Category Archives: General Health

Stress – it’s not going away

Play with your dog to relieve stress!Stress, our old friend. It’s ever-present. And it’s not going away. Every day we hear on the news something that makes us gnash our teeth. And since social media makes everything immediate, even from the far-reaches of the globe. Former allies are now questionable, and we’re cozying up to former enemies. Your boss is asking for ridiculous deadlines. The talk-show host on your favorite radio program has gone insane. Even commercials are making us angry and on-edge.

And when we feel those stresses, they can manifest themselves in our behavior. Many people eat when they’re stressed. Some get cranky with those they love (because getting cranky with the boss can get you fired). Some people become ill. None of these are good things.

So, how can you keep your blood pressure (figuratively) under control?

Take a step back. Unplug for a while and turn off the TV.

Go for a hike in the woods. Or just a nap under a tree in the back yard. Enjoy some nature.

Close your eyes, clear your mind and breathe for a few minutes.

Talk to a friend about your dogs.

Play with your dogs.

Work in the garden.

Listen to music. Not on the radio.

Some people advocate meditation. I honestly do think it helps to ground me. I do a couple of minutes every day or so – without meditating for a bit my mind tends to take off into the “What if …” zone. And then it goes around in circles and spirals, and I get all hot and bothered. So I sit down, close my eyes and think about nothing.

Some people like listening to guided meditations. They’re good too – in fact, I’m developing a series of short guided meditations.

But, whatever you do, make sure the stresses of today’s world don’t affect you adversely.

One sure-fired way to stay sane

Google calendar to set my mind at easeLife is nuts. It’s just crazy, and getting crazier by the day. So many things to do, places to go, stuff to get done. It’s practically impossible to keep it all straight.

Dentist appointment. Hair appointment. Take the car in. Go grocery shopping (and where did I put that clean-eating shopping list?). Take the dogs to the vet. Buy that birthday card. Do laundry. Go to agility class once a week. Train the dogs. Work out. Answer emails. Write.

I know I can’t possibly remember all that. Something is sure to fall between the cracks.

I rely on Google Calendar. It’s my planner, my to-do list, my reminder. I can sync it to my pc and all my devices. I can color-code reminders and appointments. Whenever I think of something, I just open my Calendar and enter it. When I enter an appointment on my phone, it shows up on my pc. If I think of something I have to do on Monday, I can enter it on my tablet and I can see it on my phone when I’m running around.

And the calendar has a repeat function for appointments that repeat, like weekly classes.

I know that I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of its capabilities, but I’m getting good use from the Calendar, and it’s helping me to erase some worries. I worry that I’ll forget to do something, and being able to enter it the instant I think of it has eased my mind somewhat. I’ll probably have to use it more, and explore it to discover other ways to make life easier.

You can access holiday calendars that are formatted for the Google calendar. My dog Agility instructor even has our club calendar in the Google format. And I can even find out when the Cubs game is on my Google calendar!

If I don’t have to worry about things I have to remember to do and where I need to be, then I can focus on reaching my goals!

Enjoy every moment!

I know it’s trite. But lately every face I see walking down the street is glum. A restaurant is next door to our little shop, and people should be looking forward to a good meal, meeting with friends or family and having a good time. But many are frowning, having arguments with the people they’re with, or yelling on the phone.Enjoy every moment!

That doesn’t sound like a good time. It might even be bad for the digestion.

Yes, the world is upside-down in many ways these days. The country is divided and hardly anyone seems happy. Or even content. Traffic is a nightmare. Your boss is toxic.

So let’s make our own contentment. Take a look around. If the sky is blue, enjoy it! Or, if there are interesting cloud formations, enjoy that.

Appreciate the flower by the side of the road. Enjoy the cool feeling when you swallow a sip of water.

Look at that dolphin in the picture. He’s doing something he loves doing! Jumping! I took that photo the last time I was at Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, Florida. The overwhelming feeling I get every time I go there is joy. I must remember that feeling when I’m overwhelmed by other feelings. Remember that joy!

And I must look around and find something to enjoy! With a little practice you can do it too.

Another good reason to exercise

Sumo squat with weightMy mom had terrible psoriasis patches on her elbows, down her forearms and ankles. She suffered horribly with the itching, and it hurt me to watch her. Those red, rough, scaly patches were unsightly to start with, and when Mom scratched at them, they bled and hurt.

Thanks, Mom

Psoriasis is somewhat hereditary. And I do get patches in the same spot on my elbows, from time to time. My outbreaks are nowhere near as severe as my mom’s were, but they’re still bothersome.

Why am I bringing up a horrible skin condition? Because exercise helps! I had patches on my elbows a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t think much of it since that happens from time to time.

Those rough patches are gone!

And I noticed today that those rough patches are gone!

When I first noticed the psoriasis weeks ago, and I have to be honest here, I had not been really putting my heart and soul into my workouts.

