How to use exercise to battle holiday stress

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Use exercise to battle holiday stress - lorimiller.me

This may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it also can be the most challenging in terms of staying on track with the things that help make your life work.

Exercise, good nutrition, sleep and routine (see also: the components of the anxiety and depression toolkit) all suddenly find themselves beneath the trash heap of the merry and joyous eating season.

For me, the most tempting thing to do is give up exercise. I’m busy with added social events, and opportunities to spend time with others. I love that!

But after all that eating the last thing I want to do is move. Like, at all.

So that late day workout I swore allegiance to gives way to “just one” delicious buckeye and yummy barbeque sliders with friends.

Another workout busted.

It creates a bit of a cycle, I’m afraid.

Exercise matters and it matters big time.

Focusing on exercise is one of the first things I mention to people struggling with anxiety and depression. It’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to affect your mental health.

And it’s a great place to start because everybody can absolutely do something.

Exercise has a direct effect on your mood, helps reduce anxious feelings, increases serotonin in the brain, which can help you sleep, and increases your resilience to stress, which I think we all agree can go through the roof this time of year.

The American Psychological Association has coined this the “exercise effect.” In fact, the APA is encouraging mental health providers to make sure they include exercise as part of their treatment plans.

I consider exercise really a non-negotiable.  Apparently, I’m a broken record on this one.

Yet even as the words are coming out of my mouth to my clients, I realize I am just as crafty in my excuses to duck out of it during the holidays.

So with all the added activity and pressure of the season, how do you make exercise work for you when you need it most?

Don’t stress it. Make some simple changes to ensure you do something and don’t just go to zero effort.

Do it when you have few legitimate obligations.

Don’t roll your eyes, but really, it’s true that exercising in the morning is a great solution. It’s not the easiest to get started, but you have a better shot of making it happen before the day breaks.

You really do.

Unless you have some graveyard-style job, you always have the option to get up a bit earlier.

You won’t die from it, I promise.

For the time crunched, this is really the best way to find extra time in your day. Everyone else (hopefully) is still asleep, and the world hasn’t started its vicious merry-go-round yet.

Then, you are done! Yes!

The whole day is in front of you, and you are mentally and physically poised to handle whatever the day may bring.

And when unexpected plans come up, you can just go and not feel guilty about not exercising yet again.

Focus on doing something every day.

It’s great to try to hit physical activity a certain number of times a week, but right now that kind of contained thinking may create too much anxiety for you.

That’s just one more thing to track during the busy season.

Don’t make it a formal thing.

Instead, break it down and focus on just doing something today.

Anything. It all adds up.

  • Take a walk.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Go ice skating.
  • Go for a quick swim.
  • Do some yard work (assuming your yard isn’t full of snow. If so, grab a shovel, my friend.)
  • Do some yoga.
  • Dance. I hear that’s a thing.
  • Try an at-home exercise program (there are a million of them streaming on Hulu, Roku, etc.)

When you’re done, high five yourself. You did it!

Then just do that again tomorrow. That’s it.

No pressure.

Me after my Monday morning workout. See how happy I am? 🙂

Pardner up.

There is power in leveraging others to help you with this. Having someone hold you accountable to exercise works because nobody wants to be the one who “no-shows” in the relationship.

I would suggest picking the person in your life who is not afraid to challenge you (in a good way, of course).

Set up time to exercise with someone else and simply don’t leave ’em hangin.’ Once you get together, you’ll have a good time, I’m sure.

Honestly, today I was so tired, it’s Monday, and it’s raining. I felt like these things gave me some very high moral ground to stay in bed.

But my husband and partner in all things life wouldn’t let me. He’s also a mental health practitioner so he gave me zero wiggle room on this.

I needed that.

And when I was tempted to slack off a bit during the workout, he was there to cheer me on.

Hopefully I did the same for him.

Don’t overthink it; just do it.

Of course, you may want to set good, hard goals for exercise in the new year, but you don’t have to wait for January.

That’s just another excuse to not take action right now.

It’s not a terrible time to start exercising if you haven’t been already.

Don’t go crazy or injure yourself.

Keep it simple.

Just get (or keep) moving during the holidays.

Sources:

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx

 

 

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Manage stress by living in the present

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Manage stress by living in the present

By default, we are all in the present, but not necessarily present, if that makes sense. This is where much of our stress rears its gnarly head.

