health

Year Of ‘Health’: A Half Way Point Check In

I’m a self help junkie but my goal is not just to read, listen to, etc. a bunch of resources but to actually use them in my life.

A couple years ago, I found Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map library. Basically it’s a list of words (and she/her team made them all pretty so you could print them or put them as your computer screensaver or whatever). Website is here but here’s the gist of what it looks like:

Now I get that if you are reading this, you may be on various ends of the woo-woo spectrum.

Regardless of how you feel about auras or the law of attraction, we can all agree keeping a word in mind (versus a giant list of new year’s resolutions) is easier and because of that, easier to stick with.

Last year’s word for me was ‘grace’ for obvious reasons. This year’s word for me is ‘healthy’. (Don’t like either? It’s ok, pick your own word for your year’s motto!)

Now if you look at me, I am not sure most people would use ‘healthy’ as an initial descriptor, mainly because I’m thirty to forty pounds overweight by most medical standards.

But here’s the thing, folks. Being healthy is a lot more than maintaining a standard body type. And rather than focusing on weight loss, I thought I’d make some moves to be healthier/happier that feel a little more in my control. So what does a ‘healthy’ person do if not a fad diet?

I started a bullet journal, and track habits. 

I have been intimidated by the bullet journal in the past, mainly because I am not an amazing artist (or someone  who has the time/interest in becoming one). But as an analog gal who likes stationary, I thought I would use it this year as a stand in to my day planner and at least have an excuse to buy some pretty pens.

Doing bullet journal has gotten me into habit tracking. Here’s an example of habit tracking from someone else (mine is not nearly so filled in or attractive!):

You can read this bullet journal story here: http://bulletjournal.com/show-tell-3/

What you do everyday is more important than what you do once in awhile, so the idea of habit tracking in a bullet journal is like Ben Franklin’s virtue tracker. To warn, you feel like a failure the first few weeks (or months) as you look at your chart every day and realize you didn’t do the things.

My three ‘health’ items I have been tracking daily since January 1 are:

  • Drinking five glasses of water a day
  • Getting rid of ten unnecessary items in my life
  • 5 minutes of meditation/grounding

(Aside: the ten items is something people definitely have feelings about. There are multiple disciplines though that have linked clutter to things like obesity and depression so I argue getting rid of clutter is a health thing. Most people I talk to think ten items a day is very extreme. But think about the pile of business cards at the corner of your desk that need to go into your CRM, the condiments in your fridge you haven’t looked at the expiration date on in awhile, etc. and it can add up fast. To ease in, try one item per day as a resolution. I blogged my journey with this resolution here a few years ago.)

Do I do *all* the things I track everyday, health or otherwise? No way. But at least my life is now set up where they could happen. My electrical grounding mat (a little woo-woo!) is under my bed and has become part of my unwinding ritual. I have a designated water glass (and water accessories like lemon juice) at my office and at home. And as the months go by, the boxes are getting fuller.

In other words, by making myself think about it regularly, it is actually likely to happen.

And as I master some habits, I can add new ones, like taking vitamin D everyday.

In my journal, I also have a list of ‘Healthy Nicole’ things I would be interested in trying ranging from walking on my slack line most days to oil pulling. In other words, while there’s always more improvement to make, I can see in my bullet journal how far I’ve come.

I’ve let go of peoples’ advice.

People who have never had a weight problem giving me weight loss advice is like me giving skin care advice. Let me explain.

I get compliments on my skin all the time. But here’s my little secret: I had cystic acne from the age of 12 to 25. (Like count 100 zits and keep going.) I went on really strong medication to cure it at age 25 and haven’t had an issue since. I destroyed most of the pictures that really showed it but here’s one of what my face looked like with makeup on it:

My current ‘skincare’ routine involves washing my face at night and wearing sunscreen/moisturizer during the day.

In short, I had a medical condition and it wasn’t any lifestyle choice I made (and trust me, I tried everything from not eating nightshades to changing my pillowcase every night) that cured it. So me doling out skin care advice to people and acting as if the moisturizer I use now cured me would be shady.

It’s the same with weight; it’s usually a more complicated problem (and by complicated I mean individual and involving a lot of factors). Much like my acne wasn’t because I didn’t ‘just wash my face’.

