Everyday Wellness: A Look At Healthy Living For the Busy Professional
by B. Imei Hsu, RN, LMHC, Artist
Nobody I know says they want to be unwell and unhappy. “I want to trudge along in pain, puke every so often, maintain a miserable relationship, and be racked with fatigue, disease, and depression,” said Nobody.
We want to wake up each morning and feel refreshed, climb a flight of stairs without losing our breath, experience optimal mental acuity at work, and enjoy the sweetness and passion of a connected relationship with the one you love. The reality for many is that we don’t experience all of this on a regular basis. Some of you can’t remember when any of these have happened for you consistently in one season. Stress can trigger a loss of sleep, poor eating habits and irregular exercise are followed by the creeping of fat around the belly and thighs, smoking and over-indulging on drugs and alcohol complicate the body’s ability to rid itself of waste and dull mental functioning, and long, stressful hours at work can lead to everything from forward head carriage (with neck strain and shoulder pain) to impaired sexual function, satisfaction, and desire. If we try to approach achieving optimal health as a dramatic overhaul a la New-Year’s-Resolution style, our attempts at rebooting our bodies and minds usually lasts a few days to a few weeks. If promises of, “I’m going to be healthy no matter what this year!” are followed by yet one more end-of-summer realization that nothing has changed, you are ready to re-think the pathway to wellness. What I’m proposing for your desire to make positive lasting changes to your mental and physical wellness is to create a simple but progressive plan for everyday wellness.
Everyday Wellness: Small Steps in the Right Direction
After I left graduate school, I developed a way of thinking about change that I called being “Queen of the 1% improvement club”. If someone who wanted to see change had a 1% improvement in the right direction, I’d acknowledge and honor that. You get a fist bump for each percentage of improvement. I found my clients really liked the high five and the fist bumps along their pathway to success in areas they never dreamed they would be able to make headway.
Unless your doctor has told you that you will likely die of a massive heart attack if you do not make a dramatic change to your routine this very moment, you can create lasting change by making small and incrementally larger changes over a period of time. For example, instead of jogging five miles from the get-go (and feeling sore and horrible for the rest of the week), let’s talking about walking one mile, slowly progressing to walk-jogging one to two miles over two weeks, and eventually mostly jogging the same distance thirty days later (progressing incrementally by 20% every couple of days). Instead of decreasing your caloric intake by instituting a 500 calories a day deficit through sheer deprivation, let’s talk about cutting down trans fat, white carbs, and sugar, while increasing an extra serving of steamed vegetables. You could incrementally change the way you eat over a period of a couple of weeks instead of designating some kind of D-day mentality, and creating a massive war inside your mind and body that triggers rebound binge eating and self -hatred over a situation that is a set up for failure.
Why would any of these changes matter? Isn’t it only big changes that register as big results? Tell that to the person who may save up to $1500 a year if she fixed her daily coffee at home instead of buying it every day at the local coffee shop! If you put a price on the time you spend in line for the coffee, that cup of Joe for a year ends up being the cost of a new and completely pimped-out computer, a local vacation for a week and a half, or a month’s rent on the average two-bedroom apartment. Little changes matter, and little changes add up.
If one of your everyday wellness changes was to practice five minutes of meditation every day just before you started work, would this have more of an impact on an improved outlook and sense of clarity than if you tried to meditate for an hour every day? In my experience, you would have more success with starting with five minutes a day (as advocated by Dr. Charles Raison, psychiatrist) integrating it firmly into your routine, and later adding to that time. What if your goal was to feel less anxious about public speaking? A small effort, such as a thirty second introduction in front of a small group of people, followed by positive feedback and opportunities to lather, rinse, and repeat, could lead to the pathway of joining a local Toastmaster’s group to learn about how to deliver more interesting, entertaining, educational, and personal presentations to larger audiences over a longer period of time. Every swim in the ocean begins with a toe dipped into the waves as you step from the shore.
Tips For Everyday Wellness From the World of Simple Math
If thinking in small incremental changes isn’t easy for you, here are a few tips that may help you rethink small steps towards everyday wellness, which I have borrowed from the world of simple math. Fold the change you want into your plan like a chef stirs vanilla into a mixture to make a loaf of banana nut bread. The intensity of those changes, and not necessarily just the quantity, flavors whatever you put your hand to.
1. Add anything into your wellness routine that keeps you inspired, energized, positive, and moving in the positive direction towards the goal or destination you would like to reach. If music on your iPod makes it easier and pleasant to take a mid-day walk after lunch, add a ten-minute walk to your routine. Add inspiring quotes to your desktop computer screen for a quote-a-day app, add two minutes of sitting with your pet, add a DropCam to your home so you can peek in and talk to your animals, and add five minutes of journaling before the final meal of your day as a way of depositing and archiving how you’re feeling about life.
2. Subtract anything from your wellness routine that distracts, depresses, deflates, and sucks you in a negative direction away from the goal or destination you would like to reach. That might unfortunately include the act of removing or distancing yourself from people who sabotage your plans, or do not have your best interest in mind. If a spouse cannot be supportive of your positive wellness actions, you may need to come to a place where you do not count on his or her empathy or validation. Subtract mindless TV shows, garbage talk on the Internet, and clutter in your home. And if you have a lot of clutter, remove one box a week (donate, regift, sell, recycle).