We’re burdened with the constant pressure of what’s to come in a world that is almost exclusively forward focused. 

  • Create your own future!
  • Prepare for retirement!
  • Get ahead at work!
  • Develop a life plan!
  • Raise healthy and productive children!
  • Become the ____ you know you can be!
  • Get stuff done!
  • Be happy!
  • Change the world!

No pressure. 😳

What’s cool is that we have more opportunity now than at any other time in human history to actually accomplish these noble tasks. 

Previous generations didn’t have access to the technology and freedom that living today can bring. This particular age would have blown their minds.

To accomplish any one of these noble tasks would have been enough for them, let alone all of them at the same time.

We are in uncharted territory.

We scoot around, sometimes mindlessly, to try to take advantage of it all. We are so anxious to “get there.”

But once we get there, how then do we appreciate who we are in that moment and what we’ve already become?

Where are the master classes for that?

We just keep going to the next task, the next forward motion. ⏩

So many of our anxious and depressive thoughts stem from this constant focus on an ambiguous future moment.

These future moments can feel like a moving target. As we grow, change and develop new abilities, we decide we may want different things. 

So we may change and pivot.

Our future feels like it’s always “out there” because it is.

And even if you achieve all that you want, that future moment you aspire to will — one day — become your present moment.

Ah, the irony.

How will you even appreciate that moment? Have you thought about how you will mark and celebrate it?

Here are a couple of things that work for me:

Enjoy a “Done” list

There are a million and one ways to keep a to-do list. You can track it in a sweet little app that classifies, tags and whatnot. Or write out a list on a steno pad and keep it on the fridge (old school, I know, but it works).

But what about a list that captures what you ACTUALLY did?

Do you feel anxious and annoyed when you see how many things are still left on your list at the end of the day? Where did the time go?

You immediately start plotting those things for tomorrow, giving short shrift to your little worker bee 🐝 tasks that buzzed around so hard for you today.

The things you did get done you relegate to a checkmark or a strikethrough. Or worse, tag them as “Completed” and watch them disappear from your list completely.

Don’t just look at the checkmarks or the line throughs on your list. Separate them and give them their own list. They deserve it!

Those are the things you got done! ☑️

The present moments that you engaged.

So now you know you have the ability to take advantage of your present moments!

Master today

Today is here, and you are apparently already awake and moving around. Nice job! 😎

What are the things you can do TODAY that will move you toward those future goals?

Focus on just those things, and shove the rest aside for now.

Don’t let the future steps, which don’t matter right now, encroach on your present.

If this day is particularly challenging, maybe you can just focus on what you need to do in the next HOUR.

What is the literal next step on your list? 👟

Don’t worry about this afternoon or where you’d still like to be at the end of this day.

Muster your energy and focus toward just this present moment and see where it goes.

Stop moving

Sounds simple, but in order to focus on the present, you may have to stop moving for a minute.

Do you have to go right on to that next thing? 🏃 Or can you take a minute to enjoy a little self-imposed buffer zone?

I like to daydream in these moments. It gives my brain a frickin’ break from all that analyzing and planning and lets me imagine myself doing something ridiculously fun.

Do this when it’s super inconvenient and you feel like you just can’t spare the time.

This is probably when you are feeling most stressed about the future.

The present IS your life. 

Right now, as it’s happening. 

Enjoying the present isn’t hard but it does require intention. There will always be something in the future calling you out of it.

Learn to engage it on your terms.

How do you enjoy your present moments?

 

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

Change has always been a part of the workplace.

But in the last five to eight years it seems it has reached a fever pitch in many organizations. You can expect something big to change every two or so years, sometimes even way less.

Have you experienced this lately? Change can be one of the biggest causes of stress at work.

Reorganizations, leadership changes, new regulations and legislation that require big changes to workflows and processes, automation that makes cherished roles redundant.

Don’t get me wrong. Change isn’t necessarily bad. New developments and innovations can take an organization in a new and exciting direction.

But it’s still an adjustment because motion creates friction. (Hey, look who was paying attention in Mr. Rieger’s 10th grade physics class.)

The catalyst for change runs the gamut but the results can be the same:

  • What’s going to happen to me?
  • When will I know what’s going to happen?
  • What if I’m not comfortable with the changes?
  • Will I have to take on even more?
  • Am I still needed?
  • If I don’t like the change, should I stay and wait it out or get out now?
  • This isn’t what I signed up for.
  • This isn’t fair.