But I am on a journey of health and when I tell people, they have diets for me to try or workouts they think I should do. I just smile and nod and move on.

I quit booze for six weeks… and might quit again.

As a woman of a certain age, when I go out to social events and not drink, certain assumptions are made (either that I’m pregnant or have gotten uber religious/judgemental suddenly.) I spent the first month of sobriety just not going anywhere. Once I realized I was just avoiding explaining myself, I would preface a happy hour with ‘I have some medical stuff so I’m trying not drinking.’

I am working on not being weird about not drinking but honestly, I do feel better not doing it.

To make the whole thing more ‘fun’ I’ve been building myself a little non-alcohol bar of various syrups, bitters, juices, artisanal sodas, and other ingredients I can use to dress up my seltzer water. Then I get the end of the day cocktail ritual which apparently was what I liked about it anyway.

I am letting my hair go gray.

Part of the health thing is I’d just like to have shiny, beautiful hair in whatever color it happens to be. And so about eight months ago, I stopped coloring my hair.

Now I will say if you do this, there are some great Facebook groups of people also transitioning to gray that will keep you going despite people saying you look ‘older’ or ‘weird’ or whatever. (Yes, people have said both to me.)

I figure as long as I’m fine with it, all the stuff doesn’t matter. (My boyfriend thinks it’s hot so that does help!) Not spending 4 hours and $150ish every ten weeks at a salon though has given me some energy to do fun things, like experiment with makeup. Also, I am looking forward to hitting the pool and other activities I’ve avoided because I worried they would undo my expensive dye job.

And for the times I feel experimental, I’ve gotten some fun colors (pink and blue) as leave in conditioners so I can still rock out a bit while having healthy hair.

I bought a few things to make myself happy.

Now I’m not a big ‘buy stuff to buy stuff’ person but I’ve given myself a little monthly budget for personal care. This has given me ‘permission’ to do things like buy an Airdesk (for when I work from home on my laptop), an essential oil diffuser, some fermented foods at a local farmer’s market, and a good quality razor. All this totaled about $300.

By putting money toward my health/personal care, it has made me look at what I could be doing each month. Should I get a good multivitamin? Some deep conditioner for the gray hair? That delicious looking elderflower syrup I’ve been wanting to try with my blueberry seltzer? The possibilities are endless and not nearly as indulgent as I expected.

I got therapy.

I worked with a hypnotherapist and a traditional therapist to help me figure my stuff out. I am a bit proponent of an intelligent, objective third party who can also give you techniques of dealing with your own stuff. This has been a very personal journey but a very worthwhile one and if you want to talk therapy, please contact me and I’m happy to talk more candidly about it.

Outcomes

Now I know what you’re thinking: Nicole, if you can’t get on a scale and see numbers change, what outcomes could there be for spending so much energy, time, and some money on this pursuit?

  • My massage therapist is seeing overall improvements in some issues she’s been working on me with for years with my shoulders, arms, and back in particular.
  • People have been saying I look good and ‘seem happy’.
  • When I stopped by the prom to see my friend’s kid, a chaperone thought I was one of the kids and tried to make me go check in with my ticket.
  • Both therapists saw measurable differences heading toward my goals of dealing with my depression and coming up with positive coping strategies (and letting go of negative, limiting beliefs.)
  • My normally tense dog seems way less stressed out, so much so people visiting me at the house have commented she seems like a different dog.
  • My digestive tract is… working better. (I’ll leave it at that.)
  • Several people close to me have described me as ‘healthy’ without me telling them about my year goal.

Can I get healthier? Absolutely.
Will you be able to see differences? Maybe.
But in the meantime, I am enjoying the changes I notice and look forward to a healthier future I’m actively working towards.