3. Multiply wellness actions by taking advantage of accumulative results. For example, if part of your everyday wellness goal is to save five dollars a day towards payments against a debt you owe as a way to reduce stress (and debt can be very stressful), put your five dollars in a financial institution that allows you to multiply your money, such as a credit union, or an online piggy bank program created to help you save and not spend, such as SmartyPig. If you want to have more energy, multiply your energy by inserting a quick sprint up a couple of flights of stairs mid-day instead of reaching for a jelly doughnut. If you want to feel less depressed, you may need to stitch a series of actions together, such as a session of yoga, a good night of sleep, and a reasonable work schedule to experience the sense of accumulative results.
4. Divide goals and tasks into smaller, bite sized pieces. Place reasonable timelines on each goal and task to help you measure the result. If one of your wellness goals is to improve your communication with your partner, start looking at small tasks that point towards that goal, divide up the elements of good communication into the pieces that you’ll do each day and the ones that your partner will do. Further divide up those elements into just a couple you will implement this week. If you live in a multiple person household, divide all large tasks and projects with your strengths and challenges and mind, maximizing each person’s skills to make it easier for everyone involved. Even children can get involved. While I’m not saying you have to employ your house cat to divide up the chore of dusting (as in this photo of a cat wearing Chindogu styled booties with yarn), the point is that you don’t have to do everything all at once, and in many cases, you do not have to do it alone.
Make Social and Apps Work For You
If you haven’t noticed, the pathway to increased wellness does not have to be one you travel upon alone. There are applications on the Internet that allow you to share your goals with whom you choose, create communities around your interests, and go Social from everything from weight loss workouts to new activities. I’m not saying you need to purchase one of those Withings WiFi scales in order to share your weight with all your friends on Facebook (and honestly, some of your friends may simply respond to your desire to share by quietly changing their notifications and removing your updates from their Newsfeed), but you can create circles of people who have agreed to support your activities and changes, and many Social platforms allow those people to leave you supportive comments.
Similarly, you do not need to recreate the wheel, and yet you need to know how the wheels work in order to get moving. For example, if you wish to lose 50 pounds of excess weight, you need to learn how fat is burned and muscle is retained. You will need to learn what foods to eat and what foods to avoid or minimize. You will chose what kinds of activities are recommended to you based on your current fitness level. Once you learn these fundamentals, you should not forget them if you incorporate them into your new routine and keep repeating it with minor adjustments along the way.
If you had to come up with brand new menus for every week of the month, you may become overwhelmed and quit the commitment you made, just in response to how difficult the task is. In other words, make changes as simple and repeatable as possible. I find this very helpful to apply to things you do every day, such as cleaning your home, organizing bills, taking supplements, engaging in a fitness routine, or planning your food menu.
For example, in order to keep things simple for myself, I’ve decided to eat the same 12-14 foods in the same proportions six days a week, with a “cheat day” planned for that day that you just get bored out of your mind with eating the same 12-14 foods. While I am not a nutritionist and I am not planning your menu for you, here’s a sample of what I do for myself that you can apply when re-thinking how to simply your repeatable tasks to improve your state of health.
Meat: chicken, fish, buffalo, tofu
Vegetables: broccoli, bok choy,brussel sprouts, green beans, spinach, kim chee
Dairy: organic brown eggs, almond milk or half and half with my coffee, occasional goat yoghurt
Liquids: water PRN (as needed), decaf tea or green tea, single shot espresso with milk in the morning, glass of red wine with dinner
Carbs for exercise: brown rice or white/brown mixed, multi-grain cereal, toast with almond butter, organic black beans, or hummus and pita
Snacks: almonds, jerky, serving of fruit on exercise days
“Cheat day” foods: gelato, pasta, Bonne Maman strawberry preserves, cheese burger with bacon, steak (and steak to replenish iron stores). Every once and a while, I’ll go hog wild and have a twice-baked almond croissant from Bakerie Nouveau in West Seattle. It’s also the day I’m most likely to consume a few pieces of dark chocolate with caramel. I’ll also “see” by feeling with my body what else I’d like, such as avocado, butter with my eggs, or additional protein. Again, while I’m not a nutritionist, you can read more about cheat day strategies from Timothy Ferris’ book, “The 4- Hour Body”, based on a method known as slow carb eating [Note: I will say that if you are planning on increasing your physical activity level in order to lose weight, slow carb eating as described in his book is not for you. Consult a nutritionist and/or a physician with an extensive background in sports medicine nutrition].
Now, do you get it? Six days a week, I don’t have to think hard about what I’m going to eat. Simple and somewhat brain dead, the process reduces decision-making to only a few choices about protein, fat, carbs, and veggies. Only one day a week, I put in a little extra thought to have something out of my routine, like a small plate of ravioli, an exotic dish with rabbit, or satisfy my world food cravings for daal with excessive amounts of ghee or Peking duck with sauce. It might not be the most exciting meals on the planet, but I realize I probably eat better than 90% of the world’s population as it is, and eating isn’t all about having a party in your mouth, as Dr. Phil has been known to say. Instead of spending over an hour shopping for groceries, you simply keep buying the same things; your shopping time can be reduced nearly in half by planning your attack, shopping at the right time of the day or evening, and buying your foods when they are freshest (including a trip to your local Farmer’s Market on weekends).
You too can join the King or the Queen of The 1% Improvement Club and work your way up to ideal health by starting with everyday wellness. It’s all about taking one step in the right direction, then two steps; a walk, a trot-walk… you get the picture! On this pathway, you’ll move from failed resolutions to slow but steady change and growth. I challenge you to select one area you would like to change in your life, and apply the principles from this blog post over a period of three months. Feel free to share what you did, and your results!