Emotions like fear, uncertainty, anger, and frustration can drown you and your coworkers in times of change.

You may feel powerless, which can cause you to think and act in ways outside of your character.

That certainly won’t help.

And you may lash out at leadership, even as they may be experiencing the same emotions and fears.

Many organizations haven’t mastered how to effectively coach their employees through change. 

So developing a healthy attitude and adaptive responses to changes at work largely falls on your shoulders.

To thrive in today’s work environments, you have to expect that change will come knocking on your door.

And part of that expectation is being prepared ahead of time. You can decide now how you will engage so when the change occurs, you can remain flexible and productive.

Here are a few things to consider as the winds of change start blowing at work.

1. Don’t take change personally.

Reframe your perspective. Don’t be paranoid. It’s not about you.

It really is “just business.”

Change or die is kind of a very real thing now facing organizations (Blockbuster, anyone?).

Change can result from new industry advancements, higher expectations from technology, excitement about the future, or a desperate attempt to salvage something that’s just not going well.

And this would probably happen whether or not you were sitting in your cheerily-decorated space.

Do this instead: 

Choose to view yourself as a business. While “just business” is still “kinda personal” — because, after all, business changes can affect your livelihood — you can decide to use the power you do have to make your own change.

The change door swings both ways.

While your organization is assessing, hypothesizing and consulting, you get to do the same thing.

  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working?
  • What skills would you like to continue to develop or deepen?
  • What other levers could you pull to achieve your career goals?
  • What do you want to do?

Honestly, you should always be on the hunt for answering these questions, even if everything is perfect at work.

Exploring these questions can help you feel a little less powerless because you can generate some tangible options for yourself.

You don’t have to act on those options necessarily. But it’s a real mood booster to know you have options, like finding that surprise $20 bill in your jeans on laundry day.

Plus, assessing your skills and experiences is a huge validator. Sometimes in the day-to-day we forget how awesome we are.

2. Don’t ruminate about all the negative possibilities.

Rumination is a dastardly thinking habit that’ll take you right down the road to depression and anxiety. If you only have the mental budget to stop doing one thing, pick this one, please.

When you entertain distressing and negative thoughts over and over and over, without challenging them, stewing over them at your desk and casting blame on others like Thor’s hammer, guess what?

Your mood totally tanks. Your mental state spirals down into a mess of obsession over every little comment, side glance or email.

Now you feel hopeless.

You may look up and realize a half hour has gone by and you haven’t done anything.

So, in a time of great change, you’re not getting your work done.

(If you prefer a description of rumination that involves cows, and really, who doesn’t?, click here.)

Do this instead:

Rumination is a habit and one you can absolutely change. It’s easy.

Instead of fuming, write down your most distressing thoughts, right there at your desk. Then, under each thought, write a possible explanation you may not have considered.

Be a detective. What else could be going on that you haven’t considered, Sherlock?

It can be completely plausible or involve aliens. As long as you’re generating ideas.

Bonus: Now you have distracted yourself, probably made yourself laugh because we all know how funny you are when it comes to aliens, and interrupted the aforementioned dastardly rumination.

You have also considered a different perspective on your experience, which is gold. You get 10 points!

3. Don’t get caught up in the rumors and the riff raff.

Note: If you don’t know what riff raff is, you’re probably part of it.

This one is really, really hard. I know your mother and all the career literature says, “Thou shouldst not partaketh in gossip-eth.”

But in an organizational change vacuum, where reliable information may be like finding a free restroom in Manhattan, sometimes gossip feels like all you have.

However, priming the rumor pump is a nifty way to keep anxiety and fear constantly churned up — for everyone.

Of course, you naturally want to share and process your feelings and fears with others who are going through the same experience. This is normal and healthy, to a degree.

But there’s a point where it becomes damaging and counterproductive. Sharing information that you heard from someone else is one thing.

Fortune-telling and mud-slinging from that information (which may or may not be accurate, usually not) is a whole other enchilada.

And in many cases, your predictions are way off anyway.

Do this instead:

Decide to be a safe person for your coworkers. Determine ahead of time how you will engage with new information that presents itself from unofficial channels.

If you are uncomfortable with something, say so. If a group discussion starts going askew and you start getting that icky feeling, excuse yourself and walk away.