Get with the program

I picked up the pace, and have been much more diligent the last two weeks. I did a week of PiYo (my fave Pilates and Yoga combined workout program) and then this week I started 21 Day Fix Extreme. And today that psoriasis is gone.

Scientific proof

It’s not just my imagination, either. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have found that vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of psoriasis by as much as 30%! 2 hours of vigorous exercise a week is required to cut the risk – and walking doesn’t count. The researchers found that running and calisthenics helped the most. Psoriasis is an effect of chronic inflammation, which can be reduced by diet, and by regular exercise.

And running and calisthenics is what I get from the workout programs I mentioned earlier. So 30 minutes, 4 days a week, of calorie-busting exercise with my favorite DVDs is saving my skin, as well as giving me so many other benefits!

 

Celebrate Every Victory

Fran holding Booker with the judge
Booker and the Judge (and me)

Celebrate every victory – big, little and not just yours!

Victories are few and far between. Therefore, it’s really important to celebrate every single one that you can!

I recently had a big victory with one of my dogs. I train and compete with him in AKC obedience. Crazy, I know… The training creates a strong bond between us – and if he’s my best friend then we need to have a strong bond! Last weekend we earned the Companion Dog title. That doesn’t sound very impressive because, after all, what else would a Boston Terrier be but a companion dog?

To earn this title, though, the dog must walk in “heel position” (his shoulders even with my leg) through a pattern that includes right and left turns, about turns and two or three stops (when the dog must sit in “heel position”) – both on and off the leash. The team must perform a “Figure 8” around two people standing 8 feet apart 4 times, with 2 “halts.” This is on-lead. The dog must stand perfectly still, off-lead, while the judge touches him on the head, the shoulders and the rump while the handler is 6 feet away. The dog must come to the handler only when called, from a sit position, and sit in front of her from across the ring. And then go to the heel position while the handler stands still. And then the dog must line up with other dogs competing in the same class, spaced a couple of feet apart. They’ll sit and stay there while the handlers go across the ring – for a minute. The handlers come back. Then the dogs lie down and stay for 3 minutes with the handlers across the ring. And the dogs have to do this successfully 3 times – at 3 different trials – under at least 2 different judges…

OK – enough boring stuff. That’s what I’ve been doing, though. That’s what I’ve put in hundreds of hours training with my dog for. All for very expensive ribbons and a piece of paper. (The training fees and trial entry fees.) So I’ll celebrate this victory for a while!

Celebrate the bond

Most importantly, I will celebrate the bond that I have with my dog.

Celebrate a day with sunshine

But, I haven’t been waiting to celebrate victories. I celebrate a day with sunshine. Celebrate a day that I don’t misplace my keys. When I don’t miss another piece of bread on my sandwich.

Celebrate not having to stop at every traffic signal – when the lights are green! Celebrate when you receive the information you actually requested from a co-worker. Celebrate a conversation with your in-laws that didn’t feel like pulling teeth.

But not with chocolate cake…

Celebrate every little thing. But not with chocolate cake. At least, not every time! Save that for the bigger victories. Lean back and smile. Say, “cheers!” with your water glass. Take a deep breath and tackle the next issue.

5 Reasons to Get Up!

I have a (mostly) sedentary job. I work at a computer, so I’m sitting most of the day. When you reach a certain age … you expect to get stiff and for things to fall asleep if you stay in one position for too long. And when you have bad knees and bad hips, you KNOW that you’re going to be stiff when you get up. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if you’re diligent.

Get up every hour and walk around for a couple of minutes. It doesn’t have to be a long march around the block, or a hike in the woods. Just for a couple of minutes. I walk to the front of the shop and back a couple of times (our miniscule shop is less than 500 square feet). That’s all it takes for me to feel looser. But on nice days, I might take the phone with me and walk outside a little bit. A little Vitamin D helps too! If your hips feel especially tight, stretch out those hip flexors, like the stretch in the photo. I feel this where my hand is.   And take a drink of water every time you sit back down – you’ll need to get up in about an hour! So, how does getting up and moving around help?

  1. Get up and move around to loosen things up! Yes, it works. The hips are definitely looser and the knees are working better.
  2. Get rid of the clouds in your head. You’ll think better.
  3. That problem you’ve been pondering has had a chance to settle itself in your brain without you consciously thinking about it.
  4. That email you were waiting for has probably reached your inbox.
  5. You’ll have a better outlook on things. The world of doom and gloom might look cheerier after a short walk. You may see something to make you smile. You’ll at least gain some perspective after a change of scenery.

I hope you try it. Set a timer for an hour each time you sit down if you lose track of time. Your hips and knees will thank you.