 

Losing the Battle Against My Circadian Rhythm

At another job at which I work, I recently had to cover for a coworker who was on a well-deserved vacation. What this meant was getting up at 4 a.m. every day for the past week in order to meet a morning deadline. Here’s what I experienced on my pre-dawn commute to work:

  • Robins. I heard them a lot. Many people enjoy the sound of robins, but to me, the sound of those filthy red-breasted worm-eaters was just a reminder as to how freaking early it was.
  • Bobbing LEDs. These are used by joggers and bicyclists and serve as a shocking reminder that some people are up at this hour by choice. Seriously.
  • No traffic. Because all the sane people are still in bed. Their warm, soft beds. Maybe with their spouses. Snoring quietly, their eyes dusted gently by the sandman, dreaming under a smiling moon and twinkling stars. 

Once I actually got to work and downed my 14th cup of coffee, I discovered something. I was productive as heck. Why is that? (Don’t say it was 14 cups of coffee because that’s a slight exaggeration.)

It’s possible that with only one or two other unfortunate souls in the office there were fewer distractions. But I also believe that my brain just works better in the early morning. I’m working faster, and my output is more accurate. Yet, after lunch, I want nothing more than to stare blankly at a blank computer screen.

So I have to ask again, why is that?



In search of answers, I read this Wall Street Journal piece that cites molecular and computational biology professor Steve Kay — a man whose job title sounds more impressive than anything I’ll ever do in my life. According to Kay, most folks who work a 9-5 job are at their best in the late mornings, and we tend to drop off shortly after lunch.

The piece also argues that we should instead organize our lives around natural body clock — our “circadian rhythms,” citing “potential health benefits.” The WSJ paraphrases Kay, stating: “Disruption of circadian rhythms has been linked to such problems as diabetes, depression, dementia and obesity.”

Then there’s this article in Harvard Business Review, makings the case for managers to schedule workflow and deadline around that circadian flow.



I never used to work so well in the morning, but that’s changed as my youth has faded. It’s not surprising that our body clock changes as we get older. That teenagers are hardwired to sleep in and work late is nothing new, for example, although there is a movement underfoot to require schools to start later in the day to accommodate that rhythm.

So how did we get here? Why do most folks work 9-5 when our body tells us to take a 3-hour break after lunch? This infographic from Podio.com provides some answers, with its roots made in the wake of the British Industrial Revolution.

My day isn’t 9-5. Rather I start anywhere between 5-6:30 a.m., depending on the day ahead, and whether I need to take time in the day to address the latest family crisis. What this means is my own circadian rhythm has me fighting the desire to eat lunch at 10 am and nap until 3 pm, at which point I start to feel productive again—right when it’s time to go home.

The lesson for me is to get as much done as early as possible because when noon rolls around, it’s all down hill. As I’m writing this, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I find that my productivity has dipped sharply. For example, it took me an hour to write the previous sentence. So it’s time to wrap this up.

Good night and sweet dreams.



Marketing Monday: Picky Bars

After looking into the Whole 30 a couple years ago, I started paying more attention to labels. They say that ignorance is bliss, and that’s definitely true for me once I started tuning in. For me, the absolute worst thing was reading the labels on granola/granola bars. “It’s pure sugar” I internally wailed while agonizing over putting it back on the shelf.

Enter Picky Bars, created by Jesse Thomas and Lauren Fleshman. Jesse is a professional Triathlete, and Lauren is a recently-retired professional runner (I’ve listened to her on a few different podcasts now and she’s my hero when it comes to running/motherhood/creativity/health). Picky Bars was born from a need for a way to fuel before/during/after workouts in a natural, not heavily processed way. Way before I started reading the labels on my food, Jesse and Lauren had already been working to create a healthy solution to their problem.

Of course, they didn’t stop at production (this would hardly be a “Marketing Monday” post if they had). Lauren and Jesse found a way to create their product and make it fun along the way.

Social Media

I started following Picky Bars on Instagram about a year ago, which is where this whole thing started for me. One thing that stood out was that they primarily featured their own employees in their content. They have scenes around the office that feature inventory, ‘a day in the office,’ and what their employees are up to (something like “so and so went on this hike today”). From the outside looking in, it seems like a fun place to go work.

pickybarsinsta

Promotions

Another fun thing I noticed on Instagram was the occasional promotions that they run. The week before Halloween, just for fun, all orders were shipped with fake vampire teeth. Sure, it’s not the most profound thing ever, but it was putting ‘out of the box’ in the box, so to speak. They also recently promoted their BFS, or Big Freakin’ Sale, where everything was 30% off. During the BFS, they also ran a Bar for Bar offer that donated a bar to a local charity for every bar purchased in that time period.

