Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wow, does time ever fly, 2016 will soon be history!

I am astonished that it has been over six months since I last posted.  To be fair, much has transpired in the last half-year:  the death of my father in Ontario and subsequent arrangements and travel, accepting a full-time job in another Lower Mainland city entailing a crazy daily commute (I recently left this job for a variety of reasons and remain on excellent terms with the company, my boss and colleagues), and the general whirlwind of life as a head of household, deputy management of multiple properties and maintaining some semblance of life discipline in regards to health practices.

Enough excuses; once more I am in a position to reflect on the final days of 2016.  I recently immersed myself in the audiobook version of "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne.  Most of the material was inspiring, compelling and extremely uplifting.  I remain skeptical of a few small sections where it seems that speculation was presented as scientific fact, but overall I highly recommend this work of auditory literature.  This is an excellent springboard from which to launch plans for the New Year:  "man becomes what he thinks about", and "what you think about and thank about, you will manifest".  If I am tired of seeing myself as an overworked, exhausted martyr, then it's up to me - and only me - to kickstart a new self-perception.

I recommend starting each day speaking out loud about the things you are grateful for.  If your housemates or partner overhear you - even better!  :-)  Start a trend of thanking!  Praise and bless all the wonderful things and people in your life, rather than obsessing and worrying about what you don't like or want.  "It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness".

How was 2016 for you?  What do you have planned for 2017?  How will you move forward to align yourself and your life in every way with the bliss you desire?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Another 6 Steps "How to" article, addressing the invisible stuff of the mind

Mood plays a huge role in terms of hunger and food choice.  When my state of mind is challenged I notice that eating becomes less enjoyable and I eat more mechanically - because I know I have to.  Putting aside the dietary details of mental unrest, I took a deeper look at the root of the mind-food issue, and determined that repair needs to come from the inside out.  Fix the headspace, then fix the food choices and eating patterns.  I wrote the following article recently and published an abridged version on a business website, just the "6 steps" section.

I learned something incredibly powerful recently.  I have been living in a place of precarious uncertainty professionally, personally, and health-wise.  My predominant feeling about life could be likened to being on a treadmill where I didn’t have access to the controls, and on many days I could identify with Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote:  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." No light at the end of the tunnel to strive towards, toiling for the sake of obligation to duty and providing for those who depend on me.

I was aware that I was fed up with feeling beset by the tedium of day to day life, that my jobs no longer brought me joy, that I looked for excuses to avoid socializing and that I was dragging my significant other down into my wet blanket state of mind.  With the death of my father last week and being forced to confront my family dynamics and deal with raw feelings of sorrow and loss, a simple realization struck me like hitting a brick wall at 60 mph:  I was the one responsible for my the way I was feeling.  Not outside events, circumstances or other people.  Just me.

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said:  “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  Swap the word “inferior” for “bad” and insert the quote into my life.

I’ve always been a doer and a go-getter – someone who goes out and fixes things, makes things right for other people, and solves challenges.  This realization of my unique responsibility in my dilemma elicited almost simultaneously a feeling of “WTF do I do now?” and a glimmer of hope “If I am responsible for this I can fix it”.

I turned my focus to the task of strategizing – another thing I’m good at:  logical planning and organization – to come up a with a viable recipe to set my headspace on the right track so that the rest of my life would have a stable base from which to move forward, and came up with the following points.  I posted these as an article to a business website where I have been previously published.

6 Strategies to Conquer Negative Thinking

We all have those days - hopefully infrequent - where a black cloud seems to hang over our head and follow us wherever we go.  Moods can and do change, and are highly susceptible to our interpretation of events, more so than the external events themselves.

I would like to offer the following tips for helping to clear the clouds away more quickly, as go-to guidelines when needed.  Consider using them in the following order:

1.     When pervasive bad thoughts fill your mind, stop and ask yourself “How am I feeling around this thought?”  Chances are you are feeling bad – stressed, worried, unhappy, angry, etc.  Recognize that the way you are feeling is a direct reflection of your thoughts, which in turn engenders more thoughts along those lines.  According to The Secret*, as voiced by acclaimed author Jack Canfield** and life coach Lisa Nichols***, our feelings are a wonderful emotional guidance system and give us immediate feedback as to whether or not we are in alignment with our wellbeing and what we truly want.  If you are not feeling good, ask yourself “How can I turn this around – right now – so that I do feel good?”

2.     Identify the culprit.  It is tempting to say that “My boss is…..” or “My spouse is…” or “This wretched traffic jam is….” when in truth it is our response to these externals that is causing us grief.  In her book “Change Your Thinking” Sarah Edelman, PhD, refers to faulty thinking patterns which ambush one’s sense of contentment.  It is the way you think about your boss, spouse or the traffic jam that is causing you to feel bad.

3.     Do a 180.  Deliberately focus on something GOOD that is currently in your life, something or someone that you enjoy, are grateful for, or that inspires you.  When you shift your thoughts to a positive direction, your mood will follow suit.  When you are in a better mood the challenges are easier to deal with in a constructive way.