Meditation for Sanity

My mind is spinning!

meditation for a clear mind and sanity
meditation

It’s Monday morning, and my brain is whirling. Feed the dogs, feed the lizard, make my lunch. Boil water for coffee. DON’T SPILL IT! Wait… the lizard isn’t eating his bugs… wait … wait … wait … Would you eat already? I have to water the plants … I have to wash my hair … I have to …

Just wait. Stop. Why am I stressing? I love my little lizard. He’s just waking up. Other stuff can just wait. Focus on the important things. My family. The dogs are fine. My sister and I are fine. I’ll get to work when I get there.

The answer is to think about nothing!

So often our minds are spinning out of control, we’re anxious and stressed about things that are unimportant. It’s easy to lose focus.

When that happens to me, especially on Mondays, I have to just stop and take a couple of minutes and close my eyes. Think about absolutely nothing. Just nothing. If my mind wanders, I consciously bring it back to nothing. People call this “meditation.” I call it thinking about nothing.

“Meditation” has gotten a bad rap in modern society. People hear the word and they see yogis in long skirts sitting in the lotus position with their hands on knees. Or they think of hippies in the ’60s with tie-dyed t-shirts, tattered jeans and barefoot at Woodstock.

But meditation has helped me to focus. When I clear my mind, important tasks become clearer.

If I’m having a hard time clearing my mind to think of nothing – if there are too many extraneous thoughts running through my mind, then I’ll picture a beautiful sunset or a single flower.

After a couple of minutes I can open my eyes and the day is clear. The tasks are lined up in the right order and I can be productive.

The best position for meditation

Do you have to sit cross-legged to meditate? Nope. Just sit in a comfortable position so that you can totally relax. It’s traditional to have your hands palms-up on your knees to be receptive to good things, and I like that. Sometimes I’ll sit in a chair. Sometimes I’ll sit on the floor. Most often I’ll sit on a low stool or yoga block so that I can sit cross-legged and my knees are comfortable.

3 Requirements for a Great Meal

Who thinks that healthy meals are boring? Not me! Nope – every meal can be tasty, filling and healthy. If you’re trying to lose weight, the worst words in any language are “I’m going on a diet!” Yes, “diet” is a 4-letter word, but it’s just a word. It’s not good, bad or indifferent.

Your “diet” is just what you eat. Food is “fuel.” And that’s another 4-letter word. Food is what fuels your body. It’s imperative for everything!

So, what you put into your body should help you in your daily activities – the food you eat fuels your body, like gasoline fuels your car. (But, that doesn’t mean that your fuel shouldn’t be tasty!)

Every meal has to be filling, tasty and appetizing! It has to last for a few hours, until your next meal or a (planned) snack. Lean protein and complex carbohydrates help in filling you up.

The chicken in this picture was grilled, with a rub of spices, which add no calories but tons of flavor. I sprayed the grill with a little oil so the chicken wouldn’t stick. The broccolini was steamed and sprinkled with a little of the spice mixture, and the sweet potato was baked. I did add a tiny bit of butter to the potato. No artificial stuff – a tiny dab of butter for a bit of umami goodness. Yes, it adds a few calories but satisfies the craving for more.

What makes this dish appetizing to me are all the different colors. Sometimes in the depth of winter we’ll make meals that are all one color, which are basically unappealing to the senses. So whenever possible, we try to include food of many different colors. They satisfy the palate, the stomach and the soul.

Get to Sleep…

I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. Not like my dogs – they can take a nap anywhere, anytime. No matter what’s going on around them, and especially after some intense physical activity, Booker and Tango are out.

Not me. Even if I’ve had a busy day – one that’s productive and full of exercise, I still have trouble falling asleep. I know that a good night’s sleep is important for good health, but that doesn’t help me fall asleep.

Many people swear by this breathing method to help fall asleep:

Called the 4 – 7 – 8 Method, it’s been proposed by Dr. Andrew Weil as the body’s natural tranquilizer. (Sounds exactly like what I need.) Dr. Weil maintains that this method will help relax you when you’re feeling stressed, or help you fight off that sugar craving that hits at about 3:00 in the afternoon.

  1. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
  2. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  3. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  5. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  6. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat three more times for a total of four cycles.

It’s worth a try, right?

Is your head exploding?

Stress is bad in more ways than you know. It can also slow down your metabolism. Many people are stress-eaters. If you feel stress, every couple of hours, take 5 minutes and just breathe. Empty your brain and focus on your breathing. Close your eyes and think of water, mountains, flowers (like pansies), or whatever makes you happy. Not work. Not the kids. Not all the chores that aren’t getting done! Just the ocean or snow-capped mountains. Set a timer so you don’t worry about the time.

When the timer goes off and you open your eyes, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to tackle the work, the chores, and the kids.

If you’re not into meditating but still feel the stress. Go for a walk! Climb some stairs. If you have one, close your door and dance to a couple of your favorite songs. Bounce on the balls of your feet and get the blood moving. Sing along if you want to! (Off-key is fine!) Again, when you go back to your desk, you’ll be better able to manage the stress.

You won’t want that candy bar, but definitely have a drink of water! Your metabolism be chugging along, and you’ll feel much better.