The Dilemma

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We all want to get as much done in the day as possible.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a few (or more) things going at once. You’re writing and answering emails, you’re paying bills, making appointments, doing the laundry…oh, and then there’s that work thing too :) It’s hard NOT to multi task. I’ve read enough about how it doesn’t serve us to multi-task and how we’re actually less efficient when we do and yet, I still have a difficult time not doing it! As I type this post, I should be working on a presentation for a class. This was my priority for the day and yet here I am squeezing in a blog post and a newsletter, not to mention all the other wee things that have popped up today. It’s not just the obvious things but who doesn’t occasionally find themselves talking to their husband and at the same time texting a friend?! BUSTED! I know how wrong that is. Despite that I think I have super powers, I cannot hold a conversation fully AND write to someone else at the same time!

How do we close all that off and just do one thing?

Clearly, I don’t have the answer but I do have the desire to try! I am really consciously going to try NOT to multi-task for the next two days and see what a difference it makes in my life. I shall report back, of course! Wish me luck :)

Here’s to doing the one right thing at a time!

Do you find yourself multi-taking and trying to squeeze too much into your day? If anyone has any great solutions or things that have worked for them, please share. We’d all be very grateful! email_signoff1

Wellness – What Does Wellness Mean to You?

For me wellness is a process, one that I have been working diligently on for the past three years. This quest has taken a considerable amount of time and energy but is well worth the investment. My road to wellness encompasses a balance of physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual components. Balance was something that was sorely missing from my life and my health suffered as a consequence.

Now I prioritize healthy eating, regular exercise and good sleep in order to keep my physical body well and to supply me with the energy required to do all that I need and want to do in my life. My biggest priority is eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on cruciferous vegetables for their disease-fighting, anti-inflammatory properties (Jiang, 2014).

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As someone who carried a lot of stress in the past, I have made managing my stress a priority and I am having great success through acupuncture, meditation and support from a naturopathic doctor and a clinical herbalist who creates custom teas and tinctures for me. In a study on the effects of Ashwagandha root extract (Chandrasekhar 2012) found that it safely and effectively increased a person’s resistance to stress and in doing so improved their perceived quality of life. I am now calmer and much more resilient to stress which has built up my emotional wellness.

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I consider myself very fortunate to have a supportive and loving husband. His encouragement in all that I do gives me the foundation and security to step out of my comfort zone and follow my dreams. I would describe myself as primarily an introvert who is social, to a point. I enjoy being with friends but need a lot of alone time to recharge. I have gotten much better at taking the time I need and saying no to things when I know they could compromise my feeling of well-being. I used to say “yes” to everything and everyone else, but I have learned that I need to say “yes” to myself first and to the things that are of the greatest priority at the time. I’ve realized that it’s not selfish but sensible to do so! Since I started my Master’s program in nutrition I have enjoyed building relationships with fellow students who share similar interests and passions and I appreciate the sense of community at MUIH which has greatly enriched my social wellness. Returning to school has also been an exciting time intellectually. I have always enjoyed learning but doing so in this new college setting is proving to be more challenging (in a good way) and inspiring.

However, since returning to school I have made less time for yoga, which I miss greatly. I know that I would benefit from the physical aspects of a yoga practice as well as the meditative and spiritual aspects. This is definitely an area I need to work on and find a way to add back into my life in a manageable way. Given that it is increasingly challenging to find time to attend a yoga class, creating my own home practice would be a great solution. (Ross 2012) found that the frequency of a home practice had a greater impact on health and well-being than simply the amount of time a person has been practicing yoga or how many formal classes they take. The benefit appears to come from including healthy habits like a yoga practice into your daily life, which in turn helps you to include and maintain other healthy habits.

School has also limited the amount of time I can spend with good friends. I am thankful that they are understanding and supportive of what I am doing and that they appreciate the importance of my school work and my need to prioritize it. I see this as an unavoidable side-effect of my current situation and I will make every effort to connect with them between trimesters. Meanwhile, I use my long commute time to catch up by phone. Despite these current challenges I am eternally grateful for the life I have and believe that practicing gratitude on a daily basis enhances my feeling of wellness. (Lyubomirsky 2011) found that expressing optimism and gratitude increase well-being. The greatest success arose when participants understood, believed in and committed to the practice.

Since I have been working on building my wellness, I have gained a greater sense of control over my own health and well-being. Changing my diet, taking better care of myself and following my passion have all led me to a greater feeling of satisfaction. I feel empowered by all that I have learned and continue to learn. I have taken charge of my own wellness and I am reaping the benefits of doing so. I know this will be a continual journey and there will be challenges along the way (such as school is at the moment), but I am committed and know that I can manage them through awareness, recognition and constantly striving for balance.