4.     Blast it with humour!  Recall the old adage about dispelling public speaking anxiety by imagining the audience in their underwear.  Apply this strategy to whatever other challenge you are facing.

5.     An extrapolation of the preceding point:  run with the bad thought – but ad absurdium!  If you are fuming about your server crashing in the middle of an important project, pretend that an army of micro-gremlins has invaded the hardware of your office and is planning to overthrow the entire company and set up a massive colony to enslave humanity by returning them to the ignorance of pre-internet days, where people will be forced to handwrite letters and use projectors for slide shows when making presentations.

6.     If a bad thought is particularly persistent, rather than try to beat it into submission and lock it in the figurative closet, look at it objectively and admit “OK, this is worrying/annoying and not my favourite situation, but as most things in my life are either neutral or pleasant, I can cope very well with this curveball.  I am very capable of dealing with frustrations.”

If you are still feeling negative and bummed out after trying some or all of these tactics, consider enlisting moral support, but do so with discretion.  If you are annoyed with a work situation, it may be unwise in the heat of the moment to complain to your boss.  Choose a trusted friend, mentor or counselor to share with.  And listen to what they have to say.  Often, the more objective advice of another person can reveal aspects of your situation that you hadn’t considered.

Good luck, and remember – you are stronger than you think.

* The Secret – spiritual documentary released in 2006 by Rhonda Byrne.  Amazing and highly worth the 90 minutes’ viewing time.
** Author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and others

*** Coach, motivational speaker and media personality, author of Motivating the Masses

Friday, April 1, 2016

6 Ways to Feel Waaaaay Better

If you're feeling mostly OK but you KNOW you could feel better physically and mentally, then read on - you may find some or all of these suggestions useful.  P.S.  These don't cost a lot.

1.  Get better QUALITY sleep.  Quantity does not equal quality.  7 hours of great sleep is better than 10 hours of fitful, unsatisfying sleep.  Consult a sleep specialist (yes, this is an actual profession!) or a health/lifestyle coach for tips on getting better sleep.

2.  Eat more fresh organic produce.  Most North Americans do not get anywhere near the recommended amount of fresh vegetables every day.  Sorry, ketchup is not a serving of vegetables, and orange soda is not a serving of fruit.  Certified organic means uncontaminated and clean grown.  Less pollutants in your body means a happier, healthier constitution.

3.  Walk more.  Get up, get out, and move!  Do errands on foot where practical.  Meet with friends for a walk rather than sitting down for a beverage.  Invite colleagues to come for a walk at lunch hour.  Park farther away from your destination.  Your vascular system will thank you.

4.  Laugh.  When life gets crazy, lighten up and see the humorous side of things.

5.  Breathe more deeply, especially when outdoors.  Every morning I open the windows and take a few minutes to inhale the day.  Clears the brain!

6.  Drink more water.  Your brain is 90% water.  Don't let it get thirsty!  Conventional wisdom suggests 8 glasses per day (8 oz glasses), but if you boost it to 10 or 12 glasses you will feel even better.  Keep a water bottle by your bed, your desk at work, in your car.....and drink the whole bottle every day.  Have at least one glass with every meal.

Try these on for size and give me some feedback (before and after).  Enjoy a healthier, cleaner, more refreshing approach to your daily life!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Laugh - for the good of your health!

The vast majority of illnesses and diseases are linked to stress in some form or another.  Physiological stress is an obvious correlate, but psychological stress should not be ignored.  Events in and of themselves are not good or bad;  it is our cognitions and perceptions of those events which trigger our feelings and thoughts, and hence our response to them.  If we react negatively, we experience stress.  Feeling stressed sets off a cascade of hormones, directed by the brain to spur the glands to produce goodies like cortisol and adrenaline.  Our sympathetic nervous system kicks into "fight or flight" mode.  In the short term this can be beneficial, such as allowing us to outrun a hungry sabre-tooth tiger.  However, chronic exposure to stress without an outlet very quickly degrades the body.

Let's hear it for seeing the humorous side of a situation.  OK, some things are simply stressful and not funny (a loved one getting into a serious car accident, for example), but relatively minor "stressors" such as Starbucks being out of soy milk, no parking spot in the mall lot, Amex gently reminding you that your minimum payment was due last week, discovering a lump of dog poop on your front lawn (and you don't own a dog), or having an etiquette-challenged customer butt in front of you in the grocery store line....none of these are worthy of sacrificing your health.  One of my go-to tactics for situations like these is to imagine something humorous, even if it is far-fetched.  My upstairs neighbours, for example, are a lively bunch, and on an almost daily basis I am treated to the sound of what seems to be a gigantic rolling pin being rolled back and forth across the floor.  (they haven't discovered the benefits of putting down carpeting).  Rather than fume and fret, I imagine that they are finalists in "The biggest pie in the world" contest, and are rolling out the pasty for their culinary masterpiece.  Their pie crust is several feet across and won't fit on their kitchen counter so they cleared their main area floor and covered it with flour and are rolling out the pastry....

Look for ways to insert more smiles and laughter in your day.  You will feel better - I promise!