You may not nail this 100% of the time because some conversations just evolve. But do your best.

Most importantly, find simple ways every day to encourage your coworkers who may be struggling even more than you.

Make this your “shtick” as your organization progresses through the change. People do appreciate it, and it will help keep you encouraged as much as it helps them.

4. Don’t abandon your self care regimen.

Now is not the time to stop exercising, eating right or sleeping.

Focusing on these three tools in your toolkit is the key to building resilience for everything life throws your way.

Stress at work takes its toll on you physically by jacking up your adrenal system. When you’re under stress, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate increases, your muscles constrict, and your pupils dilate.

The hormone cortisol becomes the general who barks orders in your body as it prepares you for the “danger” ahead.

Staying in this constant state of “fight or flight,” though, is too much wear and tear on your adrenal and cardiovascular systems.

This is why at the end of the day you have headaches, heart palpitations, indigestion, irritability and difficulty sleeping.

Do this instead:  

Intentional self care is the foolproof antidote to stress at work. It won’t change your stress but it can change your outlook on it and how you respond.

Exercise: Find time every day for some form of movement. Go for a run or walk, ride your bike, do yoga, play a quick game of basketball with your kids, pull some weeds in your yard, whatever. Just move.

When things get hot at work, take a break and go for a 10-minute walk. You’re allowed.

This is a great way to let off steam in the moment and has the added advantage of reducing your blood pressure on the spot. (I know this because I’m now in that phase of life where taking my blood pressure has become a sport.)

Eat right: Make a planned and deliberate effort to nourish your body with healthy foods. It doesn’t matter if you are doing keto, paleo, Weight Watchers, you’re a vegan or you just eat when you’re hungry (is that a thing?).

Simply focus on making healthier choices every day and staying away from the processed junk and sugars that we all know by now are bad for us.

Don’t make your marvelously adaptable body have to work harder to keep you all together.

Sleep: Sleep is a discipline. It’s not something that happens upon you like bonus fries at the bottom of the bag. You may have to work for it to get it to fall in place.

Make bedtime the main event and focus of your evening. Anything that distracts you from getting to bed on time shouldn’t make the cut. This won’t make you a hit at the parties you’re not going to, but the results will make you feel like a rockstar.

Do we not do this with our kids when they’re young? If you were like me, your whole nighttime schedule revolved around getting your kids to bed on time. Woe be unto any person or activity who tried to impede that.

Make that same commitment to yourself. Maybe your evening should involve more snuggling and someone reading you a bedtime story.

For more grown-up tactics on how to get better sleep, Google “sleep hygiene” and “bedtime rituals.”

Stay flexible, my friends

None of these things will keep changes at work from affecting you. But the secret sauce of weathering change, at work or at home, is giving yourself the best shot at staying flexible.

What doesn’t bend will break. You’re not helpful to yourself or anyone else if you’re broken.

You can’t be adaptable by being paranoid about the future, letting your emotions run amok, giving others room to determine your perspective and allowing your body to get overwhelmed.

You have more power than you know to not just survive change, but to thrive beyond it.

What about you?

What are some ways you have dealt with change at work? What has worked for you? Do share!

 

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What’s the worst that could happen?

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I love Saturday mornings because I let myself feel okay about taking my foot off the gas for a bit.

No hair, makeup, or desperately-packed lunchboxes. Just me, my coffee (oh my gosh, lots of coffee!) and my thoughts for a couple of hours.

I don’t know about you but the older I get, the more I need little “coasting” breaks like this.

I use this time to reflect back on the week and try to glean some little nuggets.

What did I do well? Did I move anything forward even just a little? Did I help someone? Did I step outside my comfort zone in any way? I try to always give myself credit for something, even if it feels like I’m reaching.

I walk the fine line between finding the good in every week because it’s a healthy way to live, and knowing that I need to challenge myself to do better.

This week was a bit of a struggle, which I didn’t expect because I just came back from a relaxing vacation.

There were no particular failings, but I went toe-to-toe with an old nemesis: perfectionism.

 

The villain I thought I had battled and won over years ago has re-entered my story. In sneaky, small ways.

  • I didn’t publish any real content.
  • I went down rabbit trails and spent too much time on the wrong stuff.
  • I’m not making my practice a priority.
  • I always wonder if I’m making a difference with my clients.
  • I didn’t have exactly the billables I needed.
  • I still didn’t clean out that stupid linen closet.
  • I rolled my ankle at the gym on Tuesday and won’t get enough workouts in this week.

