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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3 totally doable ways to help you bend and flex with your life

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How many goals did you set this year to improve your resilience?

*Crickets.*

Not at the top of your list?

Admittedly, resilience gets crowded out by the more action-y stuff we focus on as the new year starts.

  • We set goals to lose weight (again).
  • We make plans to improve our professional skills, or find that dream job.
  • You Type A folks may even be launching a life plan this year to go after like, you know, everything, in your whole entire life. (That sounds easy enough.)

We almost never consider our own resilience, much less how to practice and use it when we need it.

What is resilience, anyway?

We tend to think of resilience as the ability to bounce back from a challenge, and that’s partly true.

  • When life knocks you down, resilience gives you the wherewithal to get back up.
  • When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade (if you have enough lemons thrown at you to make a decent amount of lemonade, you might be having a rough go at it, just sayin’…).

But resilience also is being mentally and emotionally prepared to identify the resources available to you when things get challenging.

If you’re stressed, tired, and full of negative thoughts, it’s hard to care about finding creative ways to get past a difficult situation.

Resilience then, can be more of a mindset that allows you to see the path forward and empowers you to actually walk down that path.

And, as with many things in life, it’s better for you if you build that mindset ahead of time. #sorrythatsjusthowitis

So, how do you build resilience?

The best part is that many of the things we already know about a healthy lifestyle are the very things that build resilience. It’s like life skills double-dipping.

Here are three really good ones you can practice every day:

1. Exercise

Exercise is a most outstanding way to build resilience because it generates blood flow to the brain’s frontal lobe, right behind your forehead. The frontal lobe handles things like planning, logic and organization. These come in handy when you need to make a healthy decision.

Exercise also relieves the negative emotions related to stress. After a long workday, just a 10-minute walk with your dog can boost your mood for several hours (and probably your dog’s mood, too).

I’ll bet you make better decisions about your life when you can stay clear-headed, relaxed and in a positive mood.

And the best part is, you don’t need special skills. You just have to move.

Can you move? Carry on…

2. Be quiet

Quiet time lets us focus on our thoughts and try to figure stuff out.

Thanks to our devices and a limitless supply of entertainment in almost all areas of our lives, we no longer have to suffer the plight of being bored or reflective.

Our brains and souls are drinking daily from a firehose of data with little time to figure out if any of it even makes sense (spoiler alert: most of it doesn’t).

And studies are bearing out that our marvelous brains are starting to notice. Our daily experience now includes:

  • reduced memory and attention spans,
  • constant dopamine rushes from social media interactions, and
  • reduced productivity from multi-tasking.

Finding some time to step away, in some way, for a few minutes each day allows mental space for creativity and problem solving.

You can call it mindfulness or a spiritual practice.

Just carve out 15 quiet minutes for yourself to:

  • Pray,
  • Let your mind wander,
  • Breathe deeply,
  • Ask yourself questions about what you’re feeling,
  • Journal,
  • Draw, or
  • Let the sacred words of wiser ones than you pour into your soul.

Having said that, resilience does require some boundaries on all that thinking.

3. What are you thinking?

While we can’t help the thoughts that pop in to our minds, we do have complete control over what we allow to roil and take root.

Allowing unchallenged thoughts to linger can quickly become rumination, obsessing over the same negative thoughts until you make yourself feel really bad.

Like a cow chewing its cud.

Rumination is one of the hardest thinking habits to change.

  • It’s never forward-focused.
  • It always dwells on past wrongs or failures.
  • It’s a natural predator of resilience.

Resilience, however, requires you to

  • Find your strengths,
  • Look for possibilities, and
  • Focus on what you can bring to the situation.

So in order to bolster your resilience, you’re going to have to do a whole lot better than rumination.

Start being the gatekeeper for your marvelous brain.

How much news do you consume?

What’s more backwards-focused than the news? Its very nature is things that have happened in the past.

The news is now particularly negative and vicious, and it feeds many of our anxieties about what’s not working in our lives.

Take a week off from it and see if it doesn’t change how you think.

What positive, forward-focused things are you reading or listening to?

Focus on material that will build your skills, build your faith, or help you build a resilient attitude about life.

Self-help is a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s something out there for what you need.

I like listening to motivational speaker Les Brown because he reminds me that I am responsible for my own change, which is a little scary, but that I can totally do it. Yes!

Who do you pay attention to?

You’ve heard it before. You are the sum total of the five people you associate with.

What do your five talk about? Do their comments and conversations build people up, or tear down?

Do they always focus on what’s gone wrong? And who’s gone wrong?

This will have an effect on your thinking, I promise.

You may need to upgrade your five.

Resilience is a marathon.

Keep in mind that building resilience is a lifelong endeavor.

You will never do the end zone dance of resilience, and there’s no Golden Globe for the Most Resilient Performance in a Life Drama (or Comedy).

So, go ahead, put resilience on your list of goals to crush in the new year, but you won’t be able to really check it off.

I know, that’s annoying.

What you can check off, though, is the fact that you are helping yourself a little bit each day to build the courage to face your challenges and take action.

That’s golden.

Spend this year improving your ability to bend and flex with your life.

#alwaysbeflexin

#alwaysbelearnin

Sources:

Move yourself