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dark Winter Days Getting You Down? No need to be SAD

Christmas and New Years have long faded and now the reality of "we still have a ways to go with winter" has set in.  Whether or not Wiarton Willie saw his shadow at the beginning of the month, if you live in Canada there is a good chance you will feel like spring is still a long way away.

Lack of sunlight, lingering low pressure weather systems (think heavy grey clouds that seem to hang overhead for days at a time), and a lull in social occasions all contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.  The good news is that it is seasonal, so that once we turn the corner of the Vernal Equinox our mood naturally starts to lift.

Symptoms are akin to a mild to moderate level of depression, or just generally feeling "blah" or "blue".  A consultation with a psychologist or psychiatrist will give you greater insight into your particular situation, but before reaching for the Prozac consider this:  physical activity is as effective as pharmaceutical intervention*.  A famous study spearheaded by James Blumenthal, reviewed in the Biomedical Journal of Medicine (March 2000) revealed that patients suffering from depression not only felt significantly better with exercise (compared to the control group using drugs) but that long-term recovery was far better in the exercise group (only 8% relapse) compared to the medication group (approximately 38% relapse after 6 months).

Exercise is free, it improves your health and fitness, has no adverse side effects, and stimulates production of the body's NATURAL feel-good brain chemicals - endorphins and enkephalins.  Plus there is no stigma attached to being an exerciser, whereas using psychotropic drugs is not something that most people want others to know about them.

The best time for most people to exercise for the purpose of mood enhancement is first thing in the morning.  Exercising early in the day gives you a psychological kickstart, has metabolic benefits and avoids the dilemma of finding time** to squeeze it in later once the day is in full swing.

Have a chat with a certified personal trainer or exercise specialist to help you set up a realistic and enjoyable game plan to enhance your happiness factor.

* Some cases of depression respond more favourably to the combination of exercise and pharmacological intervention.
** You will never "find time" to exercise, you have to MAKE time.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Moving towards more plant-based eating

As I sit at my computer munching an organic carrot, I realized that it has been a month since my last post.  It is also the penultimate day of 2015.  Do I have any resolutions for 2016?  I prefer to use the word "goals", as resolutions seem limiting and almost trite.

Part of setting new goals is looking back to see how far one has come, and to observe changes over a period of time.  2015 has seen a definite shift towards more plant-based eating.  For example:

*  I no longer buy or prepare red meat.  Previously I enjoyed steaks, recipes with hamburger, and regularly cooking according to my mother's amazing meatloaf recipe.
*  I no longer drink cow's milk by the glass or use it on cereal.  I have switched to almond milk.
*  I eat a lot less poultry and whole eggs (egg whites are my thing now).
*  I've switched my choice of frozen entrees (last day meals) from beef stew, Parmesan chicken, etc. to Amy's Kitchen choices like quinoa and black beans, tofu spinach lasagna and lentil pilaf.
*  3/4 of my plate is plant-based foods, but I still love my broiled fish :-)
*  Mixing my morning oatmeal with nuts and vegan protein powder is my regular first daily meal.

In case you're interested in dispelling some stereotypes about vegetarian diets, check out the following:

http://www.forksoverknives.com/top-8-myths-about-eating-vegan-busted/?mc_cid=84a0da8156&mc_eid=257821b119


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Minds are like parachutes: they work best when open

In conducting my nutritional research and delving into the course material for my upcoming certification exam (March 2016), I endeavour to keep an open mind.  I look for scientific publications backed by credible studies with medical evidence.

One very interesting and thought-provoking documentary I came across recently is called "Forks Over Knives".  It provides persuasive and compelling research and examples of real-life people who struggle with serious health issues and who changed their diet to one that is primarily plant-based, whole food and low fat.  This film also outlines traditional Western beliefs around food sources and what constitutes a "healthy" diet.  I agree with much of what is presented.  Check out the trailer here:

http://www.forksoverknives.com/the-film/

In my opinion, the exponential increase of lifestyle related diseased such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and cancer...is due to an abundance of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods that taste good (and therefore cause people to choose these foods), a much more sedentary lifestyle especially among younger generations, and a decline in morality values which emphasize self-respect (e.g.. body as a temple: Corinthians 1, chapter 6, verses 18-20), wholesome socializing and supportive communities, humility, gratitude, spirituality and prioritizing of holistic wellness.

However, I believe that high quality animal protein does have a modest place in the human diet.  Our physiology and digestive systems were designed to handle an omnivorous diet, and so the presence of cooked lean organic poultry, wild unpolluted fish and seafood, and the occasional small piece of tenderloin all can be accommodated within a healthy diet.  However, meat EVERY day, garbage meats (luncheon meat and sausages for example, or fast food burgers), fried eggs, battered fish sticks, fried chicken fingers, etc. - THESE do not belong on a healthy eating program.  If one was to fill every meal with a large amount of fresh produce, some protein-rich high fibre grains, nuts and legumes, and then add a small piece of animal protein...then those meals would be promote incredible nourishment and abundant health.

"Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food". - Hippocrates