#firstworldproblems

Oddly, I conquered perfection in the throes of my corporate experience. I worked eight years in a Fortune 100 company with high expectations for high performers. I woke up most days to at least 15 urgent outputs every day.

I didn’t have the luxury of perfection. Done had to be better than perfect.

So I mistakenly thought I was done with trying to be perfect.

Here’s what I know: Perfectionism is not a character flaw or narcissism.

 

It’s anxiety. It’s fear. It’s worry about the future.

If I don’t take care of every detail, something bad might happen.

And when I feel that way, one thing works. I play the “What’s the worst that could happen?” game.

I take every perceived shortcoming and walk it through to its bitter end.

I didn’t publish any real content to support my business, so I won’t get new leads online, which may affect how many new clients I get, which may dry up my revenue, which may mean that my business doesn’t make it, which may mean I have to close up shop and do something else.

Guess what? I can live with that. It may not be pleasant, but I can surely handle it. I’ve coped with a lot worse.

Most of what we fear might happen never does.

So I’ll push the reset button for next week and give it another go.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Four tools to stay resilient

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When life gets in the way, we sometimes bail on the basics that keep us physically and mentally healthy.

This toolkit, designed to deal with the pressures of anxiety and depression, is a great way to stay resilient in the face of day-to-day life stressors. When things get wackadoo, it’s worth asking yourself which one of these tools may have fallen by the wayside.

The tools are simple and easy to implement in small ways each day. None of them will surprise you, but adding just one of them to your day can make a big difference.

Watch this and let me know what other things you might add to the toolkit!

#alwaysbelearnin

Stop chewing your cud

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“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare

Do you ever have days when you just can’t stop thinking about something that really got under your skin? Maybe it was something that happened yesterday, or maybe even 12 years ago.

Or maybe it’s just a thought you’ve always believed about yourself.

Like you’re not smart, or you’ll never amount to anything.

And no one wants to hang out with you.

And that’s why you’re not in a meaningful relationship.

Which means you’ll always be alone.

So you may as well stay home tonight.

And people who are alone don’t amount to anything.

Aaaand we’re right back where we started.

Let the chewing begin.

Welcome to the downward spiral of a dank little mental process called “rumination.”

Technically and all scienc-ey, rumination is the leisurely and regurgitative digestive process our four-stomached bovine friends must endure to better process their food. Apparently after enjoying their breakfast from Chik Fil-A, they must bring it back up and just keep on chewing.

Charming.

Mental rumination, however, can be a sure fire catalyst for depression.

Every emotion we experience starts as a little seed of a thought that we entertain. If it’s a healthy thought, it leads to feeling happy or content, which leads to smiling, laughing and other positive behaviors.

Life is good. Chips and salsa all around.

But an unhealthy thought we tend to chew on over and over and over. We don’t challenge the thought or look for any evidence of it actually being valid or true. Instead we entertain it just long enough to let it lead to another, more unhealthy thought.

Which takes us down the path to what’s now a damaging thought.

Keep in mind, we’re not looking for a solution when we do this; just focusing completely on rehashing the bad parts.

We keep chewing that bad boy until we’re now furiously obsessing over what’s happened to us, something we probably had no control over anyway.

And now we’re angry, sad or maybe even feeling hopeless, the diagnosable stuff of depression.

Swallow. That. Cud.

While cud chewing is healthy for cows, it’s a maladaptive pattern for those of us with just one stomach. In order to stop ruminating, you have to deal with the thoughts you keep coughing up.

Write down the very first unhealthy thought, and be a detective. See if you can find evidence of its truth.

If it’s true, fine. Make a plan to address it. You might be alone not because you’re a loser but because you really haven’t put yourself out there. It’s hard not to be alone when there are no other people around. Just sayin’. Find ways to engage more with others.

If the thought’s not true, find a way to reframe or restate that thought in a healthier, more positive way before it gets you all worked up. Yes, you appear to be alone right now but you have a plan to join your church’s young adult group so you can meet people whose interests you share. And there will probably be pizza.

Either way, you’re processing the thought just the one time.

With the time you save, you can then use your new healthy thoughts to launch you into healthy and productive actions.

What about you?

Is this something you’ve struggled with? Please do share.

 

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