How does wellness show up in your life? Do you feel like you have the balance you need? Where and how could you create more balance to enhance your wellness?

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REFERENCES

Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., Anishetty, S. (2012) A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 2012;34:255-62

http://www.ijpm.info/text.asp?2012/34/3/255/106022

Jiang, Y., Wu, S.-H., Shu, X.-O., Xiang, Y.-B., Ji, B.-T., Milne, G. L., … Yang, G. (2014). Cruciferous Vegetable Intake Is Inversely Correlated with Circulating Levels of Proinflammatory Markers in Women. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(5), 700–8.e2.

http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.019

Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J. K., & Sheldon, K. M. (2011). Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention to Boost Well-Being. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 11(2), 391–402. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0022575

Ross, A., Friedmann, E., Bevans, M., & Thomas, S. (2012). Frequency of Yoga Practice Predicts Health: Results of a National Survey of Yoga Practitioners. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2012, 983258. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/983258

Self-Care as a Spiritual Practice

I am writing to you from Duck, NC where I am lucky enough to be spending five days (this is day 4) at a retreat with an amazing group of women.

The theme of the retreat is “self-care as a spiritual practice”. We know how important taking care of ourselves is, but it is not always easy to do. We are taking the time to meditate, do yoga, qi gong, art projects, storytelling and of course, eating good, healthy food!

This is a wonderful learning and sharing experience and I already feel a shift from being here.

Of course, I’ve been having to carve out time everyday for my studies and head to school at the crack of dawn on Friday. I am hoping that allowing myself to be here this week will allow me to arrive at school with a clear head and an open heart.

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We had to create a Soul Collage card after a meditation and this is what i came up with. I identified with the young girl as myself.

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We had lots of materials to create a landscape that spoke to us and I chose the beach, because I loved it as a child, it reminds me of Scotland and it's why I live where I do today.

What are some creative ways you like to take care of your soul? Let me know in the comments below.

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Can we really make friends with stress?

Well, Dr. Kelly McGonigal says we can. She introduces us to new research which just might change the way you view stress. She is the author of several books, with her latest book being appropriately called the “The Upside of Stress.” Her 2013 TED talk, "How to Make Stress Your Friend," is one of the 20 Most Viewed TED talks of all time, with 10 million views!! I just watched this TED talk a few days ago in a class and it has really given me a new perspective on stress. Stress is serious business and a threat to our health, so anything we can do to improve the effects of stress on our lives is a very good thing!

This will be 14 minutes of your time well spent. It’s not one of the top viewed TED talks of all time for no reason!

Briefly, Kelly McGonigal references studies and tests that show that the way we think about stress has an impact on how stress actually affects our health.

Those who believe that stress is bad for their health are more likely to suffer a stress related issue like a heart attack as opposed to those who also experienced stress but do not believe that it affects their health.

Helpful versus Harmful

When people viewed their stress responses as helpful versus harmful their stress response changed. In a typical stress response our heart rate will increase and our blood vessels will constrict, which is detrimental to our heart health, however, those who perceived these responses as positive signs such as your pounding heart is preparing you for the challenge ahead and your fast breathing is helping to get more oxygen to the brain actually changed their physical stress response. Their heart rate still increased but their blood vessels did not constrict. Over the course of a lifetime this type of thinking and response can be the difference between dying young of a heart attack or living to an old age.

Oxytocin affects the stress response

Oxytocin is probably best known for being the cuddle hormone, but it is actually also a stress hormone. When oxytocin is released during the stress response it encourages you to reach out to friends and family for support so you don’t carry the burden of stress alone and it also increases your desire to reach out and help someone else who may be in need.

Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory helping to keep your blood vessels relaxed during stress and it actually helps the heart cells repair and heal from the damage caused by stress. This reaction is increased by social interaction, so when you connect with others during a time of stress you release more oxytocin which helps you recover from stress even faster. People who have a more positive view of stress and those who help others, build up more stress resilience through caring.

"Stress gives us access to our hearts."

She ends by saying “Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others, and yes, your pounding physical heart working so hard to give you strength and energy, and when you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re making a profound statement. You’re saying that you can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges and you’re remembering that you don’t have to face them alone.”

Are you ready to make friends with stress? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University.

Every Illness Has a Story

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I love stories! I particularly love listening to a story.

There’s something so wonderful about listening to the seemingly perfect voice telling the tale or sharing information. Hence, I’m a big fan of audiobooks and given all the driving I do, find them great company in the car, not to mention I can learn something, too! At my very first class last Friday “Foundations of Health and Wellness” I was fascinated by one particular theme we discussed, that of “Narrative Medicine”. We watched a Ted talk given by Dr. Rita Charon titled “Honoring the stories of illness.” Every time I watch a Ted talk, I think to myself, I really should watch more of them – they’re so good!

