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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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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