Subscription Options and Creative Marketing

While Picky Bars can be found in various retail locations, they aren’t everywhere (the nearest one to me is in Bethel, about 130 miles away). However, they have an easy online subscription system called the Picky Club, where members select the amount of bars they’d like to receive each month and their favorite flavors.


Members also get some perks, like getting a Sneak Peek bar each month and being able to give feedback, and perks not available to the public.

Plus, their call to action is pretty fun. Not to mention the actual names of their bars, from Moroccan Your World, Cookie Doughpness, and Need for Seed, to name a few. My weakness is cleverly named products, and I think this creativity is what sold me on Picky Bars.

pickybarssubscription

The Site

The Picky Bars website is more than just an ecommerce site. From the copy to the font, it reflects the values and personality of the business. You have a pretty good idea what to expect from a customer standpoint. And, that’s what websites are all about, right?

As someone who is fairly active and loves subjects in health and fitness, Picky Bars has found a way to market their already amazing products in a way that’s fun and true to the brand. And, if they ever ask me, I have a few new flavor selections to offer them.

 

 

 

Infomagical: My Journey

infomagical“You mean you haven’t heard of that?”

Sometimes a friend will say this to me when I haven’t seen the latest viral video everyone’s been commenting about on Facebook or read the 10,000 word New York Times article about a social justice issue.

At first, I took this statement, whenever I heard it, as a challenge. I felt like people were a) implying I didn’t know something I should or b) triumphing supposedly knowing more than I did about one of my fields of expertise.

(Yes, I do hear this statement a lot.)



Between the stuff I have to know (work stuff), stuff I want to and should know (news about friends and family) and stuff I just wanted to know (how to cook with matcha green tea) it was already too much. If I could set up ten of my brains in some kind of parallel circuit to process information 24-7, I would still not know everything.

After this realization, when someone asked me about something online I hadn’t heard about, I felt defeated. In a podcast I can’t remember, someone talked about dealing with email being like being in an avalanche, you are moving handfuls of snow but more is coming at you faster than you can imagine. I feel that about email, instant message, social media, RSS feeds, and audio/video in general.

I sat with this hopeless feeling for awhile. I need to know some things but not all things. So what do I do?

Since I’ve changed nothing, nothing has changed. And then something came into my life I needed but would not have known to seek out.



I’ve talked before about Note To Self, a podcast I regularly listen to. I took place in their ‘Bored and Brilliant’ challenge awhile back which basically challenged people to spend less time on their phone through a series of daily challenges. If you missed it and want to do it, here are all the challenges.

This latest challenge called Infomagical was what I needed. Infomagical’s week of challenges offered us ways to change how we process all the information that is coming in. (If you missed it, you can still do it, just click here.)

The podcast episode launching the project mentioned that ten years ago, we were interrupted an average of once every three minutes. And now we’re interrupted once every 45 seconds. Having run this business for nine years this May, I was wondering why over the last couple years in particular I have felt so overwhelmed by information.

Day 1 was the worst day: forcing me to unitask. I don’t just multitask at work, I do at home too. Often I am washing dishes, cooking dinner, and answering emails at the same time. It is like I am in a race with myself 7 am to 7 pm to see how much I can get done before I let myself relax. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been in battle (and I’m sure I look like it too.) Sitting and waiting for files to upload without tabbing over to the next screen felt painful. But much like call center people can look forward to the small break between when they are hung up on and when the machine autodials the next number (ie when there is literally nothing they can do but wait), towards the end of the day, I started looking forward to these times in my day when there would be breaks (attaching images to an email, uploading the podcast, etc.) It made me feel the task at hand getting done.

I won’t ruin the Infomagical challenge for you but I will say it was a good one if you feel like I do: overwhelmed by information.

I have started to push back a little when people say to me things like ‘You mean you haven’t seen insert-thing-here?’

“Nope, but why don’t you tell me about it?” I say. Because somehow, if I think I have to know something beyond what I consciously consume, I bet that information will find its way to me if I am meant to know it. And while my life may be less rich than it would have if I had watched that cat video, I bet the cat I see when I walk my dog will be an ok substitute.