Narrative Medicine

Dr. Charon and her colleagues at Columbia created a field called “Narrative Medicine” which they defined simply as “Clinical practice fortified by the knowledge of what to do with stories.” What they are trying to achieve is to train doctors to recognize when a patient is telling a story, and to hear that story, to absorb it, interpret it, even to guess through hints at what might be being left unsaid, to honor the story and then to be moved by the story to action. Dr. Charon gives some examples of how she’s used Narrative Medicine in her practice and the ways that it has benefited both her patients and herself. Doctors are busy people and these days their schedules often don’t allow for much more than asking a few direct questions and quickly trying to diagnose the problem before moving on to the next patient. Through their focus on allowing the patient the time to tell their story Dr. Charon and her colleagues have found that they learn so much more from the patient, that helps lead them to the diagnosis and the root of a problem or concern. In the talk Dr. Charon uses a touching example of a patient who had breast cancer. Naturally, this was of particular interest to me. After her surgery, the patient felt very fearful about her cancer returning. She wanted to hear her doctor say it would never return, but that is not something anyone can or will tell you. Dr. Charon reassured her patient that her surgery and treatment had been very successful but her patient kept coming in for appointments and checkups. Dr. Charon finally realized that what was really worrying her patient was the thought that she might die. (I remember very clearly thinking the same thing myself.) Dr. Charon realized that this patient, as she put it “is standing in the glare of death” and no one could change that, but what she could do is stand in that glare with her patient, and that made all the difference. There is so much valuable, touching information in this Ted talk, so if you have 18 minutes to spare to watch it, I think you’d be happy you did!

We all have a story.

all our stories are unique to us and each one as important as another. I know that sharing my story has been transformative for me. It took some time, but I came to realize that it was important to share my story, both for myself and my own personal healing and also to help others. I feel incredibly fortunate that I have and had doctors and surgeons who listen very well to my “stories”. I’m always given the time I need and I always feel heard. I wish this for everyone! Do you have a story to share that you haven’t shared yet? What are you waiting for? Is it trying to get out? Share in the comments, so we can all listen, absorb and honor it. email_signoff1

Buckle Up!

Alison_Drake_quote_card_feel_the_fear A New Year! As I head into this brand new year, my mind is full of thoughts and questions about the year that lies ahead of me. Thinking about it makes me both excited and a wee bit terrified all at the same time! Looking back on my life, there have been years that stand out as pivotal, significant years. I didn’t necessarily know going into them that they would be so important, but by the end it was clear that they were literally “life-changing”. I seem to be having more of them these days. Last year, 2015 was an unexpectedly big year which culminated in my “Cups of Prevention” project and starting my new blog.

Here we go!

However, as I enter 2016, I know this is going to be a HUGE year for me. I’m not sure I’ve started many years actually “knowing” this in advance?! I feel like I’m entering a whole new phase of my life as I embark on my new Masters program. I will be learning new things, meeting new people, spending time in a different place…and these are just the obvious things I can predict. I have a sense that along with these there will be many other new things in my future this year. This is both an exhilarating and scary thought!

Ready, Steady, Go!

Several people have asked me if I feel ready. From a practical standpoint, I’m ready. I’ve registered for my classes, I have my schedule and I have my books. More than this though, I’m ready to get started on what feels like the beginning of a journey towards fulfilling my true life’s purpose. I’ve wondered over the years, what my true purpose in life is, and used to try to make it fit into something I was doing, so as I could make sense of it and feel like maybe I had actually found it. I never did truly find it, until now. It’s been an interesting, winding road to this place, but I am so grateful to have finally reached this point.

Starting Point.

Of course, as much as I feel that I have finally “arrived” at my life’s purpose, I’m also more than aware that this is really just the beginning. Wheee! I trust that all will be revealed to me as time goes on. I’m trying not to focus too far ahead or feel like I have to have all the answers right now. I am going to allow the next 2 years while I’m in this program to reveal these answers to me and point me in the right direction.
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.” -Buddhist Proverb

Am I nervous?

Yes! I can’t help but think that everyone else in my class will somehow be further ahead than me already. That they will already have a grasp on Organic Chemistry (just the title alone freaks me out a bit). I’m wondering if I’ll be the oldest person in my class…and by how much? Rationally I know these things don’t matter and I know that once I get there these wee worries will dissolve. Roll on January 15th!
“You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” -Brian Tracy
So as my amazing husband Randall always says when something big is about to happen…”Buckle Up!” So “buckle up” with me and have an epic 2016!! IMG_4026 What does the new year hold for you? Are you trying something new? Embarking on a new project, hobby or career? I’d love to hear what your hopes and dreams for the year are. Please share in the comments. email_signoff1