught of minor irritation and major trauma of 2016? How can we authentically move forward with our lives without giving into despair or fear, or being ruled by anger alone? What has this mind-fuck of a year shown us about ourselves?

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Rx: Vacation. Stat.

Did you take a vacation this summer? How about last year? Did you really go on vacation, or were you checking email on the beach (oops). Were you relaxing, or were you feeling guilty? (yup, that too).

How did it get so hard to actually take a real vacation from work? Where is this coming from? It’s not like this everywhere, you know– the world won’t come grinding to a halt if we take a short, planned, and total break. I think it comes from a combination of workplace culture and career anxiety. And you know where it’s really rampant? Healthcare. We don’t even want to stay home when we’re sick.

This is total BS. You can’t pour from an empty cup, you need a full charge to give a jump start, etc. Healthcare peeps know this. We know about burnout and compassion fatigue, too. We preach the gospel of self-care and stress management. But then. . .  we freeze up. So here’s the rx: someone will cover for you for a week. You won’t check work email– you’ll have an out-of-office message up. You won’t respond to phone calls– someone else will be designated to handle urgent matters. You won’t feel bad about it, because you are entitled to vacation and there are systems in place to cope with your absence*. You will spend this week doing something that makes you smile just thinking about it.

me? i went on a road trip with my sweetie, slept in a cedar cabin, cooked on a fire, kayaked in caves, ran by the beach, drank wine, went to museums, and ate at fancy vegan restaurants. and, ok, i checked my email a few times. . . but i’m working on that!

*sometimes you have to build these systems. . . but it’s worth it!

Sound bite: Lifestyle measures

In medicine, “lifestyle measures”  is code for diet (DASH, or myplate) and exercise (20 minutes/day!) — not for sleep, for relationships, for stress management, meditation, personal growth. . .

Can these things be taught in 15-minute office visits? How can we move away from  the sound-bite advice and into meaningful change?