Unplugging or Overcorrecting? Online Life in Moderation

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of things go by about “unplugging” or generally disconnecting from technology. As a person who spends a considerable amount of time on computers/the internet personally and professionally, I understand why this is appealing. But, as a person with a tendency toward addictive behaviors, part of me wonders if this cycle of adamant unplugging symbolizes a binge/purge cycle of sorts (one that I get caught up in pretty frequently). Does it have to be an all or nothing, black and white situation, or is there a happy medium?

It turns out, there’s A LOT of information that starts up around 2012 that discusses societal dependence on technology/social media, and their detrimental effects on all aspects of our health.



Psychological Health: The attachment to social media and electronic devices is thought to breed negative emotions, including (but not limited to) envy, jealousy, anger, sadness, and fear. Recently, social media has been named the culprit in a rise of eating disorders in the UK. There’s even studies that equate social media addiction with drug and alcohol addiction. Our brains think we’re reaping rewards when we scroll through our newsfeed, so we get in the habit of doing it because apparently it feels good, to a point.

spill-cellphone-ecard-1

And yet…this article presents a counter argument that suggests our unhappiness comes from the way we’re using social media. If used in a different way, it can actually be beneficial to our mental health. There are blogs, forums, and other online resources that someone who is struggling (but not quite ready to reach out to someone close yet), which can be encouraging and act as a nudge in the right direction. Technology can provide opportunities for outreach and research, and there are even games designed to stimulate certain areas of the brain (creating to help combat symptoms of depression/anxiety).



Physical Health: I’m not an M.D., so I can’t tell you whether sleeping with your phone on your pillow is going to give you a brain tumor, but I can speculate that it isn’t healthy to do so.

Look Up & Away. In 2002, my 7th grade class in Milbridge was fortunate enough to be among the first round of students in the state to receive Mac laptops as part of the MLTI grant. This was also the year that my eyesight went from ok to practically non-existent. That was the year I had to get glasses for nearsightedness. I’m sure there were other factors contributing to this blindness onset, but as with any average 12 y/o, eyeball straining wasn’t on my radar of “Things I need to concern myself with.” Give your eyes some breaks in between typing and

Stretch and Stand: Studies are now showing that sitting for hours on end is actually pretty terrible for you. Go figure, huh? For those of us with jobs requiring a lot of desk time, it can be difficult to not be sitting all day. Some are able to combat this with standing workstations, others make a point to get up and walk around to break up the day.

If standing/moving isn’t possible for you to build into your work life, take a look at some stretches and yoga poses that help ease tension in your back, shoulders, and neck.

Perhaps ironic, I saw this go by on Facebook.

Perhaps ironic, I saw this go by on Facebook.

There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution here (but hey, is there ever?). Chances are, if your relationship with technology/social media feels unhealthy, you’re the only one who can say for sure. If you’re checking your ex’s-best friend’s-step sister’s-dog’s- uncle-twice removed’s Facebook page more than once a day, perhaps a little social media detox would be a good idea. And yes, it’s kind of rude to snapchat your best friend about the latest Kardashian drama during family dinner at your Grandma’s house (quadruple point reduction if your phone isn’t even on silent). Think of some ways to reevaluate your relationship with social media/technology. For instance, as a kid my mom imposed a one-hour per day t.v. rule on us (and we lived to tell the tale). Maybe you put time limits on your technological devices, or only allow yourself to watch Netflix when you’re at the gym (which is also a great workout motivator). Maybe you’re the type of person who needs to detox for a bit and slowly reintegrate things back into your life. It’ll probably take some experimenting before you find feel like you’ve found a happy medium, but ideally you’ll be much happier overall once you’re there.



Tech Thursday: Health and Social Media

Since around 2012, there have been an increasing amount of studies/articles going by about social media’s harmful impact on our psychological/emotional health. Even technology in general gets a bad rap for causing these and physical ailments. Most of the proposed solutions involve detoxing or unplugging altogether, but what about finding a happy medium? That’s what this Tech Thursday is about! A solo host by Kassie this week.



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